The war between ecology and economy

In which our build crawls slowly forward, the architect visits site, we give up on another "green" aspect of our building and I expose just what a builder keeps in his belt. 

Welcome along to another hastily-knocked-together blog post from my desk in our house in Balmoral - the house that we are only living in for another four weeks. Before we go any further: Spoiler alert!

Don't say I didn't warn you.

This week everyone's talking about Game of Thrones. All I'm going to say is that if Lynley Dodd was to write that way, Hercules Morse's guts would've been all over the floor of the dairy by page 4. That's actually a scene from the next Dodd book, Hairy MacLary's Dothraki Dairy. (Btw here's something I found interesting about the Dothraki language.)

When last we left our two protagonists, this is what had happened to them:


A commenster on last week's blogging postation asked if we were doing a multiple move and I'm sad to report that we are. If we had stayed in Balmoral until the Three Kings build was complete, we would have ended up near the finish of our build trying to afford mortgage repayments on about 1.3 million of our New Zealand clams. Our fine banking character Daniel is giving us the best rate he can but according the calculator on the BNZ website, this is what the repayments would reach:

Furthermore, imagine the mess we would have been in if we owned two properties when the precarious Auckland property bubble bursts like the headlines keep warning they could. 

I know I put this image in a post about two months ago, but it took me like an hour to photoshop so I have to use it again.

So we needed to find somewhere to rent from July 1 to whenever our house is built. Try signing a lease with that clause! Lucky we have friends who are going away for a few months and are going to rent us their house in Ponsonby, Auckland, for a fraction of the proper rent. In return I'm going to build them some shelves in their living room. So in less than four weeks we are moving out of the house I have lived a third of my life in (and I'm old). Where will our baby be born? We don't know.

Maybe in Ponsonby:


Or maybe in Three Kings:

I don't know why a Three Kings baby looks like this, he just does.


On site Sam and Deek are working as fast as they can. The scaffolding is complete and the top floor is now safe and accessible for work.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to work on my entry for this year's Venice Biennale, I took about 60 shots to get another truly paradigm-shifting, genre-busting, avante-guard scaff art photograph.

I challenge all you beautiful fools to equal or better it.

The days are so short now that the only easy time to visit the site during daylight is the weekend. On Saturday, Gemma and I had a ball just walking around the place, measuring it with our eyes, getting a feel for the space that up until now we've only been able to judge on .jpgs, .skps and a million .pdfs. We played house like a couple of six-year-olds. I could have stayed all day. So far there is only a little bit of framing on the top floor.

That's our little ensuite nearest camera with the bedroom in front of it. It is slightly under the MAF legal minimum for ensuite size but don't tell them. Here's the view from the opposite corner of the top floor.

There isn't much more framing to go in. Those massive, blue steel beams are necessary because we designed a very large open area with no supports.

I love blue steel.

Zoolander is the best Ben Stiller movie. The 40 Year Old Virgin is the best Steve Carell movie and Talladega Nights is the best Will Ferrell movie. OK?

Of course we tried to imagine how the spaces and views would be when the place is finished. Here is where our little lawn will be.

The builders will fill most of this big hole with massive polystyrene blocks that take up the space without being too heavy for the retaining walls. At first I thought they were joking, but it's true - just normal polystyrene. Moving south now:

Here Gemma is standing just past where the dining table will go. She's just casually inhabiting the house. In the left foreground is the kitchen. The rubble and the polythene parts will be the deck. Next Gemma decided to prepare some mise en place.

For those commensters in previous posts who were debating whether a kitchen island should a) exist and b) contain a sink or a hob, you can see we are committed to having the sink in the island because it is plumbed through the slab. The main reason for that is that we don't want a rangehood in the middle of the kitchen above the island. We've had a couple of major debates about what to call the kitchen island. So far it's either "Kitchen Island" or "Te Ika a Maui".

The top level of the scaffolding allows the builders to work on the roof and eaves etc. It is very high up there.

If my knuckles appear white it's only because I'm Pakeha.


Catching rainwater from the roof and using it to wash clothes, flush the loo and water the garden seems like such a simple, beautiful idea. Surely it must make money sense too, with Watercare charging so much for water, and charging again to get rid of it.

