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ECOTECT NEWS 011 - 16/05/16- Solabode Home Designs Update

It has been some time since development of more Solabode houses in New Zealand but this year has seen resurgence in the work after renewed interest in affordable eco home solutions.

In the last few months I have had several new clients seeking design variations of the Solabode Mk2 Modular designs that utilise a 1.2m internal design grid to minimise waste and cutting time. Client’s from North Canterbury, Marlborough and Cambridge have had me adapt this system to meet their needs and these designs will be featured in time on my website with some being available as downloadable plans.

The Solabode Mk1 plan has also seen new interest with a revamp of the Starter Home design now planned for several sections in a new green field’s subdivision near Hastings. This new and improved version, named the Solabode S.H. v1.2 has expanded living spaces, simpler and cheaper structure and improved features. The 3BR design is still around the 150m2 including a generous single garage and the house and land package price will be around the $300k mark. This is for a warm and spacious healthy home needing virtually no heating on a generous flat site; not bad! Plans for download will also be available soon.

I believe these Solabode home designs to perfectly meet the needs of many New Zealand young families, in both affordability, and in safe, healthy and comfortable living with very low purchased energy loads. The designs have several roof and floor plan configurations and maintain modern residential architectural trends without looking the ‘same’ as other company offerings. My aim is to promote this housing type as much as possible, as I believe it is the work I resonate to the most.

ECOTECT NEWS 009 - 11/05/11

Another summer gone and winter on its way again with a few more lucky Ecotect clients looking forward to being warm and cosy and with low power bills. The Ecroyds have been in now for a few months and report outstanding results with no heaters yet in operation and comfortable temperatures even on cloudy rainy days. The Lewis' are about to move in at Tawa, Wellington once the remaining coats of Tung oil have been applied to the Colorcrete thermal mass floor, this low cost non toxic direct gain solar floor element is now catching on for my new clients in favour of more expensive and often toxic solutions.
Some great new rojects have been signed up recently including some 1920's bungalow additions done in traditional style, a favourite of mine and in fact the award winning McIlroy Hayward renovations recently featured in the new BRANZ handbook: 'Renovate Bungalows' which I assisted with editing. Also signed up are a few new house projects, all passive solar designs of course, some in Nelson and another in Marton in the Rangitikei District. The 3BR Solabode for Tim and Anna Rimmer in Geraldine is now under construction too. This one has a steep pitched roof to shed snow loads.
Last year I was working on a pet project that might 'fly' one day if I can find someone astute enough to financially back the project. It consists of a range of prefabricated homes that are also modular for easy additions. The materials are all locally sourced and are based on plywood panels and LVL framework. All the floor, wall and roof panles are pre assembled and completely finished in a factory before being screwed together quickly on site. The main point of difference to other such prefab homes is that mine are passive solar designed with a suspended concrete slab for themal mass in the solar heated spaces. They are also designed to be affordable for ordinary New Zealanders and meet all the precepts of the DBH 'Starter Home' competition'. The designs are of contemporary mono pitch style and will also meet the needs of people wanting lower cost holiday homes.
Another pet project still being developed is to build small 'micro-dorms' for sleepouts, home offices or just tool sheds etc using nearly 100% recycled waste materials. The plan is to extend the range to include small homes as well once we have perfected the systems. These homes will be completely off grid and self sufficient in water, energy and will not add any load to existing stormwater or town sewer systems as they will use composting toilets and grey water sytems that are also internal greenhouse planters. These principles are borrowed from the underlying principles of the Earthships developed by Michael Reynolds but use different materials than those do and the designs are adapted for NZ climatic conditions. Watch this space...

ECOTECT NEWS 008 - 01/07/10

Winter is here and most of us in this country are suffering from cold and sometimes even damp houses. Ecotect clients living in their new homes have no concept of such hardships, they are warm and dry and are using much less purchased energy than their neighbours, even those living in new houses. Carefully designed passive solar homes really work, they are such a joy to live in and quickly become accepted as the norm by their occupants - until they venture outside when they remember how they used to live.
The Baden's have moved in a few weeks ago and at my last visit were wearing tee shirts and summer clothes inside while I cooked in my winter thermals, they are very happy. The Savages underfloor backup heating had not yet been used at my last conversation with them and they now understand why I specified partially drawn reflective blinds on their north windows to reduce winter solar gain. With 180 degree views over the Waimea plains, glazing must be designed for more than just solar heating so control measures need to be used to maintain comfort. Internal temperatures on sunny winters days can easily reach 30 degrees plus unless high level ventilation and control measures are not employed.
Brent, the builder of the Grigg/Roshier Solabode in Takaka recently stayed at the Solabode during the wet and snowy weather over Queens Birthday weekend. His party arrived after two or three days of lousy cold weather and reported comfortable temperatures above 16 degrees upon arrival rising to 18 degrees during their stay. This was with absolutely no back up heating before or during their visit and still no curtains fitted in the main space - this Solabode has no heaters fitted. The stable temperatures were caused by stored residual heat from the last sunny day, several days before their arrival.
The Ecroyd house in Richmond is now under construction after some initial earthworks difficulties caused by the bad weather. Phil Hay Builders are pouring the main floor slab this week including the slab over the Potius floor panels which span a 6m wide basement and even support an Adobe veneer mass wall at a 1/3 span point. More photo updates on that page soon.
Finally today, The Lewis House in Tawa received its building consent last week after a few weeks of 'discussion' with the Welligton City Council consents officers over several alternative solution issues. I am very pleased to report that all our alternative solution applications were granted and one of these featuring 45mm thick douglas fir cavity battens, is the first to be granted nation wide and I am hopeful of this setting a precident for my other projects featuring the same system, Read Ecotect News 007 for details

