Leaky buildings ripe for EnerPHit level makeovers

20 September 2023 by Rachel Rose

Nick Gaites spent years designing a new home for his family and overseeing its construction, successfully achieving Passive House certification. His family loved the winter they spent living there but now it’s on the market, thanks to changing family needs. So what next? Well, a bit of a break from construction. But the next family home he creates will almost certainly be a deep retrofit of the worst house he can find.

It will be a project worth following because it’s hard to imagine someone better qualified to ace an EnerPHit project. Nick is an engineer, building surveyor and certified Passive House consultant, plus he has loads of hands-on construction experience here and in his native UK.

At Reveal Building Consulants, he and his colleagues investigate the bad, the ugly and the seemingly hopeless among New Zealand’s leaky buildings. As a leading weathertightness expert, he splits his time between courtrooms (expert witness), building sites (forensic examination) and his office (remediation strategies and contract administration). The Reveal BC team also serve as clerks of work on some complex high-performance projects in Auckland.

Being intimately acquainted with the worst that can happen when multiple systems fail, why would Nick consider for a moment taking on a leaky home? Turns out he’s exactly the kind of buyer such a home needs. 

Nick also heads up a related company, Barefoot Architecture. It was set up several years ago to keep architectural design in a separate container from Reveal BC’s leaky homes work. As well as Nick’s family home on Auckland’s west coast, Barefoot Architecture currently has other new Passive House designs underway for clients. 

But retrofitting existing buildings? The potential is enormous, Nick reckons, and he wants to be involved. “There is a huge, huge market opportunity to improve existing buildings through the EnerPHit process. In particular that goes very nicely hand-in-hand with recladding leaky buildings. If you have to replace external cladding anyway, getting to the EnerPHit standard is very achievable,” he says.

“We are one hundred per cent better designers because of the watertight remediation work we do. We carry out detailed forensic investigations. We understand the defective construction techniques that led to those failures, and we’ve built up our expertise at mitigating those weaknesses or eliminating them.”

Nick says just patching things up isn’t nearly enough: he wants to be part of the drive to deliver better housing in New Zealand. That was his motivation for taking on more study, in order to become PHI certified as a Passive House consultant.

We need to take the disasters and rebuild them better, Nick says. “It’s quite fun to take a building whose architecture is high-risk and design a robust, durable cladding system for it that celebrates the previous architecture. There’s so many beachfront homes in Auckland that share that classic, high-risk boxy architecture. We can redo them so they become weathertight and durable.”

It’s only a step further to turn them into high-performance buildings that will be so much more comfortable and healthy to live in. But spending even a little bit more money to build back better than before is a hard ask of an owner of a leaky home; Nick knows many are under intense financial pressure. 

He wants to show the potential though. Once he and his wife have the headspace for more design and construction, Nick reckons he’ll look for a leaky building in the ideal location. “We’ll relax and recoup for a year, pay down the mortgage and plan the renovation.

“Housing stock in New Zealand, in Auckland in particular, is shit. From the point of view of thermal performance, weathertightness, health and wellbeing, it’s very poor quality. Given my background, house hunting is incredibly difficult. My wife will point out a real estate listing and the house looks nice but I can reel off all the places where it could be leaking, plus all the other things likely wrong with it: crying windows, freezing in winter, draughty, impossible to heat …

“At least if we buy a leaky building, we know what we’re getting. There’s no misconception that this is a great house. Our house in Waimauku was pretty lavish. But this next project, I’ll try to be really cost-effective, use standard materials and not the same level of detailing. We need to demonstrate that taking a leaky building to EnerPHit standard is feasible. At the end I’ll be able to identify exactly the extra cost to get to EnerPHit, above just doing the necessary reclad.”

This will be a project well worth following closely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *