A Tale of Two Countries

December 12, 2013

By Andrea BoonFor the past 5 years I have lived in Dublin, Ireland, where I had been involved in a varied range of projects from large mixed-use and commercial developments to smaller sustainable housing schemes and school projects. Prior to moving abroad I lived and worked in Tauranga for five years working mainly in the residential housing market after studying in the Waikato for a NZDC (Arch).In Ireland it was immediately evident how materials and construction methods differ significantly from New Zealand.  This is notably due to the colder climate but also tradition and the physical location of Ireland, which have dictated their part in the construction industry. For example, due to New Zealand’s warmer climate, timber is readily grown and available for use in construction while Ireland’s climate does not support the growth of timber as an alternative to masonry, precast & in-situ concrete.

The approach to construction also differs. Expectations of suppliers are high in Ireland and in turn they provide excellent technical literature and knowledge of their products. It is well known in the past that this was expected by the construction industry if they were to make the grade. Stringent government standards are in place where products must be certified to achieve a minimum 60 years life expectancy and must be approved by the Department of Environment.

Suppliers provide a full design service, working along side the architect / technician / design team to integrate their system / product into a building design to comply with ever improving strict building regulations, aimed at increasing air-tightness and soundproofing and reducing thermal bridging and CO2 emissions.

Ireland has adopted a sustainable approach to construction for some time now with the introduction of wind turbine farms – on and off shore – as a sustainable means of generating electricity. Energy ratings for new and existing buildings are now required. This is encouraging greater use of geothermal / solar heating (with government grants for not only new builds but also existing dwellings to encourage upgrade), triple glazing, fully as well as partially filled insulated cavities, fully integrated wall and roof systems and a new generation of environmentally friendly products.

Not unlike New Zealand, in the past 10 years, real estate prices had increased substantially in Ireland not only in response to increased real incomes but also due to a significant housing boom and large influx of migrants from areas such as Eastern Europe, moving to Ireland for genuine economic opportunity. The joining of the EU states also made it easier for migrants to enter and live in Ireland. Against a backdrop of low interest rates and readily available 100% mortgages, housing markets recently overheated.

These bubbles have burst and the slump in residential investment amid the severe downturn in the housing market threatens to drag one of Europe’s best performing economies dramatically downwards, with a percentage of the population having left Ireland.  The benefit is more affordable housing in the future with house prices dropping considerably (up to 10-40 percent in areas) in the past 12 months and still doing so.

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