Future of Housing – Expert Q&A

There’s no place like home, but owning your own home is harder than ever before. Leaky houses, sky-rocketing prices, and ever-increasing energy bills – what do experts have to say about the Future of Housing in New Zealand?

In this Expert Q&A, the Science Media Centre asked experts in the field how design, technical innovation, and industry change could affect the creation of healthy, affordable houses to help make the Great Kiwi Dream a reality.

Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Tricia Austin, University of Auckland
Dr Kay Saville-Smith, Research Director, CRESA
Dr Morten Gjerde, Victoria University of Wellington
Emeritus Professor Andy Buchanan, University of Canterbury
Chris Litten, BRANZ
Martin Luff, Space Craft Systems


Q&A with Tricia Austin

Tricia Austin
Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply? What are the other considerations?

“New Zealand builds the third largest (per sq m) houses in the world. On the whole, we do not build houses cheaply – we build large houses on large green field sites. In Auckland, when faced with high land costs, we go on building large stand-alone houses but on smaller and smaller plots. We concentrate on infill – adding a house onto the rear or front garden, rather than redeveloping the whole site.

“Apartments and terrace houses which are much more efficient users of space have been developed, especially in the inner city suburbs, often on former commercial or light industrial land. More extensive redevelopment and production of apartments and townhouses will require amalgamation of adjacent existing dwelling sites to get sufficiently large plots.

“For example, a piece of land currently divided into 4 sites each with a house on it could provide space for up to 18 dwelling units on a mix of terrace houses and low-rise apartment buildings BUT this would require the whole area to be in one ownership. This type of redevelopment is most likely to take place where the land is in public ownership such as with the Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC).

“The time and risks involved in gradually amalgamating sites to get a sufficiently large area is unlikely to be appealing to most developers. This is even more so in those parts of the city where land (and house) prices are already high – for example in the wealthier suburbs or in land accessible to key transport routes – where low density development is likely to continue.

“It is worth noting that The Auckland Unitary Plan has rezoned land across the city so that it can be redeveloped at greater density, but it doesn’t follow that on many of the sites that it will make economic sense for redevelopment at higher density to take place.

“Accessibility is a key part of the housing affordability equation of course – with travel costs becoming a significant part of any ‘affordable’ house on the city’s fringes.

“And where there has been any public subsidy of any kind, we should be seriously considering how the affordability of the dwelling can be retained into the future. There is little point in taxpayers or ratepayers (or for that matter purchasers of other dwellings in a development) subsidising the availability of ‘affordable’ housing, so that in 3 years time the same house can be sold once it acquires a significant capital gain.”

Q&A with Dr Kay Saville-Smith

Dr Kay Saville-Smith
Research Director, CRESA, Leader for the Life in Rent programme in the Ageing Well National Science Challenge, Leader of the Architecture of Decision-Making Programme of the Better Building Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge.

As our population continues to grow, what role will technology play in creating affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?

“Most of the technologies, products and design that generate health and sustainable housing are already in existence including technologies for distributed energy production. The affordability of operating a home increases when passive, low energy design is used, dwelling footprints are compact, when people’s homes are located near to services and amenities, and when homes are kept simple.

“One of the fundamental problems for housing affordability is that the building industry targets the upper quartiles of house value, not entry-level housing. This is an enormous shift from the period prior to the mid-1990s.”

How might technology help ease some of the pressure on the NZ housing market? What sort of technologies are we talking about?

“Technological change will have relatively little impact on house prices. Prefabrication of whole dwellings offer opportunities to deliver dwellings more quickly and increased productivity.

“The real area in which better design and technology is still needed in a development sense, is around universal design, particularly level-entry and easy window opening technologies, the use of modules to modify bathrooms etc. The Australians are significantly ahead of us in that realm.”

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply? What are the other considerations?

“House prices are not driven primarily by construction costs. However, failures in build quality reduce the productivity of the building industry and/or the performance and functionality of dwellings. Costs fall on consumers (see among other things the leaky building problem).

“Homes need to work for people and protect people from the environment. We are lagging in dealing with designs that will stand up and adapt under climate change scenarios. Often we are exacerbating the problems we will encounter in the future.

“Equally we are failing to adopt universal design despite having one of the most cutting edge accreditation tools in the world in the form of LifeMark.”

How can we address issues like lack of insulation in our ageing housing stock? How are these issues from our old houses being addressed in new buildings?

“Insulation in the existing stock is encouraged through both the availability of product and through incentivising landlords as well as homeowners to insulate. There are changes in targeting that could make this more effective but the government is withdrawing financial support in this area.

