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Could Prefab Solve NZ's Housing Crisis?

EasyBuild / photo PrefabNZ

Leading architect and Grand Designs NZ host Chris Moller has put forward two ideas he says are vital if New Zealand is to boost the supply of new houses and make our homes more affordable.


The first is to increase the number of people working in the construction sector by encouraging more women to join the industry.


His second idea is to massively scale up the pre-fabrication of homes.


Moller made the comments at a recent panel discussion organised by ANZ to discuss the future of housing.


“Room With A Grand View” also featured NZ Green Building Council Chief Executive Andrew Eagles and ANZ NZ’s Chief Economist Sharon Zollner and was hosted by ANZ’s Head of Mortgages Glenn Stevenson.


Zollner agreed that pre-fabrication is part of the answer, especially if it helps to introduce more women to the industry.


“You really need to get women in there, because women are losing their jobs in retail, and tourism and hospitality, and then the jobs are being created in infrastructure. So there is a complete mismatch in skills.”


Increasing the numbers of people working in the sector would help solve what she says is a major challenge in the construction sector - the lack of capacity.


“If we want to improve the quality of our existing homes that will come at the cost of building new ones, because we only have so many tradespeople and that is a really horrible trade off.”


A familiar face on our TV screens, Moller says despite the perception that pre-fabricated housing is inferior it can be innovative and very liveable.


“We definitely need it and lots of other countries are really good at it,” Moller said of pre-fabrication.


“Sweden produces 80% of its house builds on site in a day.  It still takes a couple more weeks to fit them out, but you are all closed in. So in other words everybody is working inside. There is no scaffolding, none of that.”


“We definitely need it and lots of other countries are really good at it,” Moller said of pre-fabrication.

Smart Solution Homes / photo PrefabNZ


Eagles is another supporter of greater use of pre-fabrication, and says the poor build quality of many of our existing homes is a major problem.


“Over 30% of our homes are damp and cold, and many are mouldy. That’s leading to one of the highest rates of respiratory disease in the western world.


“We have huge numbers of kids going to hospital each year for respiratory issues; and people taking time off work to look after those kids.


“We are one of the few countries in the world without an energy performance certificate at point of sale, so that’s key. Once we have that - and the government has committed to it - we can establish a deep retrofit programme.


“It is crucial to get this started.  Buildings and homes make up 20% of New Zealand’s carbon emissions.”


Part of any retrofit programme will include innovative ways of funding the work, such as ANZ’s interest-free home loan top-ups for the installation of heat pumps and insulation and its loans to customers buying, building or renovating a home to a 6 Homestar rating or higher.


When it comes to housing, Moller says there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s possible to design and build innovative houses on a budget.


“What is really cool about Grand Designs NZ is we are getting to share that. There is some cracking stuff. We had two beautiful examples this year of very inexpensive houses.


“They were the Lighthouse, a clifftop home built for under $300,000, on a $150,000 section. The other was a $600,000 home on the coast in Paekākāriki.”


He says it is also good to remember that high-quality, healthy and sustainable social housing is being delivered in New Zealand for just under $600,000 by government housing provider Kāinga Ora.


“The point is you can easily do it. It just shows you it can be done. But we have got to think differently and stop acting like sheep.”


His vision for the future of housing is smaller developments where people live and work.


“We will end up with a completely different way of living in New Zealand. Compact, sustainable, walkable villages. They’ve been around for millennia, it’s a good way to live, and that would be so much more fun.”


And when it comes to realising your Grand Design, his advice is to see how you can do more with less.


“Make it 20 to 50 percent smaller than your crazy, outrageous ambitions …and don’t just do it well, do it crazily well.”


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