The Build Back Smarter pilot project

Back to Existing Homes

The plan

The Build Back Smarter pilot project, led by Beacon Pathway,  undertook case study upgrades to demonstrate that home performance improvements can and should be included in earthquake repairs.    Beacon’s Home Assessment and Prioritised Plan tool was used to assess each home and develop an individualised upgrade plan to fit with scoped earthquake repairs.  A Beacon project manager provided case management and coordinated the upgrade work with the homeowners and PMO contractors on site.  

The upgrades focused on:

  • ceiling, floor and wall insulation
  • double glazing
  • solar or heat pump hot water
  • rainwater tanks and efficient fittings
  • clean efficient heating. 



The learning from this pilot underpins the roll-out of Christchurch City Council’s Build Back Smarter Service

Case management important in Christchurch

Post-upgrade interviews with the homeowners showed that they valued the independent home assessment and upgrade recommendations.  Alongside these, though, needs to sit an active advocate, or case manager, to help homeowners through the upgrade process.  This has been particularly valuable in helping homeowners understand the opportunities and making the process smooth and timely.

Some measures should be prioritised above others

The pilot project made it clear that there are some upgrades that need to be done at the time of repair or the opportunity will be lost for the foreseeable future. Opportunities for wall insulation retrofit, in particular, can be greater than initially scoped as the builder is likely to employ the quickest and most practical methods - which often will involve relining rather than repairing plasterboard.

Priority measures during earthquake repairs are:

  • ceiling insulation retrofit to skillion and low pitched roofs where roofing or ceiling linings are being repaired.
  • underfloor insulation and ground vapour barrier installation under normally inaccessible suspended floors where foundation repairs are occurring - often these involve lifting the house creating a unique access opportunity to the underfloor.
  • wall insulation retrofit where cladding or wall linings are being replaced.
  • increasing specification of windows being repaired/replaced (double glazing, advanced glazing such as low emissivity/argon filled, thermally broken aluminium frames).
  • cutting hatches to access hard-to-insulate places (roof extensions and “popped tops”).
  • installing externally vented extract ventilation systems in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • installing heat transfer systems where ceilings are being repaired.
  • replacing downlights with surface mounted fittings.
  • relocating or replacing poorly located/sized/performing heating systems. (Poorly located and sized heat pumps have been a common feature of Build Back Smarter houses).

Leave other interventions for later

Massive price escalations, and very high builders’ margins being charged for subcontracted services, mean that other energy efficiency and wider sustainability measures not essentially included at the time of repair would best be left until after earthquake recovery. 

There is little appetite for water efficiency in the Christchurch market, even when these measures are offered for free.  This is despite the substantial problems of water supply and wastewater disposal which have occurred as part of the earthquakes. 

An opportunity not to be missed

The earthquakes have created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address some of the root causes of poor health and fuel poverty in Canterbury households. 

The types of interventions recommended (insulation, heating and ventilation improvements) strongly align with residential damage being repaired post-earthquakes.  As a result, the work to upgrade homes is best implemented at the time of repair.   

This opportunity to intervene in a region’s housing stock has substantial societal benefits: reduced health costs, reduced days off work and school, and improved community well-being.    However, the capacity of Canterbury residents to be able to take up this once- in-a-generation opportunity is unlikely to be high for either owner occupiers or rental property owners.  Therefore, there is a strong rationale for government agencies to play a role in facilitating homeowners to be able to “build back smarter”. 

  • 29-Jun-2013 (Report BBS/10)

    Final Report on the Build Back Smarter Pilot Project (PDF 105KB)

    Lois Easton

    This report outlines the progress of the Build Back Smarter pilot project from January 2013 through to June 2013.  It focuses on the progress of the overall project against its key objectives and the process for up-scaling to a wider Build Back Smarter rollout for the Canterbury Region.


  • 30-Jan-2013 (Report BBS/5)

    Interim Report on the Build Back Smarter Project (PDF 561KB)

    Lois Easton, Vicki Cowan

    The Build Back Smarter Project aims to develop evidence that residential performance upgrades at the point of earthquake repair is able and worthwhile to be implemented as part of the Canterbury earthquakes recovery process through case studies of ten homes.  This interim report captures the first phase of the Build Back Smarter project to the end of 2012.  It focuses on the progress of the overall project against its key objectives and deliverables as well as outlining the impact that the project has had to date on policy and practice around the wider Christchurch earthquake repair process. 

Check out our Build Back Smarter case studies

Happy homeowners



Logo, BBS

Announcing the new Build Back Smarter Service

Christchurch City Council has launched a free service for Christchurch people rebuilding or repairing their earthquake-damaged homes to provide advice about insulation,  heating methods and energy saving measures such as double glazing,  ventilation and lighting.

Homeowners can contact one of the service’s assessment providers who will prepare a healthy home improvement plan tailored to the needs and budget of the home owner.