“The insulation regulations for new builds are adequate – where problems arise in relation to the performance of new residential dwellings this arises from lack of compliance and poor quality work.

“It also needs to be noted that insulation needs to go hand in hand with appropriate heating and ventilation. These have not usually (except where there are some airshed problems) been promoted through government initiatives.”

Are there developments in modular/low-cost housing that could provide a quick but high-quality solution to housing demands?

“This is not a building construction problem – it is a housing market problem and problem around the targeting of market segments by the building industry. The building industry has set its price points at the higher two quartiles of value.

“The consequence is that even where dwellings are being supplied onto the market, they are not directed to the market segments with the greatest housing need. In addition, the stock design remains undiversified despite significant reductions in household size – the retirement village industry has been quick to recognise the latter and have profited from it, but most older people will not enter retirement villages.”

Is enough being done at a funding or legislative level to support innovation in the building industry?

“There is a longstanding myth that the building industry is not innovative. If innovative means taking up, and the widespread use of, new products and process then the building industry is actually quite innovative – examples are heat pumps, flat board and plaster cladding, the concrete pad.

“The problem is that many of these innovations do not always deliver benefits and can be associated with unforeseen and negative consequences. Innovation in itself is not always beneficial. This then is the wrong question.

“The question is: is there enough funding and legislative support to get the dwellings we need? Clearly not.”

Q&A with Dr Morten Gjerde

Dr Morten Gjerde
Head of the School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington

Conflict of Interest: “I maintain an interest in professional practice through Morten Gjerde Architect Ltd, which has NZIA Practice status. The work of the practice is mainly in the field of urban design and all projects have a close connection with my academic and research agendas.”

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply? What are the other considerations?

“There is so much emphasis on affordability when we talk about housing these days, which some take to mean cheap, that we forget about other, and perhaps more important, outcomes. The quality of housing should not be compromised in our efforts to build more affordable housing.

“Housing quality is much more important if we extend out the real costs over the expected life of the building. Housing affects people’s health and wellbeing, energy use as well as the need for ongoing maintenance and repair. These factors can all be distilled down to a financial cost and when we compare the lifecycle costs of houses built to perform well, with those that have simply been built to have a low initial cost, we know that building cheaply can be much more expensive in the long run.

“Now, that is not to say that building to a lower cost is always going to lead to lower performance. We can be smarter about the way we build to help costs come down. One way is to use industrialised processes – prefabrication. The operative term here is ‘the way we build’ and not what we build. In fact, prefabrication can improve the quality of the product, largely because the conditions inside the factory are much more favourable.

“However, the bigger issue by far is the land costs – if we want to get serious about building more affordable housing we will have to tackle the skewed value of land for development.”

What factors influence uptake of new, cheaper, more efficient technologies by the building industry? What can be done to encourage this?

“The building industry has been notoriously slow to take up new technologies; prevailing attitudes seem to favour existing practices and to shun innovation. While that is a sweeping generalisation, the evidence can be seen in the way builders continue to travel to building sites day after day to piece together their latest project from the ground up.

“It has been possible to prefabricate entire buildings in ideal factory conditions for more than a century. One of the more innovative housing projects carried out in the 1960s was Habitat ‘67 by a young architect named Moshe Safdie. It was built using prefabricated, three-dimensional concrete modules put together more or less like Lego blocks. Disappointingly, projects like Habitat ‘67 still remain special and unique some 50 years later.”

What can be done to encourage greater uptake of technologies?

“It may not be until such time as traditional practices become so inefficient that it is no longer financially viable. Transport and the logistics of getting all the individual materials and the workers onto dispersed building sites is likely to be the factor that tips builders’ opinions toward technological efficiencies.

“Another factor will be the increasing cost of labour. While higher wages for professional builders is very welcome, when the wages and other costs are extended out through inefficient on-site practices the costs can become uncompetitive.

“The way contracting builders are dealing with this today is to employ less skilled workers, including migrants. In the future, this may no longer be politically or economically tenable and builders may look toward technologies such as robots to reduce labour costs.”

How can we address issues like lack of insulation in our ageing housing stock? How are these issues from our old houses being addressed in new buildings?

“It is true that older, existing houses are the anchor that is holding us back from having a more energy efficient and thermally comfortable housing stock. Ceiling insulation can be retrofitted to many of these houses very easily but for many homeowners the cost of doing so remains difficult to justify. Many can’t see beyond what they consider to be an acceptable pay-back period. Is seven years really too long to wait for economic payback?

