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Our true housing crisis

19 August 2018
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Faster growing than old man’s beard. So powerful it can eliminate your power bill. Able to leap the New Zealand Building Code in a single bound. It’s Superhome – and it has the power to raise home standards nationwide.
Words Gaynor Stanley

A campaign to improve standards in New Zealand home building is fast gaining traction with both the industry and the public seeking warmer, more sustainable homes with greatly reduced running costs. Christchurch architectural designer Bob Burnett founded the Superhome Movement when his post-quakes experience “started me thinking”.

Forced from the new and highly sustainable Huntsbury family home he’d designed with his wife Shizuka Yasui (registered architect, Japan) into substandard rentals, they witnessed their young children’s health quickly deteriorate. “We had to clean the mould off the furniture when we moved out,” Bob says. “We’ve got a million unhealthy homes in New Zealand,” says Bob, citing Building Research Association of New Zealand’s four-yearly housing survey that reports more than 50 per cent of homes have evident mould; more again would have hidden mould.

In Christchurch, 90% of people surveyed by the Council said their homes were too cold. The issue, he says, is that our Building Code standards are decades behind the UK and Europe – “even Australia is beating us and it’s a warmer country” – and that almost all (98%) New Zealand homes are built to meet the minimum code requirements, whether they are low-budget houses or those at the highest end of the market. “The building code really needs to change, standards need to be triple where we are, at least double.” “We’re building 30-year-old technology. Would we be happy driving Ford Escorts and Morris Minors? No, we want the air bags and we want the gadgets in the car, but we don’t think about our houses the same way. Instead, it’s ‘how big a house can I get for how small a cost?’.”

Since launching the movement in late 2015, Bob has recruited more than 150 builders, designers and suppliers similarly committed to delivering healthier, more sustainable homes. He’s also gained the support of organisations like EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Green
Building Council and independent research, testing and consulting organisation BRANZ. His practice, Bob Burnett Architecture, built New Zealand’s first 10-Homestar homes in Church Square, Addington (one of which, pictured opposite, now functions as his office). Bob opened these to the public – along with six innovative Christchurch
homes from other builders and designers – for the first Superhome Tours in 2016, deliberately scheduled in winter so visitors could feel the warmth of the homes.

“Our aim is to raise public awareness about the dangers of building to the Building Code minimum standards and
dispel the myth that building better homes is too expensive or unachievable.” The movement is appreciably gathering momentum with a public hungry for information. This June’s tours attracted around 10,000 visitors to 12 homes across three weekends – a threefold increase on the previous year.

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