This week in building a house: A baby, an apple tree & a broken arm

The prenails are going up, and up, and up.

The prenails are going up, and up, and up.

This week is all about a baby, an apple tree and a broken arm...


On Grand Designs (the most poetic and endearing of UK TV house-build shows) EVERYONE usually gets pregnant part way through and the race is on to finish the build before the small person comes to destroy the lovely paint job that's just been completed.

Mr Building Boxes was terrified we'd follow this hallowed and almost holy tradition. (I can see the various grandparental faces as they read this right now: another baby? Really?)

Don't worry. It's not us. Our Builder has sorted this one out. There is a baby to add to the deadline. Just not mine.

Congratulations Mike and Xsite Construction.

Yes, Mike - Our Man of Hammers – has conveniently taken it upon himself to ensure a deadline that is immovable. Congratulations Mike and Carlie!

Happily, the October due date fits perfectly into our schedule. We're hoping to finish well before that, so even if we go significantly over deadline, and I'm not discounting that happening, we still have this wonderfully motivating deadline to get the place sorted. I can hear the seasoned builders among you laughing at my optimism.

'A baby, you say, they never stopped people living in a caravan while their house build kept on not quite being finished'. And it's true. Things might go horribly, horribly wrong and we might go horribly, horribly over deadline. But I'd like to think that a builder's wife is a force to be reckoned with, so I'm figuring on Mike going harder than a tin of old paint and pulling out all the stops to get our baby well sorted before his one arrives.


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I was VERY excited to discover an apple tree on the section, half dead from the evil web of weeds that had clambered onto its branches and tried to take over. After a monster prune it even produced a bumper crop of apples this year. Sadly though, all the digging and shifting with rather large equipment has left it on a precarious lean. Move or die seems to be the inevitable reality. It's a hardened survivor, a West Auckland tree used to dealing with tougher things than moving a little to the left, right?

So it will take a digger lifting and dumping on the chin…right? We'll see. 


Yep. Our Man of Hammers is also cross-fit junkie and managed to beat himself up even more than was strictly necessary after a round of chin ups. Like the trooper he is, he turned up on site, his arm "a bit sore" the next day, but a couple of days later he relented, went to the doctor and came back in a cast.

"It could have been worse" he said to me yesterday. "I could have broken this arm," holding up his right hand. (See what I mean about him going hard?) It does mean that things have slowed down a little. But I should add, only a little, which is amazing. Mr Building Boxes is heading to site for the next three days to provide an extra hand, to make up for the one that is stuck in a cast.

It's lucky our Man of Hammers isn't a south paw. 

But it's still going up

It is, thanks in part to the prenails we decided to use. (For the uninitiated, prenails are pretty much what it says on the tin – parts of frames, already nailed together.) It has meant that the broken arm doesn't have to hold up piece after piece of timber. The problem with them of course is they have to be spot on. A joist in the wrong place here, a nog in the wrong place there, and you have to remake the frame that you thought was saving you time.

Still, do them right and they can save a bunch of builder hours. They are more expensive of course, but that time saving in chippy hours, pretty much pays for that. Probably why most group home builders use them. An architect friend gave us sage advice at the start of this: if the group home builders are doing it, it's the cheapest way you can do it. Not a bad way to think about things if your budget is tight.

The prenails can go wrong, but if they go right they'll save your builder a lot of time. 

With all this, we're running a bit behind, which was perhaps always going to happen. The amazing thing is that we're not more behind with our head builder's arm in a cast. Someone said to me the other day that there never, ever, seems to be a build story in the world where things just go perfectly smoothly. I'm beginning to think they're right. Still, the countdown to the roof shout has begun…


 Introducing the family and the build

How to price a new build

* How to find a builder

How to get resource consent

* How to work around rain

* How to: concrete foundations

* How to: build an outside office

How to: sell your own property

How we sold our house by ourselves

The truths of building: you're bound to change your mind

Timber framing goes up

* How to cope with the stress of building a house

Michele Powles is a writer and mother of a Lego engineer and destruction specialist. You can read more about their New Build Love over at or on Facebook

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