"A passive house is a low energy, healthy home, which I think is the future of grid free living. Today I'm in the Coromandel where Steve is building one. Let's go check it out.
Gidday Steve." Hey Craig! "What a great spot you got here." Thanks. Would you like a look around? "Yeah, love it!"
Our off grid journey has been, it's been challenging, but I think it's been rewarding for us individually and as a family. My name's Steve Hughes. I live here just north of Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula with my wife, Amy, our daughter Ruby, and our niece, Stella. My wife's always had time on the Coromandel growing up, and one day she said to me, 'Are we living our best life? Why don't we just sell up and move down here? Let's make the most of our time and give it a crack.'
"So this is it, the studio."
The studio, which also doubles as a bedroom and a full house for the family at the moment.
"The whole family stays in here?"
Me, my wife, the two girls, two dogs and the chicken who I think you saw earlier trying to follow us in here.
"Yeah, I saw that! So this is the temporary dwelling while you build the passive house?"
This is our temporary dwelling - we build the passive house, we all move in there, and this becomes our office.
The main reason that we went for solar and off-grid here is the mains power is about one and a half km's back down the road and the cost to bring it here is just so prohibitive. What we love about our place here is the nature. How quiet it is apart from the birdsong. Really, for us, it's just the silence and being in the land, in the bush up here. It's ours. It's our own little space, our own little sanctuary. It's a nice letting go of all that sort of prim and properness of having a nice, tidy garden, arranged, organized and then the perfectly modern lawn. It's nice to get away from that. I drove through Ponsonby the other week and through all the houses, and we used to have a place in Ponsonby, and it just felt so tight and packed on top of each other as it was almost claustrophobic.
We've got the GridFree Freedom kit, eight solar panels, eight batteries, hybrid inverter so we can plug the generator in. And what it's done has given us a good background and understanding of basically how solar kits work, which has allowed us to really work through the planning of it for our main house and understand what's going into it as well. And it's also helped me as a passive house designer, because there is renewable energy requirements in there and understanding the information that I need to provide into the calculator there as well.
In our studio here, it's a pretty normal life. We just have to look at the timing of things and for cooking, we have our outdoor kitchen area, we have a gas oven with two burners as well. We've also got barbecue.
I think, along the way on a journey and our build so far we have faced a number of challenges. I'd never fully designed a building before I designed the studio here. Having studied architecture many years ago, it's something that's never gone away and building the studio has been a great learning resource for how to build a passive house. A fully certifiable one.
Yeah, it's definitely challenging moving to an off grid lifestyle, especially where we've just got thirty square meters - it's one room. Winter's tough - outdoor bathroom, outdoor shower.
This is our toilet facilities. We have the wonderful compostable toilet.
"And I noticed there's two." There's two. One for the wees one for the poos. So that allows us to compost the waste. "And of course, an outdoor shower." Yeah, we've got this great little gas boiler unit. I love an outdoor shower. I'm not sure my wife is quite as enthusiastic. It loses its appeal over winter, particularly when the wind is blowing straight in here and it blows the water away from you.
The flipside to the challenges we've faced are the rewarding moments that we've had along the way. It's brilliant for summer. It's awesome because you can just be outdoors the whole time. I don't think I'd trade it for anything. Designing this and finishing it off - never practiced as an architect, but I've done it. It's an achievement.
Living off grid, every last little bit of your power is kind of precious. Yeah, it's just making those adjustments, and I think it's all become a bit too convenient. Power, water, even shopping for produce and groceries. It's too easy. You just go down to the shop or you flip the switch or turn the tap on, whereas you don't have that luxury here. It's a mindset and it's an adaption. That was part of our philosophy in moving here, was 'let's do more with less'.
The first thing I said to my wife then was, well, if we're building, it's got to be a passive house so that we reduce our energy demand because you don't have the same power on tap as you do being grid tied. We are very close, about 4 to 6 weeks away from finishing the first certified passive house on the Coromandel Peninsula.
"So this is the next stage of the journey, is it?" Yep. This is our passive house. Rectangular in plan and with some nice cladding on the outside. But inside is where the magic really happens.
I'm definitely an advocate for solar and renewable energy. It's part of the passive house process as well. And it relates to the levels that you can achieve with targeting premium, which is the highest level here, and that the main difference is around your renewable energy generation and consumption.
So this is the interior of our next stage. So we've got living + kitchen in here as we come in. "An indoor kitchen!" I know! Wait till you see the indoor bathroom, which is just through here. We're going to have a daybed just behind us here and frames the beautiful view out to Slipper Island.
Then we've got a main bedroom over there with a walk-in wardrobe off it, and on the side from the kitchen, we've got utilities and laundry.
"So what makes it a passive house?" Well, there's five key principles to a passive house and what you need to put into the model to achieve the passive house standard. The first is super insulation. So we've got a 140 millimeters thick walls insulated. We've got the service cavity here in which all our cables and pipes running, but where we have penetrations through the thermal envelope, we have to seal them up like this. These special tapes, this is one of the outdoor lights, has it on the inside and it's also got one of those on the outside thermal bridge free construction.
So we reduce areas where heat can run away outside really easily, like we've got no nogs, except for where we need them for bracing. High performance windows. So these are triple glazed windows. It opens like a normal window or if it's a bit windy from that direction, it opens like that as well. It's very cool. And the main reason they're triple glazed is to keep the heat out.
We have air tightness so that we don't get any air infiltration - wind blowing in like drafty old villas. And because we have that, we need some ventilation. So we have a heat recovery ventilation system. This is our heat recovery ventilation unit. Yeah, this is we have the fans that draw fresh air in and send the air outside. But what it does in between that stage is it crosses over and heats the cold air coming in with the warm air that it's sending out and the efficiencies you can get on this are 90 plus per cent we'd expect with sort of seven degrees outside and will really easily heat the air to around 20 degrees.
And again, really low energy units as well. Very little draw. So it's just running the whole time. Run that off the solar really easily.
We've had a great experience with both of our GridFree systems. Probably the most fun bit was how quickly and easily it all goes together and it works. Yeah, it just does what it says it will do straight away, it's really simple, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking at a kit for their off-grid living.
Living in a very isolated, beautiful place has really changed us. It's made us more grounded. We appreciate the immediate beauty that we have around us. We really like having our own space. The quiet is just amazing. Same with the night sky. These are things that you just don't get living in a city. One of the things that certainly I really have enjoyed about this and moving off grid is that it's taken me back to my childhood a lot. The memories as a kid just running around with my sister, my cousins and everyone just in the bush out fishing, that sort of lifestyle. I think that it's really come back home for me here.
I just love what the girls have here. It's amazing and I think that's a big part of our whole journey as well as we appreciate what we have where we live. It's not just background noise or color as we race about our lives. We're able to slow down, do our things, and spend time together as a family.