Alas and shitballs it actually doesn't. It turns out that the money saved per year on the water bill is very unlikely to equal the extra interest per year paid on the mortgage due to the extra cost of installing the tank and plumbing ($6000 plus). The extra mortgage repayment would be about $300 per year, whereas we might, if we're lucky, save $255 a year on water. Of course that is at the current price of water and of money. Right now water is cheaper than money. But if one goes up relative to the other then the balance changes. And of course another strike against having your own tanks is that you also have to pay for ongoing maintenance, whereas the price for maintaining the Auckland water system is built into your water bill.

What's basically working here is that Auckland's water delivery system is simply too good for a water tank to make sense. Even eco advocates I have spoken to have told me that it isn't worth it economically. It's that very modern war between the two "ecos": ecology and economy. I would love to be rich enough to take the hit and collect rainwater, because we like the idea and it eases use of the town supply, but we have to save every bit of money we can. I can't fight it, so sadly we are going to flag the water tank idea away. Many grateful thanks to commentsters Andi and Garry Bryant for expertly helping with the maths.

Next I'm going to move on to investigating the two kinds of solar power - hot water heating and photovoltaic panels that power the house and feed into the grid. I am hoping that one or both of those will turn out to save us money because I like the idea of being green - but only as long as it's free. Yes I am a stingy planet-killing douche.


Gemma's parents made a visit to Auckland on Sunday and we took them to the site.

Roy is of course our architect. He has previously made a few little constructions with his firm Warren and Mahoney, like

 Supreme Court

 Michael Fowler Centre

 Westpac Trust Stadium

In our family it looks nothing like a cake tin.

Roy had a good look around the site.

Roy wonders where the seating for 40,000 is going to go.

Here he's looking from the plywood (dining area) across the rubble (deck) to the chasm (lawn). One of our big jobs on Sunday was to take small pieces of material, which are auditioning to be what we build our house out of, and look at them in the genuine Three Kings sun.

Clockwise from bottom left are the candidates for flooring, benchtop, cabinetry, cabinetry, cabinetry, cabinetry, cabinetry, island base, bedroom and living room carpet.

More about these choices in later posts.


A lot of home handymen have been pretty jealous of my luck in getting so close and even working alongside real builders (what everybody who has ever bought a cordless drill has always wanted to be). I have been asked lots of questions like "What do they wear?" (matching hats), "What do they listen to?" (The Rock), "What powertools do they use?" (ones you've never imagined, son) and "What's in their toolbelts?" Well Sam and Deek have kindly consented to answer the latter question in a feature I like to call "What's in their toolbelts?"

Here are ace builders Sam and Deek.

And if we can just zoom that in thanks Miranda... here is a good look at their middle section.

You can see that while Deek takes a more conservative approach called the "Modesty Belt" Sam prefers to "part the curtains" and reveal his "belt scrotum". I asked them to remove everything so we could get a good look at what a builder typically keeps in there.

Deek's belt shows a variety of well-known tools: chisel, tape measure, ruler, flat pencil, punch, hammer.

Sam's belt is similar except for the central pouch indicated by the frisky dachshund which holds Sam's tape measure and random bolts, washers and nuts. Hence it's called his 'nut sack'. 

And afterwards they insisted on taking the camera from me and taking a picture of what was in my belt. Because I'm also a fairly proficient builder, you can see, again, it was pretty much the same stuff.

Once, while painting something blue, I wiped some paint on my toolbelt on purpose so it wouldn't look so new.


Meanwhile finances continue to be a challenge. After the optimism following last week's house sale, we discovered some tax expenses we hadn't taken into account, then received the next bill from the contractor. While it was smaller than projected due to rain and scaffolding delays, there was also a note telling us there are extra excavation costs that mean a jump in variation costs. We don't know how much yet because I'm not going to open that pdf until the weekend...

And many other potential variations, temptations and escalations continue to beckon. Gemma and I have a long list of decisions to make: solar power, solar hot water, stairs design, exact kitchen design (a big one), tiles (bathroom, ensuite, walls and floors), paint colours (everywhere!), light fittings (everywhere!), fans, sinks, benchtops. Discuss [10%]


Due to these rising costs I might have to flag my dream of having a large hessian bag in the kitchen made to hold our brazils, pistachios and cashews.


Thanks for reading.

I remain, perpetually, your

Purchase Man.


As usual please feel free to "Like" this blog's page on Faceingbook, which will bring you all the joy of an alert when a new posting is blogged. And email me whenever you feel like it for no reason at all. And now I'm proud to present another page of The House that Beebo Built. I'm sad to report that there isn't much Beebo left. We will certainly run out before we run out of June.