I have been so lucky to be able to spend my holiday in New Zealand at this beautiful property – which is the ultimate in sustainable and low maintenance design. I have had the pleasure of being able to stay in what is now my dream home, and I have grand plans one day to find a nice plot of land by the water or in a more secluded rural area, and build my low maintenance, off-the-grid and be at one with nature in my minimalistic home. Only have the things I need – no clutter and no wasted space in a small home with only the space that I use every day. Some of these principles form what is not only the key to a healthy and happy life with key elements from wellness, but also is low maintenance meaning I will have more time to enjoy life.
Design of a home or renovation can often involve a bit of a compromise between cost vs. sustainability vs. maintainability
What does it mean to be sustainable? There are many ways to define what sustainable means to you, however to me this means there is a focus on creating a low energy and resource consumption building and using renewable building materials where possible. It does not mean perfection – but is a step towards living a healthy, happy, more conscious and environmentally aware life.. Low energy consumption is relatively easy as this is measurable and can be optimised by using LED lighting, low energy intensive appliances, reusing water or resources like composting and growing your own food. Where possible eliminating appliances such as unnecessary clothes driers, and making sure your home is designed with the right aspect and insulation so that it benefits from the warmth in winter and keeps the heat out in summer – staying relatively constant temperature all year round with very little energy use.
The things to consider when deciding if a building product is sustainable:
- How is this product produced or manufactured?
Does this process degrade the earth, reduce our resources or release waste products or emissions into the atmosphere, into landfill or into our waterways in the early stages of the product life-cycle. We often don’t even see this step so this is easily forgotten or avoided to be taken into consideration.I.e. when I went to University, we looked at the product lifecycle of the production of ethanol – to be used to add to the fuel used by our cars. Ethanol is marketed as being ‘green’, renewable and ‘cleaner for the environment’ as it burns very clean. However when you look at this product in terms of it’s whole product lifecycle, the process of producing this fuel is a chemical distillation process where nasty chemicals are released into the environment and using corn to derive fuel also depletes our food resources, and creates soil erosion, water pollution from fertilisers and other environmental problems when the land is over farmed. This is also counter-productive to other global challenges where it is predicted that we are about to go into a global food crisis – so we need to use all our resources in the smartest way and for the smartest use possible.The process of producing concrete or steel products can be quite resource and energy intensive, and deplete the earths resources. So it’s important to reduce how much we use these products where practically possible. If we can use these products only on exterior areas where the sun or the elements can effect the product or if they are subject to high use, this would greatly reduce the maintenance and useful life of your home. This is rather than using other materials like wood that would perhaps get damaged and need replacing more often in this situation, hence defeating the point of being sustainable as the act of replacement is also quite resource and energy intensive. For example, there are some components that can not be easily replaced and if a home gets run-down to a point – it is sometimes more financially beneficial to knock down and rebuild – rather than renovate and restore. This creates a lot of waste to landfill and is not ideal environmentally.For example, for the exterior cladding this home has wood products on the on the south and east faces of the building where the direct sunlight is minimal or low intensity – meaning the wood doesn’t need to be treated (i.e. painted or stained) every year – but maybe every 5 years. As this climate is quite harsh in the south of New Zealand (meaning quite hot in summer and very cold, sub-zero in winter), it is also very clever that a they have used timber window frames – with an aluminium external covers over the frame. This means that the timber is protected from the elements so there is no painting or treatment required of the timber external window frame, while reducing the amount of metal materials used in the home.
- What are the net benefits or issues created by using this product over it’s lifespan?
Some things to ask yourself include:
Does the product contain harmful chemicals which could actually absorb into your skin or be breathed in while you are living in your home?
How much maintenance does this product require?
How livable and functional is the home?
- What is the useful life of the product?
The useful life inter-relates back into maintenance. Does this product last forever, or will it require replacement – meaning more depletion of resources. To replace a product within your home means the whole cycle starts again – extraction of a raw material from the earth, manufacture, fuel and resources from relocating and shipping the product, installation and building which produces waste products, and removal and disposal of the damaged product. This whole cycle uses electricity and fuel which are currently from unrenewable sources like burning coal and fossil fuels which means that we are depleting earth’s resources by going through this cycle again and contributing to more air pollution. Products like concrete which are not renewable as such, can last forever if maintained and built correctly in the first place.
- Can the product be recycled or how is it disposed of at the end of it’s lifespan?
However with concrete and rock, it could be argued that it is sustainable in some respects if it is completely permanent and never has to be disposed. However the product does ever have to be disposed of if the concrete is damaged or compromised due to cracking or ground movement or even due to concrete cancer which is from water damage or poor waterproofing or poor construction where the structural qualities are compromised, it can be a messy, dusty, job, and can not always be recycled into other products. Timber, although does not last forever when exposed to the elements, can easily be disposed, reused and is biodegradable meaning it can break down and be returned to the soil naturally.
The keys to making sure your home is low maintenance – meaning it will stand the test of time with very little input from yourself:
- Design your new home or renovation with sustainability and maintenance in mind
– I.e. Materials, Light, Livability, Less is more (the principles that Alice Joy from Living Joy Property Developments (www.livingjoy.com.au)
- Structural Integrity
– I.e. Strong foundations, load-bearing walls and roof, no movement in the walls forming big cracks, water-proofing in bathrooms, solid roof so there are no water leaks etc. All of these things are vitally important to ensure you maintain and extend the life of your asset.
- Great Ventilation
Great ventilation can mean that you reduce the damaging impact of water. This reduces the chance of mould which can not only create an unhealthy living environment but can create damage to surfaces and structures if rot sets in. Having great windows which can be opened in those perfect sunny days is a plus, or if that is not reasonable say in a noisy area – then a great ventilation system with an air purification or filter can be very beneficial. Another important thing to get right is ventilation in the bathroom and kitchen. We can create a huge amount of steam each day from showers and cooking food. The best way is to make sure this steam is extracted to the roof cavity or even better – have it vented straight outside.
Water can cause a serious amount of damage in a very short period of time if a problem is left un-attended to. Get your bathrooms and wet areas waterproofed right from the start. Showers and bathrooms require a waterproof membrane which needs to be installed correctly by a qualified professional. If waterproofing fails, it could mean you have to rip up your tiles and fittings in your bathroom and start again. Quite a costly exercise. It’s also important to
- Durable, easy to clean surfaces and fixtures/fittings.
I.e. make sure fixtures aren’t loose so will break within a year. It may be worth looking into buying commercial-grade products rather than base level residential products that are designed for heavy use and may last more than twice as long.
- Low maintenance gardens –
drought resilient plants are perfect for a low maintenance Australian garden. Some plants that are great to use in rental properties are agave’s, yukas, cordelines and murraya hedges as they require very little water and ongoing maintenance.