Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Renovation

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.56.54 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.57.32 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.51.02 am

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.

False Prophets – False Profits

“Beware of false prophets,” said John Boehner as he unexpectedly stepped down as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives last week. It was a move that surprised everyone, especially coming soon after his audience with Pope Francis.

But it doesn’t take a papal encyclical to know there are some wacky people making outrageous claims about any number of issues in the world today. Here is one: “Clean Diesel.”

Volkswagen introduced the concept of “Clean Diesel” into the United States in 2009 as part of its third attempt to break into the lucrative U.S. market. Up until recently it appeared to be working as the company overtook Toyota in July of this year as the world’s largest carmaker. But in all came crumbling down in a lets-not-let-the-truth-get-in-the-way-or-a-good-story moment.

For the German company it appears to be a case of false prophets and false profits, as billions were wiped off VW stocks in the days following the admission of wrongdoing, aka “cheating.” Up until that point VW had denied any wrongdoing. In other words, they spent a lot of time lying about their cheating because they thought the storm would pass.

This is called “doubling down” and the reason that companies, politicians, and government bureaucrats do it is because it works. They rely on the public and/or media to lose interest if they wait long enough or wave a shiny thing to distract their attention.

Many suspect that the current flag referendum is an attempted case of distraction from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the Government desperately wants. The National Party prophets promise profits to the nation.

However, in a strange twist of fate it could turn out that a small engineering firm in America could sue New Zealand under intellectual property rights law if we choose the Red Peak flag that appears to be a clear knock off of the company’s logo. Meanwhile, Kim Dotcom stands trial in Auckland (actually, sits in a very large Lazy Boy chair) awaiting potential extradition for intellectual property rights infringement. If we vote for Red Peak will the Prime Minister face the same fate under the TPP? Will a secret international tribunal decide his fate?

I digress, but believe it or not this rambling introduction has lead this column to where it is meant to be: tenancy tribunals and false prophets.

I was recently contacted by a couple facing a $4,000 bill for replacing all of the mouldy blinds in their rental property. The agent claimed it was their fault. The couple tried unsuccessfully to clean the blinds. The agent doubled down on their insistence that the couple pay. That’s when the couple contacted me to go have a look. I offered my independent advice and now the landlord is taking the case to the tribunal.

The reason I bring this up is that Monday is International Tenants Day, and many tenants have been mislead in terms of the health and comfort of the homes they occupy. To draw a parallel to the VW scandal, German engineers rigged cars to give better emissions readings only under testing conditions. In the same way, some rental agents use certain techniques to make homes appear better when being viewed by potential renters. In both cases the car/home only needs to perform as a one-off, and then return to its usual low performance.

There are some great agents out there, but others make claims that a home is “warm and dry” even when it’s not the case. Some will say, “It’s insulated” knowing that the tenants will never look to verify the claim. Another phrase used is “No previous tenants ever complained about it.” The agents that use these techniques know they will usually shut down ‘difficult’ tenants.

But there is brighter future for renters across the country as landlords begin to feel the pressure of the coming Warrant of Fitness programme along with a constant stream of bad press from the media.

I was pleased to read in the Chronicle last month that a car buyer was awarded a cash settlement by the courts for a false fuel economy claim when he bought the car. Of course the first response from the automaker and dealer was to double down on denial. Good on this ‘consumer’ for pursuing his claim in court and ultimately winning.

Tenants can take this as a lesson and refuse to be bullied into silence. Mould is not a normal condition of living in a home and it is mostly up to landlords to sort it.

Peace, Estwing

No Depression in New Zealand…and no cold, damp homes either.

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

John Maslin recently wrote an editorial for the Chronicle titled: ‘Get real’ on heritage protection. Given the number of heritage buildings in our city and the cost of strengthening them, a realistic approach is certainly in order for progress to be made.

