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A-Z of eco-renovating

From allergy prevention to zero waste, we help you through your 21st-century home renovation. Make sure your home ends up healthier and comfier after your do-up: start here

We Kiwis spend billions renovating our homes. So why aren’t we all warmer and more comfortable? We need to rethink our rebuilds, from the inside out. Here’s how, from allergy prevention to zero waste

Rhys Darby photographed by Charles Howells 

Styling by Sarah James

Shirt and tie: Plan B, 95 Ponsonby Road, Auckland

Paint: Dulux professional Enviro2 Ultra Deep in Emerald Lakes

Paint brush: Dulux

When it comes to renovation, you can’t keep a good Kiwi down. What would we do with our weekends if we didn’t have an extension to build, a room to colour match or a deck to plan?

We spend a whopping $1.8 billion on renovation supplies and services every year, plus another $1.2 billion on appliances, flooring and textiles like curtains. That’s $4 billion on making our homes nice.

All the money and effort, however, hasn’t necessarily improved things. Our housing stock is still among the coldest and dampest in the developed world. Those early settlers might’ve had an eye for a pretty country, but they weren’t thinking smart when they built their weatherboard homes facing south, just like they did back in Old Blighty.

One-third of New Zealand houses are so cold, they fall below the World Health Organization standard of 16°C for a safe indoor temperature.

Eco-architect Johann Bernhardt (see J) is horrified by the living quality of New Zealand homes.

“I see mould and mildew all over the place, lots of moisture, cold and drafty rooms, yet so little is being done about it. We renovate as soon as we buy something, but in all the wrong places. We paint, pull out walls, put in huge big windows—and if the views happen to be to the south, then we’ll get huge big bi-fold doors to the south. But our houses never get cosy and comfortable.”

Still, we’re not completely hopeless. Our love of home renovation is a lot more environmentally sound than starting from scratch. Building a new two-storey house uses about 145 trees, each of which will have been growing for 28 years—and that’s not even counting the weatherboards. By renovating instead of building new, we save a lot of resources.

The key to making your renovation eco-friendly is starting in the right place. Insulation and ventilation come first—for your health, comfort and ongoing savings. Next, energy-efficient appliances will cut back your power use and save you cash. Only then should you move on to all the new cool technology: solar hot water panels, a waterless urinal, even photovoltaic panels.

Don’t be like the generations of renovators who came before you. If you’re going to put your family—and your mortgage—through the pain of renovation, make sure you all end up comfier, healthier and with a clear conscience at the end of it.

A is for allergies

Mould spores. Dust mites. Pet dander. Gross, right? They’re also three of the main causes of allergies and asthma in the home.

Wall-to-wall carpet is heaven for dust mites. Get rid of it (see B, C and M) or specify pure wool, low-allergen carpet (Cavalier Bremworth uses New Zealand wool and has the Environmental Choice tick). Bash the dust out of rugs regularly. Consider installing a built-in, externally ventilated central vacuum system. These suck outside all the dust that normal vacuum filters re-release into the house.

If you’re putting in cabinetry, extend it to the ceiling so dust can’t settle on top. And bedding is key: a futon or natural latex mattress is ideal (www.dm.co.nz; www.futons.co.nz), but existing bedding can be encased in anti-allergen barriers.

By controlling temperature and humidity you can make it difficult for dust mites and mould to survive. Ideally, humidity should be below 50% and temperature between 16.5°C and 20°C. Ventilate your home well (see Q) and keep your pets outside.

The most common allergy trigger by far, however, is tobacco smoke. If you’re worried about allergies, never let anyone smoke inside your home.

B is for bamboo

Bamboo flooring versus timber: bamboo grows in five years, trees in 20; bamboo stands absorb five times more carbon dioxide than trees; compressed bamboo is harder than almost all species of timber and is less expensive than most. Hellooo bamboo.

