Common terms used on Smarter Homes
AAC means an Autoclaved Aerated Concrete construction system. AAC is produced by adding a foaming agent to concrete to make it expand before it sets, then cutting blocks or slabs from the resulting ‘cake’ with wires, and finally curing it with steam in an autoclave.
Active heating or cooling means using an appliance such as a heater, fan or air conditioning unit to heat or cool your home. See also passive heating or cooling below.
Aerobic means with oxygen. Some on-site sewage systems use aerobic processes to break down waste. On-site sewage systems that use aerobic processes must go through an anaerobic process first.
Algal bloom means a heavy growth of algae in and on water. It is usually due to high concentrations of nitrate and phosphate from farm fertilisers and detergents run-off. As the algae decays, it may reduce the amount of oxygen in the water causing fish death.
Alkalis are materials with basic (as opposed to acidic) properties. Strong alkalis can be as hazardous as strong acids and are used in household dishwasher detergents.
Alternating current is an e lectric current that reverses direction, usually many times per second. Most electrical generators produce alternating current. Normal household electricity is alternating current but some electronics appliances run on direct current. These appliances convert the current to direct current using diodes.
Alternators convert mechanical energy from a drive belt into electrical energy. They are used most commonly in cars and also in wind turbines.
Anaerobic means without oxygen. On-site sewage systems use anaerobic processes to break down waste. Some also use aerobic processes.
Argon is a colourless, odourless and inert (non-reactive) gas used as insulation between the glass panes in double glazing.
Aromatic compounds are used in paints and oils and are compounds that contain or are based on benzene.
Arsenic is a poisonous metallic element used in timber treatments. It can leach out of the timber over time, when exposed to the weather. It is also used in insecticides and weed killers. The degree of detrimental health effects of arsenic depends upon the level and type of exposure.
Benzene is a colourless, clear liquid used in paints, glues, pesticides and gasoline. It is produced when burning wood, coal and petroleum products. It burns easily and is carcinogenic. The degree of detrimental health effects of benzene depends upon the level and type of exposure. The people most at risk are those that work in an environment high in benzene created by, for example, car exhaust fumes, industrial solvents or spray painting.
Binders are used in many products from paints to pharmaceuticals. They are used to bind other materials together. In paints they can include resins, oils, and acrylic-emulsions. Synthetic resins are commonly associated with emissions.
Blackwater is l iquid and solid human body waste and water from toilets which is a health risk if not treated properly. See also greywater, wastewater and Stormwater below.
Booster systems are additional powered (gas or electricity) systems to boost the water heating of a solar hot water system when the sun is not shining.
BRANZ Ltd is an independent research, testing, consulting and information company which provides resources for the building industry. See also Building Research below.
Building Code is a set of national, mandatory standards for building work, forming part of the Building Regulations 1992. The New Zealand Building Code is performance based, that is, it specifies the performance required of a building rather than the particular materials, methods etc. to be used in construction.
Building Research is an independent association owned and directed by the building and construction industry in New Zealand. Building Research is funded through the Building Research Levy.
Cadmium is bluish-white, malleable, toxic, metallic element used in paint p igments, batteries and found in cigarette smoke. High intake of cadmium by either breathing it in or eating it, can cause lung damage and kidney disease. The people most at risk of exposure to dangerous amounts of cadmium are smokers and people who work with cadmium.
Carcinogenic means capable of causing cancer.
Certificate of title is a document attesting to the rights of ownership to a piece of land. It describes the land involved, the area, the legal description, the type of ownership, and lists any mortgages, charges, leases and easements or other encumbrances over the land.
CFL or compact fluorescent lightbulbs are small fluorescent lightbulbs. They are ideal for places where you want general background lighting, especially where the light will stay on for a considerable length of time. They use less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs and last much longer.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are inert (non-reactive), nontoxic, and easily liquified chemicals that have been used particularly for refrigeration, air conditioning, packaging, insulation, or as solvents and aerosol propellants. The problem arises with CFCs and their relatives, when they are released into the air. They are not absorbed in the lower atmosphere so they drift into the upper atmosphere where their chlorine components destroy ozone. CFCs are being phased out throughout the world.
Chromium is a hard, brittle grey heavy metal. Its compounds exist in several forms. Humans need some chromium to support the function of insulin. Chromates are often used as pigments for photography, dyes, paints, inks, and plastics. They can also be used for stainless steel production, textile dyes, wood preservation, leather tanning, and as anti-corrosion coatings. Some chromates are carcinogenic and toxic and can affect the lungs.
Composting toilets are self-contained toilets that use aerobic decomposition (composting) to break down human waste into compost.
