Before ‘Villa Wars’

Before “Villa Wars” there was the Eco-Thrifty Renovation.

As newlyweds, Dani and I started renovating an abandoned Castlecliff villa in 2010. The roof leaked. It had no power or water. Half of the windows were smashed. The hot water cylinder and copper wiring had been stolen. It was our honeymoon.

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The four villas on this season’s The Block NZ look like luxury accommodation compared to what we shifted into five years ago. A reasonable person would have torched the structure. We decided to save it.

Despite it’s condition when we took possession, the old girl had potential – solar potential to be specific. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would never consider buying a home in New Zealand with the living spaces facing south. It just makes no sense.

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Far and away the best use of solar energy in the housing sector is passive heating. This is followed by solar hot water. Other forms of solar energy have yet to prove themselves as being cost effective in the residential sector.

While The Block NZ makes for entertaining television, from a Whanganui perspective it must be taken with a grain of salt. While house prices in Auckland have skyrocketed over the last five years, prices in our River City have fallen. Many people in our community have done up their homes only to see the valuations drop.

From what I have observed, renovation is less of a factor for increasing a home’s value compared with a thriving job market or foreign investment. Until we see one or the other locally, there won’t be significant increases in valuations.

In our community, renovation needs to be more of a labour of love than anything else, especially if you plan to invest in energy efficiency and/or solar. It appears that most valuers do not understand solar energy and are unable to place accurate figures on it. Unfortunately this holds back a cultural shift toward high performance housing in New Zealand.

This is not to say that we should not renovate our homes. We should. It’s just that our focus needs to be a return on health and comfort rather than on ‘climbing the property ladder.’ Additionally, smart investments in energy efficiency will reap ongoing financial rewards for homeowners and the local economy. Intelligent communities around the world have realised up to 20% savings in domestic power usage. Imagine all of those dollars circulating in local economies rather than being sent away to power companies.

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One final note on renovation that may come as a surprise to some: the building inspector is your best friend.

Blockaholics know that Peter Woflkamp is revered as the watchdog of the programme. Although he is the butt of many jokes, his role is indispensible. In the same way, our building inspectors play critical roles in overseeing works. They too are maligned, but at the end of the day they are the most important people on a job site.

The legacy of leaky homes – a period of time when building oversight was weakend in New Zealand – will end up costing the nation tens of billions of dollars. Watchdogs are important on TV and in real life.

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