Bamboo flooring has come a long way since its early days, but the success of the floor still lies in the laying. Bamboo Flooring Systems (www.bambooflooring.co.nz) gave us these tips:

  • Ask for the floorboards to be dropped off a couple of weeks before you plan to install them. Put them in the room where they belong, so they can adjust to your home’s micro-climate.
  • Leave a small space (concealed by the skirting board) for the planks to expand on hot,
    humid days.
  • If you’re installing over new slab, ensure the concrete is completely, absolutely, very, very dry. If you’re gluing boards to particle board or plywood, or installing a floating floor over waterproof underlay, moisture levels aren’t such a concern.
  • Only one supplier of bamboo flooring is FSC-certified (see F), Smith & Fong’s Plyboo, but thanks to consumer pressure expect others to soon join them.
C is for cork

Cork floor tiles: the ultimate in ‘upcycling’. Made from the stuff that’s left over from the more lucrative production of wine bottle corks, cork floor tiles are essentially a waste product, made good. They’re also from a completely renewable resource. Like shearing a sheep, bark is stripped from the cork oak tree, leaving the tree standing. It takes a bit longer to grow back than wool—six to nine years, rather than one—but grow back it does.

And while you’d be forgiven for screwing your nose up at the drab orangey-brown aesthetic, those days are long gone. Cork floor tiles are now available in around 22 colours, and can even be custom-coloured to match a Resene Colour Chart (corkconcepts.com).

D is for double-glazing

Depending on how well-insulated your house is, anywhere from 12 to 48 percent of home heating goes straight out the window. Whack two panes of glass in the one window frame, however, and heat loss is halved.

Double-glazing is a simple retrofit that not only reduces heat loss in winter, but can also reduce condensation and noise levels, even furniture fading, depending on the glass used. Choose low-emissivity glass and fill the gap between the two panes with argon gas for the best heat insulation.

If you’re plumping for new windows, go for a ‘thermally broken’ aluminium frame. If you already have aluminium windows, retrofitting with double-glazing could be as simple as replacing the glass beads. For timber frames, a second window can usually be added inside your house, while keeping your joinery intact. Even better, this secondary glazing can be removed in summer.

There’s no need to double-glaze every window at once. They ain’t cheap, so prioritise the main heated areas. South-facing rooms and upstairs rooms (since heat rises) should be next on your list. Use good curtains (see T) elsewhere, and get magnetic acrylic sheets (magicseal.co.nz) for windows on the waiting list.

E is for energy-efficient appliances

Electronic stuff comes covered in stickers these days, but when it comes to energy efficiency there are only two labels you need to know about.

Energy Rating Labels have been mandatory for whiteware and heat pumps since 2002. These red and yellow stickers, with a half-circle of stars across the top, rate appliances from one to six stars. Since they’re compulsory, Energy Rating Labels help you compare appliances: the more stars the better. The red energy consumption box also lets you know the amount of electricity used to run the appliance over a typical year: the lower the number, the less it will cost to run.

But since 2006, there’s another energy rating sticker in town: Energy Star … which, confusingly, doesn’t use a star rating system at all. The blue Energy Star sticker is given to only the most energy-efficient appliances and electronics; if it’s got a blue sticker, it’s in the top 25% of its class. An Energy Star sticker also indicates very low power consumption on standby. Energy Star is an independent, international programme run by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). Dishwashers, washing machines, heat pumps, TVs, DVD players, home theatre systems, computers and office equipment are covered by the scheme; fridges and freezers will join them soon. As for dryers, simple: don’t buy one.

F is for FSC

And FSC stands for Forestry Stewardship Council, which runs the most credible certification scheme for forest management worldwide. FSC makes choosing good timber (and paper) easy: if it doesn’t have the FSC logo, don’t buy it.

The exceptions to the rule: reclaimed wood, and locally sourced timber such as macrocarpa, eucalyptus, cypress, cedar and Douglas fir.

Avoid like the plague new native wood and imported rainforest timber that isn’t from a certified source. And if a retailer is selling kwila decking or outdoor furniture, consider taking your business elsewhere. Virtually all kwila is from illegal sources in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where logging for this now-endangered species of tree destroys ancient rainforest and devastates indigenous communities.

