FAQ

What does Solarei mean?

Meaning:  Solar energy, the vital life force given to us by the sun. With ‘rei’ coming from Whangarei, which is where our company was originally founded. Sola + rei combined gives Solarei (Pronounced Sola-Ray), Design by Nature.

Who is Solarei?

Solarei was founded by Duncan Firth and brings together over 12 years of practical experience in the architecture industry, combined with a passion for sustainable environmental design, and modern architectural form. Solarei is assisted by Claire Furlong who is a British registered Architect with 25 years’ experience designing and managing residential, commercial and educational projects.

Where do you work?

Currently we are working on projects in New Zealand and Southeast Asia. We encourage you to send us an enquiry if you’re interested in our work, no matter where you are based. Through the internet the world has become a smaller place, allowing for greater possibilities.

What is sustainable design?

Houses and buildings we create are all based on moving towards better sustainable ways of construction and utilise the best practical methods of sustainable design and, ethical selection of materials and products. In a contemporary context, this could be considered sustainable.

The majority of what we build is not sustainable due to the finite systems and processes our resources are extracted, used, and networked together, as an overall civilization. Passive solar gain and passive ventilation design are the two true sustainable design principles our work focuses on, and come from infinite resources e.g. sun and wind. Everything else to a lesser degree is based on compromised, but best practice methods of moving towards sustainability.

What is passive solar gain?

Passive solar gain uses what is already provided to us by nature. This is abundant free radiant energy from the sun which New Zealand has plenty of. Correctly designing for the seasonal sun path optimises good northern aspect, thermal mass, smart insulation strategies, achieving a naturally warm and comfortable interior environment, with low energy use and a physically engaging climatically intuitive house design.

How does concrete (thermal mass) work?

Concrete (thermal mass) is like a re-chargeable battery that uses sunlight (radiant energy) instead of electricity for heating. During the day time sunlight is beamed onto exposed insulated concrete, this radiant energy is then absorbed by the concrete. When external temperatures begin to cool during the evening, heat is then released (or conducted) from the concrete. Concrete is able to retain and release energy for many days without regular sunny days.

Will timber floors store and conduct heat?

Timber floors do have some form of minimal thermal storage capacity and will conduct a limited amount of heat, however not the same as concrete. A timber floored house can be designed for optimized passive solar gain, making the most of winter sunlight and natural warmth. In such cases where timber floors are required, we can use feature concrete walls or concrete block walls which will be designed to act as the main thermal mass storage, conducting heat.

How does a passive hot water system reduce energy usage?

Hot water is responsible for 27% of our total annual power bill. By using a passive hot water heating system or energy efficient hot water heating technologies (electric or hot water heat pump),  and combined with passive design strategies, this will significantly contribute to the overall reduction in annual energy usage for a household.

What is a Homestar™ practitioner?

Homestar™ is a green certification criteria laid out by the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC). It relates to the minimum performance standards of green design in energy, health and comfort, water, waste, home management and house sites. Houses then can be given a star rating according to how efficient and effective they are in these categories. Solarei is a Homestar™ practitioner, which means we have attended a comprehensive seminar, studied the Homestar™ criteria extensively and sat an examination to become a recognised Homestar™ practitioner.

What is Passive house (Germany)?

Passive house originated from Germany and has specific analysis methods used to achieve passive house design strategies for warmth, comfort and low energy use in houses.  The method is reliant on computer analysed site-specific weather data, highly insulated building envelope design, airtightness, resulting in low energy use and a warm and comfortable environment. Passive house designs rely on a small mechanical fan to circulate warm air throughout the house. This is a significant point of difference, compared to a strictly passive solar design.

Do you charge for the first introduction meeting?

We do complimentary first time thirty minute consultations through local calls or internationally through Skype. If we have to travel a significant distance then we will negotiate costs. If you want to set up an appointment, please contact us.

Why hire Solarei?

