Why Aren't More Homes Better?

Why Aren't More Homes Better?

Why Aren't More Homes Better?

BRANZ research shows home-buyers are interested in high performance homes. The problem is that information on building above the Building Code minimums is sketchy, and building professionals could do better.

Tucked away in a picturesque Christchurch street is a house that started the Superhome movement; 11 Church Square, Addington. If you walk by this house, its design may prompt an admiring look.

It’s what’s inside that sets it apart. The house has New Zealand’s first 10 Homestar rating, a rating that certifies a house’s level of health, efficiency and sustainability.

This means it demonstrates international best practice as a high-performing sustainable home. For example, the house has slab-edge insulation, thicker exterior walls and higher levels of roof insulation, making the indoor temperature a comfortable 22°C in winter without any heating.

Why aren’t more buildings beyond Code?

The Superhome movement, Passive House Institute of New Zealand and various Zero Energy House projects lead the way in changing our attitudes towards high performance housing.

Houses such as 11 Church Square demonstrate what can be done with current materials, technology and know-how within the building industry.

So why aren’t more New Zealanders choosing to build beyond Code and incorporate sustainable high-performance design and features into their houses?

Research participants spoke of their frustration about a lack of choice and sustainability options, and their builder’s poor knowledge.

BRANZ project investigating

A Building Research Levy-funded project by BRANZ has been looking at why New Zealanders choose to, or not to, build or retrofit homes to exceed the Building Code.

To date, the project has undertaken an audit of information sources and interviews with consumers and industry experts about building beyond Code.

Poor information available

We have found that much of the information available to consumers is fragmented and unhelpful. One respondent summed up the difficulty of finding relevant information and failed conversations with her builder about trying to exceed Code minimum housing as "the whole system wears you down".

Tools to help with the design and construction of sustainable high-performance houses such as Homestar, were found to be not widely known by consumers. This was also found in previous research. In the few instances where interviewees knew about Homestar, this was due to the use of the rating tool on the television show The Block NZ.

Builder reluctance to build non-standard

Other research participants spoke of their frustration about a lack of choice and sustainability options and their builder’s poor knowledge, especially in post-earthquake Christchurch.

One wanting to incorporate a greywater system into her rebuilt house after the Christchurch earthquakes just gave up as "it was too hard to get builders to do anything non-standard."

Consumer interest is there

What has been clear from the research so far is that, there is great consumer interest in housing features beyond Code that promote warmth and energy efficiency. However, there is a disconnect between building professionals, relevant information and consumers.

People searching for comfortable, healthy and efficient high-performance homes are often passionate individuals, devoting a large amount of time to online research or talking with others with similar wishes. This desire to seek out information about high-performance housing suggest public attitudes to Code-minimum housing are changing.

The choice to exceed Code minimums in buildings is a first step in changing New Zealand’s cultural attitudes and expectations towards housing performance and sustainability.

As one participant explained, "exceeding suggests it is expensive. Perhaps… [it’s] better to frame it around doing something good like healthier and warmer homes."

Consumer resource to be developed

By expecting more from housing performance, consumers could take more responsibility and empower themselves to demand the kind of home they want built.

As this research develops, a benchmarking survey will be undertaken to see where the industry is currently exceeding the minimum building standards.

BRANZ will also create a resource for consumers and industry that enables more discussion around choosing to exceed Code-minimum housing performance.

By Casimir MacGregor

BRANZ Senior Social Scientist, and Tegan Wardle,
Victoria University Of Wellington.