Eco ren­o­va­tions

Things have changed at home. Chil­dren have ar­rived (or left), you’re go­ing to write your novel and need your own of­fice, or per­haps you just need some of that in­door/out­door flow? Here’s El­e­ment’s 10 rec­om­men­da­tions for an eco-ren­o­va­tion.

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Build­ing can be a waste­ful business, so it’s worth con­sid­er­ing how to make the im­pact of your mod­i­fi­ca­tions as small as pos­si­ble, while up­grad­ing your home to be more en­ergy ef­fi­cient than it was.

1. Con­sider stay­ing within your foot­print

In­fa­mously, ren­o­va­tions can be crip­plingly ex­pen­sive (the cur­rent fig­ure hov­ers around $4000 per square me­tre, com­pared to $2800 for a new build. For this rea­son, a mod­i­fi­ca­tion is worth con­sid­er­ing with re­spect to your ex­ist­ing floor plan. In­stead of plan­ning ad­di­tional struc­tures, look at how your space can be re­con­fig­ured – it’s eas­ier and cheaper to move an in­ter­nal wall than an ex­te­rior one. Small spa­ces can be made to ac­com­mo­date many pos­si­bil­i­ties, but en­gag­ing an ar­chi­tect is im­por­tant for a project which de­mands in­tel­li­gent de­sign.

2. Get an en­ergy au­dit

Be­fore you be­gin, con­sider how to make your home as en­ergy ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble – it will pay div­i­dends long term through power sav­ings.

There are a cou­ple of op­tions for en­ergy au­dits. Homes­tar is a rat­ing sys­tem for en­vi­ron­men­tal and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in new and ex­ist­ing homes. As­ses­sors are ex­perts on build­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy and are also con­nected with green-minded sup­pli­ers, who of­fer dis­counts through the Homes­tar scheme.

Al­ter­na­tively, get in touch with Auck­land Coun­cil eco de­sign ad­vi­sor Eion Scott (0508 326337), who will ar­range a free two-hour con­sul­ta­tion.

3. Pre-loved ma­te­ri­als

Turn your at­ten­tion to the ma­te­ri­als used in the ren­o­va­tion. The hack­ing down of almost ev­ery de­cent-sized na­tive tree in this coun­try by our fore­bears means there’s a large sup­ply of character tim­ber which has been har­vested from old homes, and can be pur­chased from sal­vaged tim­ber yards. It adds in­stant grav­i­tas to a home, and a jux­ta­po­si­tion be­tween old and new can form a strik­ing im­pres­sion. Also keep an eye out for vin­tage fit­tings.

4. Electrics/heat­ing – in­te­grat­ing key tech­nolo­gies

Now is a good time to re­place worn out in­fra­struc­ture and ap­pli­ances.

The ul­ti­mate light­ing comes from that gi­ant orb in the sky, so in­tro­duce win­dows and sky­lights where there were none, if more light is re­quired.

Re­place old in­can­des­cent bulbs with LEDs to save en­ergy, and de­sign light­ing to make the space at­trac­tive. Avoid spot­lights cut into the ceil­ing – they’re sim­ply holes through which heat will es­cape.

Con­crete, tile or stone ‘sinks’ in the form of floors or benches, when in the sun dur­ing the day, will re­lease that warmth back into the space when the sun goes down.

The sun will also power your home through so­lar PV pan­els and, com­bined with the new tech­nol­ogy of heat pump wa­ter heaters – a su­per-ef­fi­cient re­place­ment for the tra­di­tional elec­tric wa­ter heater, you can rea­son­ably ex­pect your bill to re­duce by up to three-quarters.

When you go shop­ping for white­ware, re­mem­ber the En­ergy Star logo rep­re­sents the top ten per cent in their cat­e­gory for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

5. Floor­ing

When it comes to floor­ing, there are many eco choices. As well as re­claimed na­tive tim­bers, mod­ern op­tions in­clude bam­boo or cork tiles – warm and com­fort­able un­der­foot.

A wool car­pet is pure lux­ury, fire­proof, stain-proof and en­vi­ron­men­tally (and farmer) friendly, and car­pet tiles and vinyl floors can be made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

6. Plumb­ing

Now’s the time to re­con­fig­ure the plumb­ing, so that wa­ter can be con­served, or re-used. Rain­wa­ter col­lec­tion tanks, wet­back wa­ter heat­ing, low-flow shower heads, dual flush toi­lets and the re-use of grey wa­ter in toi­lets – much can be achieved to lower your home’s wa­ter use. If your ex­ist­ing wa­ter heater is a veteran and ap­proach­ing its use-by date, swap it out with the afore­men­tioned heat pump wa­ter heater be­fore it floods your new renno.

7. Re-face, don’t re­place

Worn out MDF cup­boards can be re­moved and re­placed with new ma­te­ri­als, pro­vided the struc­ture of the frame­work is sound. Try marine stan­dard ply­wood – it’s wa­ter resistant, able to be stained, or painted, looks great and is highly durable. The same can be done for bench tops.

8. Use low VOC coat­ings

VOCs are sol­vents that are re­leased into the air as paint dries. VOCs can cause headaches and dizzi­ness. The long-term ef­fects are less cer­tain, but ac­cord­ing to the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, some VOCs are sus­pected car­cino­gens. Low VOC paint is prac­ti­cally odour­less, 100% acrylic and splat­ter resistant.

9. Invest in qual­ity

It sounds ob­vi­ous, but one of the most sus­tain­able things you can do is buy qual­ity. Not only will it last for years, but it will look amaz­ing for most of them. If you buy lots of cheap stuff, pretty soon you’ll be liv­ing in a tatty, unin­spir­ing en­vi­ron­ment that doesn’t per­form well.

10. Pay for it

If you have to bor­row to pay for your renno, why not make use of in­sti­tu­tions which spe­cialise in loans for sus­tain­able projects. The Prometheus fi­nance company, for ex­am­ple, loans money for projects with proven sus­tain­abil­ity cre­den­tials, and Ki­wibank has a Sus­tain­able En­ergy Loan.

A ren­o­va­tion on Wai­heke Is­land de­signed by Bull O’Sul­li­van Ar­chi­tects. The in­te­rior cladding in this home is made from sal­vaged tim­ber. Photo: Si­mon De­vitt

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