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‘FirstLight’ House – Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand A group of four students from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand have been selected as one of twenty finalists for the U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, a competition run by the United States government. The Solar Decathlon requires competitors to design and build a house powered purely by heat from the sun and use environmentally sustainable strategies. The challenge is to make it as energy efficient, attractive, affordable, comfortable and innovative as possible. As New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the sun each day, the project has been named the ‘FirstLight’ house. The design gains its inspiration from the ‘Kiwi bach’, a simple and functional holiday house in which New Zealand families enjoy spending their vacations. The ‘FirstLight’ house brings the ideals of bach life into a contemporary setting, providing a permanent residence where recreation and social activities are united with environmentally sound technologies. The house generates energy from solar cells on the roof and produces solar hot water using a roof-mounted evacuated-tube system. The house maintains low energy consumption by way of technologies such as efficient LED lighting, a reverse-cycle heat pump, and a highly insulated building envelope. It employs an active/passive design solution using a solar canopy that provides shade to the large glass windows. The canopy also holds the solar cells. The ‘FirstLight’ house uses sustainable and affordable materials and utilises resources that New Zealand has to offer such as its abundant supply of sustainably grown timber.

The students designed the house with the knowledge that New Zealanders have a strong connection with their environment and are attracted to the idea of outdoor living and entertaining. With

this in mind, an effort has been made to design functional indoor spaces allowing the house to easily adapt to varied living situations and possess an easy indoor-outdoor flow. The users of the home will be able to monitor and optimise their energy usage with an intuitive home monitoring system. The system will be designed to clearly and easily communicate data such as peak energy usage, peak energy production, water usage, and climate data, with the intention of better educating people on more energy efficient practices. The ‘FirstLight’ house will be assembled in New Zealand early in 2011 and subsequently shipped over to the United States where it will be reassembled on the Washington Mall for the competition. This project will be a valuable opportunity to promote a fast developing industry in innovative sustainable design in New Zealand, in which Victoria University is at the frontier.

Sam Lusk, Victoria University of Wellington World Student Environmental Summit Delegate ‘FirstLight’ house team: Nick Officer (Public Relations and Sponsorship); Anna Farrow (Interiors and Landscape); Eli Nuttall (Architecture); Ben Jagersma (Environmentally Sustainable Design). Website:

Solar House Competition  

At the University of Wellington students participate in the US Deperatment of Eneregy Solar Decathlon, for which they are involved in desigi...

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