Nestled in a lush avocado orchard in the rural Bay of Plenty is a modern and energy efficient home with clever technology at its heart.
“We were looking to get back to nature,” says owner Alistair. “Coming from Auckland it was a real change, and to build a house as we’ve done now, it’s just transformed our lives.”
Looking for change
Alistair and his partner, Carol, has been living in inner-city Auckland when the first lockdown of 2020 motivated them to move to the country for a quieter, more relaxed life.
Their search for the right lifestyle property eventually led them to a site in the hills of Katikati, with 320 avocado trees. “It had a beautiful building platform with views out to Mount Maunganui and the ocean, which really appealed to us,” says Carol.
An existing cottage on the site was gifted to a local family, leaving the couple with a blank slate and some big ideas. “We wanted to build a home that had functionality and sustainability and was future-ready,” says Alistair. “It was about having a house that was simplistic in its style but technical in its production.”
The brief to their architect was simple: a home that made the most of its location and views with plenty of room for the couple and their dog, and a separate area for guests.
With the drawings in hand, the next step was to plan how the house could work for them: making life easier and more energy efficient.
A sustainable build
The couple wanted their home to be as sustainable as possible – from the type of building materials they used, to the way in which the build itself could contribute to a smaller energy footprint.
This started, quite literally, from the ground up. Instead of commonly used polystyrene for an in-ground building slab, they opted for a raft floor instead: a raised slab filled with 250kg of recycled plastic from Hawke’s Bay that is concreted over.
“That means you're actually above the ground by 450 millimeters,” explains Alistair, “and that creates a thermal break between the ground and your house.” This thermal break helps to regulate the temperature in the house year-round and reduces the need for additional heating or cooling as fluctuations in the ground temperature don’t flow up to the home.
“Having a sustainable floor base that would retain the warmth for us was really important so that we didn’t have to run electricity or burn wood,” says Carol. They also installed double glazing with argon gas to help maintain the inside temperature.
The house was built using laminated recycled timber with Ecoply on top for strengthening due to the high wind zone. It is clad in cement board and painted with a cool colour paint to reflect heat and prolong the cladding’s durability. The choice of dark greens for the roof and exterior means the house blends in with the avocado trees and sits more easily in its natural surrounds.
There is pre-wiring for the addition of solar panels and for an EV charger in the garage. Another key energy efficiency comes from their smart water cylinder, which ‘learns’ their pattern of hot water use, so will only heat what is required.
The power of electric home design
Alistair and Carol spent more than a year planning what they wanted in their home, with careful thought given to lighting, heating, security and other electrical elements.
“Electric home design actually futureproofs you within your new build,” says Alistair. “The more preparation you do beforehand allows you to enjoy things later. We spent a lot of time thinking about little things that could make a big impact later on.”
“We had an idea of some of the functionality of the components we wanted to use but the Vision Studio showed us how they could work.” says Alistair. He also recommends asking your electrician for ideas as you go. “It’s really important to understand what your electrician can add to your project. They are all about value-adding.”
A safe home
Their switchboard and adjacent technology area include products designed to enhance electrical safety and reliability, such as Under Voltage Protection, surge protection and numeric wire and circuit labelling for fault management.
“With the complexity of energy in a new home nowadays, and the fire brigade a long way away, I wanted to mitigate risks,” says Alistair.
Their electrical plan included sensor lighting in the bathrooms so guests can always find their way around. Subtle downlights highlight the curated artworks and ornaments, and additional LED strip lighting above the induction hob in the kitchen helps to make prep and cooking easier. Outside, they used Iconic Outdoor for a stylish weatherproof switchgear solution for their gas-powered hot water system.
An intuitive home
Alistair's plans for a smart home meant finding a system that could bring all the individual parts together in one easy-to-use application. During a visit to the PDL Vision Studio showroom in Auckland, they saw how PDL Wiser Smart Home could achieve that.
“Wiser is about having a home on your phone. It’s one touch and the whole house transforms. And it was so easy to use.”
Wiser can control and dim lights throughout their house, and control appliances such as the wall heater in the master ensuite. “If we’re out and coming home and it’s a cool evening, I can actually crank up the heat in the bathroom from my phone, so there’s a warm bathroom to shower in,” says Alistair.
Even the entrance to their house can be operated via Wiser – an electric maglock secures the large reflective glass front door, which they can see via the security cameras on their phone screen and then unlock remotely.
An energy efficient home
Alistair says that having touch-screen control from his smartphones is a game-changer and adds to the overall enjoyment of living in their home. “It's so much cheaper to run a house too and you can run everything very simply.”
He says their power bills have come down thanks to the energy efficient features, and the fact that Wiser lets them control exactly what is on and when. “I think the bills will come down further too, because we’re living within the home’s sustainability programme.”
Style and substance
The overall impression of their home is one of light and space. Large picture windows offer sweeping views over the orchard and out to Mount Maunganui and beyond, while the 2.7m wall stud, pitched ceilings and light timber floors all add to the airy feel.
“I love that when we’re sitting in the lounge area and you look out over the orchard you feel as though you’re suspended in nature – it’s magical,” says Carol.
For the finishing touch, they chose PDL Saturn Series switches and power points. “We wanted elegance because of the home’s simple lines,” explains Alistair. “The PDL Saturn Series is a beautiful range. It’s touch button and there’s a halo light to show when things are operating.” Saturn Horizon's textural metallic finish adds elegance throughout the house.
Slim and sleekThe couple also has used a selection of the Saturn push button switches and powerpoints, with USB charging ports, dimmers and button labels for easy identification of appliances and lighting areas. Every design feature was considered and they decided that the dark tones of the kitchen are the perfect setting for Saturn Zen in Black, which blends beautifully with the black cabinetry, dark stone splashback and black bench tops.
“We’ve gone with PDL because of the quality and the craftsmanship they have in their products,” says Alistair. “When you use a quality product, life becomes easy because the functionality is so much simpler.”
For Carol and Alistair, the time spent on planning and design was well worth it for the energy efficient and technologically intuitive home they have created. “It’s warm, it’s inviting, it looks beautiful. We just love it here, we struggle to leave.”
Hear it from them.
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