Designing Air For a Comfortable Home

January 30th, 2012

Designing Air seems a strange term – yet that is exactly what I am trying to do. The ideal air is constantly the right temperature, the right humidity and free from contaminants. A comfortable air for a home requires a co-ordingated balance between:

  • Thermal Mass
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Ventilation and Condensation Control
  • Insulation

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is the ability of your homes construction materials, exposed to the sun, to warm and release warmth. Concrete is the best thermal mass, wood the worst. Using concrete walls or floors exposed to sunlight means your house will both overheat less in summer and keep warm during winter, Wood heats up quickly and loses heat quickly – consider it a bit like your Glycemic Index for food. You don’t want the equivalent of sugars that give you a quick energy hit then drain you later. You want high glycemic index foods that are slow to release their energy and release it longer and in a more constant rate. Your house thermal mass works in a similar way.

Heating and Cooling

Heating systems vary significantly between countries. In Northern Hemispheres a central boiler system is most prevalent for heating; whereas these are not used in the Southern Hemisphere, relying more on wood burners, flued gas fires, heat pumps and electric heating.

Cooling systems are either heat pumps or fully ducted air conditioning systems that provide ventilation, condensation control, heating and cooling.

Ventilation And Condensation Control

The popular ceiling cavity ventilation systems rely on having sufficient cavity space to trap air heated by the sun during the day to be cycled through the home at night. Personally, I don’t like the idea of air full of insulation fibres, dust and mold coming in to my home – regardless how good they maintain their filters are. In saying this, filters vary greatly by product and there are some that now offer hospital equivalent filtering.


The building standards generally give the absolute minimum required for floor, wall and ceiling insulation. Studies have shown that increasing the specification to the next product level will signifiantly decrease the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the home – since the installation fee is the same, the savings are far more than the additional product cost.

Over the next week I will be investigating each of these more closely for my project home.

Countertops for Kitchens and Bathrooms

November 28th, 2011

Any real estate sales person will tell you that it is kitchens and bathrooms that sell a house, so this was no time to be cutting back on budget – however, I still believe that one can get a high quality product for a good price with a little time invested. There is a vast range of products available and it comes down to getting value, rather than cost reduction. Since the countertops are the ‘work zone’ in both bathrooms and kitchens I decided to start validating my design theme by looking at options in this area – as i felt there would be more constraints here than in cabinetry and hardware.

To get a sleek, contemporary look in either white or brushed aluminum look I sought out:

  • Laminates
  • Acrylic
  • Engineered stone
  • Granite


The high gloss laminates look much better today than a few years ago as they now have complimentary backing colors and finer edge joins so that one gets a near seamless look – not too different from the edge of stone.
The drawbacks were that over a large surface, gloss laminates still appear to have ‘bubbling’ in the surface and according to many sources scratch a lot easier than the manufacturers claim. Even though my look was to have a ‘brushed’ look to it anyway, the bubbling was a problem on all the horizontal surfaces I saw. To date I have not seen this problem with the vertical laminates – I don’t know why this is so as I imagine the process is similar, but they seem to be less apparent.


I was not keen to return to acrylic worktops – I have previously had Corian benchtops and they were not successful.
The final choice was down to engineered stone and granite. To get a ‘speckled-free’ look is quite difficult but not impossible. There is a big range in quality in these products so it pays to check them out carefully and ascertain the differences.

Engineered Stone

The sample I found I preferred was from Quantum Quartz – it contains 93% natural quartz, with bonding agent, pigment and additives making up the other 7%. The color range is extensive [50 colors].

  • Non-porous
  • High resistance to scratching & chipping
  • High abrasion resistance
  • High resistance to acids & oils
  • Strong resistance to staining
  • High flexural strength
  • Heat resistant

Design considerations:

  • 10 year limited warranty
  • Fabricate your design to suit sheets of 1400 x 3000mm x 20mm thick

Standard range
For a small flake – Luna white or new Diamond white
For a large flake – polar

Deluxe range
Alpine white
Dawn [grey] – for bathroom vanities

The Designer and Boutique ranges have large flakes and steel which are outside the design scope of this project.

