The future of our homes

ERIN BOYLE
Last updated 09:35 04/08/2014
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SUZANNE WHITE/Fairfax

ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES: What kind of homes will our children be building?

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Most of us understand the importance of eco-friendly living at home, but houses already built and 'set in stone' are hard to make truly green.

This means that real, sustainable focus needs to placed on houses of the future; so what does that mean for our children, who will be building their family home in 20 years time?  

Thinking globally, Carlin Archer, creator of the sustainable living website ecobob, says that with a growing population worldwide there is already added pressure on natural resources, so we need to be building eco-friendly homes in order to significantly lower our environmental impact. Here in New Zealand people are already looking at ways to make changes.

"We are certainly getting a lot more searches on ecobob from people looking to build or buy eco-friendly homes, or to renovate their existing homes to be more eco-friendly. I'm positive this trend will continue into the future to the point where it is the norm and where we will be looking back and thinking 'wow, did we really build such poorly insulated and badly designed houses?'."

SO HOW DOES THE FUTURE ECO-FRIENDLY HOUSE LOOK?

Archer says it won't be long before it is a no-brainer to get solar panels installed, and if you are with the right power company, you can even sell your excess power by sending it back to the electricity grid. He also sees people paying more attention to health and environmental issues when it comes to materials used in the building process.  

"I believe consumers will be looking for more non-toxic materials such as low VOC paints and other healthy building materials. Also there are products that have a low environmental impact, for example, sustainably grown timber. We will hopefully see new subdivisions springing up that have sustainability at their core, incorporating such features as green roofs, rain water harvesting, grey water usage and solar panels."

Jon Iliffe, the director of eHaus, thinks that people will be opting for smaller homes that will still provide everything home owners want, because of the improved use of space. He also believes there will be a lot more attention placed on energy efficiency and comfort, as well as an increase in the construction of ready-made components.

"More offsite prefabrication, which means less individual input but better design, will probably become the standard."

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CHANGE?

Archer thinks there will need to be movement from both the people building homes and those who create the legislation. At the moment there is some growth, but momentum could be gained through having more emphasis placed on sustainable house construction.  

"I think it would certainly help if there was proactive guidance from local councils and the building industry. At the moment they seem to be moving very slowly considering the scale of the issue and they should really be driving this forward.  

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"Some players in the building industry are doing some innovative things, but it's really up to the consumer to get educated and start demanding more sustainable homes - right now many people aren't really clued up on the benefits of adding 'eco-friendly features' to a home."

However Iliffe thinks that eco-friendly housing will only become the benchmark when legislation actually changes, meaning the Government may have to take the first step.

"It can be seen from previous amendments to the building code that the majority of houses are constructed to meet the requirements and no more."

WHAT WILL IT COST?

As with most things, moving New Zealand's housing towards an eco-friendly future will come down to affordability, but while Archer says that most eco features do add an extra up-front cost to the build, emphasis needs to be placed on the reduction of household costs once the home is complete.

"These become a saving in the long run through lower electricity bills and a healthier family! Of course it will always be that higher income earners can afford all the bells and whistles, but those earning less could still allocate some of their funds to build towards eco-features, starting with the basics like better insulation and good passive solar design." 

And Iliffe notes that, just like the production of most products, once volumes of sustainable building materials are in 'mass production', the final sell price will be less exclusive and the cost proposition will improve.

IN 20 YEARS...

Dreaming, however, doesn't cost a thing. Even when it comes to considering what an eco-friendly future might hold, and Archer is thinking big when it comes to the houses our children will build. 

"In 20 years time I believe we could have regulations stipulating that all new builds must come with a number of eco-features; in a world of limited resources (and growing populations) we need to protect what we have and if we can ensure our buildings have a low environmental impact this takes some pressure off our natural resources. And, with lowering solar panel prices, I also believe we could end up with a high percentage of homes installing these to lower their power bills - perhaps we'll get to 20 per cent of homes with panels by 2034?" 

And Iliffe's thoughts?

"Active housing creates more energy than is consumed from totally renewable resources, and so the ongoing impact on the environment is very minimal - this is a concept that has already moved to construction in Europe and I think this will become the norm in many countries in the next 20 years."

- Stuff

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