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A family home with a difference

Joel and Rochelle Payne are putting themselves out there and trying to be the change they want to see in New Zealand by building an eco home on the Pohutukawa Coast.

Words: Carolyn Enting

The Living House is a public, as well as private, project for Rochelle and Joel Payne. Their Beachlands home – currently a work in progress – is set to become the first residential Living Building Challenge certified building in New Zealand. The Living House is also targeting 5 Star Lifemark, 10 Homestar and Passive House certification and will be the first building in the world to hold all of these certifications.

The home will be zero waste to landfill in construction, and in operation, generating all of its own electricity on site, collecting all of its own potable water and dealing with all of its own black and grey water on site.

Designed as a four-bedroom, two-storey house with an attached single-storey one-bedroom apartment, the house will be made out of rammed earth with a low pitch green roof complete with solar panels. Rainwater tanks (50,000L) are being provided to satisfy both fire department regulations as well as provide the potable water for the house. Composting toilets are also being installed along with a grey water filtration system with subsequent dispersal into evapotranspiration beds.

Joel (who owns and operates his own business manufacturing slab edge insulation for concrete slabs) and Rochelle (an electrical engineer and green building consultant) intend to live there with their children Isabella, 6, and Nicolas, 4. The first phase, a one-bedroom dwelling, is half completed and the family have moved into that in the meantime. The grey water gardens are planted, and many of the rammed earth walls are in place.

Their belief that the world is changed by your example, not by your opinion, is the reason they are publicly documenting every aspect of their house build on their website (livinghouse.org.nz) and Facebook page (facebook.com/TheLivingHouseNZ).

They hope to inspire everybody from homeowners to architects and builders to start to think differently about what they are doing, and that as many people as possible will copy what they are trying to create.

To allow this to occur they are sharing, for free, all of the resource consent, discharge consent and building consent information they have gathered. They are also creating and sharing a database of the products and materials they have used on the project so future projects have an easier route to achieving the same outcomes.

While some may view this as valuable IP for Rochelle, a green building consultant, she believes that it will not be possible to transform society if consultants ‘hold onto’ information and is therefore freely sharing all her knowledge with everyone in the hope of creating a more sustainable and greener New Zealand.

“By providing a positive example of what can be achieved, the Living House is trying to show people that it is possible to build better homes in New Zealand and that we don’t have to settle for cheap lightweight timber-framed buildings that degrade the local environment and the planet in general,” says Rochelle. “Every dwelling in New Zealand has the opportunity and ability to produce its own energy and water and is also able to deal with large portions of its waste products (black water, greywater as well as rubbish that is sent to landfill). However, the majority of the New Zealand population choose not to do this as it is so easy to flush the toilet and put out the recycling bin. We are trying to shine a bright light on this issue and educate people that humanity just cannot keep doing that.”

The influence of The Living House project has also given birth to two other initiatives. As The Living House is trying to use natural materials wherever possible, the family has been collecting driftwood, sea glass and stones off beaches in the Auckland area to use in the design and construction of the house. Whilst collecting these items they began to notice the amount of rubbish on the beaches they were visiting and started picking this up as well. After a while they thought “wouldn’t it be great if all boaties did this as well” and the new Boaties Beach Clean-up initiative was born.

Cleaning up the beaches they visited led Joel and Rochelle to realise that beach clean-ups were really just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and that for change to really occur people would have to be inspired to change the way they live, and especially what they buy. This realisation has led to them to get another initiative off the ground in their local community – Plastic Free Pohutukawa Coast. 

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is an international rating tool that is attempting to dramatically raise the bar from a paradigm of doing less harm to one in which we view our role as steward and co-creator of a true “Living Future”. The challenge defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to rapidly diminish the gap between current limits and the end-game positive solutions we seek. The new dwelling will need to be Net Positive Water, Net Positive Energy and Net Positive Waste. This is a core concept within the Living Building Challenge that requires the project to either produce more than it uses, treat more than it is responsible for, or use waste already in the waste stream.

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