Friday, October 5, 2012
Opportunities Lost, Energy Efficient Housing
Southland's Energy Conference has revealed some frustrations around the construction of housing that is well designed and energy efficient. We already know that our housing stock is aging and much of it is substandard in international terms. Most current housing construction is for the elite market and the average sized house currently being built in New Zealand makes our houses the third largest in the world after Australia and the US.
For those people who want to build energy efficient homes using the latest ideas, technology and innovative designs the bureaucracy involved is expensive and time wasting. Many local bodies to not have the knowledge or the capabilities to assist people in building more sustainable homes and the result is actually impeding good progress.
When I joined Southland's solar water heating pilot scheme, the process of retrofitting this system into an older home was a bureaucratic nightmare. I even had to employ an engineer to advise what would be needed to provide support for the solar unit on the roof. The leaky building debacle has caused local authorities to become overly risk averse and to shift the responsibility of anything new onto others, which then raises the costs for the home owner.
My sister and brother-in-law are wanting to live in a sustainable way on a lifestyle block near Invercargill. It has been an almost full time job for my sister in working with the council so that they can have a house that is off the grid and they can independently manage their own waste. The main sticking point for them has been the management of their grey water. They knew that their proposed system would work and has been accepted in other areas but because it was unknown to our own council it involved costly investigations.
New Zealand should have a centre that provides a knowledge base for new and innovative housing solutions that can advise local body bureaucracies on how new technologies can be managed and approved (the UK's Centre for Alternative Technologies may be a useful model). It is important that we embrace new ideas when we have such huge housing needs and to prepare for the inevitable boom in housing construction in Christchurch. If we are going to be building large numbers of new houses we should be ensuring that they are built well and are future proofed. The state houses of the 1940s were well constructed and have lasted 70 years, let's ensure that the houses being built now last just as well.