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Christchurch eco house is passive

Andrew and Katy Marriott in their “passive house”. It doesn’t require heating or cooling.

Climate change means New Zealanders have to get smarter about energy use. A Christchurch family have chipped in with a new home that’s airtight and requires almost no heating or cooling. WILL HARVIE reports.

Remember that day just before Christmas when temperatures in Christchurch soared past 36 degrees Celsius? There was little wind, people drooped and complained. There seemed to be no respite.

Over at Andrew and Katy Marriott’s new home in Fendalton, inside temperatures were a pleasant 23C. And they didn’t have air conditioning or the heatpump working in reverse. They don’t own a heat pump.

Rather the Marriotts built a “passive house” — a German technique that uses triple-glazed windows, extra thick walls, abundant insulation and other technologies to create an airtight and energy-efficient building. The result is a constant temperature — winter and summer, day and night — of 20-odd degrees.

“We wanted a low-energy house and our architect said he’s never built a passive house before and would we like to go on an adventure with him,” says Andrew Marriott. They did.

While windows are generally small, the dinning room gets plenty of natural light.

From the outside, their new build is contemporary Fendalton: a 347 square metre, four-bedroom, two-storey weatherboard house hidden down a driveway. Inside, it’s got a clean modern look with hardwood floors, timber window frames and stainless steel appliances. Don’t go looking for a composting toilet, there isn’t one.


passive house

Passive Housing catches on in Christchurch

Harley Builders is building it’s first Certified Passive house in Fendalton and is keen to encourage interest in the energy-efficient housing option. Certified Passive Houses require both a design review ans post-construction testing to meet the international Passive House certification standard.

Manager Glenn Harley says the key features include a heat recovery ventilation system,, well insulated wall and an airtight structure. The structure maintains indoor air temperatures of around 22 degrees year round.


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Benefits of a Certified Passive House?

What are the benefits of a Certified Passive House?


The benefits of choosing a Certified Passive House are significant:

Knowing exactly what you get in the design stage: certainty of performance due to detailed modelling and a stringent quality assurance process

Extremely low energy use: 90 – 95% less heating and cooling energy use, 60-80% overall energy savings compared to a NZ Building Code compliant building

High quality indoor air: Controlled ventilation for a continuous, consistent supply of fresh, heated, outdoor air

Comfortable indoor temperatures: A minimum of 20ºC all year-round, resulting in a dry, warm, healthy building

Operational and construction savings: Vastly reduced energy bills; elimination of conventional HVAC systems; much smaller solar systems required to reach zero energy; durable, tight building shell for lower maintenance

Proven sustainability: 60,000+ buildings worldwide, some zero and even positive energy. 25 year track record.

Helping the earth: With buildings contributing 30% of all greenhouse gases, Passive Houses are exponentially friendlier to the environment because of their minimal energy & fossil fuel consumption.

Find out more


Restored to Glory

Ironside House, proudly shows that restoration on the heritage building is complete. High-profile chef Jonny Schwass’s latest culinary venture in Christchurch will offer a slice of history too. His new restaurant, Harlequin Public House, will soon open in Ironside House, a more than century-old building on the corner of Salisbury and Montreal streets. The building’s owners restored it to its former glory despite it being severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and being red-stickered.

Co-owner Jacqui Lee said that when she saw the building after the devastating quake she thought, “How the hell are we going to fix this?” But she took the approach of “where there is a will there is a way”.

Saving the building, built in 1899, did not come cheap. The salvage project, which involved lifting and moving the house on to the nearby car park so workers could put down deep-pile foundations, “conservatively” cost about $2.5 million, she said. The bill was covered through a combination of insurance, a Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Trust grant and a bank loan. Lee hoped a council grant would be confirmed.


Schwass said they hoped to open after July 20. “We’re pretty lucky to be the custodians of such a beautiful building. They’re definitely not making them like that any more.”

He said the restaurant and bar would be europena 1920s-style, with a few “familiar faces” from his now-demolished Ferry Rd Restaurant Schwass.

Ironside House was once home to a surgery and later a lecture hall for the Christchurch Teachers’ College.

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Award winning Passive house built by Harley Builders

Fendalton Passive House

Andrew and Katy Marriott: Fendalton Passive House

We moved to Christchurch post-quakes to help with the rebuild and ended up staying. We wanted our new home to be low-energy and chose to build a Passive House – a German technique that uses triple-glazed windows, extra thick walls, abundant insulation and other technologies to create an airtight and energy-efficient building. The result is a constant temperature — winter and summer, day and night — of 20-odd degrees.

Our electrician recommended we approach Glenn of Harley Builders because of his workmanship.

Of the 6 builders we interviewed we chose Glenn. We got on very well with him and were pleased his price came in the lowest.

We happily recommend Harley Builders to others. Here are some of the reasons why:

Glenn had a very ‘can do’ attitude. We hadn’t decided on the windows upfront and were pleased that Glenn was open to variations.

Glenn was proactive by saying ‘this is going to work’ or ‘I think there is a better way we can do this’. So there was no rework as Glenn and his foreman John – who was excellent – saw the problems before they arose.

We did make some changes to the plans along the way. John and Glenn made the decision-making process easy as they were quietly supportive in the background. Glenn was very accommodating and great in getting tradesmen onto that work very quickly.


Passive House is a relatively new way of building and some of the plan details needed resolving. Glenn worked through the process to a point where everybody was happy going forward. There are always challenges around the builder – owner – architect triangle.  The relationship just got better and better. Which doesn’t always happen that way around!