“What about the additional comfort and health outcomes that haven’t been costed into the simple energy savings payback equation? New Zealand homeowners are notoriously short-sighted when it comes investing in buildings and infrastructure.

“Even with underfloor clearances of 300-400mm, it is possible to insulate the floors of older houses. While not as effective as insulating ceilings to stop heat escaping into the night sky, insulating floors can help make floor surface temperatures more comfortable during the long winter months.

“The most challenging areas to retrofit insulation to are the walls of houses. Yet, opportunities to do so may arise because of other factors. In New Zealand, some insurers now refuse to insure older houses with old wiring or with plastered (as compared with plasterboard lined) interior walls. Clearly, there are costs associated with making these changes, but when they are required it also becomes feasible to reinsulate.

“The existing stock of pre-1970s housing, constructed before insulation first became mandatory, remains a valuable asset to individuals and society as a whole. We should do more to ensure it remains viable and retrofitting insulation should be high on the list of priorities.”

Is enough being done at a funding or legislative level to support innovation in the building industry?

“It really is encouraging that the government has set 11 National Science Challenges, which have been conceived to find innovative solutions to contemporary problems. One in particular aims to foster innovation around homes, towns and cities. But how much traction any research-driven solutions will have with the ways we build and manage our built environment remains to be seen.

“Despite having such a great opportunity to initiate change because of its relatively small size, New Zealand does not seem to take up new innovations easily. In the construction industry, this can mostly be attributed to the number of small-scale businesses that haven’t got the incentives to take up new innovations that might cause them to change the way they are currently working. As we have seen with health and safety, it isn’t until change is required by law that the construction industry revised its practices.

“I also think more could be done by government to incentivise change. New Zealand has been unwilling to provide incentives to improve performance in the ways other national governments do around the world. Take for example the United States, where subsidies, low-interest loans and tax relief are all tools used to get individuals and businesses to create changes that ultimately benefit everyone.

“When the built environment uses less energy through better insulation or through on-site generation, there is more energy available to stimulate business growth. Subsidies are still provided in some states to encourage uptake of solar power and heating, and low-interest loans are available to help fund thermal improvements that will enhance performance and comfort. While the potential to create change in New Zealand is high, the actual uptake is low and overcoming the barriers will require government to do more than it has been doing.”

Q&A with Professor Andy Buchanan

Emeritus Professor Andy Buchanan
Civil and Natural Resources Engineering, University of Canterbury

As our population continues to grow, what role will innovation in materials play in creating affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?

“Most current problems can be solved with existing materials. Innovation will need to be in new structural forms and new combinations of materials.”

What sorts of new technologies will we see moving into the engineering and construction industry?

“Hybrid structures with new combinations of prefabricated structural systems and off-site construction of housing pods for rapid on-site erection.”

How has the technology of using wood as a construction material changed?

“New ‘mass timber construction’ with new engineered wood products, well beyond the traditional timber materials of logs and sawn timber.

“The older new materials are plywood and glulam (glued laminated timber).

“The newest new materials are LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) and CLT (Cross Laminated Timber). Both are large glued timber elements following from the concepts of plywood.

“LVL is excellent for long and strong timber elements such as beams and columns. LVL is made from thin veneers (like plywood) but with most or all of the veneers running in the same direction for high strength, as strong as concrete.

“CLT is excellent for large thick timber panels. It is made from normal lumber glued together in alternating layers like plywood. The resulting big panels are suitable for walls and floors of large timber buildings.

“The other new technology is the huge range of new connection techniques including high strength nails, screws and post-tensioning (using the same technology as prestressed concrete).”

What are the benefits of returning to wood as a construction material?

“The biggest benefit is the reduction in CO2 emissions. Large timber buildings can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative, whereas concrete construction is responsible for about 8% of global CO2emissions.

“The second big benefit of timber is very rapid construction of pre-fabricated buildings, much faster than any other materials due to hi-tech precision manufacturing.

“The other big benefit is the attractiveness of wood buildings to owners, users and occupants.”

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply? What are the other considerations?

“Sustainability, healthiness, durability and quality are essential, and more important than cost in the long run.”

Is enough being done at a funding or legislative level to support innovation in the building industry?

“No. Not nearly enough.”

Q&A with Chris Litten

Chris Litten
General Manager Industry Research, BRANZ

As our population grows, what role will technology lay in creating affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?

