A major debate is looming over the quality and amount of insulation required in the roof, walls, floors and windows of new builds and small buildings.

The country’s building regulator, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), has released a discussion paper proposing to raise insulation standards and the energy efficiency of new homes and buildings.

MBIE’s document puts up three options but MBIE makes no recommendation on which it favors.

Greenies are delighted and the building industry is wary. Option one is the cheapest and option three the most costly.

The new rules would bump up the cost of building new dwellings by thousands of dollars depending on which option is chosen, with the extra cost greatest in the coldest parts of the country.

It is part of the annual update of the Building Code with the eight-week consultation starting this week and ending on May 28.

“The concern is going to be the laggards in the industry lobbying hard to minimise changes because of the paranoia about building affordability and wanting to do things as cheap as possible,” Superhome Movement spokesman and architectural designer Bob Burnett said.

“I’m sure that MBIE will be lobbied hard by greedy people that just want to make a buck by building shonky homes. This is what’s happened in the past.”

Option one is lifting our insulation standards halfway to the international standards of comparable countries like Australia, England, Ireland, Wales and California in the United States.

Option two is raising insulation standards to international standards, and option three is raising them above international standards.

Option three would usher in big changes and challenges for the building industry and require new building methods.

Registered Master Builders Association chief executive David Kelly said the organisation would be digging into the background reports to see if the numbers and benefits MBIE talked about stacked up.

The federation had started talking to its builder members to find out what the proposals meant from a practical point of view. There might be other issues that had not been looked at in MBIE’s analysis.

“I think it’s a big conversation, absolutely,” Kelly said. “I think there will be a lot of builders that are very, very interested in it,” he said.

It depended on what came out in the consultation on whether the building industry considered the issues needed deeper analysis. Option three would have significant ramifications and was the area the building industry needed to understand, he said.

The Green Building Council director of technical standards, Sam Archer, said the council was “absolutely delighted” MBIE was finally looking to improve the energy efficiency provisions in the Building Code.

“It’s been a long time coming.” It was obvious current standards were “miles away” from other countries with climates like ours, and “we need to change”, he said.

The council wanted the best results so would support option three.

“We say that with a little bit of caution, though, because what they’re asking for will require some pretty substantial changes to business as usual construction in New Zealand,” Archer said. He questioned if the industry would be ready.

In colder climates like Queenstown, it would mean triple-glazing and there was not the supply of that at present to support that change. Another example was that builders built with 90mm framing but option three would require 140mm framing and meant changes in building techniques, Archer said.

It was “a bit annoying” that MBIE was not declaring which option it preferred.

“I think what will happen is the greenies like us will say they want option three and the mainstream construction industry will say they want option one, and probably we will end up with option two, would be my guess.”

MBIE had signaled it would be toughening up the Building Code between now and 2035.

Option three would be a “big shock” to the building industry which had a lot of small building companies who built three or four houses a year and only a few large-scale home construction companies.

Option two would require “tweaks” to what the industry was doing already, Archer said.

MBIE’s documents show option one would be the easiest to implement and does not involve a lot more costs. MBIE estimates for the average 4-bedroom, single storey, timber frame, concrete slab foundation new home the extra cost could be $1800 to $16,000 depending on which climate zone the house was located in.

Option two, raising standards to international standards, is estimated to cost an extra $15,000 to $25,000 for the 4-bedroom home. This option would impact the design and construction in the coldest parts of the country, primarily for windows and walls.

Option three, raising insulation standards above international standards, is estimated to raise construction costs by $19,000 to $50,000 for the 4-bedroom home.

This would require a change in how New Zealand designs and builds homes. It might require triple glazing in the cold regions and thicker walls. MBIE says other methods of construction used overseas would be required for option three.

The primary objective of the proposal is to lift minimum levels of insulation to increase the energy efficiency of housing and small buildings.

Burnett said option one, halfway to international standards, was “a bit ridiculous”.

New Zealand needed to be bold and choose option three, which would require new methods of building. That would be a huge challenge for the building industry.

Most Kiwis lived in homes that did not meet World Health Organisation standards of 18 degrees Celsius inside the home and even new homes built to current standards could have temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius in bedrooms, “which is completely unacceptable”.

Over 95 percent of new homes were built to the code which set minimum standards.

“So we’re building a legacy of shonky homes for the future that aren’t going to protect people and aren’t going to be suitable for our changing climate and dealing to low emissions and low carbon design,” Burnett said.

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