BuildDirect Blog: Life at Home

Green Building in New Zealand and Australia

My older daughter went to New Zealand and Australia for three weeks the day after she turned 12. I’ve always resonated with NZ. It’s been a dream destination of mine since I was young, and I could hardly believe she got there before me!

When she returned, her stories told me that NZ was progressive, which I’d suspected, while Australia was more traditional. She preferred Australia, and, knowing her values were very mainstream, this was in sync with my ideas of both places.

Alternative approaches to building in New Zealand

There is more alternative building in NZ, which does not surprise me. Earthships, green roofs, solar power and water catchment are more common. Building methods, such as strawbale, rammed earth and passivhaus, seem to be prevalent in NZ, and there are building standards for earth buildings.

Autoclaved Concrete (AAC), a building block 20% the weight of concrete, is popular in NZ, too. It is non-toxic, fire resistant and durable enough for earthquake prone regions. It reduces temperature and humidity fluctuations inside, and acts as thermal insulation for heating and cooling. It is sustainably manufactured with no waste or pollutants.

New Zealand Southern Alps mountain range. (Photo: epcp)

The NZ Green Building Council was formed in 2005 to promote green building and educate the industry and government. Ratings are considered in the design, building and performance of a building. Efficiency really shows once it’s built, occupied and operating.

Homestar in New Zealand

Homestar is the residential rating system. Points are gained for efficiency, comfort, indoor air quality, and waste, water and energy conservation. Homestar homes rent and sell faster and at higher prices than similar, conventionally built homes. Green Star is the commercial rating system, which gives points for whole building design.

Sustainable Building Guidelines were written for residential and commercial property owners, tenants, architects, builders and designers to learn and implement. Education of green building methods and benefits encourages investment.

Australia promotes green building practices

In Australia, the industry and government are working together to promote green building practices. The goal is to be carbon neutral by 2020 through efficient construction and operations as well as by using materials with low embodied energy. Instead of having a negative or neutral environment, buildings will have a positive impact. Think: beyond neutral.

Carbon neutrality will be reached through:

  • passive design for ventilation and temperature control with no mechanical parts
  • renewable energy
  • energy efficient lighting and appliances
  • upgrading HVAC systems
  • buying green power
  • renovating, instead of building new
  • recycled materials
  • local materials
  • solar orientation
  • shading
  • insulation
  • thermal mass

King's Canyon, Australia (photo: ogwen)

The Green Building Council of AU was established in 2002 to promote green building programs and technologies. The goal is to reduce the impact of energy, water and land use as well as the creation of waste and pollution. There are 170 buildings certified by their rating system, Green Star.

Trevor House and Australian green building

The third 6 Star rated building is the Trevor House in Canberra. It was a renovation of a 20-year-old building completed in 2007. Green technologies reduced the carbon emissions by 75% through natural lighting and ventilation, low VOCs, thermal mass, appropriate shading and solar hot water. The windows open automatically at night to let cool air in, while hot air escapes through roof vents.

Water usage has been reduced by 75% through rainwater caught for flushing toilets and drip irrigation with moisture sensors in the landscaping. Materials of the original building were reused, making the building 80% recycled. All of their power purchased is green.

Antipodean green building

Pretty impressive! I am still drawn to New Zealand, especially after reading about all the earth building. I will give Australia a lot of credit, though, for moving from a negative to a positive environmental impact. Since buildings are responsible for 40% of all emissions, they should be adding to the environment, not taking away from it.

Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.

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  1. As a builder myself I think New Zealand still has a long way to go when it comes to green buildings. The Taupo information center in my home town is a green building but the red tape involved in building it was just pure nonsense. The local councils of New Zealand need to take a long hard look at how they implement their resource consents and gear them more towards building green homes. As one of the many builders taupo has to offer I can tell you that after talking to many people about the information center it is clear that they are pretty much the problem at the moment. The general consensus with nearly all the people I talk to being a builder is that most would love a green home, they know it is better for the environment and that it will save them money but they are just put off building a house that enters the very gray area of the councils standard building practices.

    There is also many additional costs for consents when you build a green home as there are often specialist and extra inspections. Until the councils of New Zealand take a positive step towards encouraging green homes we are destined to be stuck in the dark ages of construction building the same old eco-unfriendly homes we have all grown use to. It’s is good to see blogs like this slowly chipping away at the foundations of sub standart building. Thanks for the read.

  2. Interesting article – I can tell you Canberra has seen a huge uptake of sustainable building practices in the last few years. The Federal Governments solar incentives for both solar panels and solar hot water was certainly a contributing factor but the increasing energy costs faced by home owners has certainly convinced many A.C.T. residents to look at energy efficient homes as not only environmentally beneficial but financially as well. As a Canberra builder i welcome these trends – whilst new technologies have a learning curve they ultimately add value to any homes we build so its a win win situation.

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