Renovating a Dunedin home has been more of a challenge than usual for one Calton Hill family.
Louis Brown, his partner Bridie Fahey and 8-year-old daughter Luciana have been developing the family home to the standards of the Living Building Challenge since April 2014.
The challenge, which results in buildings being transformed into highly sustainable spaces, requires all materials on site be non-toxic and low impact; that 70% of the project’s footprint be used for food production; and 50% of the food consumed on site be produced on site, Mr Brown said.
“It’s not a ‘how-to-build’ [challenge]; it’s also how you think about building.”
Contrary to the belief many sustainable buildings projects were “green, airy-fairy” plans, the LBC was detailed and involved much research, one or two days, on average, being spent researching each product used on site, Mr Brown said.
For example, when redoing the spouting on the house, a visit to the local hardware store had presented him with a challenge in that many of the pipes for sale included materials not allowed on site, so he had to talk to many people – including a doctor – about what piping to use to ensure no chemicals leached into the home’s water supply.
While he was also using the project for his master’s degree, his rural childhood had helped him develop the skills required to take on the renovation project.
“I think all country kids are pretty practical.”
While it was easier and cheaper for people to take shortcuts and use less sustainable items during building or renovations, it could be cheaper to live in a sustainable house in the long term, Mr Brown said.
To this end, lowering the energy usage of a property was a big focus of the challenge, insulation, solar panels and different heating methods all being ways to decrease power usage, he said.
Mr Brown’s property, which is 505sq m (an eighth of an acre), includes an orchard with nine varieties of feijoa, apricot, peach, pear, quince, lemon and apple trees, as well as grapevines, plum trees and berry bushes.
He hoped to complete the challenge within the next year, Mr Brown said.
The Living Building Challenge project cannot contain any of the following materials or chemicals.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Chlorinated Polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethylene
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC)
Halogenated flame retardants (HFRs)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC)
Short-chain chlorinated paraffins
Wood treatments containing creosote, arsenic or pentachlorophenol
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in wet-applied products.