Funding cuts force new-home buyers to pay for eco-design service

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People building homes in the Wakatipu will soon be deprived of free eco-design advice. 

Queenstown eco-designer Christina Newnham has only enough funding for another few weeks – she’ll charge $345 per consultation after that. 

Since January 2009, Newnham’s been jointly funded by Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Ministry for the Environment and has provided nearly 100 consultations, she says. 

A qualified building surveyor and environmental architect, her main field is advising how to make homes more energy efficient, and identifying savings on water use and building materials. 

Government money stopped in June, Newnham says, so QLDC had a double-or-quits funding dilemma – and it chose to quit. Axing her service was one of numerous small cuts in QLDC’s annual-plan economy drive. 

“It’s a real pity,” Newnham says. “Other councils managed to find funding to continue the service.” 

One of her clients, Jason Bartlett – building at Jack’s Point – says Newnham’s free service will be missed. 

“People don’t build a house every day – to be able to get that advice is really helpful, really useful,” he says. 

He appreciated Newnham’s tips, particularly cutting energy costs. 

“Simple things like getting rid of recessed lights because you can’t put insulation above them – so that’s almost a conduit for cold air to come into the house or hot air to go out.” 

Bartlett was also grateful for advice on using shower domes to prevent condensation, which otherwise creates damp and causes a cold breeze in the shower. 

“You stay warm [and] you don’t have to have the water temperature as high,” Bartlett says. 

In 2008, the Building Council for Sustainable Development ranked Queenstown-Lakes homes the fourth-worst in the country – with 59 per cent of them potentially creating health problems. 

Most local houses face south, away from the sun, Newnham says – and many are on steep sites, constricting natural daylight. 

A large proportion of Wakatipu homes were originally summer-only cribs, she adds, but are now lived in year-round. 

Her advice makes the biggest difference in new builds, she says, because many of her tips “don’t cost any money”.