ConsumerBuild is a website that provides a range of clear, independent and up-to-date information on building, renovating and maintaining houses in New Zealand.
The site was developed jointly by the Department of Building and Housing and Consumers’ Institute, with assistance from a number of other organisations with an interest in helping consumers.
Convection is a technical way of saying that heat rises and this sets up air currents. You can use convection when designing and heating a house to make the most economical use of the heat.
Diffuse light is light which is indirect, with no reflections or highlights.
Dioxins are man-made chemicals. They are by-products of the manufacture of other chemicals, during waste incineration and burning fuels such as wood and coal. Dioxin is a potent animal carcinogen, and can cause severe weight loss, liver problems, kidney problems, birth defects and death. The degree of detrimental health effects of dioxins depends upon the level and type of exposure.
Direct current is an electric current which flows in one direction only. See also Alternating current above.
Double glazing is a form of glazing for windows or doors consisting of two panes of glass enclosing a space (which may be filled with gas) that may act as a sound and heat insulator.
Effluent is a term used for partially treated wastewater in an on-site sewage system. It can also be used to describe untreated or fully treated wastewater in municipal sewage systems.
Embodied energy is the energy used during the entire life cycle of a product including the energy used for manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of the product.
Emissions are the pollutants released into the air from a source or a process. The term is often particularly used to refer to greenhouse gas emissions or VOCs.
Enzymes are proteins used to accelerate the rate of a chemical reaction. Enzymes promote reactions repeatedly, without being damaged by the reactions. They are used in detergents and soap powders.
First flush diverters are simple, inexpensive devices that fit to rainwater collection tank inlets. They prevent the initial flow of contaminant-laden water from the roof entering the tank when it rains. Contaminants drain off to a suitably planted part of the garden or soakage area.
Flashing is a building element used on a joint between two materials designed to catch and drain rainwater to prevent it penetrating the interior. For example, sheet metal shaped and attached to a roof for weatherproofing.
Fluorescent is the t erm used to describe lamps that produce light through the illumination of a phosphorous coating by gas-produced ultraviolet radiation. Fluorescent lights use less power than incandescent lights.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent, and irritating gas used as a disinfectant and preservative and in synthesising other compounds like resins. It is a known carcinogen and long term low level exposure may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and sensitisation. The degree of detrimental health effects of formaldehyde depends upon the level and type of exposure.
Formwork is the containment structure known as ‘boxing’ used to support freshly laid concrete. It includes the mould to contain the concrete, the bracing and supporting members.
Gabion baskets are low wire or metal baskets containing rocks, placed behind glazing. Gabions can be used as internal window seats or feature walls to create thermal mass.
Greywater is wastewater from the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. See also blackwater, wastewater, sewage and stormwater.
Halogen lamps are incandescent lamps that are more energy efficient than standard incandescent lamps.
Hydronic describes a cooling or heating system that uses circulating water.
Hydroseeding is a planting process that uses a slurry or water based mixture of seed and mulch and may also contain fertilizer and other additives. This process is an alternative to the traditional process of sowing dry seed and is used on bare ground (often steeply sloping) to hold soil in place while waiting for germination of a groundcover to occur.
ICF or Insulated Concrete Formwork is a system for producing insulated concrete walls for houses, basements or light industrial buildings. It uses two leaves of high-density expanded polystyrene , held apart by a series of ties. Concrete is then pumped in between the leaves.
Incandescent lightbulbs are traditional lightbulbs that produce light by becoming so hot that they glow. Because of the heat they produce they are energy inefficient. They are more expensive to run and don’t last as long as CFLs.
Insulation in a home is any material that slows heat loss. A well-insulated home will provide year-round comfort, and cost less to heat and cool. Insulation also helps to reduce noise levels and condensation.
Insulation can be made from fiberglass, rock wool, urethane foam, polystyrene and cellulose (paper). Insulation comes in different forms such as blanket, batt, rigid, fill or reflective. Organic materials must be pre-treated to become insect, fire and decay resistant. Some insulation is made from recycled materials.
Isocyanate is an a dditive in many paint and plastic hardeners. All polyurethane products contain isocyanates. Health effects of isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness and difficult breathing. Isocyanates are also classified as potential human carcinogens. The degree of detrimental health effects of formaldehyde depends upon the level and type of exposure. The people most at risk of detrimental health effects of exposure to isocyanates are those working with it.
Laminated glass is composed of two sheets of glass fused together with a sheet of transparent plastic between the sheets. Because laminated glass will generally stay in the opening when it is broken it is used for safety glass. It is also used for noise reduction.
