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NZ: Market for Superhomes continues to grow

New Zealand’s Superhome movement is gaining momentum, with the organisation appointing its first executive, Bill Hitchcock, to work with participating companies as it extends its reach beyond Christchurch to Auckland and Wellington.

The first Superhome in Christchurch, completed last year, was developed by architectural designer Bob Burnett. It achieved NZ’s first 10 Homestar rating from the NZ Green Building Council.

Together with six other homes by other participating builders, it was part of a series of open home weekends throughout May this year in Christchurch that attracted over 2500 people.

The other co-founder of the movement, EcoMaster’s Martin Reilly, said Christchurch City Council had been extremely supportive, including promoting the open homes tour. The NZGBC also supported the initiative, he said.

Industry is sitting up and taking notice, with ProClima and Schneider Electric among those companies coming on board as industry participants and financial backers.

The other homes in the May open house tour included a home by WelHaus constructed from cross-laminated timber, a predominantly timber house by Ecobuilt Homes, another house developed by Bob Burnett, a contemporary house by Dwell Homes, a modular home constructed from insulated panels by Energy Plus Homes, and a “super-insulated” home by Energy Efficient Homes.

The original 10 star house has now become Mr Burnett’s office, the single storey sustainable home he also developed next door was sold to a development company with 1500 clients that is using it as a demonstration home for a new home building enterprise, 10 Star Homes.

“The director and CEO of the company [that bought the house] wants to build a better class of homes,” Mr Reilly said.

He said that what the organisers saw in terms of the people that visited the homes is that all of them had an interest in building a better home

“I think across board, people are just starting to understand, to see, touch and feel homes that have been built in a different way,” Mr Reilly said.

He said the majority of people that were interested in the sustainable homes were in their late 50s and early 60s that are also prepared to downsize.

“They are people who don’t want to buy the same old thing.”

Mr Reilly said the majority of the home building industry, however, does not want to change its practices and products. That has led to most new homes built in Christchurch as part of the reconstruction over the past five years being essentially the same type of poorly performing homes that were built before the earthquake, he said.

While some of the homes have been built “tighter”, he said there has been very little attention paid to ventilation.

“These homes are going to fail,” he said. “They are loading up with moisture [from condensation].”

Mr Reilly said it takes between three to four years for a home to load up with condensation and start to become “leaky” and begin to fail. The homes also become increasingly cold and uncomfortable in winter, he said.

There are possible remediation actions, he said, such as retrofitting ventilation systems. However, retrofitting the kind of underfloor heating that is used in the Superhomes is not as easy to achieve.

Mr Reilly said the demonstration homes have shown that a home can be almost entirely powered by solar energy. Using an air to water heat pump as part of the home’s systems means energy can be stored in the slab hydronic heating system and in the hot water system, instead of a battery.

“You come home from work at 5pm and the house is warm, so you won’t run the house [heating] system,” he said.

Around $10,000 spent on solar can take care of around 70 per cent of heating costs in this scenario, he said, in a country where average household heating bills are between $1500 and $2500 a year.

Mr Reilly said it’s also not just a simple payback in terms of the cost of solar and the savings on heating.

“If someone is buying a home with a mortgage, adding an extra $10,000 to the borrowing cost would be less than $50 a month for that [extra].

“If the value provided by the solar is greater than $50 a month, it’s a no-brainer, the payback is instant.”

Mr Reilly said the movement is looking at how it can evolve in terms of what the label “Superhome” means. He said it could become a brand that applies to homes that qualify in terms of certain inclusions and standards.

It does not want to compete against the NZGBC’s Homestar ratings system and become another rating system, he said.

Most likely, it will present the ideas that make for a super-sustainable home, and any home that achieves a certain amount of them will qualify, he said.

How to measure the sustainability success may include blower door testing to measure air tightness. Other metrics could be power use per standard square metres of floor area based on 12 month’s worth of energy bills, and whether solar has been installed.

As well as hosting launch meetings in Wellington on 27 September and Auckland on 29 September, the movement is looking go to national next year with a tour on “how to get your own Superhome”.

This will have both a consumer focus, and a day for industry participants that will earn them Certified Professional Development points.

The NZ Institute of Architects has already participated in the Christchurch tour in May that earned members CPD points, Mr Reilly said.

An appetite in the marketplace for better homes was also evident in the results of participant research conducted during the May tour by Christchurch City Council.

The research found that 45 per cent of people visiting the homes were either thinking about or currently building a new home; 25 per cent were interested in innovative construction methods and energy efficient technologies; 24 per cent were generally interested in healthy, energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes; and four per cent were home designers, builders or suppliers looking for information and new ideas.

Participant comments also showed the value of people being able to experience a more sustainable approach to home design and construction. Aspects that were particularly valued included seeing how the technologies work, experiencing the feel of a warm home with low running costs, looking at designs that use space more efficiently, and being able to see a variety of approaches in terms of design and construction.

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