After reading Maslin’s piece I was driving to work and heard that the song, “No Depression in New Zealand” was up for the missing Silver Scroll award from 1981. It seemed an appropriate ‘get real’ anthem:

There is no depression in New Zealand

There are no sheep on our farms

There is no depression in New Zealand

We can all keep perfectly calm

Blam Blam Blam did not win the Silver Scroll, but I am happy to honour the song for the rest of this column as it reminds us to be suspicious of spin doctors and their reluctance to recognize facts.

Not long after Maslin’s editorial we were treated to David Scoullar’s insightful piece on managing decline: Accepting decline best way for cities to plan for future. Scoullar points out examples of “cutting-edge” urban policy overseas and that they are “not on the radar of Wanganui District Council.”

WDC policy appeared on the front page of the Chronicle last month: “No Decline here, Duncan.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Another ‘interesting’ narrative that has come under scrutiny lately has to do with the cost of building homes in New Zealand. A recent 3D investigation on TV3 asked the question, “Are we paying too much to build our homes?”

While the popular narrative points the finger at land prices and council fees, the ‘get real’ answer points to exorbitant prices paid for building materials. From the 3D investigation:

Tony Sewall , head of Ngai Tahu, the biggest developer in the South Island, has sent teams around the world to investigate building materials prices.

“We’d be paying around 30 percent more than in Australia, probably 60 percent more than the United States,” he says. “And the United States’ product is better.”

Quotable Value statistics indicate that identical medium-sized homes built in New Zealand and Australia cost Kiwis $20,000 to $32,000 more than Aussies. This is not because Australia has higher regulatory costs. Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.16.56 am

Cheaper Option: On and off the shelves just like that. 

The programme revealed exclusive arrangements between building materials manufacturers and certain retailers and builders. One example used was wallboard, and how one dominant brand controls 94% of the domestic market. A rival product briefly made an appearance in shops at a much lower price, but then suddenly disappeared. Meanwhile, all parties deny a “special arrangement.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

One final issue on the ‘get real’ front for this week. The Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) recently flooded all three local papers with the same article asking for money from philanthropic organisations to support an insulation programme that has been under-funded by the current government. At the same time, we have a local MP who never hesitates to point out how many homes in the District have been insulated under his watch.

To be clear, here is a government agency asking for private donations because The Government has not provided enough funding for a government programme. Meanwhile, a representative of The Government is taking credit for the grand success of the programme.

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Additionally, it appears that the WRHN has misidentified insulating floors and ceilings as “Healthy Homes.” A famous case recently linked the death of a toddler to the home where she was living that was insulated. As Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford stated, “When you insulate a cold, damp home it is still a cold, damp home.”

But on the other hand, this could all just be hype. After all, there are no cold, damp homes in New Zealand.

Side bar: Want to ‘get real’ about healthy homes in our community? A group has formed to look into the possibility of forming a trust that will address the issue of housing performance while creating jobs for local youth. Please contact me if you are interested.

Around the World in Eight Designs: Part 12

At the end of the last column I promised to include some more examples of thermal mass this week along with a photograph. As a reminder, thermal mass is part of the trilogy for passive solar design, which also includes solar gain and insulation.

Thermal mass absorbs heat from sunshine slowly during the day and then releases it at night. In this way it is a bit like the opposite of a night store heater, which stores cheap electric heat at night and releases it throughout the morning.

In modern houses, thermal mass can take the form of an insulated concrete foundation slab, but retrofitting a 100 year-old villa is a different story. Because an old villa has a raised floor (ie, built on piles) adding thermal mass inside of the thermal envelope is more of a challenge. During the renovation of our villa we added mass in three ways.

The first and easiest way we added thermal mass was to add a layer of plasterboard (aka “Gib”) to a number of north-facing internal walls that receive direct sunlight during the winter months. If you have ever lifted a sheet of plasterboard you would know it contains lots of mass. In other words, it’s heavy.

The next way we added mass was to install an iron claw foot bathtub in our northwest-facing bathroom. Like the extra layer of plasterboard, the iron slowly absorbs the sun’s warmth during the day and releases it at night.

