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Open day at Councillor’s pragmatic eco-house

6 June 2008

Open day at Councillor’s pragmatic eco-house

Wellington City Councillor Celia Wade-Brown’s Island Bay ‘eco-home’ is open for inspection tomorrow (Saturday) as part of activities to celebrate World Environment Day – and media representatives are welcome to come along and have a look between 1pm and 3pm.

The home, at 42 High Street, Island Bay, is one of three environmentally-sustainable homes in Wellington open for inspection tomorrow as part of ‘Sustainable Saturday’.

People interested in visiting any of the properties should call Wellington City Council on 499 4444 to register their interest.

Cr Wade-Brown – the Council’s Environment Portfolio Leader, says visitors shouldn’t expect anything “space-age, mind-boggling or ultra-expensive” when they visit her home.

“However we’ve turned a freezing, bog-standard, 1963 Beazley home on an exposed coastal ridge – where the southerlies arrive straight from Scott Base - into something that’s warm and comfortable, cheap to run, attractive – and sustainable.

“It’s nothing much different from thousands of other homes around New Zealand – it’s just that we’ve changed it in simple and pragmatic ways to save large amounts of energy and leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. Most of the existing housing stock is still going to be here in 50 years’ time so we need to improve old houses as well as build good new ones.”

Highlights include:
• Double-glazing and insulation
• A rejigged interior – Celia and her husband Alastair shifted the bathroom from the sunny north side of the house to the centre so more living space could make use of the sunlight
• A low-maintenance garden and composting system
• An outdoor KiwiTub – which burns dried flax (difficult to compost), twigs and offcuts from old pallets. It reduces number of showers and is great relaxation on a starry night.
• An exterior featuring Colorsteel (doesn’t require painting) and macrocarpa.
• The family Peugeot – which runs on 90% recycled vegetable oil and 10% diesel.

A guide to the main features of Cr Wade-Brown’s home, and the other open homes, is attached.


Hataitai garden
In Hataitai, an old clay section of a family home purchased just a few years ago has been turned into a verdant organic garden, with glass house, herbs, vegetables, compost and worm farm.
Creating a sustainable and useful urban garden is quick and easy; this garden supplies organic herbs, seasonal vegetables and berries using principles that make the most
of the sunlight. Lovingly developed with recycled materials by keen amateurs, the garden is a relaxing haven from the busy roads nearby. This site demonstrates how a small section can provide organic food year round for a family.
152 Moxham Ave, Hataitai
Open home time 1–3pm

Wadestown house
Designed by Richard Wright of Aonui Architecture, this is a solar-heated and naturally-ventilated house. The house exploits the advantages of good orientation and active solar architecture. Aonui Architecture’s studio is also located in the building.
The north-facing walls are 80-percent glazed. Thermometers are wired throughout the house to automatically monitor the temperature and to trigger windows to open for comfort in summer. In winter the pre-programmed controller typically keeps the windows shut. A fan and duct delivers solar warmed air to a basement rock bin for storage and later recovery on cold days. Research data and automated systems from this experimental house provide a vital resource in a range of Aonui Architecture projects. The house has extremely limited public parking. Visitors are advised to take the bus or to carpool.
Address 6 Purakau Ave, Wadestown
Open home time 10am–4pm
Contact details Phone Richard Wright on 473 5366 (phone) or 027 444 8146
(mobile) to register your interest in viewing this Eco-Home.

DOC head office
The Department of Conservation’s new ‘green’ head office in Manners Street will also be open tomorrow. Tour times: 1pm, 1.45pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm. Bookings are essential; Call 471 3182 or email ehartley[at]doc.govt.nz

42 High Street, Island Bay - factsheet
Welcome to our home - it’s not new, not perfect but we hope it shows the results of thinking ecologically for a couple of decades. That’s one advantage of not moving house unnecessarily. It was built as a standard Beazley home in 1963. We moved in in 1983 and the upstairs and dining area were added in 1994. The rooms have had different uses – lounge became bedroom and vice versa. There are still areas for improvement both eco-wise and in terms of decluttering!

Location, transport and access - We bought the house before considering a reduction in car use – in the 1980s we had two vehicles and drove both. Now I cycle to work 4 days a week and work from home/locally one day a week. The rest of the family use bus or push scooter. The No 1 Island Bay bus service is frequent and connections to Kingston, Kilbirnie etc work well for my sons so we don’t have to be parental taxi-drivers. The ten minute walk ensures a minimum level of daily activity! Neighbours are willing to share lifts or cars too. Island Bay is a great suburb with shops, medical services, community centre, library, primary schools, cafés, art galleries and musical activities in a thriving and lively community. This means less travel and time is required.

Our car is mainly used for Saturday soccer games and longer journeys eg Orongorongos, skiing at Mt Ruapehu (which is a bit of a carbon issue) and some off-peak travel. The efficient Peugeot runs on 90% recycled vege oil and 10% diesel so its carbon emissions are low. We have capacious panniers and a good bicycle trailer and have done a couple of holidays on bikes. Our kayaks, with folding wheels, enable low-carbon local recreation. Occasionally we use a Green Cab taxi. The path up to the house is a bit steeper than ideal but works as access for my father in his wheelchair and for visitors to number 40 since we added a gate between us. There are no steps on the ground floor and there’s a support rail in the loo.

