By Laura Baker

The terms energy efficient and sustainable are probably labels you’ve heard pop up time and time again in the building world recently. And while most people have heard about these options, many are scared of building a home that is energy efficient and environmentally friendly by the assumption it is too costly.

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Cold, damp and poorly ventilated houses are commonplace in New Zealand and unfortunately years of building substandard homes has meant it has been accepted as the norm, but it doesn’t have to be.

With a little extra thought and good design at the outset building an energy efficient home will lead to a lifetime of savings and good health.

Natalia Harrington from Hybrid Homes and Living Ltd talks to Build and Renovate Today about why it is important to bite the bullet and commit to building a home that is not only good for you and your family, but the environment and your wallet too.

There is no beating around the bush on this matter she says, the answer to whether building an average energy efficient home is more expensive in comparison to a standard home is yes.

“These homes use better and, in most cases, more materials. We estimate an average increase of five to 10 percent over and above the cost of standard New Zealand home,” Natalia says.

But she says the initial investment begins to pay itself off right away. “If you have gotten your ingredients right immediately upon moving in, you’ll be able to feel the consistent ambience of the home, winter or summer.

“Long term you’ll see that the house is performing and working for you. The overall running cost of your home should be significantly lower.”

Immediate health benefits are also obvious especially for children with eczema and asthma and colds are dramatically reduced.

People may be surprised to learn that an energy efficient home is not hard to achieve even on a very tight budget, she says. “It does not cost any more to have a smart design with correct orientation to the sun, glazing, cross ventilation and overhangs.”

But it is these elements, known as passive solar design, which will make a huge difference.

Natalia’s key ingredients to making a house truly work:

  • First of all, you have to get the design right. Passive solar design is common sense – it does not cost any more to have a smart design with correct orientation to the sun utilising glazing and overhangs.
  • Secondly, after you have allowed the correct amount of sun into your home, you need to capture it. This can be done through concrete floors which will act as a thermal sink, and will act as a giant radiator slowly releasing the heat overnight (likewise in the summer it will keep your home cool).
  • Thirdly, have you looked closely at the building materials you are specifying? Very often things that you can’t see can be the most harmful. Look for products with low or zero volatile organic compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde levels.
  • Furthermore, your glazing – have you gone to the highest standard you can afford? Many suppliers now offer thermally broken double glazing at very competitive rates. Same applies to insulation – go to the maximum you can afford.
  • It is incredible how much choice there now is on the market, from fantastic water efficient appliances and bathroomware to LED lighting at very affordable prices. If you are not being offered these things don’t be afraid to ask and see what else is available.


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