Our buildings are crap because the building code is

KiwiBuild is the perfect opportunity to drag up our pathetic building standards, argues the head of the NZ Green Building Council.

We all have a home. It might not be the place that you hunker down each night, but we all have a place we know of as home.

A home should be a sanctuary, a place that keeps us safe, and makes us feel safe. Homes are important too because of the rent or mortgage we pay. For those who own a home, it’s almost certainly your most valuable asset. 

For too many New Zealanders, the places in which we stay don’t keep us safe and healthy. Too many of our houses are cold, damp, unhealthy places. They are not sanctuaries.

It’s not just New Zealanders who know too many of our homes are crap. Leading international agencies are lining up to rightly criticise our Building Code. The Building Code outlines the minimum legal standards to which our buildings have to be constructed. And too many of our homes are crap because our Building Code is crap.

Just last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said New Zealand’s Building Code is below the standards required of most IEA countries with comparable climates. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development chimed in too, saying the New Zealand Government “should consider modernising the Building Code; its standards are less stringent than those of many OECD countries”.

There’s a bunch of areas where the Building Code fails, but let’s look at one specific area to highlight the rank standards within. We’ll take insulation, and compare New Zealand’s Building Code R values to those of the UK. An R value is a measurement of how much heat leaks out of a building. A higher R value is better than a lower one, and means warmer homes.

UK (2002) UK (2013) New Zealand
Wall 2.9 4.0 1.9
Roof 4.0 9.1 2.9
Floor 4.0 7.7 1.3
Window 0.5 0.8 0.26

 

The UK has been progressively improving their Building Code equivalent, hence the better R values in 2013 from 2002. You don’t need to be a building engineer to see the UK requirements are way ahead of ours. Our Building Code R values requirements are much worse than those of the UK in 2002, and they’ve been improving them ever since.

Clearly, we need to fix this crap now. But how?

The government’s commitment to KiwiBuild and the rhetoric around improving health and wellbeing, a swiftly building momentum amongst the industry, and a loud, national conversation about the state of our homes – and the damage they are doing to New Zealanders’ health – have combined to create a chance for us to make our homes better.

Right now, the move to build homes fit for New Zealanders is backed by a powerful combination of political will, industry will and the will of the people. And right now, even though the political will seems promising, the government rhetoric around building quality homes is just that, rhetoric. There’s still not nearly enough detail about the standards to which the planned 100,000 KiwiBuild homes will be built. What R values are we talking, for instance?

Getting KiwiBuild right is bigger than the 100,000 homes in the programme. Building those homes better will mainstream higher standards, bringing down costs across the industry, and making it easier to build warmer, drier homes beyond just KiwiBuild.

And what about the cost involved here? Our homes are already eye-wateringly expensive. Won’t building to a higher quality make homes even more unaffordable? We asked New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub to look at this, and published a report comparing the costs and benefits of building KiwiBuild homes to the Building Code, and to a higher quality, independent standard called Homestar.

The report found there is an upfront cost but “the private benefits outweigh the costs, and there are substantial social benefits. There is compelling evidence to move towards higher quality homes”. The total benefit of building KiwiBuild to a higher standard could be a whopping $682 million. These benefits would include savings in electricity and water bills for those living in KiwiBuild homes, and the social benefits come through reduced climate change pollution, waste and water runoff.

Tens of thousands of homes are, right now, already being built to Homestar standards. It’s an industry accepted tool, it’s well established, and was developed with the building sector. It’s ready to roll-out for KiwiBuild right now. As Eaqub said, “building at a higher standard is a no-brainer”. But he warned that we have to start now, or else we will be locking in inefficiencies for many decades to come.

Using KiwiBuild to build better homes will be good for our health, for our household budgets, for our environment, for our economy, for our tamariki. It really is a no-brainer. So what are you waiting for, Phil Twyford?

Andrew Eagles is chief executive of the New Zealand Green Building Council, a not-for-profit representing members from the construction industry which runs a number of building rating tools.


The Spinoff’s business section is enabled by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

Check out how Kiwibank can help your business take the next step.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.