Garden - The garden is low-maintenance, alas not zero-maintenance, and two small lawn areas were replaced with gravel and decking some years ago. Native grasses and flax stand up to the southerlies. Pohutukawa trees are not native to the area but their maturity adds shelter for us and birds so we shan’t remove them now. Karo has put itself in the garden and again it would be a huge job to replace them. We grow some of our own food:
• Herbs – rosemary, bay, oregano, mint, parsley, basil, thyme, sorrel, coriander
• Fruit – tamarillo, lemon (fig, olive, feijoa less successul) – we are frostfree here
• Veges – broccoli regrowing, self-seeded celery, lettuce, summer tomatoes
• Nectar – tui on kowhai, yellow admirals on hebe, sugar water in winter, banksia
• Back garden has kawakawa, taupata, rengarenga, akeake and other natives.
Dangers – we have ivy, periwinkle, aluminium plant, Japanese honeysuckle.

We have a three-bin compost system that produces good dark compost from garden weeds, my dad’s lawn clippings, wood ash and kitchen waste. We also have a great mulcher so on-site prunings become a layer to reduce water loss – important for a northerly aspect.

KiwiTub - Burns dried flax (difficult to compost), twigs and offcuts from old pallets. It uses a fair bit of water (we renew it about once a week or more often if we have visitors) but reduces number of showers and is great relaxation on a starry night. It’s even brilliant in a rainy southerly if it’s nice and hot! The access is up steps which can be lifted to comply with 1.4m access rule.

Outside of house - The Colorsteel doesn’t require painting, nor does the macrocarpa trim. This is important in a coastal location. The decking is also macrocarpa not tropical hardwood.

Insulation - What you can’t see is the most important! Roof and most walls have wool insulation, walls in front room have Pink Batts. Windows in the older part of house are wooden double-glazed, newer areas aluminium double-glazed. These windows have helped cut down storm noise and increased comfort considerably. The doors in the hallway act as an air lock when the front door needs to be opened in an Antarctic southerly. Underfloor we have recycled polystyrene between the joists which reduces drafts and noise as well as keeping us snug.

Kitchen - The compost and recycling are as easy to get to as the waste bin. We produce about one yellow bag of waste every three or four weeks. We use bicarb and plant-based cleaning materials. When we use the dishwasher we make sure it’s absolutely full and don’t use the drying cycle. We try not to waste food and to buy NZ produce in season. We eat very little meat as a household – vege pizza, pasta, burritos and soups form most of our the diet but we do have some free-range meat for BBQ or casseroles. Eggs are always free-range. We use a breadmaker to make our own bread so reducing packaging. Buying potatoes and flour in bulk saves money and time. Plates are warmed above the stove. Cupboard fronts are macrocarpa.

Laundry - Twenty years ago, unfortunately, we bought a top loader but it still works well. It does use more water but we always use cold-water wash. When does the embedded energy get outweighed by operational consumption so it should be discarded? Wearing T-shirts and trousers several times reduces washing. Soaking linen and whites before washing means a cold wash is quite adequate. We use a plant-based laundry liquid and don’t bother with fabric softener. We’ve never had an electric clothes drier but use either the outside line or the drier in the sitting room .

Upstairs - We should remove the unused heated towel rail – towels dry fine on bed rail and get used several times before washing. The flooring is recycled matai and the windows and door to the balcony are all double-glazed. Op-shops and school fêtes provide most of my wardrobe with an occasional NZ designer item a loved extra. Bike-friendly trousers are key!

Heating - In the spring, summer and autumn, the sun through the double-glazing in the northern rooms usually provides enough heat. We draw the curtains in the morning and evening. The dining area has tiles over a concrete slab to absorb and then release heat. The dog knows this.

We have a heat exchange (Quantum) for water heating and a low-flow shower rose. The large steel bath is rarely used, especially now we have the KiwiTub. It’s good for washing the dog in though! Our woodburner uses scrounged discarded construction timber, discarded pallets and macrocarpa. It warms a clothes drier and we heat a kettle on it. The heat that rises to the ceiling isn’t wasted – a heat transfer unit, with a small 80-watt fan, sends warm dry air from the ceiling of the lounge to the main bedroom, office and second bedroom. This takes the chill off and keeps the rooms dry. We use electric blankets to warm the bed before getting in rather than the whole room. In the south-facing office, there are floor-length curtains with thermal lining to keep the heat in and we have a fan heater for the occasional boost when sitting in front of the computer too long!

Furniture - Few items are new. Curtains, rugs and cupboards have been inherited. Shelves and trunks have been scrounged from skips, bookshelves and tables if new are from recycled timber. The dining chairs are imported timber – but it’s rubberwood from sustainable plantations as a by-product of the rubber industry.

Art - Pictures and ornaments remind us of the many cultures of the world. They are often souvenirs of travel in earlier less carbon-constrained times. Travel reduction is essential – but the understanding from visiting different countries is important. A year’s OE seems more sustainable than frequent short holiday flights. We also enjoy the work of local artists such as Kahu Scott, Dean Buchanan and Matt Gauldie.

Finally, attitude and education are as important as any technological changes – and they are free! Teaching my children to switch lights off, keep doors closed and not spend too long in the shower saves lots of energy and will do so for their lifetimes. Families, councils, central government and businesses must work together to save power and money.


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