Land information memorandum is a report issued by the council, usually to a potential purchaser. It lists information the council has about the property, including what building consents and code compliance certificates have been issued.
Lead is a heavy, soft grey metal. Exposure to lead can occur through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint and dust. Airborne lead enters the body through breathing or swallowing lead particles or dust once it has settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.
When lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning it can create a health hazard.
LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes are electronic devices that light up when electricity is passed through them. LEDs are good for displaying images because they can be relatively small, and they do not burn out. They use less power than incandescent lightbulbs and even CFLs but are still very expensive for household lights. They are commonly used in traffic lights, head torches and car tail lights.
Life-cycle analysis considers the total environmental impact of a material or product through every step of its life - from obtaining raw materials (for example, through mining or logging) all the way through manufacture, transporting it, using it in the home and disposal or recycling.
Load-bearing walls support vertical loads, such as joists, beams, girders, floor trusses or roof framing.
Low-E or low-emissivity glass lets light and heat in and then helps prevent heat from escaping.
Low-flow water fixtures use less water than standard fixtures generally without compromising on performance. A lot of products don’t advertise that they are low-flow, you may need to ask.
Low-watt products use less power than high watt products. A watt is a standard unit of power.
LPG or Liquid Petroleum Gas is p ropane, butane, or a propane-butane mixture. It can be supplied in cylinders for home appliances such as gas heaters and gas cooktops.
LSOP or Light Organic Solvent Preservatives are white spirits-based wood preservatives. Wood is impregnated with preservative using controlled vacuum processes.
MDF or Medium Density Fibre-board is made from wood fibre and is used as an alternative to wood. The resins used in making MDF can contain formaldehyde.
Mercury is a heavy, silvery metal. It is the only metal that is liquid at normal temperatures. It is neurotoxin this means it affects the nervous system. Mercury is emitted into the air by manufacturing or burning coal for fuel, and from natural sources, such as volcanos. The most common way people are exposed to any form of mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury. Other exposures include breaking products containing elemental mercury (such as thermometers) and using compounds that contain mercury such as fungicides, antiseptics or disinfectants.
How severe the health effects are from mercury exposure depends on the type and amount of mercury a person is exposed to, the age of the person (foetuses are the most susceptible), the length and type of exposure and the health of the person.
Metal oxides are used in paint to provide a wide colour range, but are toxic to produce and use especially if based on mercury, lead, cadmium, or chromium.
Moisture-curing is a process of bonding different compounds to create a new compound (or polymer). Urethanes are moisture-cured polymers.
New Zealand Standards are sets of characteristics or quantities that describe features of a product, process, service, interface or material. In New Zealand, standards are developed by Standards New Zealand, the trading arm of the Standards Council, a crown entity operating under the Standards Act 1988.
Standards New Zealand develops and markets national, regional and international Standards covering a wide variety of subjects and industries – including health and disabilities; business management; and environment and building.
Nitrates are formed w hen chemicals containing nitrogen (for example, ammonia) combine with water. These nitrates can cause serious illness or even death if large amounts are consumed. Nitrate poisoning is usually caused by contaminated drinking water. The primary sources of nitrate pollution are human waste and manure, especially runoff from factory farms. Babies are particularly susceptible to nitrate poisoning. Nitrates can also contribute to algal bloom.
On-site sewage systems are systems set up to process sewage without leaving the site. The most common form of on-site sewage system in New Zealand is a septic tank.
Orientation is the direction in which something faces. In general terms, your home should be oriented to make best use of the sun’s heat. In New Zealand this means orientating your house mostly north.
Passive heating or cooling means keeping your home comfortable without using appliances such as heaters, fans or air conditioning units. Also see active heating or cooling above.
PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate is a type of plastic used to make soft drink bottles and other kinds of food containers. It can be recycled.
Phenol is a flammable, colorless, oily liquid created as a by-product in the petrochemical industry. It is used in paints for pigmentation, plywood glue, weed killers, plastics and disinfectants. Undiluted, phenol is toxic and corrosive if it is inhaled or has direct contact with the skin.
Phosphates are natural minerals containing phosphorus and are important to the maintenance of all life. They are used in laundry and dishwasher detergents and fertilisers. Their residues can cause growth of algal bloom in freshwater lakes and streams.
Plywood is a board made of three or more layers of veneer joined with glue. It is usually laid with the grain of adjoining plies at right angles.
Polystyrene is a lightweight plastic often used for trays, plates, bowls, cups, injection moulding, insulation and lamination. It is not very biodegradable and is also difficult to recycle.
Potable water is water fit for drinking.
Primary treatment is the first part of the process that sewage goes through in an on-site sewage system. It is an anaerobic process. See also secondary treatment below.
