The case for building more sustainably in New Zealand has never been more urgent than now.
Just a couple of months ago, councils in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Christchurch declared that our climate has reached emergency status¹ – and the construction industry is partially to blame.
How is construction contributing to the problem? By building and running “unhealthy and inefficient” homes, according to the New Zealand Green Building Council’s chief executive and economist Andrew Eagles².
The cost of “unhealthy and inefficient” homes and buildings – buildings that yield high carbon emissions during both their build and operations – has certainly attracted Niche Modular’s attention. Many of their volumetric modular technologies are already designed to meet the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC)’s famed HomeStar and GreenStar certifications.
For Niche Modular, joining the NZGBC as one of its latest members was a no-brainer.
“We’re proud to be part of an international movement of businesses who understand that building more sustainably improves both the industry’s carbon footprint and our clients’ bottom line,” Niche Modular’s Project Design Manager Jacques De Bedout says.
“Being a member of the NZGBC, who lead the country in their sustainable ratings systems and other innovations like their new HomeFit test, keeps us to date with new ways to be green. Our membership will also keep our staff trained to best-practice green building standards.”
So, what exactly is a ‘green’ building?
A ‘green building’ is most commonly known as a building designed, built and run in ways that reduce or remove negative impacts to the environment. This could include using natural resources such as energy and water more wisely and reducing any potential pollution.
What might be lesser-known is that green-certified buildings – such as those that earn GreenStar or HomeStar ratings – are also safer for people to live and work in. Green buildings have a less-toxic indoor environment, more access to greenery, views and daylight³, and, because they are warmer and drier, less of the respiratory diseases contributed to by cold and damp surroundings⁴.
In workplaces, international studies suggest that being in this better indoor environment increases productivity by 8-11%⁵.
So, aside from boosted productivity, how do greener certifications help our environment and the bottom line?
A recent study on GreenStar-certified buildings showed they produce 66% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use 66% less electricity than “average” buildings⁶ in the market. Green buildings also deliver better returns for their owners and investors and enjoy better occupancy worldwide⁷.
A Homestar-certified home reduces energy and water bills. Over seven years – the standard time Kiwis reportedly own a home – five- and six-star HomeStar-rated homes reportedly save between $573-$729 per year⁸.
Andrew Eagles, the NZGBC’s chief executive, is quick to back up this point with the costs to our collective bottom line.
“If all New Zealand homes were warm, dry, and energy-efficient, New Zealanders would save hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, providing a huge financial boost for the country⁹,” he says.
Niche Modular’s Jacques De Bedout couldn’t agree more with the benefits of building green. Each one of their Housing New Zealand projects has to achieve a minimum six-star HomeStar rating – a process made easier by using volumetric modular technologies.
“HomeStar-certified buildings are better-insulated, warmer and drier homes,” he says.
“Using our volumetric modules, it’s relatively easy to layer up our walls in core areas of the build to maximise insulation. Manufacturing in an off-site, controlled space with little distractions allows us to align each wall perfectly, making our builds airtight and thus less susceptible to the visible mould almost half of Kiwi homes are seeing.¹⁰”
Insulation aside, Niche Modular’s off-site construction methods are also part of a growing global trend in sustainability. Green-minded Sweden has found building off-site helps to keep the environment cleaner and their builders warmer – and now construct 80% of homes in this way. Germany¹¹ and Singapore are also following suit, with Singapore making it mandatory for zoned buildings to include a high percentage of volumetric modular components¹².
What’s behind the big drive towards off-site construction?
Firstly, it saves on time and money. Singapore’s official figures show building off-site can increase manpower and time productivity by up to 50%, depending on how complex the project is¹³. PrefabNZ, a New Zealand membership body, report savings of up to 60% in construction time and 15% in cost¹⁴.
These savings are achieved by building in controlled settings. By moving construction inside, weather and safety issues are avoided and specialists can work uninterrupted¹⁵.
Increasing sustainability also comes into this trend’s equation. Building off-site is shown to use less energy and create less waste, dust and noise pollution¹⁶.
Niche Modular sees these greener benefits first-hand in their Lower Hutt production facility. Working off- site allows them to reduce diesel truck fumes to and from the site, contain noise and recycle off-cut materials for use in the future.
Conserving water is also a happy side-effect of Niche Modular’s off-site operations. Their processes use very little, as they don’t mix any concrete and use minimal wet trades.
“We’re happy to say we have less impact on the environment, and very little impact on site!” De Bedout says.
“Even placing the completed volumetric module onto the site is a pretty fast and silent operation.”
Being greener, through both achieving green certifications and building off-site, certainly has its benefits.
As De Bedout comments: “More money in the back pocket and a more sustainable outlook on the future of construction – what’s not to love about that?”