This net-zero-energy eco-home heats itself – and generates enough power to charge the car too.
In Queenstown, temperatures fluctuate from freezing in winter to scorching in summer, so it’s hard to believe a home could maintain a comfortable 23°C inside year round – and without any conventional heating at that. Yet through applying the principles of ‘passive house’ design, Michael Sly has created a home that pulls it off no sweat.
Building a place of their own was always on the cards for Michael and his partner Jodie Lynes; he’s long had an interest in low-energy building technology and prefabricated architecture. “In fact, he’s probably been planning this house since he was a teenager,” says Jodie.
Having both grown up in Queenstown, they wanted their daughter Olive to have a rural upbringing too, so they settled on a site in the Speargrass Flat area. “When the two of us got together, Mike was living down the road in a bit of a bachelor pad on his family’s property,” says Jodie. “We converted a double garage into a tiny house to live in while planning this place. We used to come up and stand on this hillside and dream of looking across to Coronet Peak from the comfort of our own home.”
Investigating their options for building an energy-efficient ‘passive house’, Mike found that the local industry didn’t readily offer some of the technology available internationally for creating dwellings that are better for the environment and the people who live in them. So, after many hours researching various processes for bringing that much-desired comfort into their lives, they decided to use their own building project as a testing ground for a system he’d offer through his business, Climate House NZ, a new concept “with the objective of designing and building using SIPs [structurally insulated panels] and double- or triple-glazed thermally broken windows to ensure airtightness for warm and comfortable living, along with a beautiful finished aesthetic.”
Working together on the floorplan, the couple designed an alpine-style home “with an open and welcoming Scandinavian feel – a big barn that’s light and airy but still cosy,” says Jodie. As well as the prefabricated passive house components, the simplicity of the structure helped to keep their costs down – a key consideration for the service Michael and his business partners Sarah Somerville and James Clarke were aiming to provide.
Jodie explains how a heat recovery/ventilation unit also helps to control the climate inside the home. “Cold air comes in from the outside and exchanges with the warm air created in our everyday lives – through cooking etcetera – turning it into warmth at 98% efficiency. With solar panels on the roof, our power bills are super low. We could put power back into the grid, but instead we use it to charge our car! I basically get around from the energy of our solar panels.”
As the first passive home of its kind in New Zealand, one of the biggest challenges the couple faced was having to source the majority of their supplies from overseas, and meticulous planning was required to coordinate the ordering and delivery of the materials. (Michael has since established a factory in Cromwell, NZSIP, to manufacture the panels, and other local companies are starting to make the ventilation systems and windows required for passive house construction.) Thankfully, the prefabricated components sped things along and the build was completed in just seven months, despite taking place during one of the snowiest winters on record.
The interior fit-out was primarily Jodie’s domain, a process made easy thanks to space left in the container being shipped from the US filled with their building supplies. Using 3D renders of the floorplan, she shopped up a storm at Ikea, finding affordable solutions for everything from furniture to the kitchen sink. “I ordered absolutely everything online and hoped for the best,” she says. “Let’s just say I don’t mind if I never have to use another Allen key again.”
With much excitement – and relief that all the systems worked – the couple moved into their new home in late 2015 and are reaping the rewards of their ambitions. “Living here is amazing,” says Jodie. “Mike grew up in these hills, and now Olive gets to as well. To be able to enjoy these views is awesome, and it’s so warm and comfortable. Having a house that stays a constant temperature is great in our changeable climate. It’s taken a bit to get used to the fact we don’t need to light a fire or turn any heating or cooling on, but life has become nice and simple.”