Finally, and most dramatically, we installed an old Shacklock 501 cooker in the kitchen. The placement of the Shacklock ensures that it receives direct sunlight three times a day through three different windows during winter. The cooker weighs 300 kg, and is surrounded by another 300 kg of bricks. The insulated hearth accounts for another 100 kg. Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 12.07.04 pm

All in, the 700 kg heater/cooker works great as thermal mass during sunny winter days. It moderates the kitchen from overheating during the afternoon and helps ensure the morning temperature is a little higher than it would otherwise be.

Oh, and on cloudy days we stoke the Shacklock with wood and cosy up with a big pot of soup on top and a loaf of bread in the oven.

Around the World in Eight Designs: Part 11

Editor’s Note: This is part of the continuing series on good home design from around the world.


In the last column I wrote about adding glazing to the northern side of an old, run down villa to increase the amount of free solar heating during the winter. Specifically, we made three of the windows larger and added French doors. At the same time, we reduced the amount of south-facing glazing by removing two windows and replacing them with insulated walls.

These steps were part of the process of creating a passive solar home while drawing on many of the examples of good home design that I have seen all around the world.

However, one of the main problems with passive solar design over the last four decades has been homes that overheat during winter because of too much north-facing glazing and not enough thermal mass. Thermal mass is the least understood aspect of passive solar design. I’ll do my best to explain it by comparing it to a rechargeable battery, but first some background.

During the 1970s some very well meaning hippies started building homes with heaps of glazing but overlooked the inclusion of thermal mass. The homes overheated during sunny winter days and the occupants had to open windows to let out some of that heat.

Here is where the battery analogy comes in. Thermal mass absorbs the extra heat (energy) during the day and stores it like charging a battery. Think of a curb or concrete stairs that have been in the sun all day long and retain some of that heat after sunset. If you touch them they are warm after the sun has disappeared.

To get an idea of what thermal mass is, think of water and anything that sinks in water. These things are “massive,” or in other words dense. In a home, common forms of thermal mass are concrete, bricks and tiles.

But don’t be confused by a home with brick cladding or stucco. The thermal mass must be inside of the home, not outside. Specifically, it must be inside of the building envelope, which includes the stud walls, windows and doors.

Another key aspect of thermal mass is that it should be struck directly by sunlight to be most effective. In the same way, rechargeable batteries work best when the charger is plugged into the power point!

With plenty of north-facing glazing and ample thermal mass, instead of overheating during a sunny winter day, the excess sunlight energy is stored in thermal mass during the day (charging the battery) and then slowly released at night as the home cools (discharging the battery). I am partial to thermal mass as a design element because there are no moving parts, and it effortlessly takes excess heat energy at one part of the day and tucks it away for another part of the day, or rather the “middle of the night.”

I hope that helps explain how thermal mass works. In the next column I will give some more examples.


Peace, Estwing

Dodgy Tradesmen

The Irish builders have been copping it lately for substandard work during the Christchurch rebuild, but I reckon there is enough dodgy building work to go around. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Lesson Number One: Never trust a property inspector who says, “Yeah, the ceiling is insulated.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.18.24 pm

It wouldn’t take more than an inch of 40-year-old ‘insul-fluff’ for the average pre-purchase home inspector to tick the box for ceiling insulation. The average homebuyer would trust the property inspection report, buy the home, and then spend the next decade or more shivering in a cold home.

Don’t trust these guys on the topic of insulation. Here’s why: For the most part, they are the same people that built much of the low quality housing stock that New Zealand suffers from.

Think about it. A property inspector is a retired house builder. Most houses built in the last 50 years are under-insulated and cold. These are the guys we are trusting to assure us the large investment we’re about to make is fit for purpose. It’s a bit like allowing the Wall Street tycoons who crashed the world economy to be the guys to help ‘reform’ the financial system.

If you are looking to buy a home, make sure you bring a ladder and a torch. Pop your head above the ceiling. If you can see the ceiling joists then the ceiling is under-insulated. It does not mean you shouldn’t buy the home, but it might mean you can negotiate on price.

