House of the week: Wairarapa off-grid

Last updated 05:00 17/04/2013

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Anna Marie Kingsley and Malcolm Batchelor knew nothing about design or power generation when they embarked on building their virtually self-sufficient family home in the Wairarapa valley.

They nutted out a plan for their off-grid home one night over a few glasses of wine with a draughtsman friend, deciding to do the foundations themselves.
"We would never do that again," admits Anna Marie. "It took us a long time and a lot of effort to do something we then realised a digger could have done in a moment."

The 300 square metre corrugated iron-clad house has three bedrooms, a loft and a huge central living space measuring a massive 15 metres by 5.5 metres. The central living space has a multitude of uses - as a classroom for their home-educated son Allen, an art studio for professional artist Anna Marie and a studio workshop where she runs art courses.
"I never wanted to be shut away in a studio," she explains. "I love working in the middle of the house near the calendar and the phone, I don't need quiet when I paint, and because my paintings are large I actually do have to spread around."

The central living accommodates easily the diversity of family activity; the open-plan space heated by the huge woodburner which doubles as a cooker, a smaller wood fire with a tiny woodbox in the kitchen is a supplementary cooker along with a gas hob.

The property includes areas that are part of a Wellington Regional Council initiative to develop a bush corrider from the Tararua Ranges to the sea, which fits nicely with the family's desire to minimise environmental impact. They are busy planting natives on the land, at a rate of 2000 seedlings a year.

Size: Approx 260 sqm roof area + 40sqm loft room

Build cost: House, $300,000; independent power system, $40,000.

Designers: Shane Halcox (draughtsman friend) and us.

Builder: Steve Ticehurst.

Materials: Corrugated colour steel for roof and walls, aluminium joinery, handmade wooden front door, recycled internal villa doors, recycled rimu staircase from an 1880s Masterton pub.

Energy efficiency: Double glazing, ceiling and walls batts, free standing 23kW wood burner (including 11kW wetback) connected to under floor heating using excess hot water, solar hot water, no power into hot water tank. Two 25,000 litre water tanks for rainwater collection. Solar photovoltaic power. House faces due north for winter solar thermal collection onto concrete floor and for most efficient placing for solar panels.

Done right: The open-plan living area is wonderful for entertaining large numbers and seminars. Over-insulation and heating combination plus concrete floor result in constant all year round temperature. We employed a great builder who hired fantastic subcontractors. The decision to go for alternative energy made for a very interesting and fun learning curve.

Done wrong: We saved money by using slimline architraves around our villa doors, but we should have gone traditional. Should have put in solar tubes for extra light at time of building and instead of skylights in the loft. Initial generator and solar panels were way underpowered, had to be replaced and increased. Not hassling the builder meant it took nearly a year to complete. Not checking the expected final colours: the aluminium
joinery pioneer red is a blue-based red and the corrugated iron pioneer red is a yellow-based red - and in certain lights the difference is quite noticeable, even though they are both supposed to be the same colour. Not questioning when it looked like things might possibly be wrong meant that the garage ended up four inches lower than expected.

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Unexpected: How quickly living off-grid has become mainstream. When we embarked on this project it was a fringe activity but by the time we moved in it had become mainstream.

Recommend: Plan landscaping to allow larger machinery such as a tractor and trailer or a digger to get around at a later date.

Next time: There won't be a next time - we plan to be finally taken from the house feet first in a box.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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