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With housing minister Phil Twyford announcing 12-15 new Hobsonville-style developments in early 2018, talk of sustainable communities is all the rage. Making housing more environmentally and people friendly is an important part of developing New Zealand as a clean, green nation, and for you as a home owner, it's a chance to live in a neighbourhood that keeps costs down and quality of living up.

The question is, though, what should you be looking for in a "sustainable community"? We explain the characteristics of a good sustainable development and use examples from one of NZ's leading projects, Hobsonville Point.

Sustainable communities should support the social and environmental beliefs of their occupants.

An overview: What is a sustainable community?

In a broad sense, a sustainable community is a place that supports the beliefs of its environmentally conscious occupants. It's not about giving up cars and living in tents, but building housing and infrastructure in a way that doesn't negatively impact the environment, and that actively reduces costs of living. For example (and we'll get to this in greater detail shortly), utilising solar power for electricity, and creating public transport links that are convenient and quick.

But of course there's a lot more to it than that, which is why we've broken down the three key traits to look for in a sustainable community:

Trait 1: Quality housing

Sustainable communities must be managed in ways that do not hinder the economic, ecological or even scenic value of the surrounding area. Houses play a vital role in this.

According to the University of Novi Sad, sustainable homes should meet three key pillars of design:

  1. They are designed to save energy and water, to reduce waste during construction and the home's lifetime, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. There should be built-in safety features to help prevent injuries and improve quality of life for those who are mobility impaired, and security to protect against crime.
  3. The house saves money during construction and keeps costs down throughout its life. It's future-proofed to avoid future renovations associated with energy, water and maintenance.
  • Kiwi example: The housing in Hobsonville Point is a great example of this in practice. Through the combined use of heat pumps, thermal insulation, energy efficient lighting, rainwater tanks and other features, these homes are 25 per cent cheaper to run than ordinary homes, saving 28 and 30 per cent on energy and water respectively.

Trait 2: Transport and accessibility

New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions are already at 80.2 million tonnes (CO2 equivalent), and rising, states a Ministry for the Environment report. One of the key causes of this rise is our increasing use of fossil fuels in cars. So, a sustainable community should help decrease this by offering fast, convenient public transport and easy access to basic amenities.

Stats NZ/MFE environmental report shows impact of greenhouse gas emission on NZ's climate & oceans https://t.co/ZezDk7Dijv #envirostats

— Stats NZ (@Stats_NZ) October 18, 2017

Indeed, according to Kaid Benfield, director of the US non-profit National Resources Defence Council, most of the basics of daily life should be within a 20-minute walk to community residents, and everything else they would need should be within a 20-minute transit ride.

  • Kiwi example: Hobsonville Point is designed to be walkable, with narrow roads that limit vehicle speed. There are also fast bus links to Westgate, Albany and the CBD, as well as ferries to downtown Auckland.

Trait 3: Land use

Green spaces can have a huge impact on our health and well-being. A World Health Organisation study compiled evidence that suggests green space availability and accessibility can improve mental health, reduce obesity, and reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

A sustainable community that is designed to improve the health of its occupants should have plentiful parks and other green, open areas for recreation and relaxation. These should also be easily accessed through transport links or walking routes.

  • Kiwi example: Many parks, reserves and open areas are in development at Hobsonville Point, totalling 26 hectares. These include playgrounds, walking routes and historic places to visit.

The future of New Zealand sustainability

Hobsonville Point is currently the country's biggest and best example of sustainable community development, but it will by no means be the last. As we mentioned, 15-20 similar developments are being planned, and many of our cities have ambitious sustainability targets - Auckland, for example, plans to have 20 per cent sustainable homes by 2020.

But even if you can't move to an entirely sustainable neighbourhood just yet, you can still take strides to ensure that any new home you build is in line with your personal values and the needs of your family. A really good example of a small scale sustainable community will be the houses in season 5 of The Block NZ where 5 dilapidated 80's homes were fully transformed into homes that considered energy efficiency and environmental performance. A new home that meets New Zealand’s building-code typically scores between three and four on the Homestar standard, a system that awards points for insulation, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability (ten would show international best practice). These rejuvenated homes scored six and seven – a great result, especially for a renovation.

Context Architects with their, inside-to-outside thinking produced homes that are easy to heat in winter, cool in summer, and dry all year round. An intelligent membrane stops condensation and minimises draughts. Double-glazed windows keep expensive heat in. They even chose wooden cladding that needs less painting. What's more the homes were close to vital local amenities.

So for your future new build or renovation consider, choosing superior house windows for better insulation, utilising rainwater tanks and solar panels, orienting your house to maximise solar heat gain, and building with sustainable materials, are all important parts of reducing costs and your impact on the environment.

Altus Window Systems are window and door specialist in New Zealand, leading the way in window innovation. We're always looking for ways to make windows smarter, and to help Kiwis build the eco-conscious home of their dreams. To learn more about our range or to talk to an expert, contact us today.