New Zealand Passivhaus Conference and Study Tour
I am just back from two weeks in New Zealand where I was very honoured to be invited to speak at the first South Pacific Passivhaus Conference. As well as local presenters, I shared the floor with old friends and colleagues Elrond Burrell and Mark Siddall from the UK and Bronwyn Barry from California.
The conference was expertly organised by Dr Kara Rosemeier of the Passive House Institute New Zealand who put a great program together.
This isn’t a report of the conference which included many fascinating presentation, I’m hoping someone else will do that. Merely a few personal snapshots to share.
It is early days for Passivhaus in New Zealand. As in the UK, uptake has been slow but it seems to be gathering momentum very quickly. In part this slow uptake is attributed to the assumed mild climate. Because of this many buildings tend to be single glazed with little or no insulation or wind tightness. This means that despite the lovely climate, winter in a Kiwi home can be a pretty miserable affair.
This amusing video shown at the conference sums this up nicely:
My first presentation addressed the question, why bother going all the way to Passivhaus in a mild climate such as New Zealand (presentations are at the bottom of the post).
As it turns out, meeting the Passivhaus standard in most of the many New Zealand climate zones is rather easy by comparison with even the mild UK climate. The image below shows the wall build up for the Ideal Passive House in Beachlands Auckland. You would find more insulation in a Swedish dog kennel.
My second talk looked at how to deliver cost effective Passivhaus buildings. Rather than starting with the question ‘how much extra does Passivhaus cost?’, I like to see cost and performance as constraints to inform the design. By definition, sustainable building, food and transport must be affordable by all.
The presentations are below along with Elrond Bronwyn and Mark’s .The Passivhaus buildings we visited after the conference made me think I was preaching to the converted and had more to learn than to teach.
Road Trip to Whanganui
After the conference Elrond and I headed south. He had arranged for us to visit a couple of interesting Passivhaus projects on the way to Wellington.
The first was a very nice simple Passivhaus built by a young Dutch couple near Raglan. Understandably not keen to have pictures made public so here is a view of the outside from the south (pole side!) looking like a cheeky face. I really liked the interior and it was lovely and cool despite the hot day outside. Like many Europeans moving to New Zealand they were appalled by the poor comfort of Kiwi housing.
Next stop, other than to look at volcanoes and waterfalls, was Jon and Lisa Iliff’s eHaus Passivhaus in Whanganui. This is one of those homes that photos don’t do justice to.
The house was built by Jon and eHaus partner and master builder Baden Brown using ICF and a floating raft slab polished to form the floor. Jon is originally from the UK and his background in production engineering with Rolls Royce cars shows! I soon realised that my presentation two days earlier on cost and design wasn’t as ahead of the curve as I might have liked to think!
Having now stayed in a few New Zealand buildings I had experienced the total lack of insulation from climate or sound and this was my first proper night’s sleep since arriving! The bedrooms have tilt and turn doors for ventilation and access to the balcony but as an experiment I slept with the window/door shut and it was cool and fresh. The view from the balcony is stunning but here is a picture of Elrond photographing it so you can see the shading and details.
The garden isn’t finished yet and there is a canopy to add over the outdoor patio area. it’s all about enjoying rather than competing with the stunning views.
One of many nice details was this kitchen window with a sheet of glass forming a splash back.
Rather surprisingly there was no cooker hood and yet the house smelt fresh and free of cooking smells other than when the bacon was actually frying for breakfast!
Another of Jon’s interesting ideas was the use of a LED simulated ‘skylight’ in the bathroom. Jon reasoned that it is often dark outside when they are using the bathroom and a skylight is an expensive item if properly detailed. To complete the illusion the light comes on with a sensor rather than a switch and the glazed panel above the door provides some borrowed light as well as indicating if the bathroom is occupied without needing to try the door. These apparently simple details highlight the depth of thought and care that that have gone into the building.
Jon’s family and Baden were fantastic hosts. In a packed programme we visited their first low energy house, now occupied by Baden’s parents, another Passivhaus and a near Enerphit refurbishment of a yoga studio and café called the Petri Dish in Whanganui. The steel trusses and ply ceiling look great. The quality of detailing was excellent in all the projects. A cricket bat flavoured superfood smoothie was the perfect antidote to Jon’s fried breakfast! After lunch they somehow found time for Baden to take us up river in a jet boat and to play on the kids swing.
After Whanganui Elrond headed off to see family (he is a Kiwi living in exile in the UK) and I went to Wellington to stay with a friend of a friend in a very lovely but uninsulated house. I was warned that it would be cold and noisy but was lucky with the weather. Having had my expectations thoroughly managed I was expecting a shack. When I opened the door I was blown away by the design. The house was designed for the parents of the owner, Chip and Rona Bailey, by the late Bill Toomath who lived next door.
The house was built in 1958 but all I would change today would be the insulation, glazing and ventilation. This is my idea of Modernism; integrity is timeless.
The view over Wellington harbour was constantly changing.
I would recommend the book 4 Architects which features this house and other projects but sadly it is only available in New Zealand. Asking around it seems that the work of these four modernists is under appreciated even in their home country. However some time spent on the web uncovers a rich seam of great ideas as well as much praise and appreciation. Go Google.
I love details and they say a lot about the designer, builder and client. I have no time for expensive, and to my mind ugly, shadow gaps that laugh in the face of function, budget and practicality. What gets me excited is details such as this kitchen worktop to wall junction:
Perhaps it was inspired by the wonderful sink, over 50 years old but thoroughly modern. Only the taps give a hint of the vintage :
It reminds me of a description in a Swedish catalogue by Ifø that described a stainless sink with an ‘upstanding backside’. They don’t come more upstanding than this.
Other building related inspirations
Another (non-passivhaus) building with details that inspired me included this wonderful alternative to the usual floor to ceiling glazing by Architect Keith Wilson. Always good to see alternatives to the wall of glass cliché that is assumed essential for any house facing a view (or not). The building had many other lovely features but my cameraphone pics wouldn’t do it justice.
I was hoping to see some nice wrinkly tin and wasn’t disappointed.
Birth of PassivJedi, Twitter fun and nonsense
Despite the time difference there was a lively real-time Twitter dialogue including with the UK and US as the conference proceeded.
The following photo (by Mark Siddall I think) led to a flurry of creative activity inspired by the accidental juxtaposition of hand and line on screen:
Which led to @Vicus_Design posting this photo of PassivJedi training in Auckland:
And finally from the UK:
Then a few weeks later proudly worn by many at the International Passivhaus Conference in Leipzig!
For some reason the joke seems to run and run on Twitter:
Too many impressions to share here but I will finish with a picture from the wonderful Wellington to Auckland scenic train ride. You need to stand in the open carriage for best effect. The skies are big and lovely and the landscape reminded me of the UK but with more modern volcanoes.
So thanks to Kara and all those who made it possible for us to attend this great conference, I’ll be buzzing with ideas and inspiration for some time.