Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff
Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff

OPINIONBusinessApril 22, 2022

Don’t let a few building industry laggards derail the plan to warm up our homes

Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff
Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff

Insulating houses more effectively is good news for the climate, for household bills and for our health. But some in the building industry are trying to convince the government to delay implementing improved insulation measures.

A group of building industry laggards are attempting to derail a popular and simple measure that is backed by leading scientists as a key way to tackle rising carbon pollution, and would also make our homes warmer and healthier.

Over the last few days, government officials held meetings with a range of construction representatives to discuss possibly delaying planned improved insulation measures by a year, capitulating to calls from Master Builders and others to do so.

If the government listens to the laggard lobby, 40,000 Kiwi households could be saddled with higher household bills. And this is happening at a time when the costs of living are heading upwards.

Image: Getty/Archi Banal

What’s also heading upwards is the planet’s temperature. Recently a major international report, worked on by thousands of scientists, sounded what could well be the last warning for us to tackle carbon pollution, slash emissions, and prevent some of the worst effects of global heating.

“It’s now or never,” scientists urged as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was unveiled. Collectively, we either act now to make deep cuts in warming pollution, or we’ll miss a rapidly closing window to keep temperatures in check. Act now, or storms that flood Kiwi homes will happen more often, and be more damaging.

There’s a raft of ways in which we can – together – tackle what is the most pressing issue of our times. One of the key ways highlighted in the report is to make our homes and buildings cosier, more snug places, which have greatly improved insulation and will require much less energy to run and keep warm. Less energy, less pollution. Simple, eh.

Image: Getty Images

The cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use. And improved insulation means using much less energy. Plus, installing insulation is much, much easier to do than it is to build a huge piece of energy infrastructure like a new power station.

The co-benefits are huge too. Better insulation means lower household bills, which means you’ve got a few dollars extra in your pocket, so rising prices at the supermarket for the family food shopping don’t hit so hard. Better insulation means warmer, healthier homes, which means improved health for many New Zealanders.

And that’s what we could have been enjoying, as the government have been preparing to introduce improved insulation standards in November this year. The consultation they ran last year showed massive support for increasing insulation, and for doing so quickly. Ninety-eight percent (98%!) of responses backed improved insulation – and improving it in the shortest time possible.

However, just three hours after the IPCC sounded the carbon klaxon, and media outlets around the world ran the line “it’s now or never”, some members of the building industry, apparently unable to read the room, or perhaps even to care about its temperature, set about pouring cold water on the plans to warm up our homes.

Despite taking part in a government consultation, plus a year-long transition period before the improved insulation standards become mandatory, the industry group Master Builders now seemed a little taken aback at the changes to give New Zealanders cosy homes, maybe even a little surprised, surprisingly.

We’re just not ready, they harrumphed. Not ready to build better, warmer homes, that the world’s scientists are saying we need. Now.

Photo: Getty Images

Physics doesn’t listen to such harrumphing. Saying you’re not ready to make simple, popular, science-based improvements is not going to wash with the ice caps. They’re not going to stop melting because of your lack of can-do attitude. The next storm to flood families out of their homes will not disappear in a flash of lightning because of your inability to do what is necessary for the health of New Zealanders.

Physics may not listen to such excuses. But unfortunately the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment does. Over the last few days MBIE officials have lent theirs ear to these voices urging delay, and there’s a risk the pro-cold-home lobby manages to bring the better insulation standards to a dawdle.

For anyone who wants our homes to be cosy, warm and healthy places, where families build memories, laugh, cry and eat together, where families can look forward to a low-carbon, cleaner Aotearoa, these simple insulation changes will be warmly welcomed. They cannot be derailed by a few voices seemingly ignoring that it is “now or never”.

It’s now time for the minister of climate change to step in, and make sure these insulation standards are not delayed. Minister Shaw – the time is now.

Andrew Eagles is chief executive of the New Zealand Green Building Council

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