It’s no secret that New Zealand homes aren’t renowned for their warmth and insulation properties. In a bid to address the issue, in 2008 the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZGBCSD) released a report on how to improve the performance of Kiwi homes. The report—resulting from a two-year $300,000 research project—found one million of the country’s 1.6 million homes were inadequately insulated and 45 percent were mouldy. It indicated 26 percent of homes (410,000) could be making their occupants ill. But now, a new rating system has been launched which allows homeowners to assess their home’s performance in comfort, health and energy-efficiency. Minister of building and construction, Maurice Williamson, launched the ‘Homestar’ rating system, saying the Government thinks it is vitally important that people have the right information to make informed decisions. However, the system has garnered a more cautious response from the Green Party who say that while it is a good start, the system will miss out the coldest and dampest homes because it is not mandatory.
“A single rating system makes sense, if it is robust enough to measure energy efficiency differences between houses.,” says Green Party housing spokesperson Gareth Hughes. “Unfortunately, a voluntary scheme such as HomeStar is more likely to attract those homeowners who already have efficient homes, and thereby miss out the homes that are most in need of improvement,” he adds.
The Government putting more resources into a mandatory scheme “would be far more effective at giving consumers the valuable information they want and need when buying or renting a home”, he says. While the Government launched a scheme to insulate 187,000 homes, it declined to make home performance rating mandatory overtime.
The free online assessment— a collaborative effort between BRANZ, Beacon Pathway and the New Zealand Green Building Council—covers areas like insulation, heating, water use, waste, ventilation and indoor air quality. Among other features, it also calculates a value rating—from one to ten stars—based on these factors. It also provides information on cost-effective upgrades and other available options for improving home health, comfort and efficiency.
Alex Cutler, CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council, a Homestar joint venture partner, says: “This unique tool is a world first, rating both new and existing homes, and it provides recommendations for home occupants to help them improve the health and comfort of their homes. We welcome the Government’s support of this industry led initiative.”
In the online assessment, should a house not achieve a minimum performance level in core areas of overall warmth and comfort (specifically the ability for the house to achieve healthy winter-time temperatures without using excessive energy), the Homestar system will provide the home owner with suggestions on how to improve the home’s performance. Some suggestions may involve simple actions that involve little or no cost, while others may involve investments that will pay for themselves through lower running costs or other benefits to the household. To gain a higher star rating the homeowner will need to address the core issues highlighted in the initial assessment, and then reassess the house once the changes have been made.
The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development says the use of performance ratings when advertising homes for sale and rental overseas has led to well-rated homes selling or renting faster and for higher prices. Business Council chief executive Peter Neilson says mass use of the new Homestar ratings tool, could be boosted if the Government, as a major landlord, requires its use on its large rental stock. “Over time, as landlords, sellers and tenants see the benefits of the rating information being used, it is hoped this will become the norm,” says Neilson. “Obviously the Government could give this a major boost if it required the Homestar rating on its substantial rental stock as each home is upgraded and newly let.”