G is for grey water

Grey can be green—when you’re renovating your kitchen, bathroom or laundry, that is. Take the opportunity when re-working your plumbing to install a grey water system. By collecting waste (grey) water from laundry tubs, washing machines, showers, baths and basins to re-use on your garden or for toilet flushing, an average household can slash its water use—in half, if you collect rainwater as well (see R).

There are some cautions: grey water cannot be used for cooking, bathing or drinking, and is best not used for acid-loving plants or your veggie garden. You cannot use kitchen wastewater (too much fat and other debris to clog the system) and you must be religious in cleaning and maintaining filters to avoid clogging or bacteria build-up.

In most local authorities, you’ll need a building consent to install a system, as it connects to the plumbing and sewage systems. Start with a simple diverter from your washing machine outlet and a 100-litre drum with a tap or connection to a soak hose, or graduate to a full Ecoplus unit (from $2,500, plus installation and accessories).

H is for heat pumps

Heat pumps work like a fridge in reverse. The outside unit extracts heat from the air and pumps it to the inside of the house. Extracting heat, rather than creating it, is a more efficient use of power—expect to get three to four units of heat from every unit of electricity you pay for. In other words, you’re getting three times more bang for your buck than you would with an electric or gas heater. As well as space heating, heat pump technology can also be used for heating your hot water (parex.co.nz).

The efficiency ratio of a heat pump goes down in colder climates, where the heat pump uses power to defrost the outside unit. The pump will cease to make any difference to your power bill if you use it as an air conditioner in the summer. Open a window, for goodness sake! 

The cost varies from $4,000 for a basic heat pump to $20,000 for the all-singing, total house heating solution. To ensure you’re getting maximum performance, opt for an Energy Star rated model. 

You’ll also need to decide whether to have it wall- or floor-mounted. BRANZ sustainability manager Linda Armitrano advises that a floor-mounted unit is better if you’re using it just for heating, as the heat rises and warms the whole room. But, she’s quick to add, for a heat pump to work efficiently it needs to be part of a bigger package which includes, you guessed it, insulation.

I is for Insulation

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: the cheapest, most effective energy-saving renovation for your home is insulation. And if you can’t get your head around which insulation to put where, just get the thickest insulation you can.

A properly insulated house will shave up to $400 off your annual power bill, amounting to a payback time of only two to three years, never mind the savings you’ll make not visiting the doctor or taking time off work.

The idea is to create a ‘thermal envelope’ around your house, so the heat you’re paying for is trapped inside. If you want a starting point then go for the ceiling, which will cut heat losses by as much as 42 percent. Quickly follow this up with underfloor insulation (another 15 percent) and give serious consideration to retrofitting the walls (20 percent) by injecting or stripping off the linings.

The advice from Jasmax sustainability manager Jerome Partington is to insulate to a minimum thickness of 200mm in your roof (that’s an R-value of 3.5) and 100mm for the floors (R 1.8).

But just as important as thickness is installation. “Heat acts like water—even the smallest gap or hole and it will eventually all drain out,” says Jerome. “You’re looking to create a giant tea cosy over the top of the joists.” It may be heresy to DIYers, but it could be worth forking out for someone who knows what they’re doing.

Here’s a quick lowdown on the materials:

  • Polyester: Good for ceilings, floors and walls. It is marginally more expensive than other fluff insulations but it’s resistant to water and comes with a 50-year guarantee. Autex polyester insulation has a high recycled content and has just received an Environmental Choice tick for its GreenStuf range.
  • Fibreglass: Good for ceilings, floors and walls. It can contain up to 80 percent recycled glass, making it one of the greenest options around. However, installers need to wear protective clothing as it can cause minor skin irritations. Pink Batts Ultra gets the Environmental Choice tick.
  • Loose wool and recycled paper: Good for low-pitched ceilings, these insulations can be blown into place in ceiling cavities too tight to crawl into, or walls that are already in place. Kiwi-made and recyclable brands are available.
  • Blown mineral fibre: Can be injected into existing walls, through holes. Make sure you compare the cost with ripping the wall linings out to insulate fully, as it may not cost that much more.
  • Polystyrene: An alternative retro fit underfloor insulation for raised timber floors. Easy to fit but has to have a minimum R-value of 1.4. Always use under new concrete slabs.
J is for Johann Bernhardt

If you’ve been keeping an eye on sustainable homes in the architecture mags, chances are you’ve heard of Johann Bernhardt. The architect, adviser, researcher and teacher has been designing sustainable homes in New Zealand for more than ten years, drawing together a network of collaborators under the banner of Bernhardt Architecture, but it’s his side-job running the Auckland office of the Building Biology and Ecology Institute (BBE) that most frequently lands him in the public eye.

