The impact of our homesPrint

​​Sustainable development ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’1​.  ​​

With more and more people c​onsidering the impact of their homes on the environment, industry is changing the way it provides housing. Designers are becoming increasingly familiar with resource-efficient design, manufacturers are producing products that use less energy and water, and utilities are investigating how to provide energy and water to homeowners more sustainably.
At this stage our buildings are far from being truly sustainable, but the residential construction industry has the potential to achieve great outcomes. Thousands of new homes are built in Auckland every year and 400,000 new dwellings will need to be built by 2040 to house our growing population2.  Each new home represents an opportunity to get things right and contribute to a built environment that provides comfortable, healthy homes for us and for future generations. 

Your home’s impact can be considered in three ways: 

1) type of impact (typically the resources used); 2) the scope of impact (e.g. local vs international); and 3) the time of impact (now vs future).
Types of impact include:
  • Place and context. The way our homes are placed within a site and the relationship they establish with neighbours can contribute to the creation of stronger communities. 
  • Energy. Our homes – and the way we use them – require energy to make us comfortable and allow us to use the appliances we own.
  • Water. Our kitchens, bathrooms, laundries and gardens all require water, and our homes also produce wastewater that needs to be disposed of.
  • Health and comfort. The design of our homes – and the materials used in their construction – have a big impact on the living environment, how comfortable we are, and how healthy our families are.
  • Lifecycle cost. Houses will require an initial investment, but will also have ongoing costs over their lives such as energy and water bills and maintenance. 
  • Waste. Housing construction produces large amounts of waste, but a big percentage of this can be reused or recycled. We also create waste in the way we use our homes.
The magnitude of each of these types of impact can be significant. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for 14% of global water consumption, 41% of energy consumption and 40% of the raw material usage.3
The scope of impact can be considered on four levels:
  • Immediate. The effect on our own lives. For example, improving energy or water efficiency reduces the cost to run a home, and a well-designed, well-built home can ensure we are comfortable and healthy.
  • Local. The effect on our communities. For example, reducing storm water runoff or enabling neighbours to access energy from the sun by minimising the shading homes create.
  • National. The effect on our national environment and infrastructure. For example, reducing energy demand can limit the need for new dams and protect ecosystems that would otherwise be impacted.​​
  • International. The effect on faraway communities and the planet. For example, reducing energy use leads to a reduction in carbon emissions and helps fight against climate change. Considering the source of materials can reduce impacts on communities living close to mining operations or deforestation.
The time of impact relates to the impact our homes have both in the present and in the future. Our choices today have impacts on our lives and will continue to have impacts on the environment and the lives of future generations long after we are gone. 

A well-designed and constructed home can provide a healthy and efficient lifestyle for the families that live in it after us and help build strong communities that support these lifestyles. Being mindful of our resource use can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and lessen the need for upgrades to energy or water infrastructure that will have to be paid for by future generations.

United Nations, Our Common Fut​ure, p. 16.

3U.S. Green Building Council, 'Green Building Facts'.​​​

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