Check out the product Gallery for Quantum Quartz

Selecting a Design Theme

November 18th, 2011

Selecting a design theme is the NUMBER ONE task that must be agreed before any other design decision are made.
In this instance i wanted to reflect the harbour-side environment, the expensive, quality homes in the area and add a twist of modern Italian sophistication [read expensive looking]. The house had to integrate high energy efficiency, low maintenance and low cost of ownership.

As the house structural design is very contemporary, stepping down the side of a hill, the interior needs to reflect this to provide an harmonious bridge between inside and out. Accepting that I have loved some very modern interiors within the walls of solid traditional structures, this is not one of those structures, and the ‘opposites attract’ does not apply.

My main aim was to differentiate this house from the very nice, but very bland offerings currently in the new home market for this suburb. To take it up a pinch, to give it more edge, without increasing the cost beyond the target price bracket. With some design sense, we can all achieve anything we want with unlimited budget, but the budget limit on this house is 100% unmovable, so I needed to tread carefully.

The final look:

Exterior cladding – white Palliside weatherboards with soft grey joinery – a light and lofty look, with a large honed polished block walls at the entrance anchoring the house with some weight.

Decks – are composite wood; giving a no screws or nails clean sleek look with very even color and texture. Take care in selecting the right product here to ensure you are not skirting your house with highly toxic materials. Some are excellent – some are supposedly recycled cellphones.

Roofing – Long run iron suited to the minimal pitch roof.


November 2nd, 2011

Scheduling a building program is a daunting enough task for the builder – but most overlook the scheduling required by the homeowner. This is especially so when the house being built or rebuilt is the one the homeowner is living in at present.

  • Concept plans
  • Estimated pricing
  • Surveyor levels
  • Detailed drawings – pre-engineering
  • Engineering design
  • Detailed drawings – post engineering
  • Specification
  • Final Pricing
  • Building Contract
  • Find temporary accomodation
  • Building permit submission
  • Move out
  • Storage
  • Disconnect services
  • Forward phone communications
  • Demolition
  • Site works
  • Building

Alongside these all of these tasks, the home owner has to research all the building materials, finishings, appliances, lighting, heating and ventilation systems, landscape design, hardware, kitchen and bathroom design and materials, flooring, cabinetry….this list goes on and on.

Each one of these items must be confirmed before the detailed drawings are complete if you want to avoid making changes during the build phase. For example, different types of flooring require different substrata thus requiring a change in design, specification, timing and price. Many building companies charge an administration fee for every change.

I have just started this phase and have allowed 2 months to complete my detailed specification. This will then be forwarded to the design team to be used as a guide to the detailed design.

Building a house is a draining experience and can be very demanding on relationships and existing work committments. If you can take time out to work through these decisions on a full time basis, this is recommended.

Getting Building Permissions on Cross Leases

October 3rd, 2011

Cross leases were an early form of unit title that is no longer created, with full separate unit titles now the norm. There are advantages and disadvantages for owners with cross leases. The main advantage is that you get some control over what your cross lease neighbours can build on their properties – this gives you protection against any new building that will either:

1. Impact your sunshine or daylight levels
2. Impinge on your views- where these are of notable value e.g water or mountain views
3. Impact easy egress to your property
4. Infringe your privacy – for instance, if they were to build a deck that looked straight into your main living area
5. Add a noise nuisance – e.g adding a garage to be used as a music practice area
6. Increased any water run off to your property
7. Use more than your share of any building allowance – where cross leases are a 50:50 undivided share, it is reasonable that each party has 50% of the building allowance. This could be a tricky point as the occupant of the largest private use share may seek to gain more than 50%. In this case, i would work out what your percentage share of the site is and see if you can keep within that amount; otherwise, take your chances.

Or any other factor that may reduce the enjoyment you have of your own property. This is why even the color of the cladding etc needs approval.

So what happens when a cross lease neighbor refuses to give consent? Most cross lease agreements stipulate a clause stating that whilst consent must be gained, it must not be unreasonably withheld.