Johann’s role manning the non-profit institute’s free helpline (0800 BBE ARC or 0800 223 272) and website (ecoprojects.co.nz) has seen him become something of a go-to-guy for information around sustainable building.

“People ring me and say ‘Hey, I’m renovating, where can I find the right paint?’, so I give them advice over the phone, for free.”

It sounds like a hell of a headache, but for Johann it’s well worth it. There are 30,000 building consents issued in New Zealand in the average year, he says, and building waste from those projects accounts for 50 percent of all the waste going to our landfills (see Z).

“There’s no use building two or three houses a year that are perfect and the other 29,998 houses are rubbish. Either we get sustainable building into the mainstream or we don’t have any effect whatsoever.”

To that end, he gives regular seminars and runs weekend eco-building courses for keen-to-be-green builders and home handypeople.

With the recent publication of his hugely informative guide to sustainable building and architecture in New Zealand, A Deeper Shade of Green (Balasoglou Books 2008), perhaps the phone will soon begin to quieten down a little. Not that it bothers Johann too much—he’s on a crusade to improve the Kiwi quality of life.

K is for KlikOn KlikOff

Although it sounds like a character from Dad’s Army, the KlikOn KlikOff is a clever little gadget that lets you turn off multiple appliances and lights with one click of a remote control. It works via radio frequency, through walls and from a distance of up to 40 metres, letting you turn on the kettle, heat pump and heated towel rail from the comfort of your warm bed in the morning—then turn everything off at the wall with a couple of clicks when you leave for work (www.klikonklikoff.com.au).

L is for light

Lighting accounts for as much as 15 percent of your monthly power bill. Here’s how to halve it:

  • Prune any trees blocking light from your windows. And open your curtains and blinds properly!
  • Locate work spaces—including the bathroom mirror—near windows. If you can’t do that, light the work area directly.
  • If you’re doing major renovations, design them to maximise natural light: think skylights (with blinds), solar tubes, open-plan living, placement of doors and windows, glass doors, light colours.
  • Use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in areas where lights are on for long periods, like the kitchen and living room.
  • Get rid of recessed downlights: they’re inefficient (it takes five to give the same light coverage as one CFL) and they will compromise your ceiling insulation.
  • Use pendant light fittings and avoid spotlights. Uplights and wall lighting give a nice warm glow at night—who says romance and efficiency don’t go together?
  • Dimmers reduce the amount of energy used. The next generation of CFLs and new energy-saving halogen bulbs, which look just like traditional lightbulbs, are compatible with dimming switches.
  • Look into LEDs for outdoor lighting: still a bit pricey, but they last for donkey’s years and run on eau d’oily rag.
  • Have separate switches for lights, so you have to turn on only the ones you need.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room! If younger members of the household find that impossible, think about installing a movement sensor to do it automatically.
  • Check out the lighting design tips and subsidies on efficient lighting products at www.energywise.org.nz
M is for marmoleum

Despite the 50s-style futuristic name, marmoleum—like the original linoleum—is an all-natural product. It’s made from solidified linseed oil, wood flour, resin and limestone, over a jute backing, and natural pigments are used to create the rainbow of colours available. Marmoleum has no harmful VOCs (see V) or other toxic chemicals, and it can be installed using solvent-free adhesives.

If all that isn’t enough, it’s also hypoallergenic, antibacterial and antistatic. These covetable qualities come from the continual oxidisation of the linseed oil that marmoleum (and its siblings linoleum and artoleum) is made from. This oxidisation also hardens the material over time, so although it requires sealing once or twice a year, it’s not only durable enough for flooring, it can also be used for benchtop surfaces.

