Sustainable Engineering’s team is involved, as consultants, designers or certifiers, on virtually every Passive House project in New Zealand (plus some in Australia and projects that head toward but don’t make the final grade for Passive House certification). Given that breadth of involvement, I feel confident to make some predictions for 2023.
Celebrating 2022’s achievements
There are lots of firsts and notable projects to celebrate this year: the first homes in a Passive House subdivision, the first deep retrofits, including one that hit EnerPHit performance and another in the works that may reach Passive House, another office building. We haven’t said much (yet) about the Premier Homes’ project we certified in Australia, but it is notable because the company builds affordable prefabricated homes with budget finishes. It modified one of its standard designs and got the build across the line to earn Passive House certification.
At time of writing, just days before New Zealand shuts down for Christmas in 2022, there are 82 certified Passive House projects, plus 11 EnerPHit and LEBs. You can always find the latest figures here, on the Sustainable Engineering website.
The whole sector is getting more skilled. Designers/architects, engineering, building consent officials … people’s understanding of thermal performance and what it takes to get to Passive House standard has deepened and it’s being applied. More professionals want to use energy modelling; they can see it makes sense, even if they are not targeting the full Passive House standard.
The forecast for 2023
I predict the number of certified New Zealand Passive House projects will almost double; expect 150 dwellings by this time next year, including EnerPHit and LEBs. The list of projects waiting for construction to start used to be very long. This year, a fat cohort of diverse projects got out of the ground and are steadily progressing. At time of writing, there are 35 in construction and a dozen in their final (post-construction) certification review phases. Many, perhaps all, will earn their Passive House plaques in 2023.
One of the projects we expect to sign off on in 2023—all going to plan on site—is Kāinga Ora’s Bader Ventura social housing development. Located in Mangere, it contains 18 apartments, a mixture of two and three bedrooms. It’s not the only multi-occupancy project: Architype’s design for 10 council flats in Dunedin has been completed (and may yet be certified in the final days of 2022). We’ll see an Architype-designed apartment block arrive for certification next year, built by a private developer. Given the successful co-housing development already completed, Dunedin’s Passive House tally is going to be impressive.
There is a lot of activity that will continue in Auckland; no surprise, Auckland and Northland’s mild climates make it cheap and easy to hit Passive House performance, compared to colder parts of the motu. We’ll see more projects using traditional building materials, such as strawbale, light earth material (LEM) and hemp, plus new materials like CLT. There is more diversity coming with regard to building type, including a small-scale recreation centre and commercial buildings.
As for people, everyone involved in design and construction needs to learn new skills and get comfortable with thermal performance and building physics in general. Architecture training overseas has a greater emphasis on maths and physics and we need this in New Zealand, in my opinion. Yes, “art”: but art has to live in the real world, where it is subject to the laws of physics.
In window manufacturing for instance, a lot of manufacturers have embedded thermal performance into their business processes. They’ve been totally ready for higher performance standards—and nearly burned by MBIE’s capitulation to lobbyists that saw the introduction of those new standards further delayed. At the other end of the spectrum, there are small manufacturers who haven’t focused their efforts on thermal performance and their products still need to be massively redesigned to meet new standards. We need capability to increase thermal performance right across every manufacturing segment.
What I want in 2023
The whole industry is depending on MBIE’s Building for Climate Change programme to provide the roadmap for how New Zealand’s construction industry will meet its climate obligations. But, the details have still not yet been defined. All I want for a New Year’s present is for MBIE to provide definitive numbers about the level of performance expected and by when. Then manufacturers—and everyone else—can get on with meeting those targets. If it were legislated rather than issued by regulation, it would be just a little less vulnerable to political jockeying.
At the moment, all we have to go on is Kainga Ora’s best guess at what MBIE will do (below). It’s reasonable to expect these two departments to be closely collaborating but we’ll see once MBIE finally makes its own announcement.