A Kainga Ora 'deconstruction' in Mt Albert, Auckland. Photo: Supplied

Local companies involved in the affordable housing sector are leading the way with innovative designs and techniques that increase energy efficiency and reduce waste  |  Content partnership

We all know that our homes have a profound impact on our lives. They impact intergenerational health, wealth and sense of place.

Our homes also have a profound impact on our planet. When it comes to carbon, construction industry emissions have increased by 66 percent in the decade from 2007 – 2017. Overall, our built environment is responsible for 20 percent of the country’s carbon footprint.

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Waste is also eye-popping in its contribution. Construction and demolition waste makes up 40–50% of New Zealand’s total waste going to landfill (BRANZ).

Some of this is commercial, but a lot of it is residential too. I know, as it something that dominates our household’s dinnertime conversation. My husband is a builder, specialising in renovations. One of our most frequent hand-wringing conversations is the amount of demolition waste he deals with and feels that he has little to no control over. The system is geared that way and small players often have no power to change it. They’re left holding the plastic wrap baby at the end.

Affordable housing can lead the way

The significant gap left behind by decades-long failures in the private housing market is in affordable homes. Homes, whether long-term rental or progressive home ownership, that are designed and built specifically for people on lower incomes that allow ageing in place and intentional community-building.

Now and in the coming decades, we need to implement policies and design homes and building programs that are specifically geared towards closing this gap.

There are green shoots underway, with leadership being shown by the community housing sector and iwi and Māori housing providers. The Progressive Home Ownership Fund and the new Affordable Housing (Rental) Fund have been enablers of these shoots.

Given the scale required, there is every opportunity for affordable housing developments to lead the way in energy efficiency, innovative construction techniques and replicable housing designs that reduce waste and support local supply chains.

More homes, less waste

Kāinga Ora is currently the largest player when it comes to social housing and has made progress in recent years to measure and manage embodied emissions, energy efficiency and waste. As explained in our latest podcast interview with Rohan Bush, KO’s Director of Building Sustainability, Innovation, and Standards, this approach includes adopting a target to divert 80% of materials in Auckland (and 60% in the rest of the country) from old homes from going into landfill across its large-scale development projects as part of its Environment Strategy.

At one project alone – 236 homes at Highbury Triangle in Avondale – a KO sub-contractor, TROW Group, removed around 1,337 tonnes of potential waste including 947 tonnes of concrete, as well as 141 tonnes of general rubbish, 186 tonnes of wood and 27 tonnes of metal for recycle or reuse.

Numbers are great, but what the ongoing impact of this is that systems and supply chains are being set up for others to learn and benefit from. As enterprises like TROW Group spring up around waste diversion and reuse, others in the construction sector have more options and shifts have more chance of being long-term.

Local manufacturing for local providers

How we build is important to reducing waste, and so is what we build with. Supply chains that support our capability in offsite manufacturing and value-add to our own timber will become increasingly important to speeding up building times, cutting down on waste and improving the health of our homes.

Formance manufactures structurally insulated panels (SIPs) in its factory just out of Christchurch and works with community housing providers, including Habitat for Humanity Nelson and the Salvation Army.

While we’ve been importing SIPs for a while, local entrepreneurs and healthy homes advocates have seen the potential in quality, locally-manufactured SIPs that are designed for our shaky – and sometimes windy – isles. In displacing traditional timber framing methods, SIPs can cut down the time to deliver a build too.

Again, the scale that can be achieved through affordable and public housing developments can play a pivotal role in making local manufacturing viable while benefitting people in the homes with lower energy bills at a time when cost of living is extraordinary.

Adapting design for affordability and performance

In 1937, Love Construction was awarded a government contract to build 38 state houses in Pine Hill, Dunedin as part of the first state housing initiative. Over the past 18 months, Naylor Love, as it is now known has been working with leading community housing provider, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust to adapt their Mahana House out of recognition that there is a shared value in building homes that are intergenerational.

While much has changed in that time, the importance of great, adaptable design that withstands the test of time has not.

Mahana homes don’t need concrete foundations and can be configured in two, three, five and six bedroom versions depending on the need of the community. By not reinventing the design wheel, using low-maintenance materials and meeting specifications well above building code minimums, the homes are more cost effective to maintain for the provider and comfortable and healthy to live in. As with SIPs, there is an added benefit in reduced time to build and consistent quality outcomes.

Government as enabler?

These local examples should give us hope that partnerships based on common values and good business sense can create wonderful, affordable homes for communities. But such approaches need active ongoing investment and long-term commitments to the idea that high performing, beautiful homes should be the standard for everyone.

They also require a culture shift away from a house-by-house approach to design and build, and away from treating the building code as a maximum target, not a minimum standard for our homes.

That is, of course, a much harder ask and directly impacts the likes of my husband and other small and medium scale participants in an extremely stressed construction sector. We’re potentially heading into a big shakeup, with history teaching us that this would stop the momentum of building new homes we’ve gained in its tracks.

This is where the government can play a role beyond Kāinga Ora’s mandate. Clearly-defined, counter-cyclical measures aimed at continuity of affordable housing developments and incentivisation of adaptable design, thermal efficiency and waste reduction can help meet our housing needs during a downturn. This will also ensure that our construction industry remains intact and is poised to seamlessly continue delivery once the private market rebounds. Win-win.

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