Jon Bridges: 10 reasons to build a house
Welcome to the final ever, ultimate and last blog post for "We're Building a House"*. All good things come to an end, and so do some quite average things like this blog.
It seems so long ago when I started this blog. Nobody had heard of 'selfies', we all paid for milk with little yellow 'tokens', and a John Key was what you needed if the toilet was locked.
When I started the blog we had just bought this.
We then contracted some characters like this
And began to see scenes like these.
The week we started building we discovered that because of something we had done, Gemma looked like this.
Half way through the build we sold this
And that allowed us to get to.
It seems so quick when I summarise it like that, but so excited and involved in the process were we, and so full of yearning to see our new house and our new baby that it was the longest year of our lives.
I refer you to last week's bloggerable postrine for "The Tour" of our new house, and to the rest of the posts in the archive stretching back 66 posts to September 2012 if you have about half a lifetime to waste. If you only have half an hour, there are about 15 short videos on my Youtube Channel that I curated during the build, including some sweet timelapses. None of the videos are at all substandard or disappointing. No way.
The most recent video on the channel is the one I just finished this very evening. A lot of folk have been interested in our home automation which allows us to control a lot of the lights, as well as the front door latch and the alarm system from our phones, and to set 'scenes' that control things automatically. The system is called Fibaro and it all works by wifi so it can be added to existing homes because it doesn't need to be wired through the walls. Here's the video.
We've installed 14 dimmers to control lights in our living/kitchen/dining area alone, plus a few others downstairs and had the system programmed to control our alarm as well as our front door - that's more bits and pieces than we probably needed. All up it's about $5000 worth but you could have a less over the top installation for $3000 - $4000.
Right. Time to inspire you to build!
10 Reasons to Build Your Own Home
1. You have an excess of cash and you want to get rid of it. Are you embarrassingly rich? Money fall out of your pockets when you squat? Can't remember how many Mercedes you own? Don't know how much a kebab costs? Building is for you. Gemma and I are not the most fiscally prudent and capable people in the world - not even in our coffee group - but we tried to be responsible at every step. The escalation in costs from the first rough estimates ($600,000 ish) to the quantity survey ($800 something thousand) to the quotes and then to the final ($1.15m) added an alarming element to the experience that we could have done without. Along with an excess of cash you'll need an equal amount of optimism - and expect both to be depleted by the time you 'take the clear plastic film off the washing machine control panel'.
2. You are patriotic. Building creates jobs, injects money into the system, stimulates the economy and reduces the housing shortage. Be a good Kiwi!
3. You want to learn respect for the trades and professions. If you ever thought building was what second-year fifths did when they left school, watching these guys do what they do will cure you of that snobbishness. The draughtsman, the engineers, the builders, the blocklayers and electricians, the plumber and tiler, digger driver, welder, these guys are masters of important crafts. They know how to make shelters for keeping families inside of and watching them is inspiring. It makes you stop and ask yourself "is what I do as constructive?" (answer = no)
4. You aren't sure how much 180mm is. By the time you finish building you will be able to look at anything and say it's length, width and height to within two millimetres. Scotia 45mm, soffits 320mm deep, nogs at 400 centres, office 3.75 x 2.05m, Zeno 635mm. This skill is useless and annoying to your friends.
5. You want to leave a mark on the landscape. As the build progresses you will realise you are putting a massive and permanent pile of stuff in a street. You are creating new views and blocking others. We took a picnic to Mt Eden and looked at the house through binoculars and that's when it really hit us: we'd made a new feature on Auckland. We wanted it to be good for us, but it will outlast us so we also hope everyone else enjoys it. Once you're dead and somebody erases your Facebook page, and gives your favourite shoes to the Salvation Army, what else will be left that you made?
6. You want to have no-one to blame but yourselves. If you live in a house that's dark or damp or has no storage and not enough plugs it can be fun to curse the idiots who designed and built it. When the idiots are you, it isn't as much fun. If you are confident you have the foresight to make a bed you'll enjoy lying in for the rest of your life, then building is for you.
7. You suffer from 'Decision Deficiency' and would like to correct it. Not enough things in your life you need to decide? When you are the client of a house build, you will decide a thousand tiny things and a hundred very large things. Not all those decisions will be perfect. Some will be expensive, some will be too late, some you'll reverse, some you'll kick yourselves over, some you'll rejoice in. It might be someone else doing the actual building but you're making all the calls.
