Industry Reports

Healthy Home, Happy Environment

While spring has sprung in Germany, temperatures are plunging in New Zealand and winter is only a few footsteps away. Often Kiwis like to choose a rather humorous approach to this time of the year and are well-known for being hardened ´winter deniers` who still wear jandals and shorts – well, maybe jandals with socks if it’s really cold outside. In fact, many home owners and tenants in New Zealand don´t look forward to the winter season as they can´t enjoy the comforts of a warm and well insulated house – yet.

Many homes still cold and damp

According to New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), the majority of kiwi homes are under-heated by international standards, falling at least 2 degrees Celsius short of the World Health Organisation´s minimum indoor daytime temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. Historically, much of New Zealand´s housing was built at a time when insulation was considered an optional extra. Most of those houses are still around and many of them are damp and uninsulated compared with current standards. Subsequently New Zealanders are heating their houses with inefficient heating solutions which often means costly winter power bills. For new houses, minimum standards of insulation are defined by the requirements of the Building Code. The standards were first introduced nationally in 1978 and have been revised periodically since.

New Energy Efficiency policy

New Zealand is aiming towards a sustainable low emissions energy system. At present, approximately 80 per cent of electricity comes from renewable energy sources, primarily hydropower and geothermal power sources. Recently the ´Zero Carbon Bill` was introduced and is understood to support New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. The Government aims to reduce all emissions to net zero by 2050. According to the Ministry for the Environment energy is, alongside agriculture, New Zealand´s biggest contributor of the country´s total greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is responsible for implementing programmes to improve the energy efficiency of New Zealand´s homes and businesses. As part of their policy, projects like ´Warmer Kiwi Homes` and Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) have been introduced. As cost is an obvious barrier to good home insulation, the ´Warmer Kiwi Homes` insulation programme is offering grants covering two-thirds of the costs for those who can't afford it. Grants covering a majority of the cost of heating appliances will also be available from July 2019. This February, the Ministry for Urban Housing and Development released a new Healthy Homes Guarantee´s Act (HHGA) defining requirements for insulation in rental properties. It requires insulation to be up to a standard equivalent to the 2008 building code standard for both ceiling and underfloor insulation. Meaning, the level of existing ceiling insulation must be increased to 120mm. Ceiling and underfloor insulation is compulsory in all rental homes and must meet the insulation standards by 1 July 2019. Landlords who don´t meet that deadline face a NZ 4.000 dollar fine.

Healthier Kiwi Homes versus Skill Shortage

The EECA estimated that 33 per cent of the average New Zealand home´s power bill is spent on space heating, and predicts that by 2035, energy efficient practices and technologies could save New Zealanders up to NZ$2.4 billion dollars a year. A survey commissioned by the Auckland Council in 2013 gave an insight of how sustainably built houses will reduce hard costs, such as energy and water. They were using a tool called Homestar rating. The Homestar rating was developed by the NZGBC and the Building Research Association of New Zealand(BRANZ) in order to assess the level of sustainability in a house. The survey unveiled that at the moment, the average New Zealand house achieves just two Stars, and a new house based on New Zealand´s Building Code (NZBC) standard four Stars. As a comparison, homes rated five and six Stars can save between NZ$500 and NZ$700 dollars on energy and water bills per year. Another hurdle in the need to build more affordable and better performing houses, is the current skill shortage in the building sector. According to Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa the construction sector is one of the largest employers with nearly 10 per cent of the workforce engaged in construction-related occupations. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has estimated New Zealand is about 30,000 construction workers short.

German efficiency in building helps Kiwis

But New Zealand doesn´t stand alone when it comes to more efficient and sustainable solutions in buildings across the country. German-New Zealand partnerships in the building sector have already made a difference which has led to increased building quality, reduced energy costs and lowered the carbon emission levels in New Zealand. Germany has a long history in using fossil fuels as their primary energy source. As part of the nation’s Climate Action Plan 2050 and to service its international commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, they´ve decided to phase out coal by 2038. Renewable energy in Germany is mainly based on wind, solar and biomass and was declared the country´s number-one source of electricity from 2015 on. At this time, the electricity consumption covered by renewable energy rose above 30 per cent. The Governments goal is that energy supply must be almost completely decarbonised and renewables its main source by 2050. When it comes to the building sector, the Federal Government plans to invest heavily in programmes to implement high energy standards, according to the new Climate Action Plan. Heating, cooling and power supply in Germany´s building stock will be switched to renewable energy. Current figures obtained by the German Federal Association of the Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) show, gas and oil are the primary energy sources for heating Germany´s building stock (75 per cent). Solid fuels like wood, wood pellets, coal and coke make 6,1 per cent, while the number of heating solutions that require electricity such as heat pumps is extremely small. Unlike New Zealander´s, many Germans live in apartment buildings. According to the Federal Statistical Office most apartments are connected to a central heating system which is operated through a district heating system or block-type thermal power station. As a world leader in the field of energy efficiency German technologies are featured in many different market segments such as insulation systems, insulated glazing, heating and cooling technologies. A recent Technology Showcase initiated by the German-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce shows that German companies generate a turnover of about US$67 billion dollars per year in the energy efficiency industry.

Some sustainable concepts from Germany, such as passive houses, have already been tested in New Zealand. 24 fully certified homes all over the country showcase how low energy use for heating and cooling can be. In fact, the same amount of power you use to run a fridge would heat a passive house for the whole winter keeping the temperature at 20 degrees Celsius throughout whole home.  

©Alexandra Falk

Dean Dalton @ FlyingSpaces®

Why do you think NZ is so far behind with the whole topic on energy efficient and affordable houses?

We have had a chronic housing shortage in New Zealand for the last 20 years that I have been involved in the building industry as a business planner. I think that the main push has always been to build affordable houses as quickly as possible in an attempt to satisfy growing demand. However, as we now know, this has not been to the advantage of the homeowner, as many houses in New Zealand are substandard when it comes to measuring heat loss through the lack of effective insulation and as a result, in many cases, we have created unhealthy living environments, especially for children and the elderly.

Why do you think Flying Spaces/modular housing could be a solution?

The manufacturer in Germany is able to produce houses at a far greater rate than we are able to here in New Zealand to satisfy the need of those people who are desperate to get into their own healthy home.

They have also tested all relevant products and materials to ensure that they have no negative impact on the human body or adverse effect on interior air quality. This makes them suitable for use in the construction of healthy, insulated and cost-efficient homes. They have developed proprietary processes and materials that are superior to any alternative offerings in the market in New Zealand which translates into a superior dwelling for our people.

What changes can we expect in the next 2 years in the building and construction sector?

I think that we will see an overall improvement in the standard of New Zealand housing stock due to regulations recently introduced designed to ensure that all homes are dry and insulated to at least a minimum standard. This should also contribute to a reduction in energy consumption as a nation, per capita, and reduce the Government’s costs for healthcare.

What do you think the NZ Government can change?

They have the power to regulate building standards to ensure that healthier, more energy-effective houses are being built in this country. They also have the power to change import duty laws to enable house building companies from overseas, like FlyingSpaces®, to contribute more affordable, yet superior-quality homes, to the New Zealand housing stock and at a faster rate than has been the case in the last 20 years.

Your best travel tip for Germany?

Learn the language and their rich history as much as you can. It is a beautiful country and highly sophisticated so you will get more out of your trip if you are able to communicate, even at some rudimentary level, with the locals. I speak French but I still use iTranslate on my phone when I need to. It’s amazing, especially when you want to order a beer and a wine at the end of the day!

Dean Dalton
Company Consultant for FlyingSpaces NZ Ltd