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New Zealand Design Places People and the Outdoors at Its Heart

Friday, May 27, 2011

By Erin Pierce

Editor’s Note: This entry has been cross-posted from DOE’s Energy Blog.

In honor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon—which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive—we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition.

New Zealand is the first place morning light hits at the start of each new day—and now it is home to the first team from the Southern Hemisphere ever to compete in the Solar Decathlon.

The team, composed of students and faculty from Victoria University of Wellington, has looked to revamp an iconic symbol of New Zealand’s beach holiday lifestyle—the modest coastal “Kiwi bach.”

Dotted along New Zealand’s coastline lie thousands of cherished summer homes called bach (pronounced batch). Traditionally small and spare, these homes were made for summertime on the beach, where life takes place as much outside as it does inside.

By incorporating energy-efficient design strategies to keep energy consumption at a minimum, the team hopes to redefine what the bach symbolizes, not only as the ideal way to enjoy summer but also as a model of sustainable home design.

Although the traditional bach is meant to be enjoyed during the warmer months, the team’s house—which they’ve named First Light—is intended for year-round living. To ensure the interior stays comfortable regardless of weather conditions, the walls are insulated with locally sourced wool insulation made from sheep fibers.

An external canopy on the rooftop houses a solar water heater as well as polycrystalline solar panels durable enough to withstand harsh coastal storms. LED lights are used both inside and outside, and a centrally spaced skylight supplements with daylighting.

Photo of a group of students standing in front of First Light.

Members of the New Zealand Solar Decathlon team (Courtesy of the New Zealand team’s Flickr photostream)

With the challenging work of construction complete, the house now sits along the Wellington Waterfront, where it is open for tours to the public. And, judging by a recent post on the team’s blog, the revamped bach is drawing a lot of attention:  “It’s wowing its thousands of visitors … . Even though it’s autumn here in New Zealand—wind, rain, fog, and sunshine all in one day—there were queues of patient people.”

Soon enough, the team will have to prepare for the long (literally) journey ahead of packing up and shipping the house all the way to Washington, D.C. But for now, it can enjoy sharing with fellow New Zealanders its clean-energy take on a time-honored tradition.

Erin Pierce is an energy technology program specialist for the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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