8. You have already built a house. Because it is only then that you really know what you are doing. Gemma and I feel like we now know what to do. But just like life, the first time is the only time (for us anyway).
9. You want to give tours of something every day but don't want to work at Motat. Luckily we LOVE giving the tour of the house because we've given it 73 times in 69 days.
10. You want to live like a f*&^ing king. I can't tell you how happy we are with our house. Each day we spend in it, it becomes more a home.
Gemma and I have wracked our minds for advice we'd give anyone building or thinking of doing so. Apart from "Do it!" here are our top ten:
Ten Bits of Advice
1. Cancel everything else in your spare time. Give up sport, forget fitness, cut down on eating, send those kids to boarding school in Invercargill. Don't plan holidays or laze around on precious weekends. Whatever you do don't embark on a weekly blog. If there is one thing I would have done differently it is to get more involved - from the planning and dreaming stages to choosing the finishes to spending time on site. I envy people who can quit their jobs and live and breathe the build.
2. Employ an architect. Easy for me to say. We'll be eternally grateful for Gemma's dad who designed our house and supervised the contract during the build for nothing but gratitude and a grandson. (For those commensters who've asked an architect will normally charge by percentage of budget. For a full service architect who designs and draws the house, sees you through the tender and consent processes then oversees the contract during the build, it could be up to 10 - 14% which makes Zeno worth about $100,000).
2.5 Learn Sketchup and make a 3D model of your house. The 3D model Gemma made and kept updated was instrumental in bringing Roy's design to life for us in the design phase. More than 2D plans and elevations can ever do, the model allowed us to see every detail from every angle. And I believe having it was a help to the builders too.
3. Go to the Home and Building Shows and learn about what you want. There's a certain 'normal' way a house is built in New Zealand. A certain level of insulation, amount of soundproofing, certain sorts of joinery, framing, finishes etc. That's what you'll get unless you ask for something different. To go beyond the usual you have to know what you want.
4. Nail down as much as you can before the start. Anything that changes during the build will cost extra. If you can decide on every single detail of the house from overall design to colours, taps, carpets and blinds before you begin then you can (use a good quantity surveryor to) get a clear idea of the cost before you begin and stick to it. This is one of the things we could have done better.
5. Sign a fixed-price contract with a builder who has been recommended to you. We chose three highly-recommended builders, met them, looked at their previous houses and met previous clients. We got them all to tender for the build. We loved them all and chose the cheapest quote. Fixed price takes the worry out of everything.
6. Don't try to project manage your own build. Have you never seen Grand Designs? These guys are professionals, they've got the contacts. The contractors they work with will be getting the contract for your project manager's next house so they turn up, and do good work. Without the contacts and the promise of ongoing work, how are you going to manage the 20 or so trades on your build - let alone schedule them just right to get the most efficient build?
7. Make a careful budget that includes EVERYTHING and then use a detailed spreadsheet to keep track of the costs as you go. Enter actual costs as you go and keep the thing updated as you spend. Our spreadsheet is a giant mess, but it was better than nothing.
8. Don't compromise on that one thing. Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You'll regret it: that is such a cool thing.
9. Don't underestimate the sun. This is advice I'd give anyone in any endeavour, but especially in house building. This starts with orientation of the house to make sure your outdoor areas are north facing, but it goes much beyond this. The sun can bake a house with too much west-facing glass. Carefully plan your eaves, glass type, blinds and curtains, window sizes, landscaping etc to welcome and exclude the sun strategically. You can get apps that let you stand on site and hold your phone up to show you the sun's path at certain times of the year.
10. Visit the site as often as you can. You will spot things that need to be changed. These could be things that weren't clear on the plans, that the builder is interpreting one way, but you would like a different way. They could be things that didn't become clear until you saw them built: "We should have put a window there," "That beam is too low". Don't be afraid to make a bold call for change in these cases. Or they might simply be mistakes the builder has made "the house is in the wrong street". If you don't visit, things could end up wrong.
Before I go, I'd like to thank Stuff.co.nz for continuing to publish this blog despite the public outcry.
