Solar Decathlon 2011: Victoria University of Wellington, First Light

[Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Solar Decathlon entries leading up to the event’s kick off on Sept. 23.]

New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington is bringing laid-back vibe to the 2011 Solar Decathlon with their vacation home-inspired First Light home. Based on the traditional New Zealand beach house, or “Kiwi bach,” (say it “batch”) as it’s colloquially known, the house promotes a relaxing lifestyle full of socializing with friends and family and connecting to the outdoors. First Light, Victoria University of Wellington’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 entry, is inspired by the traditional New Zealand holiday home—the “Kiwi bach.” First Light’s design reflects a relaxed lifestyle in which socializing and connecting with the outdoors are central to living.

The house’s interactive monitoring system allows residents to know exactly how First Light is performing, and helps them track their periods of highest energy and water use, and also provides weather information. To dry clothes in a quick and sustainable way, First Light has a system that pumps solar-heated hot water through a heat exchanger. And for those chilly nights, the house is insulated with recycled sheep’s wool.

Image via Victoria University of Wellington

First Light, so named because New Zealand is one of the first places to experience sunrise on a new day, features decks that run around the perimeter, and right through the house’s center, making the outside as much a part of the home as the inside. Triple-glazed skylights and glass doors provide plenty of natural light, and the house’s exterior features western red cedar wood. Adding to the idea of First Light as a place for social gathering, the living room furniture can be transformed into overnight accommodations. Though modeled after a vacation home, the house is really meant to be a permanent residence for two.

First Light will be shipped back to New Zealand after the Decathlon, and once there, it will become a completely functional home. Victoria University’s team will work with First Light’s new owners to monitor its performance so that the longevity of the house can be determined.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.