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Building homes the ‘natural’ way

Tom O'Leary Nov 11
Building homes the ‘natural’ way
Jessica and Ben Eyers have a shared passion for designing and building energy efficient homes using natural materials.

Designing and building natural homes that are cosy, warm and relaxing spaces captures the very essence of Wanaka-based building company, Hiberna Building and Design.

Hiberna relates to ‘Hibernation’ – fitting for hand-crafted homes of beauty made from natural materials that protect the occupants from mother nature’s year round elements.

Established in 2012 – when husband and wife team, Ben and Jessica Eyers, combined their respective talents – Hiberna reflects their shared passion for designing and building energy efficient homes using natural materials.

With Jessica’s Master’s degree in Environmental Architecture and Ben’s trade qualification in carpentry and Certificate in Natural Building, it made perfect sense to combine forces to provide the ‘design and build’ under one company.

One of the couple’s first projects was their own home – a 70sqm energy efficient passive solar cottage built from straw bales where they still live with their two young children.

Attending courses on natural plastering techniques run by Sol Design in Geraldine, learning on the job and practicing natural building techniques have been key to Ben developing his knowledge and skills.

Jessica says that building their own energy efficient home using natural materials provided Ben with the opportunity to master his skills before applying them to a clients build.

Researching, learning, modelling and testing the science behind the theory have been an essential part of the journey, says Jessica.

“Ben and I have attended hygrothermal modelling courses to understand how moisture and heat interacts with building materials and we can then apply these principles to our design philosophy,” she says .

“But it’s not just about science, it’s very much about craftsmanship and using raw materials such as timber, earth and lime to make beautiful things rather than using processed materials like gib and cement board. It’s trying to get away from those materials that have used a lot of energy and an industrial process in their manufacture.”

She says that customers looking for a natural home fall into three types.

“There’s the young family wanting something that’s eco-friendly and as natural as possible.

“There are the well-travelled retirees who have learned a lot about natural building techniques and the science behind it.

“And then there are the people who just love the luxuriousness of a tadelakt lime plaster or a recycled beam or the kinds of things that are just beautiful tactile features.”

Hiberna offers a holistic approach from concept, to design to build. While Ben and his apprentice craft the homes from the foundations up, Jessica has designed homes the depth and breadth of the country.

“We try to unpick and unravel all the things that are important to the client in what they need and want in the house and then incorporate their budget and site, developing a design that fulfils as much of that brief as possible.”

Jessica says that a recent exercise comparing the cost of a straw bale home against a more conventional home using 140mm framing timber showed pricing was almost identical.

“The only difference in price was the additional engineering which was about $5000 extra for the straw bale house on a $350,000 build, but the straw bale had much higher energy efficiency.”

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