Green Building in New Zealand and Australia

My older daughter went to New Zealand and Australia for three weeks the day after she turned 12. I’ve always resonated with NZ. It’s been a dream destination of mine since I was young, and I could hardly believe she got there before me!

When she returned, her stories told me that NZ was progressive, which I’d suspected, while Australia was more traditional. She preferred Australia, and, knowing her values were very mainstream, this was in sync with my ideas of both places.

Alternative approaches to building in New Zealand

There is more alternative building in NZ, which does not surprise me. Earthships, green roofs, solar power and water catchment are more common. Building methods, such as strawbale, rammed earth and passivhaus, seem to be prevalent in NZ, and there are building standards for earth buildings.

Autoclaved Concrete (AAC), a building block 20% the weight of concrete, is popular in NZ, too. It is non-toxic, fire resistant and durable enough for earthquake prone regions. It reduces temperature and humidity fluctuations inside, and acts as thermal insulation for heating and cooling. It is sustainably manufactured with no waste or pollutants.

New Zealand Southern Alps mountain range. (Photo: epcp)

The NZ Green Building Council was formed in 2005 to promote green building and educate the industry and government. Ratings are considered in the design, building and performance of a building. Efficiency really shows once it’s built, occupied and operating.

Homestar in New Zealand

Homestar is the residential rating system. Points are gained for efficiency, comfort, indoor air quality, and waste, water and energy conservation. Homestar homes rent and sell faster and at higher prices than similar, conventionally built homes. Green Star is the commercial rating system, which gives points for whole building design.

Sustainable Building Guidelines were written for residential and commercial property owners, tenants, architects, builders and designers to learn and implement. Education of green building methods and benefits encourages investment.

Australia promotes green building practices

In Australia, the industry and government are working together to promote green building practices. The goal is to be carbon neutral by 2020 through efficient construction and operations as well as by using materials with low embodied energy. Instead of having a negative or neutral environment, buildings will have a positive impact. Think: beyond neutral.

Carbon neutrality will be reached through:

  • passive design for ventilation and temperature control with no mechanical parts
  • renewable energy
  • energy efficient lighting and appliances
  • upgrading HVAC systems
  • buying green power
  • renovating, instead of building new
  • recycled materials
  • local materials
  • solar orientation
  • shading
  • insulation
  • thermal mass

King's Canyon, Australia (photo: ogwen)

The Green Building Council of AU was established in 2002 to promote green building programs and technologies. The goal is to reduce the impact of energy, water and land use as well as the creation of waste and pollution. There are 170 buildings certified by their rating system, Green Star.

Trevor House and Australian green building

The third 6 Star rated building is the Trevor House in Canberra. It was a renovation of a 20-year-old building completed in 2007. Green technologies reduced the carbon emissions by 75% through natural lighting and ventilation, low VOCs, thermal mass, appropriate shading and solar hot water. The windows open automatically at night to let cool air in, while hot air escapes through roof vents.

Water usage has been reduced by 75% through rainwater caught for flushing toilets and drip irrigation with moisture sensors in the landscaping. Materials of the original building were reused, making the building 80% recycled. All of their power purchased is green.

Antipodean green building

Pretty impressive! I am still drawn to New Zealand, especially after reading about all the earth building. I will give Australia a lot of credit, though, for moving from a negative to a positive environmental impact. Since buildings are responsible for 40% of all emissions, they should be adding to the environment, not taking away from it.

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