Living in Harmony

Words by  Nick Walker
Roger Richardson Roger Richardson

Sections are available now in what’s believed to be one of the first certified passive housing subdivisions in the North Island. Just off Frankley Road, Harmony Place is set to become a community of some of the most energy efficient homes in the country.

There are 19 sections in total, and all are subject to covenants requiring homes to be built to the Passive House certification standard. New Plymouth District Council Eco Design Adviser Sam Rowlands describes that level as the “international gold standard for energy efficient and healthy buildings.”

Developer Rob Mathers has spent years planning and researching the project, both in terms of the development itself and the cutting-edge technology that goes into a Passive House certification. He says it’s about a mixture of good design, air-tight building methodologies and using the very best technology and thermally resilient materials. 

Passive Housing

The concept of Passive Housing has been around for years internationally, but it’s still yet to really catch on in New Zealand. 

“For me, the key difference in a Passive House building is that a healthy, mould free and comfortable indoor environment is ‘baked in’, so the temperature sits at 20°C and 40-60% humidity all day, no matter what the weather,” Rowlands says.

Not only that, but a Passive House maintains those conditions almost effortlessly.

“When you get that combination of design and innovative building materials right, that temperature balance is achieved with minimal energy use, and a negligible impact on the environment,” says Rob Mathers. “It’s quite remarkable.” 

Passive Houses allow filtered outdoor air into the home, and have continuous supply and extraction air flow that prevents condensation and mould, and the negative health impacts they can have. Clever heat recovery technology means that fresh outdoor air barely impacts the temperature inside.

“It’s great for everyone, especially those that suffer allergies or respiratory conditions,” Rowlands adds.

Houses must meet a strict criteria in order to be certified as passive. Construction must follow a specific process from the initial design through to completion, starting with digital modelling that can identify the energy footprint of a proposed design, and test the impact of changes to features such as the number of windows or rooms.

Once everything is finished, the home is then independently tested before it gets the official passive certification.

It’s a high standard to meet, and it requires highly skilled tradespeople to pull it off.

As part of his research, Rob has identified Platinum Homes, KIN Homes and Hofmans Builders as local construction companies with the capability to meet that certification standard. Each has been allocated a handful of sections to sell as house and land packages, while Tall Poppy Real Estate also has four sections to sell (on top of two that have already been snapped up). 

The passive advantage

Passive Homes have significant upsides for people who live in them. For a start, Sam Rowlands says Passive Homes only need 5 -10% of the heating of a standard home, which represents huge power bill savings.

Rob Mather says the health benefits from not living in a draughty, cold, mouldy home are also huge, and should be available to all New Zealanders.

“A Passive House gives you a comfortable, healthy living environment,” he says. “They’re doing it all over the world, but you don’t see it very often here. Why don’t Kiwis deserve this innovative and available building technology?”

Rob believes passive homes also keep their value for longer by being built to a much higher standard than a normal home.

This is particularly relevant with New Zealand’s building standards for new homes set to gradually improve in the coming years. Rowlands says the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is proposing the Passive House standard become the new normal by as soon as 2035, which would mean a new home finished today could be considerably behind the building code in just over a decade.

A Passive House has much greater noise insulation too. There’s no need to open windows to get fresh air in, which contributes to maintaining peace and quiet inside. The way air is circulated throughout the home means there are no cold rooms or draughty corners – everywhere you go, the temperature is steady and conditions are the same.

Constructing a Passive House from scratch is also much easier than trying to retrofit all the required technology and materials into an existing home.

Then, there’s the issue of the environmental effect of construction, and living in homes that have greater energy demands. Passive Houses negate both of these not insignificant impacts.

“Building higher quality homes is much better for the environment,” Rob says. “We have a big focus on cutting emissions from cars, but houses are major energy consumers too – all the power they use has to come from somewhere. It’s obvious this problem also needs to be tackled.”


Each section in Harmony Place has been carefully designed to optimise energy efficiency within its specific environment. Rob enlisted Taranaki’s first certified Passive House architectural designer, Potential Architecture director Catherine Ford, to make it happen.

Catherine’s a specialist in energy efficient, healthy architectural design, and she spent many hours assessing the entire site and drafting the final makeup of sections. She’s also considered how the homes might look within them, and can offer interested buyers a head start on their designs.

Putting in this amount of work in the pre-design stage is not something that’s often done in New Zealand, though Catherine’s done it overseas a fair bit. She says the difference is significant.

“It gives you the chance to really consider the climate, prevailing winds and rains, northern aspect, solar gain in the summer vs in the winter, local access, and how to tie all those factors in so that each individual house within the subdivision makes the most of what’s there and isn’t limited by site layout.

“When a site’s been thought out before you get onto it to design a house, it’s a whole different game. The earlier these things are thought about, the better the outcome for the occupier. It can really create incredible savings.”

As well as optimising energy efficiency, Catherine says she’s considered things like how to enable mountain views from each site. Remembering that a Passive House certification requires a set process to be followed, this is important groundwork.

It means buyers have the freedom to design the passive homes they want, knowing they’ve been set up for success from the very beginning.

Sections vary in size from 515m2 to 1294m2, and the entire site is surrounded by trees. The site gets the peace and quiet of being on the city fringe, while also being just a five minute drive from the New Plymouth CBD. Frankley School is practically a neighbour, and homes will also be in the popular Woodleigh School zone.

As it happens, the Tall Poppy agent responsible for selling some of these sections has lived in a Passive House herself. Kathy Gulliver says her experience living in a passive home in Norway was “just beautiful.”

“Life in a Passive House is winterless. All year round you just had a constant, even temperature throughout the home,” she says. 

“Even in a Norwegian winter, everything was always warm and dry, and no one ever got ill. Every room in the home was always warm and cosy, from the bedrooms, laundry, bathroom and living areas. It’s certainly not how we were brought up with New Zealand, heating just the main living area and leaving the rest of the house cooler.”


Sam Rowlands says there are currently only three certified Passive Houses in Taranaki, and 122 in the whole of New Zealand. Plainly, having 19 in such close proximity is rare – he only knows of one other similar development in Christchurch, and there are some in Dunedin.

Rob’s motivation for this development is largely values driven, and early indications are that those who are interested in this opportunity share his enthusiasm for living sustainably. It has the potential to become its own pocket of eco-conscious homeowners.

“There’s been a lot of interest from young families and young professionals,” Kathy Gulliver says. “It creates a real community feel among like-minded people who share a similar view of the world, and are at a similar stage in their lives. They very much see this as their forever home.”

Buyers will not only have a physical community around them, but they can join the shared ethos of Kiwis who live in Passive Houses already. Anecdotally, Passive House owners tend to be huge advocates for them, and often willingly open their doors for the Passive House Institute of New Zealand to host visitors interested in seeing what they’re like.

In Harmony Place, sections are available from as little as $450,000, and the entirely flat site will help to reduce the costs of site preparation and construction. Rob says construction of Passive Houses has become much more affordable as technology has developed and become more mainstream.

“There might be a 10% price difference between building a standard house and a Passive House. The difference you get from a health perspective, energy bill savings combined with home resale value means your potential 10% of incremental cost is a very good investment. You will make that money back in no time, and the house is worth more because of its better design and use of better materials. In the long term, you’re much better off.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Harmony Way can contact Kathy Gulliver on on 027 584 8088 or email   

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