Systems and Materials research

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The house as a system

Although we think of the materials our home is made of, we don’t often think of each component working together as a system.  In fact, our homes are made up of systems, each with a role to play in the performance of the home.  The combination of these systems directly affects the home’s overall performance.  We cannot fix one area only without compromises and under-performance in other aspects of the home.

As an example, a house might be clad with weatherboards.  The weatherboards, though, are only one part of the wall system.  They need to work together with timber framing, building paper, insulation and plasterboard to form a wall which is weathertight, retains heat inside the home, keeps moisture out, and is structurally sound and safe.

Treating the house as a system means the impact of materials can be evaluated in terms of the performance of the systems they are part of.  Overseas experience has demonstrated that energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 50% through the use of a systems engineering approach.

Setting benchmarks for the whole house

Beacon’s HSS High Standard of Sustainability® takes a holistic view of a home’s performance.  We’ve set benchmarks for more than just energy efficiency because we believe it is how the whole house works together that is important: water conservation, indoor environment quality, waste reduction and healthy materials are equally important.

Materials research

Our early materials research considered the potential for different materials to help New Zealand homes perform better.  Research included:

  • The new technologies which may be needed to improve New Zealand’s new homes
  • Technologies suitable for retrofitting existing homes, ranked by potential
  • Multi-paned window technologies and their potential to help New Zealand
  • The status of thermal insulation in New Zealand and how it might be improved
  • A review of building and construction waste in New Zealand

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Systems research

Our systems research has:

  • prioritised systems with the greatest potential for improved house performance
  • developed design criteria for solutions to improve house systems, focusing on windows and retrofitted walls
  • developed a product design criteria methodology to assess water saving products and systems

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Life cycle assessment research

The environmental impact and performance of systems also needs to be considered from cradle to the cradle.   This is where Life Cycle Assessment comes in – it is a method of identifying the environmental impact of a product over its life time. 

Our life cycle assessment research has:

  • reviewed the place of LCA in New Zealand and in the building and construction industry
  • developed guidelines for practitioners using LCA
  • analysed the applicability of international data to New Zealand situations
  • undertaken a Life Cycle Assessment of the Waitakere NOW Home and of Papakowhai Renovation houses
  • used LCA to calculate the sustainability of different window systems.

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