N is for NOW Home

What would it feel like to live in the greenest possible house? One family of four got to find out when they were chosen to trial the Beacon Pathway NOW Home in Waitakere. The only stipulation: they share their experiences with the researchers.

The project aimed to build a prototype of an affordable house for the future. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom family home was finished for just $213,853. Two years on, the results show what is possible, not only in terms of power and water savings, but also in the mental and emotional benefits of living in a sustainable home.

A solar hot water system provided more than half the family’s hot water. Passive solar design, a high level of insulation and polished concrete floors (which absorb the sun’s heat) reduced the electricity bill by 33 percent. A rainwater tank supplied all the non-drinking water, reducing water consumption by 40 percent. The family’s food bill decreased, as a composting system made them aware of the amount of food they were throwing out. Now, they simply buy less.

But living in the NOW Home was more than just an environmental and financial success. Thanks to the cosiness of their new home, the children’s health improved, they had fewer days off school while mum and dad had less time off work. After years in damp and dark rental accommodation, the family was more inclined to invite friends over, and became a happier family unit who enjoyed spending time together at home.

Beacon is following up the success of the Waitakere project by building another 100 NOW Homes around the country. The research group is currently looking for homeowners to step forward for an additional 1,000 eco-renovations. Beacon won’t be footing the bill, but it’ll help you get any grants available and give you plenty of free advice (good.net.nz/2/now1).

O is for off the grid

Being able to make your own power is the ultimate goal of the eco-minded and bloody-minded alike. It’s one of the key steps to self-sufficiency and many Kiwis—green or not—are attracted to the independence it brings.

Unless you live in a deep dark gully, photovoltaic panels will capture the sun and provide you with your main source of power. Eco-architect Peter Olorenshaw suggests you splash out between $10,000 and $40,000, depending on your lifestyle. If you’re keeping the dishwasher, beer fridge and home entertainment systems, then budget for the latter amount.

Alternative or back-up systems include a windmill and micro-hydro system, if you’re lucky enough to live by a flowing stream. But Peter warns that living off the power grid isn’t just about new technologies, it’s about reducing your load as well. You’ll need the most efficient appliances you can get: laptops rather than desktops; wood burners rather than heat pumps; a solar hot water system rather than electricity. It can turn into a rather expensive exercise.

Peter reckons you might be better off finding ways to generate your own power, while staying grid-connected. That means you can feed off the grid on those cold winter nights, then feed back into the grid during the summer—and have the delight of the power company paying you!

P is for pellet fires

Pellet fires are the most environmentally friendly form of heating you can buy, says Beacon Pathway’s Lois Easton. Extremely clean-burning, they produce virtually no ash or smoke and run on pellets made from forestry industry waste, which would otherwise end up as landfill.

Despite looking like a wood burner, a pellet fire works more like a heater. Most have a thermostat and timer, and throw off convective heat much like a heat pump. They do require electricity to ignite them and run the fan, but some models come with a battery back-up. The drawbacks? The initial cost is between $4,500 and $5,000, and the pellets can sometimes be difficult to source in rural locations.

Q is for air quality

Hard to imagine that you have to plan for clean fresh air in your house, but with modern materials and building systems your house may be too airtight. Hyper-insulated walls, ceilings and floors, sealed off drafts and double-glazed windows don’t allow damp, bugs or smells to disperse. Chemicals (see V) and seepage of car exhaust from internal garaging can also make for poor air quality.

Control damp at its source with a simple extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom, and vent your dryer to the outside. Replace your gas hob with an electric ceramic or an induction model. Replace any unflued gas fires. Consider a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or domestic ventilation system (DVS).

There’s nothing like flinging open the windows, but in the depths of winter, or while you’re out all day, there are safer options: in the garage, install permanently open floor-level vents and seal internal access doors to the rest of the house. Specify passive venting devices or security fasteners on windows, and design a mix of windows and doors: a fashionable wall of sliding glass can’t be opened on windy days, so include some smaller venting windows around the room to allow cross-flows of air.

