Kermit the Frog may have been famous for saying “it’s not easy being green”, but the realities of climate change and environmental degradation mean we should probably all be joining Kermit to become more “green”. But it doesn’t have to be hard. We’re here to help demystify everything to do with going green. So, if you’re wondering what being green means in the building industry, or what exactly a “Green building” is, read on.
First things first, a Green building reduces or eliminates its negative impact on the environment through four main design components, which make it more sustainable: materials, energy, water, and health. A Green home will be more economical to run and can provide a healthier, more comfortable living environment with little or no mechanical assistance.
Regardless of whether you’re building or renovating, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your home’s impact on the environment, which will most likely also reduce its impact on your bank account in the long run. If you’re renovating, start with your insulation and window coverings and/or double-glazing. These basics will reduce your power bill by making the most of your home’s passive heating, therefore reducing its environmental impact – so it’s worth talking to your NZCB builder about the most sustainable options on these fronts. For insulation, ensure you use a material that will give the highest R-Value. Insulate above ceiling level, external walls, internal walls and under suspended timber floors if applicable. It is essential that insulation be installed into 100% of the surface area. You could also consider solar panels, especially as some local banks offering lower interest rates on lending for these.
If you’re replacing appliances, opt for more energy efficient ones (though, don’t rush to buy a new fridge if you don’t desperately need it – the technology in older fridges are one of the world’s worst contributors to carbon emissions, so it’s better to keep using it if it works). When your hot water cylinder needs replacing, pop in a hot water system which heats up quickly and efficiently. The same goes for lightbulbs – as they need replacing, swap them out for more sustainable LEDs. Gradually replacing your old, worn-out items with more sustainable items is a remarkably easy way to slowly reduce your older home’s environmental footprint, from furniture to low flow taps and shower heads. Just remember that rushing out to buy a bunch of new items when your old ones still work or can be repaired is never a sustainable choice!
Water harvesting is another sustainable option which is easily installed in either an existing or new home. Capture and collect rainwater from your roof and channel it into a tank located on the coolest side of your home. This provides free and readily accessible water, reduced water demand on your local ecosystem and healthy and renewable water. And if you use it for watering the garden or washing the car, you don’t even need to treat it.
If you’re building new, there are many options to make your home more sustainable – from the way it’s situated on site (ensure your main living areas face north and utility spaces are on the south-side) to its size and even the roofline.
When planning your new home, consider how much space you genuinely need. A home with additional rooms you don’t use often will always be less efficient than one where every space is utilised (not to mention more expensive to build).
When planning your heating and cooling, firstly, make the most of passive heating. The aim is to capture energy from the sun and retain it, so it warms the home. A correctly constructed central ‘thermal mass’ (brick, block, cement, rammed earth, or stone) in your home will store heat during the day and release it in the late afternoon and evening when it gets cooler outside. This is one of the best methods to distribute natural heat throughout your home, at the right times.
When considering thermostat systems, focus on living areas which have multiple uses or zoned-off sections which will allow your energy usage to be controlled more effectively. Note, individual heating and cooling systems are much more efficient when it comes to effectively zoning your home, while also adding to the individual comfort of those using each zone.
You should also talk to your local glazier about the best window options, as there’s much more to it than simply double or triple-glazing. For example, low emissivity or smart glass is a product designed to give better results in different climates for maximum sun collection and reflection. Consider your window frames – timber UPVC frames offer good thermal efficiencies; however, they do require ongoing treatment and maintenance, and they won’t offer as tight an air seal as an aluminum frame. Generally, an aluminum frame is hollow however some are available with thermal breaks which will dramatically enhance efficiency. Consider the depth of your eaves and/or verandas which are also vital for maximum efficiency, helping heat the house in the winter and keep it cool in summer.
Building a Green home does not have to cost much more than a ‘standard’ home. There are now many products readily available, at reasonable cost, with good energy efficiency returns. Just be certain to check with your NZCB builder whether the products you want to use will get a consent through your local council, as New Zealand’s building rules are quite strict.
Building or renovating, sustainably helps protect the future of the environment and your home’s resale value, so it’s worth ensuring you hire a builder and tradies who genuinely understand Green building principles and practice. It is just as important to reduce waste and environmental impact during construction as it is after you move in.
So, if after reading this you want to discuss the best sustainable options for your home or building project, talk to your nearest NZCB builder. They’re qualified experts who will happily help you!