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Smart choices indoors will help the great outdoors
While we can't all afford to build our dream "green" home, we are able to retrofit and apply practical eco-logic, making our homes more eco-friendly, with a smaller environmental footprint.
Some houses tend to be easier to retrofit than others, and others are inherently greener and healthier, despite not being "consciously" built as an eco-friendly home.
When looking to buy a new home, with plans to upgrade the green-rating of the house, there are a few features to both seek out and avoid, ensuring any complexities of retrofitting are minimised.
North-facing living areas are essential for winter warmth. The more sunshine a house receives, the less the risk of damp. Some rooms have to be on the southern side, but preferably not the living areas and bedrooms.
To avoid the risk of dampness developing, the New Zealand Building Biology and Ecology Institute (BBE) says avoid homes that are built close to a steep bank, or beneath trees. Wooden floors should be greater than 300 millimetres above ground level, and check under the house for signs of running water. Internally, homes should be well vented, and if there is a musty smell, beware.
Despite variations in climate from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, housing stock is fairly standard across the country.
New Zealand building research consortium Beacon has collated a list of the most common housing types, rating the ease of which they can be retrofitted to conserve energy. It says that early villas and bungalows, as well as state housing, are the best candidates for easy retrofitting.
A smaller home requires less cleaning, but also uses less energy to heat, cool and light, and costs less to maintain.
Older houses may use fibrolite (asbestos cement), commonly in the eaves, gables, cladding and sheds. Asbestos can escape from this if disturbed, or not well maintained.
The BBE warns against early (1970-80) aluminium windows, and particleboard flooring on foil insulation. Aluminium windows can reduce ventilation and exacerbate damp, while the floors tend to "sweat" at the joists where there is no air circulation, potentially causing rotting and fungal growth.
Beacon emphasises the importance of having a general plan for making your home warmer and healthier, and more efficient. Without an initial strategy, you could end up spending more, while achieving less.
Remember, when making environmentally conscious choices that involve your home, a good indoor environment is as important as the greater environmental cause, and by making smart and healthy choices inside, the outer environment is bound to benefit.
Article by Denise Bester