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February - Off Grid

Ways to Go Green
Eco-awareness has moved mainstream and clients invariably ask us what we can do, when designing and building their home, to be kinder to the environment. Even if you don’t opt for solar panels or rainwater tanks, there are some basic yet important principles which can help lessen our impact on the planet.
Green architecture 101: Orienting the building on the site for better passive solar gain is a given. Often, the house will also include some type of thermal mass (such as concrete floors) to store and slowly release this heat from the sun. Windows are carefully placed for adequate natural cross ventilation and we insulate our homes beyond the requirements of the building code.
Less is always more: A plan with no wasted space (eg no hallways), but good volume and proportions, makes a smaller floor area feel more spacious. Better to put your money into upgraded insulation and quality fittings than mere footprint; in the long term, smaller homes are also cheaper to run.
Waste not, want not: Designing in increments of standard-sized materials means fewer offcuts to go to landfill. And because we offer our clients a design that uses a number of standardised parts that can be personalised to requirements, our homes are built more efficiently.
Loving the local: Where possible materials are sourced from close to the building site so that transport costs and carbon emissions are kept to a minimum.

Bee-ing off-the-grid
When Tim Bartley and Antonia Watson bought 20 hectares between Mangawhai and Kaiwaka four years ago, it was step one on their pathway to the sweet life. “My plan is to produce high-grade mānuka honey,” says Tim who has already completed a six-month beekeeping course.
To bring the property back to its best, they set about planting over 10,000 mānuka trees and 2,000 mixed natives, removing gorse and thistle, and felling wilding pines from an area of regenerating natives that had formerly been a pine forest.
Although the couple still live in Auckland, with an eye on the long-term, they asked Box™ to design and build a weekender home that took advantage of the expansive views to the Brynderwyn hills and the Hen & Chickens Islands.
Touching the land lightly, the house is completely off-grid. “Tim has a background in microbiology and has worked assessing and improving water quality, so being off-grid is in keeping with those ideas of sustainability,” says Antonia.
The couple came to Box™ because they liked the idea of a one-stop-shop where the process from go to whoa was handled by the same team. “It made it super easy for us,” says Antonia.
Another thing: They liked that many of the components were standardised which not only made it easier when it came to decision making but helped keep costs down. “The difference between New Zealand and other countries, like say Australia, is that everything here tends to be bespoke. People go a bit crazy chopping and changing elements, which increases the price of the finished home,” says Tim.
Their focus instead, was on the practical stuff including energy efficiency. Working with contractor Kahui Aitken of Aitken Builders, they installed a bank of solar panels mounted on a solid wooden frame in front of the house where the land drops away. “You can’t see them from the house but for maintenance purposes it’s far easier than having them on the roof,” explains Tim.
The 8kW system comprises 22 panels and power is stored in 16 batteries. Although the plan is to have a back-up generator, that is yet to be installed so the couple keeps a keen eye on the amount of power they have to play with. “An app on my phone tells me how much energy is in the batteries and how much has been converted,” says Tim.
Over summer, when they spent four weeks in residence, the solar generated more than enough energy to keep the household running. “We’re not profligate with our power use but we are a little careful,” says Antonia. They use a washing machine during daylight hours when the electricity is fed straight from the panels into the house and avoid using the dishwasher in the evening – “besides, it’s actually quite pleasant washing them by hand when on holiday.”
Gas is used for hot water and the central heating system comprises radiators filled with hot-water that is driven off a wetback fire. “The whole house is warm within 20 minutes,” says Antonia.
Like most rural properties, rainwater is collected in tanks and a three-tank septic system filters all waste water for on-site sewage disposal. Antonia and Tim also have a bokashi bin to dispose of food scraps.
The couple are enjoying their second home as much as possible while the warm weather lasts. “The house is just a simple rectangular design that faces north, but the covered deck and aluminium ‘eyebrows’ block out the summer sun so it doesn’t get too hot, yet in August the low-winter sun just streams into the living room,” says Antonia.
With the native bush now regenerating around them, and a honey-filled future to look forward to, the pair spends more time away from the urban jungle – escaping the hum of the city whenever possible for the buzz of the country.