A Passive House needs to be airtight and a first test failed on the manufacturing process of a window, something out of Glenn’s control. It highlighted that Glenn’s workmanship was outstanding, that the whole process was managed expertly by him, and that he is an excellent verbal communicator.

We were keen to move into the house as soon as possible as we were living in a pretty substandard rental, but Glenn was adamant that we could not move in until such time as he had got it to an appropriate point. We were disappointed but in hindsight realised that was the best decision not to move in early and really respect Glenn for that.

Our son is a carpenter in Hamilton and came on moving day whilst the builders were still working on-site. He commented that the atmosphere was unusual as it felt like a family and that it was a happy building site.
We were always made to feel welcome on-site and the team respected our values by not swearing and cussing and keeping the music volume turned down.  Prior to open homes for friends and families Glenn’s team would clean up the site on a Friday night.

Any build can be stressful but Harley Builders ensured that the process was manageable and to a certain extent enjoyable.

Our home has functioned very well.  Just prior to Christmas it was 36 degrees outside and 23 degrees inside without the use of an air-conditioner or heat-pump in reverse as we don’t have either.

Glenn has a positive ‘can do’ attitude so along with his faultless workmanship he and his team were the perfect choice to build our dream Passive House. Throughout the process great communication, exceptional problem-solving skills and a clean and tidy worksite were key.



Governors Bay Straw Bale House

Darren and Alice Good – Governors Bay Straw Bale House

Harley Builders were recommended to us for our 190m2 architectural multilevel hillside new build. From our first meeting Glenn and his team have been fantastic to deal with, clear straightforward communication and a well organised approach to our build, always with plenty of good humour!

Glenn was perfectly fine with me working on the site during the build and this was particularly helpful as I was there to handle any issues that came up with the build. There were a few anomalies within the architect’s design and these were always sorted out quickly. He always stayed ahead of the game and was able to spot any potential problems and have a solution before they caused a delay.

The triangle between himself, the Architect Richard Wilden and us worked exceptionally well.  Glenn’s multi-tasking was exceptional and he had a pulse on all aspects of the build at all times. He is very much a practical, hands on building company owner which is very much appreciated.  He is exceptionally knowledgeable around all aspects of building a straw bale house on the hill. The house is performing as expected. It’s very dry and warm. The plaster inside helps regulate the humidity thus eliminating condensation in the house. The macrocarpa cladding is holding its colour well and there are little to no splits.

Good Collage

Our house was a very technical build with 4 separate floor levels, a round room and lots of big macrocarpa beams. You could see the guys were really enjoying working on it, pitching an octagonal turret roof with exposed macrocarpa beams and T&G ceiling on the round room, pitching the main roof and dormers on site and carefully installing the macrocarpa board and batten cladding.

Their level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is excellent. One of the building inspectors was so impressed he said after a tour ‘Wow! I haven’t seen a house with this much craftsmanship for 5 or 6 years. It’s houses like this that made me want to become a building inspector, but they are few and far between’.

Everyone who has been to visit the house has been impressed.   Glenn could address multiple aspects of the build very easily. We were particularly pleased with his diagrams and verbal discussions around the technical facets of the build. We felt at ease asking ‘dumb’ questions and always received an in-depth and non-judgmental answer from him and his team.
Glenn is a good, honest, decent bloke.

Ironside Finished Features 038

Ironside House Restoration

Ironside House was extensively damaged in the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. We thought at the time: “How the hell are we going to fix this?” But we took the approach of “where there is a will there is a way”. It is listed as a Group 4 protected heritage building in the Christchurch City Plan so a repair was decided on and from there, we began a long journey with Harley Builders to restore the building to its former glory.

We were looking for a builder who was sympathetic to heritage work and who could share our vision of restoring Ironside House back to the original. We’re pleased that right from the start, Glenn and his team at Harley Builders bought into that vision.

The whole project lasted 3 years, which included bracing and moving the building backwards off its original site (after removal of damaged materials) and moving it back again after fixing the piles.

We got along extremely well with Glenn and he really enjoyed the challenge of the restoration work, which at times was a very big challenge indeed! The project was a continual moving feast and many unexpected things cropped up as you can imagine with a building of that age and the damage caused by the earthquakes. So not only was Glenn flexible in his approach, but was always very obliging and enthusiastic.

At the time we were dealing with Insurance companies and trying to secure Heritage grants for the repair, so it was a frustrating but rewarding project. Glenn was sympathetic to the timeframes and challenges along the way.

He helped as much as he could and we remember that in the early days – when the red zone cordon was in place – he came and shored up the house which had been red stickered and was leaning into Montreal Street. Basically the house would have been demolished without the work Glenn did then!


Glenn worked exceptionally well with the architect and other professionals that were involved in the project. He always had our best interests at heart.

We were particularly pleased with the quality of finishing from Glenn and his team. We were not prepared to compromise and were always focussed on restoring everything back to the original. Glenn bought into that concept and accommodated our requests where he could. He provided the right people to do it the right way. His sub-contractors were great and all seemed to work in well.

Jeremy, our son, worked on the project full time and he enjoyed working with Glenn and his team. It was always a tidy, well organised work site and it had a good atmosphere. Everyone seem to get along and often they would share a joke or two.
After having started the repairs we suffered more cracks and splits from the December earthquake. We remember saying to Glenn “How the hell are we going to fix that?” He simply said “Don’t worry, we will”. And he did!

The House has achieved some significant awards:

2012 Heritage Retention Award – Highly Commended

2013 Civic Trust Award

2014 Heritage Retention Award Winner