This story was published on Haven.
It’s important to ask the right questions to ensure you find a contractor who takes sustainability seriously. Follow our guide below to make the process easier.
There are many environmentally friendly ways to build or renovate – from using recycled or sustainable materials to incorporating passive solar design, which uses the sun for heating and cooling to minimize energy consumption.
However, finding a contractor with sustainable values can take a little research. I know because we’re currently trying to upgrade our guest room (housed in a tin shed attached to our house).
While doing research online is a good place to start, it’s important to ask a contractor (or contractor) the right questions before deciding to work with them.
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Going beyond that to make a home more sustainable is not something every contractor will do. The building code is a minimum requirement, but many builders who take sustainability seriously say it is not good enough.
“More than 90 percent of new houses are built according to the minimum standards of building codes, which is 20 years behind countries like Great Britain and North America,” said Dan Saunders of the Christchurch-based company Dan Saunders Construction, quoting a study by the Building Research Association of New Zealand.
Andy Jackson / things
Going beyond that to make a home more sustainable is not something every contractor will do.
Dan was a founding member of the Superhome movement, which aims to achieve higher building standards so New Zealand homes are healthier and more energy efficient.
His team specializes in building high-performance houses that are safer and more environmentally friendly through insulation, natural ventilation and passive solar gain.
In addition to the construction company, Dan and his partner Jennifer Hamlin own Ecopanel, which sells pre-made insulated wall panels made locally to sustainable standards.
“We build energy efficient homes, but we also have a strong philosophy about protecting the environment by making sure our buildings use low carbon materials and processes,” says Dan.
“The advantage of all of this is that these materials are non-toxic and the warmer, drier, more energy-efficient home is cheaper to heat and cool and healthier to live in.”
Dan works with the Passive House Institute New Zealand (PHINZ) and the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), which use the Homestar rating system to rate homes on their efficiency, health and sustainability.
Craft Homes, based in Auckland, is another company affiliated with the Superhome movement as well as PHINZ and NZGBC.
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Green Gorilla is Auckland’s largest industrial waste recycling facility.
Toby and Cat Tilsley and their team build high-performance homes from recycled materials whenever possible. While they are also renovating homes, they suggest that it is easier to introduce sustainable elements with a new build.
With a local no-waste policy, Craft Homes is offering hardwood scraps to anyone who so wishes and using waste disposal company Green Gorilla to ensure that as much construction waste as possible is recycled.
Green Gorilla separates reusable building materials like wood and gypsum (the mineral used in plasterboard) at its Auckland waste processing facility, where they divert around 75 to 80 percent of construction, construction and demolition waste from landfills in Auckland.
Auckland-based DIY enthusiasts can order Skips from the company for a more sustainable renovation.
Another eco-friendly DIY option is to borrow from a tool library instead of buying a tool that you only need for a limited time.
The Auckland Library of Tools is a community hub where you can borrow anything from a hammer to a pressure washer or a circular saw for a small quarterly or annual fee. Garden, sewing and camping supplies are also available.
There are other tool libraries across the country – Wellington has the Newtown Tool Library, Raglan has one in the Whāingaroa Environment Center, and Canterbury has Christchurch’s Tool Lendery and Lyttelton Library of Tools and Things.
It is also important to support various trades with environmentally friendly processes.
Tradespeople.co is an online directory of home builders, plumbers, electricians, and more aimed at increasing representation in the construction industry.
A number of people listed on the directory have a green ethos, like Liz Watson of Waikato company Stone Roofing, who recycles and reuses waste, and Amelia Fagence, an Auckland designer, furniture maker, and architecture graduate who is environmentally conscious Practices focused.
Questions to your builder
- How do you minimize waste on site?
- Which sustainable construction processes do you use?
- Do you build high-performance or energy-efficient houses?
- Are the materials you source locally produced or made from recycled or renewable raw materials?
- Do you have environmental associations or accreditations?