R is for rainwater tanks

Tank water used to be the curse of country folks. Now it’s become the height of urban sophistication. Collecting rainwater for non-drinking purposes simply makes good sense. Do you really want to pay for purified, chlorinated water to flush down your toilet?

Rainwater can be used in your washing machine, toilet and outdoors, where your plants will probably appreciate it more than the treated variety. What tank size you invest in depends on what you’re going to use it for. Costs vary from $400 to $13,500, depending on the complexity of the tank and installation.

If you like the idea but want to try it on a smaller scale, opt for a rainwater barrel. Check with your council to see if they offer a rebate in your area.

S is for solar hot water heating

Harnessing the sun’s energy to heat your water is one of the simplest ways to make your home more efficient, environmentally and financially. Why pay a power company—and we’re talking around one-third of your bill here—when the sun can do it for free?

That decision made, now you’ve got to navigate your way through the myriad technical questions a manufacturer will throw at you. So will that be a flat plate collector or an evacuated tube, madam? Don’t panic—it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

Solar hot water heating works like a little greenhouse on your roof. The collectors capture the sun’s energy and transfer it to your hot water tank. Flat plate collectors are cheaper while evacuated tubes have a higher absorption rate and work well in colder climes.

You also need a good controller, set to reflect your family’s hot water use. Solar usually needs a boost from either an electric or gas boiler, especially in winter, but there’s no point having that kick in at 9am when you’ve got a whole day of sun to go. For carbon neutrality, go for a Clean Air-certified wood burner with a wetback. It’ll double up as an oven during the winter power cuts!

A system will set you back somewhere between $6,000 and $14,000, but the government will assist you to the tune of $1,000 (see www.energywise.govt.nz/solar).

T is for thermal curtains

Time to redefine thermal curtains. They are not the single-layer, plastic-coated, ready-made curtains you buy in handy plastic packs at a 50 percent-off sale.

The thermal curtains that will reduce your power bill are more like slim-line quilts for your windows. Choose any fabric to face the room, back it with a separate lining and—this is the important part—sandwich a layer of ‘bumpf’ between the two. Bumpf is a thin polyester or wool batting, similar to what you’d find in a thin summer-weight duvet.

Hang the drapes close to the ceiling, and make them long enough to pool onto the floor to seal in the heat and, as a nice bonus, make the room look bigger. Curtains stopping at the windowsill are much less effective—and any interior decorator worth their salt will tell you they “chop up the room”. Instead, for small windows choose double-lined roman or thermal blinds.

Of course, big fat drapes cost a fair bit more than the thin, useless kind. Hang out for a ‘free measure and make’ offer before you fork out for fabric, and make sure you get something you love—you can always take the drapes with you if you move.

U is for urinal

Install a urinal in the family bathroom, and eliminate 99.9 percent of arguments over who left the seat up. Or worse, who left the seat wet.

New waterless urinals can save thousands of litres of water from heading straight down your toilet every year, particularly in a household where men outnumber women. Being waterless, they don’t need a water supply plumbed in, and replaceable sealants prevent odours being released. Best of all, cleaning duties surely fall to the men of the house.

Eco-matters aside, it’ll make a great conversation piece.

(We know, we know, you could always institute the old “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule. Also a conversation piece—but perhaps not the one you’re looking for.)

V is for VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that vaporise into the atmosphere, and include aldehydes, ketones and other light hydrocarbons. Definitions vary, but your lungs can feel the effects of paint thinners, drycleaning solvents, and formaldehyde from wood and laminated furniture, wall covers, paints and varnishes.

Check the labels on paint cans for VOC levels, choosing natural or low-VOC paints with the New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust’s Environmental Choice tick. Look for wall coverings made from textiles, recycled polyester and plant fibres, not PVC. Use a low-VOC adhesive, along with low-VOC flooring, bench and furniture laminates.

