Off-the-Grid Home Breeds Quality of Life, Environmental Resilience

In a tucked-away corner of the New Zealand coastline, a couple, both architects, Lance and Nicola Herbst, have designed a self-sustaining “off-the-grid” home that lends flavor and mood to everyday living. Their cedar-clad bungalow is designed to interact with the natural environment and optimize its use of resources, such as energy, water and nutrients.

Great Barrier Island is four and a half hours from Auckland, by boat, and its remote geography necessitates the kind of innovative green building choices visible in the home built by Lance and Nicola Herbst. When the South African-born couple first visited Great Barrier Island, they were taken with the unique beachside structures they encountered—“little timber shacks we had never experienced before—tiny buildings with 20 years’ accretion of stuff”.

They were smitten with the relaxed notion of the vacation bungalows (bachs — after “bachelors”, their traditional inhabitants) they found there, and also saw the scaled back standard requiring off-the-grid pragmatic innovation as a challenge to their design abilities. Achieving high-design innovation and stylistic and material “modesty” were part of the challenge.

The success of their experiment is encouraging, as it augurs a future in which individual homes are more self-sufficient and environmentally friendly. Having made the move there themselves, then established their home in a scaled down, off-the-grid bach, they were asked in 2003 to build a home nearby for a friend, Marc Lindale.

In the words of Dwell magazine’s Jeremy Hansen:

Lance says the lack of services on the island meant the home’s design became “a diagram of the basic provision of shelter,” not unlike early bachs. This straightforward approach was aided by their decision to dispense with the patterns of city life in favor ?of predominantly outdoor living in the island’s subtropical climate. There is no front door to the home, just a few steps up to the space that serves as its heart: a covered terrace with a large dining table, backed by a gabion wall made from local stone.

Stripping away standard fundamentals of home design, like the front door and landscaped run-up to a home designed in that way, allowed for building a home more optimized to its surroundings. The home features two bedrooms and one bathroom, with a small kitchen looking out on the dining and living area.

The underlying structure is a pine-wood frame, raised on a concrete foundation, and the outer cladding is cedar. The roofline is designed in such a way that it collects rainwater for storage in an underground tank, making it possible to provide a regular supply of fresh water for use in the home. Treated waste-water is used to irrigate the grounds.

Electricity in the Lindale house comes from four 150-watt solar panels arrayed on the roof. An electrical engineer was brought in to study electrical needs in the home and to optimize the planning to get the most out of those four solar-voltaic panels. Part of this is “targeted task lighting”, to use Lance Herbst’s words.

The lighting was also planned to be low-intensity, with the home designed to favor ambient lighting. Lit with natural light, the ambient light effect means the home need not be brashly lit as natural light diminishes. Candles and lanterns, traditional lighting techniques for the bach community, fit the atmosphere and the design, and help to manifest the low-intensity lighting scheme and reduce electricity consumption.

According to Dwell, “The Herbsts also disconnected the oven’s electric grill and Lindale banished the toaster after discovering ?that both would require energy surges the solar panels could not deliver.” The conservation thinking involved in living within one’s energetic resources might be taxing for some urbanites, but it fits the atmosphere, and enjoying the quality of life this sort of self-sufficient home affords requires awareness of energy sourcing and the dynamics of the lived environment.

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