To understand Homestar, the best way is to do the myHomestar test at homestar.org.nz
It should take at least 20 minutes, depending on how often you get up to inspect some feature of your home. The test stopped being free on August 1, and now comes as part of a $15 annual subscription. The Homestar subscription can be considered an investment, as it includes access to updates, extra advice and product discounts if you decide to act on the recommendations. The first box asks me to “name this property”. Subscribers can test multiple properties. What shall I call this one? Dunfreezing? Grey Lynn Castle? The next page captures basic information about the property, starting with house type from a menu of useful photos – I click on villa, then clamber outside with a tape to measure the size. It comes to about 110 square metres, which is normal for a three-bedroom house of the period. A modern three or four bedroom home is often greater than 150m2, which is something to consider in the debate over affordability. Now we get to the energy category, which is worth a quarter of the points. I expect to get hammered. As of this winter the main space heater is a flued gas heater, which is good – they don’t like unflued gas and open fires in this test. Hot water comes from a continuous flow gas heater. Are hot water pipes insulated? I’m not sure, so look under the house. There’s a pipe with a loose and dirty sort of fibrous strip wound around it. I’m not sure if it’s doing its job. I click “don’t know”. Light bulbs are a mix of old and new style. Homestar encourages low energy fluorescent or LED lighting for at least 75 per cent of the house. The fridge is more than 10 years old – energy efficiency in appliances has increased markedly in the past decade. In total I get just 14 per cent of the possible points. The next section goes to health and comfort – windows, ceilings, walls, floors and dampness. Does the house generate any electricity from renewable sources such as solar photovoltaics, wind or hydro? No such luck, and no incentives expected any time soon from Energy Minister Simon Bridges. After all, generating your own could threaten the share price of mixed ownership model power companies.
“The Homestar subscription can be considered an investment...”
The questions about windows just remind me how cold it can be standing in the sunporch at night, but thick drapes would hide the view, which is the point of having so much glass. I’m not climbing into the ceiling to check the Batts, but I’m guessing that with 20 years of settling they would be down to less than 100mm, with no coverage of the framing or joists. The done thing now is to have a continuous thick cover of insulation up top. The exterior walls are timber framed and weatherboard without insulation and the wood flooring is uninsulated. The water section includes questions on rain barrels, greywater systems, double flush toilets, and water efficient shower heads. I scored zero. I got 100 per cent for waste management though – big ticks for the Hungry Bin worm farm and the compost heap. Does the house have a home operation and maintenance manual? It’s a home, not a rocketship, but if I want to create a home user guide covering the operation of the house and maintenance schedules, there is a template on the site. How much of the landscaped area directly around the house is planted with native plants? Magnolias don’t count as natives. What’s the fuss about natives anyway? Why should the house be more green for having some shrub wrenched away from its subalpine habitat? Which of the following is 10 minutes walk from house? I tick bank, bus stop, coffee bars, library, supermarket, everything but the marae which is 20 minutes away. That’s what living in Grey Lynn is about. Now the moment of reckoning. I push the button for the report: “This house has achieved a rating of 2 stars under the Homestar Residential Rating Scheme. “It is possible for this home to achieve a higher star rating, except that it is currently being held back by a mandatory minimum performance level in the core issue of overall warmth and comfort (specifically the ability for the house to achieve healthy winter-time temperatures without using excessive energy). To gain a higher star rating address this core issue first, and then reassess the house once the changes have been made.” At 2 stars my Grey Lynn villa comes in at half the average but only slightly below the building code.