W is for water-saving

Low-flow shower heads or restrictors, dual-flush cisterns, a toilet gizmo, even an old-fashioned egg timer will all help save you water. Of course, you should take shorter showers and turn off the tap while brushing your teeth as well, but a device is likely to be more consistent. Look for all these things in the local hardware shop; they cost next to nothing, but will have a big impact on your water use.

Also look for the WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards) mark on any new appliances you buy. Dishwashers, contrary to popular belief, use no more water than hand-washing, providing they bear the WELS logo.

One of the worst offenders, however, is the waste disposal unit—flushing around 9,000 litres of water down the plughole every year. Put those food scraps in the compost and keep all that lovely drinking water for yourself.

X is for x-factor

Location, location, location may still be today’s real estate mantra, but tomorrow’s x-factor will include comfortable, low maintenance and energy-efficient homes.

Whether we’re buying inner-city apartments or self-sufficient country spreads, eventually New Zealanders will demand something like the UK’s Code for Sustainable Homes. The one- to six-star system rates new homes for energy, water, waste management and more. Home buyers shop for stars (three is common, six a pretty impressive zero-carbon rating), getting increasing tax breaks and lower running costs for higher stars. New Zealand’s Green Building Council plans to introduce a similar Green Star system for new residential builds some time mid-2009.

Plan your renovations with your house’s resale value in mind, as well as your own enjoyment, and allocate your budget to more than just pretty-on-the-surface looks. Consider getting a Home Energy Rating (HERS) from a qualified assessor: this rates your energy use and recommends insulation, home and water heating. Educate your agent by pointing out the comfort benefits and savings of your sustainable features (in Auckland you can engage a certified EcoBroker). Rooms arranged to capture the sun, insulation, pellet burners or heat pumps, double-glazing, water systems, even high-comfort curtains make your home more attractive than the competition, meaning it sells faster.

Y is for you

There’s a lot more to renovating your house in an environmentally friendly and healthy way than can be squeezed into a magazine article—but you know that already. The following agencies and websites will help you research your eco-renovation in-depth:

  • www.branz.co.nz Info and resources for builders and the DIY hardcore. The BRANZ Green Home Scheme can assess your home’s environmental performance.
  • www.consumerbuild.org.nz Great sections on DIY, project management, renovating and dealing with tradespeople.
  • www.ecobob.com Inspirational eco-homes, products and services directory, and friendly, helpful forums.
  • www.ecodesignadvisor.org.nz Free consultation for your home from eight local councils (Waitakere, Auckland, North Shore, Hamilton, Tauranga/Western Bay of Plenty, Kapiti Coast, Wellington and Queenstown).
  • www.ecoprojects.co.nz The BBE’s one-stop shop. Worth paying $20 for the directory, which includes everyone you’ll ever need to call for green building in NZ.
  • www.energywise.org.nz EECA’s advice on energy efficiency—including all the government subsidies and grants. (You can also phone for advice: 0800 388 588.)
  • www.greenbuild.co.nz Online database of building products aimed at professionals, but great for research.
  • www.homesmarts.org.nz The Home Health Check tool can help you decide where to start your renovation.
  • www.righthouse.co.nz If you’d rather get the experts to sort you out, Right House will assess your home and your lifestyle, then transform them into models of efficiency.
  • www.smarterhomes.org.nz Loads of great advice, case studies, checklists and tools, from the Department of Building and Housing. 
Z is for zero waste

Any good intentions to get your household waste down to zero can be undone the minute you start building or renovating. Construction and demolition generate a horrifying six to seven tonnes of waste per project and make up some 50 percent of landfill.

For the ultimate in recycling, renovate an old house rather than build new, and use recycled or demolition materials. Check kitchen and bathroom manufacturers for showroom samples, seconds or client rejects (often only mis-measures) you can reuse. Design your new kitchen to be waste friendly: make spaces for the compost bucket, paper storage and recycling.

On site, clearly mark areas for reusable materials, recycling (including bins for the scourge of building sites, drink bottles and cans) and landfill waste—and make sure all subcontractors know what to do.

The REBRI programme (www.rebri.org.nz) provides lists of waste exchanges, tips for design, materials recycling and more.   

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