Turn research into action

, Build 185

Amy Tankard, CEO of the Passive House Institute New Zealand (PHINZ), says we should be building high-performance houses now. We know how, the climate is in crisis and it makes no sense to follow current practices that will lead to future expensive retrofits.

MY GRANDMOTHER told me a story about putting her new baby in the bassinet on the back seat of the car, driving off, having to brake suddenly and, oops, the baby rolled under the front seat. I was horrified. ‘Do you mean my Mum!?’ ‘Oh yes, I suppose it was.’

Luckily for me, the baby was fine, and luckily for us all, we have another six decades of safety research since then. We now have strict safety laws for child restraints, and my own children are strapped in tight in padded thrones with side impact protection.

High-performance houses make sense

Similarly, through research, we know why we should build high-performance houses and how to build them:

  • We know cold, draughty, mouldy houses make us sick. At this time of year, we hear about people suffering due to the quality of their houses and also see advertisements for heaters, dehumidifiers and so on.
  • We know that overheated buildings can become unbearable and unliveable and that, without looking at the building system as a whole, double glazing and additional insulation can make this problem worse.
  • We know focusing on indoor air quality, thermal comfort and minimising energy use contribute to the health and wellbeing of building occupants.
  • We know housing and other buildings are a significant part of how sustainably we live and our impact in mitigating for climate change.
  • We know that attending to basic principles early on in the planning stages and following through with these in the build make a huge difference to the performance of the building.
  • We have the technology to model the performance of our buildings in the planning and build stage and to measure the performance of our buildings post-occupancy.

A high-performance home should deliver on all of these and be an investment in our future, and should be a sanctuary – somewhere to breathe easy and feel comfortable.

Poorly performing homes still being built

Yet so many of us live in homes built with knowledge and techniques from years ago. Some were built decades ago, but many have been built recently as New Zealand’s Building Code has not yet caught up with the research on the ways we can build better-performing homes.

When my husband and I sought to build a high-performance Passive House for our own family home, our friends and family expressed surprise and curiosity. It’s a very interesting exercise to spend a few minutes discussing how a home can and should perform for its occupants and to see the light bulb moment people have about this.

Emissions reduction must be addressed

MBIE’s recent consultation on building for climate change proposed targets for New Zealand to reach our climate goals. PHINZ’s submission outlined that buildings are long-lived assets that will continue to have an impact on the climate for decades and must be made significantly more energy efficient as soon as possible to reduce emissions both today and decades into the future.

Continuing to build using current or marginally improved practices would incur unaffordable future retrofit costs to meet climate targets. Making small, incremental changes to the way we build is damaging – the poor performance and high emissions from the building are then locked in over a building’s decades-long lifetime.

There are no technological barriers to make all new homes high-performance buildings. The building techniques, materials and operating practices are already mature and widely available in Aotearoa New Zealand. So let’s put the research into action, apply the knowledge we have and make high-performance buildings the standard.

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