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New Queenstown homes expert offers free consultations.

A new Queenstown-based adviser is giving free tips to make your home healthier, more energy-efficient … and therefore more saleable.

Wanaka-based Jessica Winter has offered the service to Queenstown Lakes homeowners, tenants, tradespeople, designers and developers since late 2007.

However, the Wakatipu now has its own consultant after eco design adviser Christina Newnham joined Winter last month.

Building surveyor Newnham holds a Masters degree in environmental architecture.

She’s offering free two-hour consultations – funded by Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Ministry for the Environment – through her employer, Sustainable Wanaka.

As the construction sector slows down, Newnham says the scheme’s focus is on dealing with existing homes, though she also consults for new residential projects.

The need for the service was borne out by chilling research released by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development late last year.

It ranked Queenstown Lakes housing stock the fourth-worst in the country, with 59 per cent of it possibly causing health problems.

The district is “worse than places in Southland where you’d expect it to be pretty bad”, Newnham says.

She suggests the problem is people living year-round in houses originally designed as summer-only cribs.

She notes, too, that the majority of Queenstown houses face south, away from the sun, and many are on steep sites “so you’ve got issues with getting natural daylight”.

Newnham’s field of advice includes energy efficiency, water saving and building materials.

Energy seems to be most people’s main concern, especially with costs increasing every year, she says.

“You can look at your heating system until you’re blue in the face but probably the best thing to look at first is your insulation because that’s going to be the most cost-effective way of knocking back your bills.

“Your roof insulation is the place to start because that’s where you lose most of your heat.”

Wall insulation can be more problematic, unless you’re completely renovating, she says.

“Floor insulation is relatively easy if you’ve got a house off the ground and you can either put in polystyrene between the joists or foil.”

In terms of heat pumps, Newnham says: “I’m not entirely sure they’re the best way to go” – their efficiency depends on where you put them in the house.

She’s well qualified to advise on warming houses – “I live up in Fernhill and we get two months of the winter where we don’t see any sun at all”.

She can advise on the best place to put windows, or insulated curtains or blinds.

Newnham notes tenants can also use her service: “There are a lot of things you can do with a rental property that don’t involve invasive work.”

Double glazing is now compulsory in new homes though “unfortunately” not as yet for renovations.

Newnham believes the service will also help vendors struggling to sell their properties.

“The property market has changed to a buyer’s market, which means that buyers – who are increasingly aware of energy and environmental issues – are asking for better-performing homes, so sellers are going to have to respond to that.”

She also points out there’s now a home energy rating scheme that’s voluntary but will almost certainly become compulsory. “It is another plus point when selling a home.”

Newnham’s happy to fit her consultancy around people’s timetables. “Because it’s free, it seems silly people not using it.”

Newnham can be reached at christina@sustainablewanaka.co.nz.