“Increasing use of technology, and development of new technology, could have a significant impact on housing in New Zealand. From a BRANZ perspective, improving housing quality is the area where we expect to have the most impact. We are currently developing new approaches that will assist in ensuring high-quality new-build houses are more common and good quality houses are healthier and more affordable.

“They are healthier because quality housing is well-insulated, well-heated and well-ventilated – three crucial elements in ensuring a home is a healthy place to be. They may well be more affordable as technology is likely to speed up building build time overall (delays in which can increase costs). BRANZ is continually looking at how technology can improve sustainability as well – our new LCA Quick tool, which enables designers to assess whole of life costs for buildings – will be available for residential housing within the next two years.  It is currently available for commercial buildings only. This tool will support sustainable decision-making by providing information on real whole-of-life costs for new-builds.”

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply?  Are there other considerations?

“Cost of land is the biggest driver of housing costs. The role of financing is also critical – high lending rates and access to mortgages push up costs.”

What factors influence the uptake of new, cheaper, more efficient technologies by the building industry? What can be done to encourage this?

“The building industry will embrace technologies that assist and support them in their work. The main driver of uptake of new technologies is, of course, cost savings (including time savings). Designing technological innovations that will do this are likely to be taken up.

“Delivering practical technological solutions is a strong focus for us at BRANZ. This pragmatic approach also drives us to develop cost-effective solutions – we keep it simple and we keep it real. We can do this because we work closely with industry, and we understand how they work.

“Technological solutions need to be easily accessed, easily used and easily adapted. One of the most important factors is that they also need to be mobile – construction takes place on building sites, not in offices.”

How can we address issues like lack of insulation in our ageing housing stock? How are these issues from our old houses being addressed in our new houses?

“There will need to be considerable investment in improving the quality of our older housing stock. Where this will come from is not clear. This applies not only to insulation, but to resilience to earthquakes and flood-proofing, as well as other areas.

“We have learned from the building mistakes of the past. Newer homes provide safer and healthier spaces for living. Designs are evolving to better meet needs of both occupants and communities. Choices of lifestyle in terms of housing are more varied. New building materials can offer quality, variety and flexibility.”

Are there developments in modular/low-cost housing that could provide a quick but high-quality solution to housing demand?

“Yes. But they need to be put somewhere! As described, the cost and availability of land is the key driver.”

Is there enough being done at funding or legislative level to support innovation in the building industry?

“The Building Research Levy provides a significant investment to support innovation in the building industry. With considered Levy stewardship, BRANZ strives to apply our industry-leading expertise, to produce actionable, accessible knowledge for the industry. BRANZ seeks to inspire the industry to provide better buildings for New Zealanders.”

Q&A with Martin Luff

Martin Luff
Director and Co-Founder Space Craft Systems Limited and a Co-Founder of WikiHouse

Conflict of Interest: Martin Luff is the Director of Space Craft Systems Limited and the Co-Founder of WikiHouse NZ Lab

As our population continues to grow, what role will technology play in creating affordable, healthy and sustainable housing?

“The building industry lags almost all other areas of production in terms of processes and materials. The way we build our homes has barely changed for over 100 years. We are still using the same guesswork and the same slow, wasteful, imprecise, labour-intensive methods. Although faster, more innovative, more precise, sustainable methods have been starting to penetrate the sector (especially in other countries) these largely remain prohibitively expensive, difficult to implement and poorly distributed, especially among small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Building capacity in the SME sector is particularly relevant in NZ where around 4600 builders delivered just one house for the year and only five delivered more than 100 (NZ Productivity Commission report to government 2012).

“New, digitally-driven technologies, and the approaches that are enabled by them, can most definitely have a central role to play in the way we can deliver large quantities of much better quality and lower cost housing. The end results can reduce not just financial cost but the high social and environmental costs.

“Over the last two decades, the internet and the world wide web has profoundly changed our economy and our society, putting the tools to produce information and share knowledge into the hands of everyone. We have moved from a world dominated by big, centralised producers to one where the few big can be outperformed by the many small; the ‘long tail’. Think WordPress, Firefox, Linux, and Wikipedia.

“In the next decade, that same digital revolution is coming to the way we produce physical things. Digital fabrication tools such as CNC machines and 3D printers are putting the capability to produce and control physical products into the hands of everyone. It has been termed both the ‘third and fourth industrial revolutions’ and the ‘peer to peer collaborative economy’. This shift is going to transform our economy even more profoundly; especially the way we design and build our homes.