If you meet all the above requirements – and your neighbors refuse to grant approval, you can take the risk and continue with the building. The outcome of this is that the neighbors may seek an injunction. However, to do so they have to have reasonable grounds that you do not/will not meet one of the above criteria AND they must put up a bond to cover all of your legal costs. In NZ, appearances in Court are not required for injunctions, it is all done by memorandum, and the defendant is not required to stop building in the meantime. This normally prevents most spiteful neighbours with no grounds from attempting to lodge an injunction – however, there are those who are just so entitled that they think they have grounds, when in legal terms they do not.

So tread carefully, but don’t let cross lease neighbours without grounds for objection to prevent you from achieving your building goals.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a legal professional and provide this information as my own opinion based on my own experiences. Seek legal advice if you are considering making changes to your building on a crosslease site.

Building a Deck – Wood or Composite?

September 19th, 2011

Looking at the options for decking?
Since I am not keen to go back to an enclosed tiled deck again, I only have the option of open draining wood decks. In my attempt to keep the house as maintenance free as possible, but within a reasonable budget, I am faced with accessing each of the three options:

  • Treated Radiata Pine
  • Native Kwila Hardwood
  • Composite Decking

Low Maintenance
It is no longer a choice between a painted softwood deck and a naturally aging hardwood deck. All of these decks need some degree of maintenance:

  • The radiata pine deck requires sanding and staining or paint
  • The kwila decks need regular cleaning and sealing if you choose to keep the natural colour. Kwila can be left to age gracefully, however if you want to maintain the colour you do need to maintain it.
  • Composite decking requires the least maintenance – regular washing keeps it as good as new.

Best Value

  • Radiata pine is the least expensive raw material – however, you need to add on the cost of sanding, painting or staining at the time of construction, plus at regular intervals thereafter. Building time is relatively fast as the planks can be hammered in with a nail gun quite quickly.
  • Kwila material costs around double that of pine, plus the fixings are more expensive as you need copper headed screws for coastal locations. The fixing takes quite a bit longer as each screw or nail hole must be drilled first.
  • Composite costs around the same as kwila for the planks, however the fixings are not as costly. The special fixing systems used by most composite decking vendors mean that fixing time is around 25% that of Kwila.

About Composite Decking
Composite decking is made from a combination of wood and plastic:

  • Wood – from industry by-products like sawdust, chips and wood fiber
  • Plastic – from virgin or recycled material

The components are mixed with additives such as a pigment and preservative. The mixture is heated, formed into board lengths and then cooled. The last 5 years has seen a lot of improvement with WPC [wood/plastic composite] products

Choosing a Builder

October 29th, 2010

The experience you have with a builder during the contact phase is a pretty good indication of what one can expect during the contract phase. I found a lot of variation between the builders and building companies in their initial response to my inquiry and how they dealt with requests for price indications and information on their building process.

For a start – some builders use project managers to oversee the whole project. Whilst this ensures one gets a well oiled building process, it can also add considerably to the cost of building. Just how much of this is also factored into the builders overhead needs to be examined.

Pricing estimates – if you expect a reasonable pricing response, be prepared to provide the builder with all the details they need. And make sure you give the same pack to each builder. Don’t ask for a price estimate until you have vetted the builder for background, quality of work and how they relate to you. It takes time for them to prepare a pricing –
so respect their time and don’t progress to this stage unless they are a real contender.

Ask for a price break down. One very respected building company came back to me with a price well in excess of another respected building company -with no break down or indication as to what was included or excluded from the price. Combined with this fact, and that I had to follow up twice to get the price – that company was firmly marked off my list.

The builder has to communicate well with you – and respect that you are investing a huge amount of cash into your project, and keeping them employed. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with them at this stage – its time for another line through the prospect list.

In large companies, you will be dealing with the sales person – not the builder. Make sure that this person is well versed in building – and not just a slick presenter. If something goes wrong during the contract phase – make sure you have agreed that they will be available to champion your concerns to their building team. The benefit of working with a big company is that they have the design and build all in one team – but it can be a downside if you get left outside the loop.

So taking notice of how things work at this phase, is a pretty good indicator of how things will work out later. Lay down the ground rules yourself and you can expect a smoother ride when things get more intense.

