Building sustainably isn’t just a trend for hippies and tree-huggers, anymore. It’s commonplace to consider minimising your impact on the environment when building or renovating. It doesn’t have to be complex, either. Here are some easy places to start.

When it comes to the environmental footprint of your home the first things you should consider are all about passive energy and making the most of it. Ask yourself the following questions:
– Is your home situated to make the most of the sun each day? This is what we mean by passive energy.
– What are the thermal properties of your materials? Wood and concrete are both great for retaining heat. (That’s why you’ll see all the neighbourhood cats sprawled on driveways on summer evenings!)
– Is your home air-tight for winter?

Obviously making sure your home faces north to make the most of the sun is an easier decision to make when building from scratch, but there are things you can do when renovating, too. If your main rooms face south, could you swap your layout over? Ideally you want bathrooms and utility spaces on the south side, so the spaces you live in most are heated passively. Installing skylights can also be a great way to make more of the sun’s passive energy if your living spaces are south-facing, while allowing more natural light into your home.

Next up, consider double-glazing and insulation. While often an expensive outlay, it keeps your home airtight, which helps with heat retention and means smaller power bills in the long run. Insulation is also subsidised by the government in some places across the country (as are heatpumps) so it’s worth checking to see if you qualify click here.

You should also consider ventilation and window coverings. Extraction or windows which can be left open in wet areas will help keep moisture down, and cool your home in summer. Thermals blinds and curtains will help your home retain the sun’s warmth in winter.
NZCB builders PR Construction recently built a completely off-the-grid, sustainable home in rural Linkwater, in Marlborough, and while not many of you will be able to go completely off-the-grid, there are still a few lessons we can learn from them.

If you’re building from scratch, you can get it right from the start. In Linkwater, PR Construction used six-inch stick framing, with R4 for walls and R5 for the ceiling. We know that’s gibberish to most people, so we asked Leighton Horner from PR Construction to explain why high R values are a more sustainable choice.

“The higher the R value the better thermal resistance the home will have. When you couple higher R values with six-inch framing air leakage is restricted, which allows for higher insulation values. This substantially reduces air temperature changes in the home, so less energy is required to maintain a comfortable living standard (which saves money in the long run),” Leighton says.

Leighton also says it’s important to work with architects and builders with experience building sustainably, as it can be a minefield if you don’t know how your plan is going to fit with the Building Code and consents, or if you haven’t worked with these building materials before. “Make sure you align with professionals who specialise in their field with this type of build.”

If you’re keen to talk to an NZCB approved builder about your build or renovation, you can find a builder in your area using our find a builder search tool here.