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Green Homes build a compelling case as to why eco-friendly homes should be within reach for all, not just the lucky few
The team at Ecobob are always on the lookout for eco-smart people doing eco-friendly things, enter Henry McTavish of Green Homes. The following interview has some great insights into eco homes and the way forward. Found below!
When did the Green Homes company start trading?
We started trading in New Zealand about 2 ½ years ago now. We are actually a franchise of the Australian operations, which was launched back in 2006, and we're proudly taking on the American market with a franchise opening up there in 2018.
What regions of New Zealand do you operate in?
Christchurch and Auckland were the original operations, but we've expanded to New Plymouth, Queenstown and Tauranga
Do you think interest in eco homes has risen in the last few years?
Most definitely, this revolution has been led by customers who are demanding something different, better, rather than just the status quo. In areas like Auckland, where prices are incredibly high, people really are demanding quality. There's been a cultural revolution going on now for a while where sectors in society are becoming more socially conscious of the well-being of the community, be it wider or the family. More people are putting thought into the process of choosing. And influences such as social, environmental and health are having an impact on their decision making choices. As a reflection, the number of products are growing, giving more choice and those choices are amazing. The ideas are becoming more accessible and mainstream so everyone can do what they can, with whatever budget they have. There are options.
What main features make Green Homes healthier than regular new house builds?
The thermal envelope. Increased insulation in the house means a more efficient house. Increased performance, decreased running costs!
What passive design principles do you use with all of your homes?
It's all about the sun. The misconception about green building being more expensive is simply not true. Any cost increases are balanced by cost savings in the running of the house, something to remember. Another thing to remember is that the sun is with us each day and one of the most valuable sources of light and heat, so use it. It's free. Solar Passive is important in our designs, using what nature has given us and simply making use of it.
Does it cost more to design your home to have passive solar gain?
No, you just need to be informed and spend wisely. Pointing the sun in the right direction is not hard. But most importantly really understand the lay of the land and the weather conditions of the area. Each place has its own unique qualities, be it shading, wind, special features etc, so instead of just "putting" a house on your lot, actually think about what you want, what works best for where you are building. Also try as much as possible to keep it simple. Creating more surface area on a build means less efficiency. An Igloo is perhaps the most perfect example, but we're not going to live in a round house, so the less surface area to foot print the more efficiency gained. There are also so amazing products out there that will assist in retaining heat and releasing it later on – use whatever you can for free, as the sun is a great heat source.
Do all of your homes come with ventilation systems or is natural ventilation enough?
That depends on the budget, but we ensure all homes come with some sort of ventilation. It's so important. If you want a warmer, healthier house you need to have ventilation. Security stays on openable windows to allow cross ventilation. There are fantastic trickle vents out there that allow for continuous ventilation. If you can't afford mechanical, we don't believe you shouldn't have a solution, we just find one that fits client's circumstances.
What type of insulation do you use in your homes and what thickness?
Hmm, interesting question. It can depend on the region. It's important not to look at the packaging of the insulation, the construction R value is what is important, not a particular product. It needs to be a wholistic approach to the insulation, not just a product. But yes, in general we go a lot higher than code as insulation is really important. There are fantastic products like Mammoth Insulation that actually perform better than others, it is incredibly green, and you get a better performance than what is on the packaging. It's made from 100% recycled bottles and can be recycled again after use so has a continuous flow, therefore (and strangely) one of the greenest products – it potentially never needs to go to landfill and our recycling is going to great use.
What other eco features do you include in your homes that come at no, or little, extra cost compared to conventional features?
Neptune planking from the Tiledepot is fabulous. Looks stunning, it's acoustic, bullet proof, water proof, great for pets and the surface is made from crushed stone, so it holds the heat like a tile and really is cost effective. There are loads of things out there if you do your research, we like innovation and exploring but mostly, from what I've found, is that there are many fantastic products out there now and they are the same price, if not cheaper. It's a misnomer that green products are more expensive – they may have been in the past, but with more requests and volume going up they are becoming the norm.
As well as your materials being eco-friendly, are they fair-trade or ethically certified?
Depending on the product we look at all areas of "green" materials. FSC certified wood is one of them. Easy to source. We try to encourage going local to support our community. Abodo is one fantastic product. People are requiring trust, so better not to mess with unethical behaviour.
Do you offer solar power or solar hot water?
We do, but it's a moving picture. Solar Hot Water is great but why not just use Solar power to heat your water and once heated then the power can go to other things. Overseas there are some great technologies where power can be stored in communities, therefore making it really cost effective. The prices and efficiency of the products in NZ are improving all the time, so the balance is moving towards solar. With population growth and therefore pressure of resources we need to use power more effectively.
If the particular home you are working on gets water from the mains, what type of water harvesting would you recommend to your clients, if any at all?
One idea that I like that is cost-effective, is something like Thin Tanks; no longer does water storage above ground need to be ugly - why not turn this into a vertical garden feature. It rains, so why not use the water that is free for gardening, toilets and laundry? It will cost you a bit, but then you start saving on water bills, and water is going to become more and more of on an issue, and we need to start thinking wisely.
Do you build custom design homes as well as working from existing house plans?
Custom homes at affordable prices, we're not aiming for the high end, we want everyone to enjoy the benefits.
How affordable are your homes compared to other home building companies like GJ Gardener and Golden Homes? Do you have an average cost per meter square?
We are affordable but you can't compare us to GJ Gardners. We will be a bit more expensive, but then again the running costs and health benefits will save you far more. Are we more expensive? That is for people to decide where they place cost. If you considered everything you put into your home you should have a personal cost-benefit, so you understand what you are paying for.