Meet Joseph Lyth

“This is not a fad or a hobby, it’s the way the world is going.”

“Change is happening now,” says Joseph Lyth, Local Chapter Lead - Auckland at Passive House Institute New Zealand and Associate Architect at Respond Architects. “Building for climate change has a pathway; from next year, we’ll need to be reporting on embodied carbon and operational energy. The New Zealand Building Code is already moving towards Passive House Standard-levels of energy efficiency as an end goal.”

Joseph’s passion for healthy, low-energy design was cemented by his experiences living in substandard rental properties with his family, he says. “I am originally from North Yorkshire in England. I studied at Kingston University where I was taught from day dot that insulation is continuous and you have to prevent condensation. When my wife and I moved to New Zealand in 2016, those concepts didn’t seem to exist here.

“Our first New Zealand rental was an old brick villa that was freezing in winter. We could see glow worms through the ventilation grill in our bedroom ceiling. I remember the landlord was so happy that she had installed double-glazed doors at the back of the kitchen, but those doors were right next to a window with glass louvres, some of which were missing. From there, we moved to another single-glazed rental with very little air movement.

You could almost keep one room at a comfortable temperature at a high cost, but never the whole house. We had our first child there and the spare room where she slept had windows that were literally dripping with water. When we had our second, we acknowledged that this environment was making both of our kids sick and we decided we had to prioritise a healthy living space for them. We knew that our only real solution was to build something ourselves to an acceptable performance level.”

Michele Saee Teulo

Michele Saee Teulo

So began the long journey towards Joseph’s current home, Lower Saddle Passive House. “I was lucky to get a really good balance of design and technical knowledge during my studies at Kingston. They taught us about designing ‘floating cities in the sky’ but also about technical structures, planning constraints and Passive House standards. All of these concepts were bowling around in my head at the time, and I decided to draw a version of a home that might work for us.”

Joseph and his wife found a section for their dream home and got their design priced by a builder he’d worked with previously. Six weeks later, that price estimate doubled. “At that stage, we had to really refine the design to be exactly and only what we needed, while also futureproofing it for our growing family. New Zealand is not great at building compact stuff - we have the third-largest homes in the world after the US and Australia - so I worked hard to prioritise a compact footprint that still felt big. During the design process, we decided to go down the route of Passive House certification as well, so we could be confident of the performance that would be achieved and prove we were putting our money into the areas it would help to achieve our priorities.

Michele Saee Teulo

“We signed on the dotted line with our builder and prepared to get to work, only to be told by the bank that the valuation of the home we were proposing didn’t equate to the value of the mortgage they were providing. We ended up working really closely with our valuer and builder to elevate the value of the home without increasing the cost of building it. We added in a further bedroom and bathroom upstairs which had been designed in, but we had not planned to do in the initial build to keep the up-front cost down. We were also able to help him see the value of performance building, which is not always recognised in New Zealand as it is elsewhere in the world. We gathered a lot of evidence to demonstrate the performance value of the home, which far exceeds what you can see in the architectural drawings and pretty pictures.”

After a very hands-on build, Joseph and his family were able to move into Lower Saddle Passive House in May of 2021. “The design process was very drawn out, but in the end, the build took only seven months from start to finish. I used my annual leave to spend one day a week working on-site with our building team, which I found invaluable. As designers, we draw a lot of things, but we don’t always see how they translate in the real world. You plan things to be millimetre-perfect, but that never ends up being the case. You have to make allowances for life to happen.”

Michele Saee Teulo

The experience of building Lower Saddle Passive House on a budget has changed the way that Joseph approaches his professional practice. “I have a very different perspective now on the value of things,” he says, “and I find myself always questioning why we can’t prioritise performance and get the basics right first. I definitely put performance on par with beauty, because I understand that part of the health of people is them enjoying the space they occupy. No one will be happy in a very healthy box, so you have to prioritise both how it will look and how it will feel, alongside the performance.”

This understanding has led Joseph to a very tailored approach to each client’s brief, he says. “It can be so frustrating to know what it’s like on the other side of the table. I have been the person being faced with the true cost of the things I want, so I am deeply empathetic about that. I work very closely with clients and do my best to manage expectations and truly understand what is important to them about the ideas they’re bringing to the table.

The Auckland team at Respond Architects have five Passive House projects underway with further Passive House and high-performance projects coming out of their Queenstown office. "After a four-year design and build process, the team has recently reached the final sign-off for Windy Ridge School in Glenfield, which also received an Excellence award at the recent 2024 Property Council Awards, in the Education category.

“They’re a Green-Gold Enviro School and they’re really focused on sustainable measures like grey water recycling. We worked closely with the school and the mechanical engineers, and modelled the whole space to assess the performance and environment quality and achieve the Ministry of Education requirements. This resulted in the inclusion of balanced mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to constantly ventilate the building while recycling the heat to reduce energy use. The staff there have become like family to me and it’s wonderful to know that they’re finding the space so comfortable in all conditions. I should also say that the project came in under budget and a month early, so great performance absolutely can be achieved at standard budgets if it’s considered early on, even when you’re building to a very high standard.”

Michele Saee Teulo

When he’s not designing, Joseph is an author and tutor for the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC). “I am one of two tutors who deliver the NZGBC Homestar Designer course; last year, they engaged me and a team at Respond to produce a guide with some practical solutions on how to approach Homestar Version 5, which should be available publicly very soon. I’m also enjoying doing a lot of presentations and lectures for industry professionals and I’m looking forward to hosting public events in the Passive House space this year. The goal is to allow designers to touch and feel what it’s like to have a high-performance building. So many of us never get to experience those components - things like triple-glazed European tilt-turn windows - in real life and I’m excited to put those elements together in events where we can simplify and demystify performance for industry professionals. Education is a big part of what I do. Ultimately, I just want to get more people into healthier, happier homes.”

To learn more and connect with Joseph, follow him on LinkedIn and Instagram, check out Lower Saddle Passive House or email him at to arrange a Passive House presentation for your practice.


Bex De Prospo
Bex De Prospo