Lesson Number Two: Never trust a plumber or electrician to put insulation back in place after they have removed it to do work. Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.18.03 pm

Many of you reading this column right now are living in homes with small and large sections of the ceilings completely uninsulated. If you have had a sparky or a plumber in your ceiling cavity anytime during the last two decades, I strongly advise you to get a ladder and a torch, and to have a thorough look.

Recently I was shocked by the actions of a very experienced and very pricey plumber who did some work at our home. About three weeks after he left I had reason to visit the ceiling cavity to reload bait stations for mice, rats and possums. I was shocked to see a large amount – and I mean LARGE amount – of recently installed insulation piled up against the flue for our wood burner.

Aside from the portion of our ceiling that went three weeks without insulation, stacking batts against a flue is obviously a fire hazard. Negligent is the kindest word I would use to describe this particular plumber. Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.18.13 pm

Lesson Number Three: Don’t trust the New Zealand Building Code minimum levels of insulation. Note the key word is “minimum.”

Many houses built today are destined to be cold homes due to poor design and under-insulation even though they “pass inspection” according to the letter of the law.

The current building code “minimum” for ceiling insulation is R 2.9 for this region. That is not enough. Don’t settle for a minimally insulated home. By international standards R 2.9 is meager. Throw in a couple dozen down lights and you may as well be living in a 1950s state house.

The take away for all three lessons above is this: If you can see your ceiling joists at all then your ceiling is more than likely under-insulated. You’ll need to put the insulation back in place from the tradesmen’s visits and then top up with blanket insulation over the joists and existing insulation. We have topped up with R 3.6 and except for a negligent plumber we have a fairly cosy home.

Got the message? Get the ladder!

Don’t say you’ll do it next week because you won’t. Put down your paper right now. Put down your coffee. Get that ladder and go!


Peace, Estwing

Around the World in Eight Designs: Part 10

For the last two and a half months I’ve shared examples of good home design from around the world. In a nutshell, good design includes using natural energy flows to heat and cool a structure. Natural energy flows include sunlight for winter warmth and wind for summer cooling.

A common term used for this approach to building homes is ‘passive design’. This approach to housing allows a well designed home to ‘just sit there’ and achieve comfortable temperatures year round with low power bills.

From desert to mountain, and from the tropics to cool temperate regions, I have included seven styles of homes so far in this column. For the eighth example I am offering a twist, because who in their right mind would include a 100 year-old New Zealand villa as an example of good home design?

Screen shot 2015-08-17 at 6.50.48 AM

However, the process of transforming a cold, draughty villa into a cosy, warm home is only a matter of following the basic design principles from other high performance homes that we can see around the world. Just as a reminder, the basic design elements are these: solar gain, thermal mass, insulation, cross ventilation, and a centrally located fixed heating source.

The first challenge of turning a century-old villa into a passive solar home is increasing glazing to the north and decreasing glazing to the south. In other words, this means adding windows and/or glass doors to capture more winter sunlight and removing windows or glass doors that receive no direct winter sun.

This type of work is more than likely to require building consent, so make sure you do your homework. Special care must be taken to not compromise the bracing of the home or its weather tightness.

Screen shot 2015-08-17 at 6.51.12 AM

Any northerly facing window is likely to provide an ample supply of free winter heating as long as the sun is not blocked by trees or neighbouring buildings. Once you have checked on potential winter shading, decisions can be made on increasing the amount of north facing glazing.

At the same time, southerly facing windows simply lose heat from a home almost continually from May through August. Replacing some of these cold windows with insulated walls will hold more warmth within a home, but remember all work needs to comply with the building code.

Screen shot 2015-08-17 at 6.50.14 AM

Next week I’ll tackle the misunderstood issue of thermal mass.


Peace, Estwing

Damp Homes and Health: Ya Don’t Say…

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Six weeks ago I contacted Chronicle editor Mark Dawson regarding a significant health threat to many families in our community. I knew that damp homes, mould and respiratory illness would be major issues for the rest of winter and far into the spring. Slightly tongue in cheek I titled the email, “Health Epidemic Looming!”

I was fishing for a headline to rival “GASSED!” but had to settle for a sidebar for my weekly column:

“Our soils are super-saturated and likely to remain so for at least the next 4 months.

