Fixing the Building Code

New Zealand is wonderfully innovative. We push the boundaries and produce world class science, music and art and without a doubt some beautiful innovative architecture – so, why are our buildings so inefficient?

Bob Burnett, of Bob Burnett Architecture has been a pioneer of energy-efficient design since he started his architectural practice nearly 20 years ago. With the help of his wife Shizuka (a Japanese registered architect), every one of the homes they’ve designed have been much warmer, drier, and more energy-efficient than the average house. It’s this experience that has stood the test of time and now sees Bob as a leader in the field of energy efficient design. Bob has used his experience to make a difference by founding the Superhome Movement – an industry-led movement aimed at sharing design and build innovations to improve New Zealand homes.

According to Bob, New Zealand building standards are in urgent need of improvement.

“On a global scale, our building code is 25 years behind other developed countries in the OECD and the science shows it’s negatively affecting our health and our economy. Even worse, more than 90% of homes in New Zealand are built to the lowest standard allowed by law. Most new homes are difficult to keep warm and expensive to heat, they are also not effectively ventilated contributing to a high incidence of preventable health problems.”

Bob was a speaker at  ADNZ’s Architectural Design Conference in Queenstown in 2019& where he shared his thoughts on ‘fixing the code’, including ideas on overcoming design and build challenges to achieve healthier, energy-efficient buildings.

“The science exploring housing-related illness is sobering. New Zealand has the highest rate of childhood asthma in the developed world. As many as 40% of our 8-year olds have asthma, and sadly our housing is largely to blame. We can’t sit by and do nothing. If we share ideas, we can improve outcomes for ourselves, and future generations,” says Bob.

With increasing consumer awareness of issues related to poor housing, Bob suggests there is increased demand to design more energy efficient houses.

“We can’t wait for legal change when our health is at risk and we all are facing a climate emergency. Even new homes aren’t immune. New Zealand has fuel poverty, with too many people not turning up the heat because it’s too expensive. It isn’t good enough. We need a commitment from the design and build industries to take action.”

Bob says tangible solutions for overcoming design challenges involves sharing ideas.

“That’s what the Superhome Movement is about. We need to think of the bigger picture and work together to create effective solutions. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or difficult to achieve houses that are better than code. We have a responsibility to do what we can to address the climate emergency. Every house we contribute to should be healthy, and easy to keep warm. Reducing energy use is critical for our global future,” says Bob.

Bob continues to   share his ideas, with an aim to improving capability in the design and build industry.

“To fix the problem, it’s important that those who are looking to build or renovate are correctly informed about all their options. Communication is key and clients need to be aware of the vital importance of exceeding out-dated building code legal minimums. I hope that by creating awareness as to the subpar code minimums, the public will insist on better, healthier homes.”