“On its own, the move from traditional construction methods to a digital distributed manufacturing-based approach brings a number of benefits:

  • Setup costs within reach of SMEs including local community-based Social Enterprises
  • Labour costs reduced through using mechanisation
  • Reduced design to delivery timeframes
  • Lost wisdom and the work of highly skilled crafts people can be reintroduced – with no cost penalty
  • World-class research and design is brought to bear on all the resulting homes (in much the same way as with our cars)
  • Consistent, replicable high quality and accuracy (helps reduce compliance costs)
  • Significant reductions in waste
  • Near real-time, accurate costings
  • Products on demand and mass customised to individual needs with little or no cost premium
  • Limitless capacity to scale along allied to economies of scale
  • High resilience to demand gaps (a way out of the construction boom/bust cycle)
  • Jobs & capacity within local communities & economies
  • Reduces repetitive duplicated effort

“Digital production means we are able to ‘share global, manufacture local’ thus reducing the considerable energy costs involved in gathering raw materials to large-scale industrial production facilities, and then redistributing and shipping the resulting physical products. As John Maynard Keynes said, ‘It is easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits’.

“New materials, new processes (in particular computer controlled cutting and ‘printing’) much improved insulation, air-tightness, ventilation and lighting are helping contribute to healthier, more resilient, affordable and sustainable buildings. Big growth areas include photo-voltaic power generation and better performing windows. New concepts like low damage design are starting to enter the design vocabulary of the industry. Traditional materials are being supercharged by improvements in processes, building science and engineering. For example, recent developments in ‘engineered timber’ mean that timber can now outperform steel by two to one in strength to weight ratio (STIC EXPAN). Hemp and mycelium based materials show enormous potential, alongside magnesium oxide, carbon composites, kevlar and new metal alloys.

“When better materials are combined with modern low energy and low emission manufacturing methods we can now realistically envisage a transition to a circular, zero-carbon economy. Initiatives such as the ‘Living Building Challenge’ envision a future where the environment would be better off for a building having been built.

“Computer simulation now offers much better modelling of energy use and conservation at the design stage, whilst low cost sensors and monitoring offer the opportunity to evaluate performance as tested (which is a breakthrough for the sector). When allied to well researched international benchmarks for performance such as Passive Haus we can simultaneously raise standards and lower costs. Continuous low-cost and remotely monitored sensing systems mean early alerts for issues and remote assessment of building ‘fitness’; in turn opening the door to lower insurance premiums, maintenance and better building safety.

“Although building information modelling (BIM) and other approaches have been around for a while, the traditional software companies’ business model means they sell proprietary software to existing industries at separate horizontal levels of the supply chain. This approach hasn’t really reduced the vertical costs or risks. But there’s a new approach on the block now; low-cost vertically integrated ‘full stack’ open platforms (being developed by projects such as WikiHouse) reduce costs and risk down through the whole distributed supply chain of products, designers, manufacturers, contractors, lenders, insurers, certifiers and regulators.

“Peer-to-Peer collaborative house building eliminates the duplication of effort and resources and reduces time spent defending closed ‘intellectual property’. Global digital communication technologies and file sharing permit small groups of people to quickly and collaboratively tackle big ‘wicked’ issues like housing, and routinely outperform large corporations and governments. They follow the simple logic that no one of us is smarter than all of us.

“We’re all waking up to the reality that we don’t have the resources to be wasteful any more. ‘Be lazy like a fox’; don’t keep reinventing the wheel. Take something that already works, copy, adapt, give credit and re-share. (Thanks Linus Torvalds via Eric S Raymond). As well as lower cost and better design, an open approach means more transparency, which in turn means less mistakes and better quality; plus no vendor ‘lock in’ to one set of tools.”

How might technology or innovative initiative help ease some of the pressure on the NZ housing market? What sort of technologies or initiatives are we talking about?

“Almost all the talk around how to solve the current housing issues, especially around volume of supply, assume that the solution has to come from the private sector, the public sector or a public-private partnership. Initiatives like WikiHouse dramatically increase capacity in the fourth sector, the citizen sector, to deliver large numbers of affordable, high-performance homes. We need to ask questions about how we build our homes, but even more importantly we need to ask questions about who builds our homes. When homes can be delivered by the people who will live in them then we get quite different and better outcomes.

“Digitally fabricated kit-sets mean that a housing project can be rapidly assembled like a large flat-pack furniture kit by a small team of ordinary people, with limited skills or formal training and limited supervision. Clever design makes it difficult to get it wrong, or not matter if you do. (The Japanese call this ‘Poka-Yoke’) From order to completed house is now possible within weeks rather than months. Assembly may only take a week or two.