Rising damp will be a major issue for many homes for the remainder of winter.

Rising damp can account for 30-60 litres of moisture inside a home per day.

Cold, damp homes make people sick.

Sick people miss school and work.

“We can be proactive about addressing the issue now by:

Bringing attention that damp homes will be even worse this winter.

Installing a ground vapour barrier is cheap and effective.

If you are unable to install a ground vapour barrier then other effective strategies should be involved.”

Good on the Chronicle to helping distribute information sheets on moisture and condensation in homes, and on how to prevent rising damp. These materials are still available at the Chronicle offices in Guyton Street. They are the most up to date and accurate materials in the nation at this time, and have been written to be easy to read.

Good on Doug Davidson and the River City Press for helping raise awareness about the health threat to our community, and for making the information sheets available at the RCP offices.

Considering the attention the issue of unhealthy homes has received from local media as well as national media – lead by the infamous Duncan Garner – it raises the question as to why our local health care community has failed to recognize this significant and foreseeable problem.

On second thought, I should not say the issue has gone unseen by health care professionals. As reported in the Chronicle (3rd August), Phil Murphy of the Whanganui Regional Health Network said, “Nationally, Wanganui’s child health doesn’t compare well. That’s because of the type of population here – typically high needs, low income and poor housing, which is particularly relevant when talking about respiratory illness.”

So far so good. What’s the next step?

Apparently, the solution to the problem of unhealthy homes in our city is to make a map. I’m all for collecting data, but this approach really seems like treating sick children like statistics rather than human beings living in shitty homes. If this is the best strategy we can expect from the health providers in our city, no wonder a Chronicle headline the following day (4th August) read, “DHB changes are ‘short-sighted’.

You don’t need an “app” to know where the shitty houses are in Whanganui.

To be fair, the article on the 4th was about a completely different issue, but isn’t the headline a telling reflection on the article that appeared on the 3rd?

Mapping unhealthy homes while doing nothing about them is like tracking northern white rhinos while letting poachers shoot them. Cecil the lion was well monitored, but he ended up dead by a bullet from a trophy hunter.

If we want to have a serious discussion about children’s health in our community we need to address the elephant in the room. In so many cases the child’s own bedroom is ‘the elephant in the room’. Mould is not a normal condition of housing and we should not tolerate it as so.

The only way for us to move toward a healthier community is to take a holistic approach to the well being of all its members. Anything short of a holistic, cooperative approach to community health will end up being unsuccessful and costly.

Six weeks ago I told Doug Davidson that there was no doubt in my mind that hospital visits due to respiratory illness would be up this winter. I’m sure the DHB has a tidy graph showing just that. What’s the next step?

For my part, I’ll be scrutinizing the WDHB board candidates a lot closer next year than I did in 2013.


Peace, Estwing

Around the World in Eight Designs: Part 9

For the last four weeks I have focused on good home design for winter warmth. From an eco design perspective, good design is passive. Put another way, eco design enables systems to operate as much as possible on natural energy flows rather than on supplemental power such as electricity or gas, and supplemental equipment such as motors, fans or heaters.

Last week I described a great example of passive solar design in Ladakh, India, where homes, offices and schools are being built to be heated entirely by the sun at elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 metres in the trans-Himalaya mountain ranges. If you did not see that article last week, go back and have a look. Or do a Google search for “SECMOL Ladakh” to learn more about the amazing organisation I worked with in 2006.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, eco design thinking can be used for passive cooling in warm climates or during hot summers. A good example of this is the Queenslander home design in Australia. The basic elements of a Queenslander are these: it is built on tall piles so it can catch cross breezes; it has wide covered porches to exclude the summer sun; it has vents in the gable ends to allow cross ventilation through the roof cavity.

I’ve been told that the long piles holding up a Queenslander also come in handy during the periodic severe flooding in the region. Along the same lines, a couple of years ago I saw entire neighbourhoods in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA that had been rebuilt after a hurricane with three metre piles. It looked like all the homes in the entire coastal zone were on stilts. This suggestion has been made for the homes in Wanganui that were flooded last month. But I digress.