R values measure how good insulation material is at containing heat. The higher the R value, the better the insulation will be. The Building Code specifies minimum R values for floor, wall and ceiling insulation – it’s a good idea to exceed the minimum requirements.
Radiant heating is a method of heating, usually consisting of a forced hot water system with pipes placed in the floor, wall, or ceiling; or electrically heated panels. Heat is radiated from the heated objects.
Reflective glass is glass with a metallic coating added to reduce solar heat gain.
Refrigerants are fluids used in refrigerators and air conditioning units. Some fridges sold in New Zealand use propane (R290) which is highly flammable. Others still use R22 (which depletes the ozone layer) which is being phased out all over the world. R410A is a preferred refrigerant because it is ozone-friendly, and is slightly more efficient.
Renewable energy is e nergy obtained from sources that are inexhaustible. Fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil are in finite supply and will eventually run out. Renewable sources of energy include wood, geothermal, wind, biogas, and solar energy.
Sacrificial anodes are an easily corroded material deliberately installed in a pipe or tank to be sacrificed to corrosion while the rest of the system remains relatively corrosion free. They may be used in solar hot water systems and will need to be replaced periodically over the life of the system.
Secondary glazing is a n independent system of glazing fitted inside the window frame. The gap between the outer and inner window determines the level of insulation, so that larger gaps give better insulation, notably for noise. See also double glazing above.
Secondary treatment is the aerobic process used in some on-site sewage systems to break down waste. The sewage has to be first treated anaerobically. Systems that use secondary treatment will generally treat the waste to a higher degree than those that only use primary treatment.
Semi-conductor material is a material, such as silicon, that is halfway between being a conductor and an insulator. Impurities are added to increase either its conductivity or its insulation properties.
Septic tanks are a type of on-site sewage system commonly used in New Zealand. They use anaerobic processes to break down wastewater. Septic tanks need to be properly maintained or they can become a health hazard.
Sewage is w astewater carried in a sewer.
Sewerage or sewage system is a system of waste disposal.
Single glazing is single panes of glass in a window. It is not as energy-efficient as double glazing.
Soakage area or drainfield is part of an on-site sewage system. It is an area set aside where treated effluent that exits the treatment tank/s drains to. The effluent is further treated by the soil.
Sodium metasilicate is used in dishwashing detergents. It can cause severe skin irritation; inhalation of dusts can irritate the upper respiratory tract.
Sodium perborate is a white odourless crystal compound used in dishwashing detergents. It is harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Solar film is a n alternative to using tinted and reflective glass. It is a thin, flexible, transparent film that enhances a single pane. Film can be applied to almost any glazed fixture that has a frame.
Solar films can reduce glare, solar heat gain, fading and the likelihood of injury from breakage.
Solar gain is the positive contribution of heat to a building made by passive heating through glazed areas.
Spectrally selective glass is tinted or coated glazing with special solar or optical properties. Usually it allows more visible light in but less solar gain. This means it lets in more light but less heat, reducing the need to mechanically cool a building.
Standby power is the power consumed by an appliance in “Standby” mode. Standby mode is common in electronic appliances - for example home theatre systems, TVs, VCRs, DVDs and computers. But it’s also used by dishwashers, microwave ovens, garage door openers and mobile phone chargers. Look around your home at night to see how many small lights are glowing to get an idea of which appliances are using standby power.
Sometimes, the standby power is doing nothing but keep an LCD display lit. It might also allow appliances to communicate with each other. In addition, many small appliances use transformers which are constantly warm even when you aren’t using the appliance. Standby power costs you money. You can reduce the amount it costs by switching off appliances at the wall when you are not using them.
Stormwater is rainwater, surface water, ground water, subsoil water and artesian water which is usually channelled into drain systems in urban areas to prevent flooding. See also blackwater, greywater and wastewater.
Synthetic organic pigments are used in paints to give colour. They are less toxic to produce and use than metal oxides but may still be derived from petrochemical by-products such as phenols, benzene, toluene and xylene , all of which can be harmful to health.
Thermal breaks are materials that do not conduct heat so minimise heat loss from thermal bridging.
Thermal bridging occurs when there is an interruption of insulation in a house by other materials. Insulation is only effective if it achieves unbroken coverage around the building. If there are any breaks in the insulating material, heat can escape. A common example is steel wall framing which interrupts insulation and acts as a thermal bridge. Heat loss along thermal bridges can be minimised by using thermal breaks. Material that does not conduct heat, for example polystyrene , is placed between the steel framework and the outside building material.