“One examples is the ‘Reading Room’ project where a group of students, teachers and school children as young as six years old constructed a reading room for their school to millimetre precision and the highest building performance standards. You can choose how much of the work to do yourself and how much you need support with; thus re-igniting the ‘DIY’ market. This means the building process is demystified and no longer a ‘black box’ to users; which in turn improves resilience and empowers people to fix their own issues.

“Low-mass, kit-built systems with small modular components permit supplementary dwelling space in the back yard of existing properties – opening up pieces of land that have previously not been viable to develop. They may even open up space on the rooftops of existing buildings or on poor load-bearing or liquefaction prone land which has been difficult or impracticable to use with existing construction approaches. It may even open up new opportunities such floating homes.

“Larger-scale modular and panelised systems present new attractive options for medium density housing with excellent sound insulation and substantially better resilience (overcoming some of the key reservations from the past and helping to reduce costs). Low damage design and full moment joints in modern post-tensioned structures open up economic and safe ways to mitigate against the dangers and costs of damage from earthquakes in multi-storey buildings.

“Building systems are now finally being designed for disassembly (in the same way as for example unbolting a car component, and as opposed to damaging deconstruction) along with low-damage design both of which have a number of benefits. Firstly, being able to deconstruct a building means you can build incrementally, only needing to build what you need when you need it and can change it whenever you want. This opens the door to debt-free housing in the future: initially by reducing the requirement to borrow – since you can choose to build only as much as you can finance and then add additional space (at less than the original build cost) when you’ve saved up some more.

“It also permits buildings to much better adapt to changing needs over their lifetime. Longer-term, it a model for ‘hand-me-down’ housing; parents with grown-up children can downsize by giving their children part of the family home as a debt-free starter of their own. Built-in disassembly significantly reduces ongoing maintenance and repair costs and can help to substantially mitigate issues we’re facing around sea level rise, or extreme weather events or land damage due to earthquakes. The ability to pack down your entire house in around the same time as your belongings (along with the foundation system) means much reduced risk of stranded assets tied to a particular piece of land. An increasingly important consideration in these times of rising sea levels and post-quake ‘red zoning’. Lastly, it brings into play new options around simply leasing land (and the associated up-front capital and financing costs).”

Is it enough to just build homes cheaply? What are the other considerations?

“It’s definitely not just sufficient to build cheaply. Building ‘cheaply’ was, in part, responsible for many of the existing issues (cold damp leaky homes which is a now an expensive multi-billion dollar issue). We need design for the entire life-cycle of the product, from manufacturing to assembly, use, maintenance, adaptation, disassembly and re-use. It’s important to look at the big picture of lifetime running and maintenance costs, elimination of harmful materials and finishes, environmental impact (including low embodied energy materials, energy and carbon footprint).

“We need to consider good design at all stages of use to increase safety and quality of life. Technology alone won’t solve our problems; only when we can open up best of breed design to all, and undertake all of our developments with consideration to the community as a whole and see housing as primarily a vehicle for financial returns, but rather as an investment into quality of life, will we start to see actual solutions to our problems rather than temporary fixes.”

What factors influence uptake of new, cheaper, more efficient technologies by the building industry? What can be done to encourage this?

“Availability of design skills among architects/designers/engineers/builders to take advantage of the new approaches and technologies outlined above. This often comes down to a need for up-to-date training to be more widely available in our educational establishments and training institutions, alongside funding for training of our existing workforce. Additionally, knowledge and familiarity among regulatory organisations, along with a set of regulatory requirements and standards which are evolving to encourage (rather than simply permit) greater quality and value.

“As just one example: to meet our international obligations will require that emissions from new buildings be reduced by ~ 80%. As is stated in the relevant BRANZ Issue Paper: ‘The technology exists to undertake this magnitude of reduction, however, it remains to date largely unimplemented.'”

Is enough being done at a funding or legislative level to support innovation in the building industry?

“In a word no. From anecdotal evidence gathered from our extensive network, feedback from some of the best investigative journalists in the media and from involvement with NZ Government’s own evaluations of the innovation sector, then I would say it’s very difficult for early-stage innovative companies to access funds for research and development; and even the funding which is available is structured in a way that doesn’t meet their needs.

“Our own personal experience is that funding from organisations like BRANZ, EQC and Callaghan innovation often fails to reach the organisations doing the best work. There are a number of reasons for this, but foremost seem to be: an aversion to perceived risk, a lack of understanding around the advantages of open licensing and collaboration, and a misunderstanding of need?”