When people visit the eco house of Janet Price and Grindl Dockery they often look around in surprise at the clean lines and contemporary design.
"We had some neighbours come over and say 'it's really modern'," says Grindl. "I think people have this notion that if you are building an eco-friendly house that it will have plywood and bottles and we are all hippies."
Janet and Grindl say they are "a bit hippy" because they care passionately about the environment and social justice.
They also believe in sustainability and planning for the future, which is what their house on Upper Pitone Rd is all about.
Because Janet has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair, their home has also been built for accessibility. With our ageing population, the women believe that New Zealanders will need to think about doing this when building homes for the future.
This place has wider doorways, pull-down wardrobes and pull-out drawers with baskets and the light switches and hotpoints are placed midway on walls, so they are accessible for Janet and Grindl, who is getting older.
They have also future-proofed their home in other ways.
The 140-square-metre house, built on 1.8 hectares of land between the Pouakai and Kaitake ranges, looks down over native bush and farmland to the Tasman Sea through double-glazed windows with a thermal break.
"There needs to be a break between the inside and the outside," Janet explains. "The thermal break should also cut down condensation."
Grindl adds that in summer houses should not be over-heating, but in winter they should not lose internal heat to the outside.
Even with double-glazing, lined or thermal curtains are important.
"Any good farmer living in the hills knows you draw your drapes at dusk," Janet says.
While some of their advice comes down to being practical, a great deal of their knowledge has come from research.
Before embarking on their sustainable home, the women searched the internet and talked to experts, including Taranaki eco- guru Michael Lawley.
They also got books from the library, where they found manuals written in 1986 following government research, but never implemented.
Grindl says that before doing anything, it's important to build your house in the right situation. "If you have it in the wrong position, you're stuffed."
For natural warmth, windows should be north facing.
On their house, they have extended eaves to cut down heat from sunlight during summer but these still allow plenty of light to shine in when the sun is lower during winter. They have excellent insulation in the walls and ceilings and concrete floors, which have been ground and polished to reveal the natural stones. "Concrete is like a heat pad - it stores heat and lets it out slowly," Janet says.
Stone does the same, but wood and carpet don't.
In the open space where the kitchen, dining room and lounge meet, there is a Pyroclassic Fire Oven. It looks like an ordinary woodburner, but it has a ceramic core that heats up and lets the heat out gently overnight and a cover that goes on top for cooking.
"The first time we used it a friend came over and brought a beautiful lasagne, uncooked, and she looked over our very bare kitchen and I could see this panic enter her eyes as she could see there was no oven," Janet says. "We had the fire burning and so we whipped the aluminium cover on the top and the lasagne was cooked there while we sat and happily chatted. It worked beautifully."
The women also have a wetback solar hot water heater, which is piped from a rainwater tank, photovoltaic panels on the roof and they have also had pipes laid for water radiators and a grey- water system in the future.
"We have got the kit in the ground if we need to do a grey- water system, so if there ever comes a time with climate change and weather patterns changing, we can do it," Grindl says.
"It's about thinking ahead to the future," Janet says. "I'm disabled and 99 per cent of people will be disabled at some stage in their life."
Grindl says that despite the ageing population, the Western world is still designing houses as if people will be able for the rest of their lives. "We had to work really hard to get builders to think outside the box and how to work and live inside a house that's not just about looking good."
Where possible, the women used local products, including macrocarpa milled by Brian Snowdon, employed local workers and recycled what materials they could. However, they also used the best modern systems possible.
They have high praise for most of those who worked on their home, a project which was made particularly difficult because the pair share their time between New Zealand and Liverpool in the United Kingdom.
Grindl, a Kiwi, is a sexual health nurse adviser, and Janet, an Englishwoman, is a trained medic who now works online helping feminist colleagues in India doing work around sexuality, disability and social justice. She is also on the board of directors helping to organise an arts festival for deaf people.
The pair travelled all over New Zealand looking for the perfect piece of land to build their sustainable home and instantly fell in love with the coastal Taranaki spot.
Five years in the making, they can't quite believe their house is completed.
"Even now it does feel like we are squatting here and after all the planning and pushing, finally it is for real," Grindl says.
This is a home their friends and family in England have also had a hand in. Instead of birthday presents, they have given tools and money towards some of the eco systems, the kitchen and materials.
Now they want to share their place with others, let them see the solar tubes that naturally lighten dark spaces, the energy-efficient bulbs, the outside bricks that blend in with nature and talk about the non-toxic paints used in the house, half-flush toilets, the idea of retro-fitting and the covenants planned for the fenced native bush around the streams on their land.
"We invited the neighbours around for drinks and gave handouts," Janet laughs.
This is also a place where you can just enjoy the view.
"A friend came here and stood at this window and said nothing," Grindl says.
"I wondered what was wrong. Then she turned round and said, 'you don't plan to do anything here, do you?'."
The friend, like Janet and Grindl, and anybody else who visits, found herself transfixed by the landscape and the house built to be part of it.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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