Passive cooling through cross ventilation can be used effectively in Palmerston North when summer temperatures get uncomfortably warm. But another strategy to keep cool in summer is to top up your ceiling insulation. In the same way that insulation slows the flow of warmth upward when you are heating your home, it slows the flow of warmth downward from an overheated roof cavity during hot weather. The effect is the same as the vents at the gable ends of the Queenslander but the strategy applied is completely different. Both cases are examples of passive design, and ideally the best home design would plan for a super insulated ceiling and adequate roof ventilation.

Warm in winter, cool in summer, like all homes should be.

Damn Liars and Architectural Awards

There are liars. There are damn liars. And then there are architectural awards.

Last week the Dominion Post reported on the award-winning council apartments in Miramar, Wellington: “Elderly residents freezing in draughty Wellington council flats.”

Congratulations to the Wellington Architecture Awards for administering such a high standard in the competition. Perhaps the trophy was a statuette of a little old lady shivering while she uses duct tape and cardboard to keep out draughts.

From the article: “The 75-year-old has black tape plastered around the windows to keep the draught out, and a broken-down cardboard box stuck to her range-hood was the only thing keeping an ice-cold breeze from blowing in to her Wellington City Council flat.”

The block of flats was completed in January. Yes, you read that correctly. An award-winning residential building finished in 2015 is cold and draughty. The sad thing is that I’m not necessarily surprised. I see weak home design all the time. What does surprise me is that Kiwis as a whole have not risen up to demand a higher standard. We don’t need to tolerate intolerable or barely tolerable living conditions.

Up until recently I thought the poor performance of New Zealand homes was just a matter of bad design, but then I attended a seminar hosted by the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) called “Key to Quality.” The seminar was an eye-opener to say the least. Here are some findings from BRANZ research on houses completed in 2014 compared to their earlier surveys:

Widening gap between performance and client expectations.

Decrease in the proportion of clients that would recommend their builder.

Increase in the proportion that would speak critically.

New owners expect better follow-up.

Call-back rates increased.

Final cost disputes up by 2.2 percentage points (to 17.3%).

This trend in negative feedback is what prompted BRANZ to develop the “Key to Quality” seminar in the first place. A growing sense of “buyer’s remorse” is tainting the building industry and so BRANZ has an obvious interest in addressing the issue with its stakeholders.

While the BRANZ research shows increased dissatisfaction with builders, I think the root cause still goes back to the architects and designers, who appear more interested in making pretty buildings rather than water-tight, energy efficient buildings. Too often, pretty buildings leak water and/or leak heat, and while the immediate finger may be pointed at builders, the truth is that at times they are being asked to do things beyond their skills or that they have worked with insufficient construction details.

At the end of the day, buyer’s remorse is buyer’s remorse, but what of renter’s remorse? What of the pensioners freezing in Wellington’s award-winning council flats?

Residents have petitioned Wellington City Council – wait for it – to put up curtains. The article quotes 75 year-old Jean Gray:

“I wanted to get curtains up to keep the heat in, but they said they don’t want screws in the walls.”

“All our complaints have been falling on deaf ears. They think we’re idiots,” she said.

Petition signatories wanted better insulation and permission to install curtains, another resident who didn’t want to be named for fear of being kicked-out said.

“When I pull the blind down you can see it moving. There’s a draught under the door in the door-jamb, too,” she said.

“One lady, she’s 85 and on a walker, and she sits and freezes.”

That a professional architect and Wellington City Council do not understand curtains are essential beggars belief. Are they too busy admiring their awards? Does “fit for purpose” mean anything when building accommodation for – wait for it – old people?

We know that seniors spend more time at home and suffer disproportionately from the cold. Were these considered in ‘the brief’.

Aluminium double-glazing is a low-performance window product, not so much greater than single-glazed timber windows. Leaving them uncurtained is like going for a walk on a winter day in shirtsleeves. It’s doable but certainly not comfortable for most people.

For a thorough description of curtain performance, see:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 6.21.08 pm