ECOTECT NEWS 007 - 7/05/10

Five months since my last update here, but there are more recent news updates under the Solabode News page. Several new projects on the 'drawing board' this year as the recession eases up a little. Watch the Current Projects page in a couple of weeks for two new projects soon to be posted with stunning 3D renderings from our expert artist Gavin.

The first is a 3 bed plus study home in Marsden Valley, Stoke in Nelson featuring (as usual) full passive solar design with exposed concrete slab floors sealed with Tung oil, full insulation levels using Latitude wool and untreated Douglas Fir framing. The home features clerestorey windows to admit winter sun into spaces not directly exposed to north sunshine and internal borrowed light windows redistribute this additional solar gain to several spaces located at the rear of the home. Cladding will be a plaster system with stained Macrocarpa weatherboards as a complimentary cladding.

I am experimenting with a new cavity system development to reduce the need for costly 140mm exterior framing by using thicker cavity battens or the same battens used just as packers to extend claddings beyond the slab perimeter insulation if no cavity required. Using 90mm framing being an industry standard will reduce costs significantly and the reduced depth for insulation will have a negligible effect on overall  thermal performance of the building, provided other measures such as curtains, are properly used. Latitude R2.5 wool insulation is I believe more than adequate as wall insulation for locations such as Nelson city, after all large solar collector windows are still the major contributor of heat loss on cold nights, even with good curtains, so why spend more on wall insulation? Inland and further south locations would need specific assessment and may require the thicker R3.2 wall insulation, especially on south, east and west sides.

The other new project is a 3 bedroom home in Greymouth on a bush clad hill top site south of the township. The home will again be fully passive solar heated with exposed concrete slab floors and a couple of adobe veneer feature walls surrounding a log burner in the Lounge. Cladding will be locally available NZ grown western red cedar weatherboards, untreated of course and fixed over an untreated Douglas Fir wall frame using those thicker cavity battens mentioned above. The cavity battens will be made of Douglas fir also but treated with harmless Boron to H1.2 hazard class. This system will incorporate alternative solutions to E2, B1 and B2 clauses in the building code.

Other news: Check out my new Systems Pages when a new category on Recycling will appear soon.

ECOTECT NEWS 006 - 12/11/09

A lot to report of progress these last 10 months or so. Both the Tasman District Council (TDC) and Nelson City Council (NCC) have approved a revised Alternative Solution submitted by Ecotect Ltd with now several new house and renovation building consent applications.

This Alternative Solution allows the use of standard H1.2 Boron treatment of Douglas fir rafters in low pitch and flat skillion roofs under both sheet steel roofing and Butynol on ply. The solution also allows the use of Douglas fir cavity battens treated with boron to H1.2, both situations usually require H3.1 or higher treatment which is always provided with toxic chemical treatment. The cavity battens are best used with claddings that are fixed with drilled nails or screws as they tend to split.

Solabode 002 on an exposed Moutere hills site has been occupied now for a few months and is looking great inside and out. The owners report higher than expected costs and so from discussions with them I have reconsidered several aspects of the design to reduce costs further.

The clients have also expressed overheating in the middle of winter which, while this can be moderated with careful ventilation through the high fanlight windows, seems to be a slightly inconvenient side effect of simple direct gain passive solar design. But at least it is better to be too hot than too cold in winter when outside temperatures are around 5 to 10 degrees. A couple of sun screens can be used for when seated at the dining table etc to reduce glare.

Solabode 001 in Takaka is almost complete and the clients report costs within expectations and very good internal comfort at all times even though curtains have not yet been fitted. Next winter though will be the real test for this home. Recently the Tung Oil natural floor sealer was applied to the surface pigmented concrete slab floor, this product is 100% natural, toxin and odour free and is easy to apply, I am very excited about seeing the final results of this application as it is the first of many projects specified with this product and not used before in the south Island for such use, as far as I am aware.

Solabode 003 is being drawn up as I write with building start programmed for mid to late summer. The house will be located on a semi rural north facing sloping site in Geraldine, South Canterbury. Several design changes have been made to this home in response to the harsh winter climate and from lessons learnt on the other homes built. For example a steep pitch truss roof to shed snow and reduce costs but with a sloping ceiling maintained within. The design features three bedrooms or really 2 bedrooms and a study, but only one bathroom as the clients have no need of two. Adobe veneer walls for thermal mass have been included in the main living room and solar access space but left out of other rooms to reduce costs. Glass louver windows have been incorporated above internal doors to distribute warm air throughout the home. Finally, insulation levels have been increased to R6.8 in the ceilings and R5.0 in the walls except the north wall left at R3.2. Underfloor and perimeter insulation has been doubled to 100mm thick.