Gemma and I would like to thank our architect Roy Wilson, our draughtsman Karl Fenning, our building contractors Grant and James of Design Construction Home, our engineer Bruce McNaughton, our welder Andy, our excavator, plumber, blockies. And especially Sam and Deek who flexed their guns and slaved away for almost a year to make our house, and did it so perfectly and with so much good humour.
I would like to thank Gemma and Zeno for putting up with me retreating to the offices in three different houses and three different years to write this blog night after night, week after week.
I'd like to thank Auckland's Holy Council and all Thy minions and acolytes. Verily Thou doth guide us as far as height to boundaries and stuff. Thy consents are to me as honey is to a big fat bear. I praise Thy name and if I could I would jam you in my underpants and cry "Get amongst it" very loudly.
And mostly I'd like to thank you readsters. There would have been very little point in this whole blogging thing without your side of the deal. And especially all my regular commensters who stood up for me when people said quite vindictive and hateful things about me. Because of you, the comments section of this blog has been the most sane, reasonable and hate-free of any website in the world. Nobody once compared anyone to Hitler - an internet first.
After the goodbye I will list some of the things we chose for our house, and links so that you can have a look at them. A look back through my posts will reveal plenty of photos and descriptions of all of the below, but it might be useful for you in one place. By no means are the below the only or necessarily best choice for you, but they are what we chose after much research and they have all worked out perfectly.
If you miss me, watch 7 Days. Or buy my new book, tentatively titled No.8 Rewired, 183 Remarkable New Zealand Inventions. It comes out in September and makes an ideal book. Or be like Telecom, Auckland University and the NZ Property Council etc and hire me as an MC for your corporate function. Come and say hello when I MC the launch of the Avantidrome (starring Will and Kate) on April 12th.
Gemma and I wholeheartedly recommend both the process and the results of building your own home. Only building your own baby has been more rewarding. Doing both at once has changed our lives completely.
We have gone from "We're Building a House" to "Were Building a House" and this is goodbye. If you see me in the street lick your forearm. I'll know it's you.
With my biggest love, your loyal,
Stuff we used that we'd recommend.
Design Construction Home building contractor (amazing).
Fisher and Paykel appliances (so indulgent to have a whole house full of new appliances. The induction hob and their new oven especially are fricken genius. And it's Kiwi.)
Autex Greenstuf insulation in the walls, floors, roof (winter holds no fear for us.)
DC Short towel rails (stylish)
Our light fittings mostly came from Coombes and Gabbie - a company that disproves that rubbish old saying "Hamilton isn't very good." Louise's lighting design had a huge impact on our finished house. Thank you!
Resene (Nero, Rice Paper predominantly)
Prime Floors (suffered our awful months of indecision with very good grace. We chose engineered T&G American oak with wide 190mm boards, finished in place with no bevel.)
Other flooring: both woollen and Triexta carpets and polished concrete floor.
Outdoor decking mahogany.
Underfloor heating in the slab (not sure yet if we'll need it.)
Metro Roofing (brilliant!)
Our tiles came from EVERYWHERE. There is no easy advice for choosing tiles. Good fricken luck.
Interior walls Gib (is there anything else?)
Kitchen sink from Heritage Hardware (we got a beautiful black sink double sink with drainer called Ecogranite - you can see it in the tour video. So far it's brilliant.)
Door hardware from Sopers MacIndoe (ours are beautiful black handles by a company called Formani. They are just about my favourite detail in the house.)
Rylock window joinery (who said ours was one of the most complex jobs they'd ever done. Thank you Pete! We chose Fletchers Metro and Residential systems, not thermally broken, double-glazed low-E glass throughout).
Our custom stairs were made by Continental Stairs who did us proud.
Home automation from Fibaro (see above).
Channel drains for the showers from Allproof (they just look cool and work well too.)
Landscaping from Xanthe White Design (we haven't had the place landscaped yet, but Xanthe has done us a mean design using tropical and native plants, bushes, trees and ground cover which we'll implement soon.)
*I say last, but the good news is that next week I will finally be contractually allowed to publish some photos of Zeno, so I might squeeze out just one more sneaky post if I can muster the strength, but it will just be a bunch of photos of our baby. And maybe a video. (We've got the cutest video!) Spoiler alert: you can see us in next weeks Woman's Day.