Palliside Exterior Cladding Benefits

October 27th, 2010

This week I have been concentrating on updating my knowledge on basic building systems, and in particular the advances of modern technology that could make this home more sustainable and easier to maintain.

For instance, after suffering from the plaster perils I was keen to use only pine weatherboards in my new home. However, my interest has been peaked around the benefits of Palliside Weatherboards. Initially, I thought ” A Plastic House”- hmm not sure about that. However, after seeing the real thing in situ, it didn’t have the plastic fantastic look I was worried about. Being on a step hill along the side of an access drive to other properties, putting up scaffolding for painting is always going to be an issue.

The additional cost of Palliside cladding is offset by the faster construction [ due to the lighter product than timber], and there is no need for that initial exterior paint job.

This specially formulated PVC has been developed to withstand the super harsh UV levels in NZ and promises not to fade, chalk, or crack in any way.

Since painting is typically a 5 year cycle – this product definitely meets my 5-year criteria. However, I have yet to check out how this impacts those critical sealant points at the top corners of joinery. As these points still need to be coated every 5 years, I am not sure how one gets around this issue – will get back to you on that – or if you have the answer, please post a comment below.

Planning For 5 Year Benefits

October 25th, 2010

This last week I have been checking out the latest and greatest advances in building technology. I have considered cladding, heating, joinery, internal floor systems, kitchen appliances – you name it, I have looked at it.

As this leaky house repair project is an investment one should never have to make – it is not something that is budgeted for, so there is a strong urge to make it as cheap as possible, with a few touches of luxury. However, cheap can be bad value, in almost any investment.

In considering the products you use to repair or rebuild your leaky home you need to look the return on investment. As most of us cannot with any certainty know where our lives will be in 5 years time, I have adopted a 5 year payback policy. One overriding proviso is that the investment is known to make it easier to sell a house and one typically gets a greater than 1:1 return on the investment at the time of sale.

Simply put, since it is not expected that I own this house for any more than another few years – anything that I can claw back within 5 years is a great investment.

This has lead me to consider a number of sustainable products that are both energy efficient and reduce the need for maintenance. I will cover each of these in future blogs.

Learn more about risk mitigation of effective design and planning

3 Key Choices for Leaky Home Remedy

October 2nd, 2010

In my last post I talked about “Getting One’s Head in the Game”. Over the last few weeks I have been frantically getting quotes from architects, builders, kitchen suppliers and demolition experts. When one considers the options for remedy to a leaky house there are three main choices;

  1. Sell the property for land value + any residual building value
  2. Repair the existing property
  3. Demolish completely and rebuild

In considering each option, one must consider the unique costs involved with each. For example – in the quote I got to repair the house there was a charge of $56,000 for demolition. This cost covers the individual extraction of each support post or stud and the propping up of the framework whilst a replacement is added. This piecemeal approach is very costly. To demolish the whole house to the ground – after a day recovering any items one can use in the rebuild – is only $17,000.


A repair to a leaky house can never be nailed down until the work is in progress – so one has to be prepared to have an open checkbook. The local authorities also require extensive expert appraisal and documentation of the project, adding considerable inspection and project management fees. I would add an additional $10,000 for experts and another $20,000 on top of normal project management.

Also be prepared that to get a Code of Compliance Certificate the Council will be all over your house and expect you to add or change anything they feel currently doesn’t meet the new code. Expect no sympathy that they caused the problem – you won’t get it.


In comparison, demolition of the entire house provides the opportunity to have a more concise quote plus the ability to tweak the existing design. You know exactly where you are and the finished home is totally free of the stigma of leaky homes. The downside is that you lose any existing usage rights – so expect a lengthy resource consent process if you home currently infringes height to boundary or parking.

Sell Down

Selling down is a viable option for many home owners. Any property investor knows that the capital increase in a property is always in the land value – not the building value which decreases by at least 5% every year.
In times of low building volumes, many builders are willing to take on leaky home projects to keep their teams employed – so seek out individual builders with a proposal. They get to make the profit on the labour – or at the very least get the opportunity to upgrade their own living environment at a much lower cost.

So weigh up all the options – get quotes and use the powers of Excel to build an Analysis Decision Model to help you make that all important decision.

Happy Building