The Baden house is progressing very well with Builder Phillip Hay on the job. Of particular note are the fabulous internal 2 storey high exposed concrete masonry walls using charcoal coloured honed surface blocks laid in stackbond pattern. These walls are for thermal mass, noise control, structure for floors and roofs and are the finish without any need for paint or linings. We will be experimenting with the Tung oil sealer for a semi gloss finish. See the Baden House for recent photos.

Several other projects have been completed in recent months and I will report on those at a later time.

ECOTECT NEWS 005 - 20/01/09

We have just heard today that the Tasman District Council (TDC) have approved a new Alternative Solution submitted by Ecotect Ltd with two new house building consent applications. Several more applications in the pipeline will now also benefit from this solution.
The Alternative Solution was to allow the use of standard H1.2 Boron treatment of Douglas fir rafters in low pitch skillion roofs and cavity battens, both situations that usually require H3.1 or higher treatment which is always provided with toxic chemical treatment (except for 3 cases that we got through with H3.1 Boron before it was recinded).
The Solabode houses require this same Alternative Solution for roof framing and possibly for cavity battens on exposed sites also so this is great news.
Ecotect has been working closely with Waimea Sawmillers, members of the Douglas Fir Association of NZ, who have been pivotal in provided the valuable scientific evidence (from Scion - formally Forest Reserch) required to show that Douglas Fir treated with low levels of non toxic boron salts is more than adequate at resisting decay in all enclosed framing situations. Waimea Sawmillers have also lobbied TDC staff on our behalf to help ease the way and we thank them.
This is the first time in the whole country that a such a low tech solution has been approved since these higher (knee jerk) toxic timber treatments were introduced with the amendment to NZS 3602 (Timber and wood based products used in buildings) in 2003. It is fantastic news for those wanting toxin free timber in their buildings and we are very pleased to be at the forefront of this drive for the use of more eco friendly materials in housing.
On other news, both of the two Solabodes under construction now have their exposed coloured concrete slabs poured and curing waiting for timber frames to be erected. Closing in will follow soon after so it won't be long before these first two are taking shape. We are hoping that in this economic decline, more people will choose to build affordable eco homes than regular homes. Watch the Leader for an upcoming advertising campaign for the Solabode.

ECOTECT NEWS 004 - 23/12/08

Check out the new Eco-Movie page with a great viewing list for inspiration and education.

These movies are reviewed and also have Mark's take on them.


ECOTECT NEWS 003 - 13/12/08

The second Solabode building consent is almost through the consents process at the TDC. This one is a modified floor plan and will be constructed at Old Coach Road in Mahana near the intersection with Harley Road. The great news is that the TDC have approved the H3.1 boron Douglas Fir treatment alternative Solution for this one because it was already lodged for consent when they changed their mind. Construction may be starting even before Christmas.

ECOTECT NEWS 002 - 13/12/08

This news is new and affects all Ecotect projects as well as all future Solabode's. This week the Tasman District Council rescinded its decision to grant our alternative solution to use H3.1 Boric treated Douglas fir produced by Moutere Timber Ltd. unless it is coated with a breathable protective grey paint coating. The TDC must protect its exposure to risk I suppose but we and our industry partners believe this is an extreme overkill and not even in accordance with the timber treatment standard. However this just means we have to work harder to allay all fears and doubt the TDC have in regard to this excellent solution. To that end I have been working with Waimea Sawmillers and the Wood Processors Association of NZ who have procured three recent independent scientific studies that all recommend that even the lower level of H1.2 boron treatment is more than enough to protect Douglas fir framing timber during transit, exposure on site and in finished use. Waimea Sawmillers are visiting with the Dept. of Building and Housing next week to apply for a determination for the Douglas Fir Association's extended alternative solution to limit Douglas fir treatment to H1.2 levels in all framing situations.

Those scientific reports are being made available to me to help with my H3.1 alternative solution and I am confident that we will be able to continue with that until the lower levels of treatment are approved.

ECOTECT NEWS 001 - 13/12/08

This news is a bit out of date now but very significant all the same. The first Solabode received a building consent around the beginning of November after the alternative solution was finally approved for use of H3.1 Boron treated Douglas Fir rafters instead of toxic treated wood. The site was cleared this last week and the timber piles have been driven (on this very soft site in Arapeta Place, Takaka) ready for the Polyraft concrete floor slab system to be constructed. This should be complete and ready for concrete pouring next Thursday the 18th December. I will be doing a site check to make sure all the perimeter insulation is correctly installed before concrete is poured.

A Solabode site sign will be erected some time in January 2009 as the wall framing goes up. Visitors interest is welcome but please arrange with the site foreman before entering the construction site.

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