Published: 20 August 2005
Beacon Pathway Ltd, a 5-way research partnership, opened The Now Home at Olympic Park, New Lynn, a week ago.
Dr Russell Burton, general manager of investments at Scion (the Rotorua-based former Forest Research Institute), said everything – flooring, insulation, acoustic padding, roofing & wall claddings â€“ was made of plant-based materials: “A house that also is warm at no cost, is less expensive to build, costs less to live in, looks good and feels comfortable. A pipe dream? Scion says not. It is the house of the future, and we are developing it now using Kiwi research & ingenuity.
“What if exterior claddings were made from maintenance-free wood-based biocomposites? If polystyrene insulation could be swapped for foam insulations made from plant-derived materials? If floors could be made of wood and warmed from beneath using the thermal mass of water?”
Dr Burton conceded the research hadn’t got the partners there yet, but said they were well on the way.
Shareholding partners in The Now Home are industry research organisation Branz Inc, Fletcher Building Ltd, NZ Steel Ltd, Scion & the Waitakere City Council.
Dr Burton said Scion had key roles in the concept, design & construction of the Now Home, setting up the consortium and establishing its 4 driving principles – affordability, aesthetics with comfort, performance & sustainability.
“The Now Home is a successful balance between these 4 competing requirements. It shows we can build high-performing, warm, sustainable homes at an affordable price. Our job now is to make these homes even better and Scion believes the solution is in the plants & trees around us. We have the embryos of those solutions now in our laboratories. The Now Home allows us to test laboratory-based concepts and deliver New Zealand-based solutions.”
Dr Burton said Scion wanted to keep pushing the boundaries on new housing materials & systems to improve the performance & sustainability of housing: There are 2 further projects under way conceptually. The first looks at the far horizons of biomaterials in housing & construction. It is developing technologically advanced systems that are not yet commercially available. For instance, Scion is developing & trying out new generations of insulation from renewable biomaterial resources.”
In the 2nd project, Scion is developing the new bungalow, a modern look at an old subject: “The Californian bungalow, built in the 20s & 30s in New Zealand, was mostly wood. We’re exploring a similar theme. What would today’s expression of a modern bungalow be? What is the quintessential modern wooden home?”
Dr Burton said that, rather than just staring down microscopes, Scion was applying the research techniques of science to find ingenious solutions to modern problems. While its scientists still looked at timber engineering, including the performance, strength & growing of wood for construction, Scion’s brief had widened. The organisation is reviewing a wide variety of plant-based materials for options in composites, in deriving more eco-friendly plastics & polymers which might be used for construction and a huge range of other applications.
For example, he said systematic analysis & interpretation of future trends in demographics & the social environment might allow Scion to plan research & development with a greater degree of insight than usual.
“We look intensively at consumer behaviour. We drill down and ask specific questions about what is important to consumers, and how they use the products in houses. We canvas different parts of the product’s life cycle. From this information, not only can we develop new products, say for the roofing market or flooring market, which appeal to customers, we can specify these products technically to the manufacturer.”
So is a plant-derived house a possibility for New Zealand housing in the future? “Most probably a version of it is. It is just a matter of time.”
Websites: The Now Home