Launch of BRANZ Green Home Scheme

  • Simon Upton

Turnbull House, Wellington

Anybody who has survived a Wellington winter in a typical house which was built in the 1940s, who has experienced the inconvenience of getting out of bed on a crisp morning, will take heart from this BRANZ initiative. There are plenty of older houses in this city lined with no insulation whatsoever; a thin layer of rimu against the southerly. Some were built on sunny sports, others in chasms facing south - only the bathroom, with its tiny opaque window, being a sun trap.

A heater going all day might have little effect, particularly during a watery Sunday afternoon when you don't want to draw the curtains. These hollow old houses are sometimes fine acoustically: if you're a tenor. But they're no good for isolating a crying baby or a teenager learning the violin.

Practices have improved enormously in the last two decades, but there remain extensive vistas of opportunity for those wanting to construct smarter homes. So I'm delighted to be here today to launch the Green Home Scheme. This is a valuable, timely and appropriate initiative.

The BRANZ scheme, as you all know, is a voluntary scheme that provides home builders with information on how their building compares with best practice methods on a range of environmental, health and safety issues. It takes a life-cycle approach to environmental effects and assesses building design from a global, local and immediate environment perspective. It awards credits across a range of areas: energy use, of course, but also, lighting systems, indoor pollutants, use of recycled materials, waste disposal methods and the storage of hazardous materials. If the design attracts enough credits the homeowner receives a certificate.

The Ministry for the Environment is providing on-going support for the Scheme by way of the Sustainable Management Fund.

The search for energy efficiency, to take one aspect, will be ongoing. The residential sector consumes approximately 13% of New Zealand's total energy (about 55PJ), and this is projected to increase to round 67PJ by 2020. Although it is the smallest of the three energy sectors in the economy (the others being industry/commercial and transport), we understand that there is considerable potential for energy efficiency savings. The residential sector has the slowest turnover of capital stock, so investment decisions made now will have long term environmental implications.

The Government played its part when it set up the Energy Saver Fund (ESF), which is targeted towards energy savings in the residential sector. Over three years, $6 million has been allocated to projects that will reach over 80,000 New Zealand homes. Improving hot water cylinder insulation and the provision of energy audits are a couple of their projects. These ESF schemes and others are estimated to provide lifetime energy savings of 500 million kWh; the equivalent of 300,000 tonnes of CO2.

After the Climate Change meeting in Kyoto this December, New Zealand is likely to face legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is appropriate, therefore, that a significant focus of the credits available under the Green Home Scheme is energy-related. Initiatives such as these provide valuable information to New Zealanders so that they can respond personally in a cost-effective way that helps us, as a nation, meet our international commitments.

We support a voluntary approach - it reduces the costs of regulations, while enabling consumers to express their preferences on building design. They can make decisions more accurately now because of the provision of information and feedback available through the Green Home Scheme.

However, there will always be a place for regulations in setting environmental bottom lines. The Government has two energy-related initiatives in the residential sector, which are complementary to the Green Home initiative:

Minimum Energy Performance Standards are already on the legislative agenda. Legislation will set standards for three electrical technologies: fluorescent tubes, light ballasts, and electric hot water cylinders;

Updating the Building Code to set higher standards for energy efficiency in building design and construction. The Building Code will address house insulation levels, introduce separate and strengthened energy efficiency requirements for houses located in cold areas of New Zealand, and set limits on hot water cylinder system heat losses. In the non-residential sector, it will introduce modest lighting power density requirements for larger commercial buildings. This package is now with the Government for approval.

The BRANZ Green Home Scheme includes an assessment of the use of hazardous materials, their disposal and the use of recycled material in the construction of the home. It is therefore nicely in step with the Government's Cleaner Production objectives.

The Ministry for the Environment has reassessed its cleaner production strategy, based on the recently published landfill census and a soon to be released waste data report. These two documents reveal that a comprehensive review of hazardous waste management is needed. It is an area where we simply have to lift our performance, if we want to continue making environmental claims in the global marketplace.

Cleaner production work in the near future will not focus on specific industries such as the construction and demolition industry, but instead on working with key organisations, for instance local government and professional organisations (such as BRANZ), to promote cleaner production.

The Green Home initiative is consistent with the promotion of the Agenda 21 principles of sustainable development and cleaner production. It should generate strong support from local government, who share these objectives.

I want to finish by congratulating BRANZ for their contribution in this area.