A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design

Rafe Maclean Architects uses low-cost materials and a few green-building tricks to help a family in the Otago region stay within budget.

Architect Rafe Maclean’s clients got right to the point: "We want a house that is easy to heat, affordable, and interesting to look at and be in," they told him. Zooming out just a little, what they really wanted was a home where they could have a family.

"The master plan was for them to grow into it," says Maclean, "with stage one being when they had no children, and stage two being when they had one child."

A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 1 of 9 -

The home, situated in Hāwea Flat on New Zealand’s South Island, began with a single, trapezoid-shaped volume, which contains a kitchen and dining space, a living area, a bedroom, and a bathroom with laundry. A stair leads to a lofted home office situated over the kitchen.

In the kitchen are two counters: one in stainless steel with a backsplash in green and white subway tiles; the other an island, a concrete slab fixed over a timber storage unit. Around the corner is a pantry with a plywood door that has distinctive circular cutouts.

A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 2 of 9 -
A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 3 of 9 -

In line with his clients’ request for a home that was affordable, Maclean considered the cost of heating and cooling over time, using Passive House building principals to inform decisions around insulation and heat gain. "An example of this was testing what thickness of insulation gave us the best result for this building shape in this climate," he say. "We also wanted to know what type of glazing worked best and how much shading was required so the interior did not overheat in the summer."

A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 4 of 9 -

To keep things simple and the costs down, Maclean used inexpensive plywood for the interior cladding, and concrete and hardwood for the floors. For the exterior, he used sturdy corrugated steel cladding and larch. Positioned as thought it’s leaning into prevailing winds, the slant of the structure actually creates overhangs that shade the home from the northern sun, keeping the interiors cool. To bring in light, Maclean installed a skylight that nearly runs the length of the entire building and connects to a vertical window.

A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 5 of 9 -

As the clients’ family grew, Maclean completed a third stage of the project, adding a new wing that houses three bedrooms and a large bathroom. Adjacent to the main structure is now a sizable garage and carport.

In 2020, the home won an award in the Small Project category of the Southern Architecture Awards, which are hosted by the Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects. The jury had this to say: "There is a sense of fun in this design which carries through from outside to inside; it evokes a feeling of being on holiday in a house that is occupied the year round. The interiors are engaging, with an enjoyable volume of space, natural light, and material warmth."

A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 6 of 9 -
A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 7 of 9 -
A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 8 of 9 -
A Family’s Home in Remote New Zealand Leans Into Passive House Design - Photo 9 of 9 -

More from Rafe Maclean:

Budget Breakdown: A New Zealand Architect Builds a Passive House for His Family for $490K

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Rafe Maclean Architects / @rafemacleanarchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Davidson Building Ltd

Structural Engineer: eZed

Lighting Design: Rafe Maclean Architects

Interior Design: Rafe Maclean Architects

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Rafe Maclean Architects

Photography: Simon Devitt / @simon_devitt

Published

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.