Battle to build eco-friendly home

01:06, Mar 13 2013
Verena and Jim Young
FINALLY THERE: Verena and Jim Young admire the view from their eco-friendly house in Cashmere.

Trying to do things a little differently proved much harder than imagined for a Christchurch couple.

Jim and Verena Young moved into their new eco-friendly home three days ago after a long journey trying to find the right section, designing their home and "uphill battles" with builders and suppliers.

Their Longhurst Tce home in Cashmere, designed by architectural designer Bob Burnett, has solar panels as well as insulated walls, floors and doors.

"The easiest way to describe it is as a big insulated concrete box. It holds all the heat in because there's thick insulation," he said.

The pair started hunting for sections that would get the winter sun between 9am and 3pm about five years ago and had a consent application in with the Christchurch City Council when the September 2010 earthquake struck.

There have been times when Young struggled to explain his vision to suppliers and builders.


"We weren't doing this to be different just for the hell of it . . . trying to find someone who could make an insulated door, I would have thought that would be pretty obvious, but apparently it's not. We heard a lot of ‘no, we don't do that'," he said.

The pair had spent time in Verena's home country of Switzerland and Jim said he "got used to living in warm houses".

"I think the average New Zealand home is pretty sad really . . . Christchurch is quite a sunny place and if people have the opportunity then they should definitely capitalise on that."

Young said people often built houses that were too big, required more than one heat source and proved costly.

"Eco-friendly is a relatively expensive way to build . . . but the tradeoff was that we didn't design a massive house."

The home has a 9000-litre rainwater collection tank on the roof and a heat recovery ventilation system.


Cantabrians want warmer, healthier and more eco-friendly homes and are willing to spend a little extra to "future-proof" their properties, experts say.

Building firms and designers say people are splashing out on better insulation, double glazing and solar power technology to save money in the long term.

Architectural designer Bob Burnett, of Eversun Homes, said eco-friendly design was "becoming very topical in the rebuild".

His firm works to the Homestar scale, which measures a property's environmental performance out of ten stars.

He said the average New Zealand house would probably achieve one or two stars but his firm only built homes that achieved six stars or more.

The company has built two eight-star houses in Addington and Cashmere and is now starting work on two homes in Addington that he hoped would achieve nine stars.

"There are real health issues that stem from homes that are one, two or three stars. . . Cold, damp, poorly insulated homes do result in more hospital admissions," he said.

"We also design homes with thicker walls, which has the benefit of allowing more insulation but it always makes the house stronger."

He said there was "significant cost" associated with seven- to 10-star homes but said many eco-friendly aspects were almost free.

"Positioning your house so it sees the sun just requires a bit of thought. If you're going with solar panels or the ability to recycle your own greywater then yes, it can get costly but then you just have to think about the payback," he said.

Neil Martin, Canterbury sales manager for Stonewood Homes, said there had been a "lot of interest" in the company's seven-star showhome in Lincoln, which was designed by Burnett.

"We can get between 20 and 30 groups going through the showhome on Saturdays and Sundays . . . People are definitely interested in eco-homes," he said.

Nigel Smith, managing director of Jennian Homes Canterbury, said extra insulation and solar photovoltaics (PV) were "becoming pretty popular".

"Solar power used to be something that was associated with hippies living off the grid but the technology is so much better now, it's a lot cheaper than it was a few years ago and it really makes a difference."

He said all new builds were being installed with PV kits so if an owner decided they wanted solar power in the future, then "all the hard work is already done".

"We've seen people using what I call their discretionary budget on extra insulation and things like that. So instead of a new lounge suite or television, they are future-proofing their homes."

Russell Devlin, of Solarchitect, said Cantabrians gave a "big vote of confidence" to eco-friendly design in the Christchurch City Council's Share an Idea campaign.

"I think people just need a bit of encouragement."

The Press