At the heart of what we do is about being passionate, caring about people and the environment, recognising what happens in the world arounds us, and contributing something positive to the bigger picture. How we building as a society ultimately reflects the civilisation we live in. Building environmental sustainable homes and buildings presents a great opportunity to lead by example.

Our objective is to offer clients the highest levels of integrity, professionalism, project delivery and commitment.

What services do you provide?

Solarei’s primary goal is to offer a traditional architectural service. We are a design based practice with an emphasis on building relationships with clients. Attention to detail and a site specific design approach informs how we address each project. Our services include the following; Getting to know one another, writing a brief to understand client requirements, feasibility studies, resource consent submission drawings, schematic design, detailed design development, building consent submission drawings, construction drawings, through to onsite construction observation. We generally work with the client in selecting a suitable contractor or finding a project manager to run the project.

Do you have a team of consultants?

We have access to structural engineers, mechanical engineers, drainage engineers, geo-technical engineers, environmental technology engineers, site surveyors, quantity surveyors, town planners, project managers, and other local designers/architects.

What is environmental design?

Environmental design takes into consideration the natural and physical world we live in and human activities related to this. Our job is to interpret this circular process and relate this to the built world. In architecture and design this largely relates to climate factors such as local sun path directions, micro and macro seasonal wind paths, airflow, ecology, flora and fauna, materials and technologies, transport, human habitats, cultural environments, local landscapes and, political and media influences.

What is passive ventilation and stack effect?

Passive ventilation strategies utilize natural airflows for cooling.  Seasonal wind directions are used for cross ventilation, allowing for the maximization of seasonal air flow through the home. Stack Effect works on the principle that warm air rises, and cool outside air is at ground level. Cool ground air will be pulled into a home as warm air heats, rises and exits. This in turn creates a natural exhausting system with a continuous movement of natural airflow, keeping occupants cool and comfortable.

What are passive design strategies?

In its simplest contemporary form, there are essentially three key principles we make passive design from. 1) Insulation and a thermally sealed building envelope where heat is unable to escape. 2) Retaining airtightness inside the home and preventing warm air from escaping.  3) We require some form of heat source in the first place to heat a house. In passive design the heat source can be heat from sunlight, the human body and, heat from electrical appliances. The overall goal is to achieve comfort, good health and energy efficiency.

How much electricity could we save by using passive design strategies?

This depends on living habits, climate region, and is different for each client. If a house is designed using passive design strategies, passive solar, passive cooling and with the addition of a smart green hot water heating system, we would expect a minimum 40%  annual  energy reduction, compared to regular houses. However, this will be higher for clients who really commit to the ideas of careful resource use, energy efficiency, and could be as high as 70% energy reduction.

What is ‘Cradle to Cradle’ material selection?

‘Cradle to Cradle’ is the name of a book written by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungar . The title has now become a common phrase in describing how we think about materials. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is a circular process in how we perceive and think about materials. These are some of the questions we ask about materials: What is the material? Where does the material come from? How is the material made, and from what? Where does the material go once we have finished with it? What is the materials second life-cycle? And so on and so forth.

The objective is to carefully consider how we choose, use and recycle materials, based on the best choice for economy and environment.

Does passive house (Germany) work with New Zealand passive solar?

Both Passive house (Germany) and New Zealand passive solar design follow similar objectives in climate analysis, airtightness, insulation and energy efficiency.

Solarei Limited has a working relationship with Duncan Sinclair of Black Pine Limited, a Passive house certified designer. We can facilitate hybrid New Zealand passive solar and Passive house designs on request.

Does Solarei design sustainable buildings for commercial clients?

Solarei begins commercial projects by proposing an environmental sustainable design strategy that works with the economic nature of the project, and practical application of sustainable design ideas. On request we can facilitate certified green commercial buildings through Greenstar™ or Homestar™ (New Zealand & Australia) and Passive house (Germany).

Does Solarei do additions and renovations?

It is possible to significantly transform existing houses, following environmental sustainable design, passive design strategies, passive solar gain, passive cooling, energy efficient design and healthy material selection. How much we can transform the existing house will always be different for each circumstance.


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