Thermal mass is the m ass in a building (furnishings or structure) that is used to absorb solar gain during the day and then to release the heat as the building cools in the evening. Materials with a high thermal mass are energy efficient.
Tinted glass has had colour added to the glass during manufacture to add colour or light or heat-reducing capabilities.
Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid with a distinctive smell. It occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree. It is also produced in the process of making gasoline and other fuels from crude oil and making coke from coal.
Toluene is used in making paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives, and rubber and in some printing and leather tanning processes. Low to moderate levels of exposure can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss. These symptoms usually disappear when exposure is stopped.
Torchieres are floor lamps that direct light upward with a flared shade.
Toughened safety glass is much stronger than standard glass. It’s designed to withstand direct impacts, or shatter into chunks if broken. Under the Building Code, safety glass has to be used in some areas.
Trombe walls are north-facing heavy walls made of concrete or some other thermalmass material, located behind a layer of glass. The wall’s exterior is dark-coloured to absorbs the sun’s heat. The heat takes several hours to travel through the wall before it is released into the home’s living areas – properly designed, it should start to release heat in late afternoon or early evening as the temperature starts to fall. Trombe walls can range in size, from being window replacements to covering a whole north-facing wall. They can be used to maximise heat collection when views and glazing are oriented to the south, or when site orientation is not ideal.
Tungsten is a naturally occurring element. It occurs in rocks and minerals combined with other chemicals, but never as a pure metal. Tungsten alloys tend to be strong and flexible, resist wear and conduct electricity well. Tungsten is used in products such as x-ray tubes, light bulbs, golf clubs, fishing weights ceramic pigments, as fire retardant coatings for fabrics, and as color-resistant dyes for fabrics. Tungsten is also used as a catalyst to speed up chemical reactions.
Urethane is the name of a group of organic chemical compounds or resins built from isocyanate. Two types of compounds that react with isocyanate to form foam are polyesters and polyethers. Urethane can be manufactured into flexible or rigid sheets, coatings, inks or adhesives.
U-value is the measurement of heat flow through any given combination of materials, air layers, and air spaces. The lower the U-value, the more slowly the transfer of heat in and out of a building. U-Value can be compared to R-Value by dividing 1 by the U-Value, for example, a U-Value of 0.5 equals an R-Value of 2.
UVR or ultraviolet rays are the invisible rays at the violet end of the light spectrum. Ultraviolet rays are not warm, and we can’t see or feel them. These invisible rays are called radiation not light. Ultraviolet radiation can cause sunburn, skin cancers, suppression of the immune system and tumors. UVR can also cause eye injury.
UVR are reflected by snow, sand, open water, and glass and concrete on buildings. UVR degrades paint and other building products and is particularly strong in New Zealand.
Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas that burns easily and it is not stable at high temperatures. It is man-made and doesn’t occur naturally. It is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is used to make plastic products including pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging materials.
Exposure to vinyl chloride occurs mainly in the workplace. Breathing high levels of vinyl chloride for short periods of time can cause dizziness, sleepiness, unconsciousness, and at extremely high levels can cause death. Breathing vinyl chloride for long periods of time can result in permanent liver damage, immune reactions, nerve damage, and liver cancer.
Vinyl chloride is also known as chloroethene, chloroethylene, and ethylene monochloride.
Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide number of products including paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and to some degree, when they are stored.
Studies indicate that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.
VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some VOCs are carcinogenic. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes.
Wastewater is water discharged from buildings. It includes blackwater and greywater.
Water flow and water pressure – water flow is the rate – in litres per second – at which water comes out of your taps or showerhead. It shouldn’t be confused with water pressure , which is the amount of force (from gravity or pumping) pushing water through the pipes. Water pressure is measured in kilopascals or kPa.
The water pressure in your home determines what type of hot water system you can have, but your tapware or showerheads determine the flow. You can easily reduce the flow of water by using low-flow taps and showerheads. It is more complicated to reduce water pressure.
Waterless toilets are the same as composting toilets.
WERS or the Window Efficiency Rating System is the official, independent system of the New Zealand window industry. WERS compares the performance of windows and glass doors in a typical home. When you get a quote for windows or glass doors, ask the supplier for a WERS star rating so you can compare different options.
Xylene is a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that burns easily. It occurs naturally in petroleum and coal tar. Chemical industries produce xylene from petroleum. Xylene is used as a cleaning agent, a thinner for paint, and in paints and varnishes. It is also used as a solvent and in the printing, rubber, and leather industries. No health effects have been noted at the background levels that people are exposed to on a daily basis. However, exposure to high levels in the workplace may cause dizziness, confusion, and a change in their sense of balance.