Subscribe » Issue #50, Mar-Apr 2014 Mag Cover
Idealog—in the ideas business

It started with four architectural students and an undergraduate design project in 2009, progressed to an international design competition, and now, a range of quick-build design-minded, energy-efficient houses any Kiwi would be proud of.


Following on from their third placing at the US Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon Competition, where they were pitted against 19 other teams from elite universities around the world, the First Light team (who blogged about their journey here on Idealog) have been busily refining their original concept to make it even more suited to the New Zealand environment.

The new First Light home is jam-packed with efficiencies, and uses only a fraction of the energy of a new home built to New Zealand’s building code – there are even options for homeowners to ‘pimp’ their new First Light to go completely off grid and be fully self-sustaining.

With two double bedrooms, the First Light home is bigger than its predecessor, comfortably accommodating a couple or small family. At one end the master bedroom enjoys its own walk-in wardrobe and ensuite. At the other, the guest bedroom has easy access to the main bathroom and laundry.

“We wanted to deliver a precision-engineered home in only a fraction of the time it takes to build a regular home. Our factory based system will radically speed up the overall construction process, reducing both time and money – and you won’t even have to bother find a builder," says First Light director Ben Jagersema.

He says the new system will be perfect for the Christchurch rebuild, or equally, for families wanting to move into a new permanent or holiday home.

First Light is offering a myriad of customisable size and fitting options, but key to the First Light design are:

* a double stud wall system developed specifically to reduce heat lost to the outside. There are both double and triple glazed window options with thermally efficient timber (plantation grown pine) on the inside and durable aluminium on the outside

* LED lighting

*  European style tilt and turn windows

* Photovoltaic panels and solar hot water, including online power generation monitoring technology

The First Light houses are built in a controlled factory environment, pre-wired, pre-plumbed, and pre-painted. First Light reckons building houses on site from scratch is messy, wasteful, and outdated, and that its way – where materials are delivered to its factory, and then the house delivered to the buyer and erected in two weeks on site – is superior.

They carried out an analysis to find out just how much of an impact this had, and while it took a relatively high level of energy to produce compared to a traditional New Zealand house, the study found the lifetime environmental footprint was lower, particularly in regard to C02 emissions.

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I WANT one!

I would come back to NZ if I could live in one of these!

Way to go First Light - looking foward to your social & community housing prototypes.

I would like to have one of there, it's perfect for a nice gateaway somewhere outside the big cities!

This is absolutely fabulous! I’m all for saving the planet and reducing carbon footprint! It is a great idea to pre-fabricate houses in a controlled factory environment and erect them on site within two weeks. It is innovative and completely thinking out-of-the-box! The only thing I wonder is how do they come up with solutions on storage? It can be a huge problem if they start building bigger and a lot more houses. Where would they store their pre-fabricated, pre-wired, pre-plumbed, and pre-painted parts of the houses? They have to start thinking about building a huge storage facility first. Or perhaps mobile storage could be a solution.

This is the future of home design. I think there should be more and more projects like this that should be support by local government and corporations for sustainable development objectives. I know of some collaborations with companies dealing with portable storage in Gold Coast that are coming up with similar concept but more towards building a sustainable self storage company. I have encountered such projects when I was traveling all over the Gold Coast looking for sustainable projects that our organization could take a lead on.

This is truly something to keep an eye on. My first thoughts were that this really looks like the container storage unit conversion projects. The fact that these students have gone and taken that idea to make the whole unit modular, portable and energy efficient is astounding! With all the options, I wouldn't be surprised if they start coming up with add-on compartments for storage and other living units to increase the floor space of an incredibly smart working idea.

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