Design & build: Nailing the design

The Block NZ 2012 winner Ben Crawford and his girlfriend Kylie are building their dream home. Share their proud moments and pitfalls here every week.

Hydrological neutrality. What on earth is that? Looking through the property file of our section for the first time was incredibly daunting. Even to uneducated eyes like ours, I knew enough to know we had a heck of a challenge. Phrases like "this allotment is within a flood sensitive area which is prone to flooding" along with "any new residential dwelling will be required to be a minimum of 17.25m LINZ datum high" and "mitigation and retention of stress is required" reinforced just how crazy our idea might be.

A friend suggested we get our hands on the property file, something I'd never heard of before. After ordering the file from Auckland Council, I found it was a goldmine of information about the section, including things like site plans, old consent information, licensing details and professional analysis. It was scary.

We also discovered a nominated building platform that all of these reports were based on to enable the original subdivision of the land. Its location seemed ludicrous - bang in the middle of the bush. It would mean cutting down the beautiful native trees and the complete loss of the section's uniqueness, just so it could be replaced with an ugly box-like home.

Among all the jargon however, it became clear that virtually the entire section was within a 100-year flow path, meaning every 100 years the majority of land we were hoping to build on would flood. Hmmm. That made for intimidating reading, but surely we could design around it. Right?

We were determined to work with the site and not against it, but we kept coming back to the same point, can it be done? Why had the council approved the section to be subdivided with a house in the bush? And surely someone had thought of building a home either side of the stream before, so we started to wonder if we were just flogging a dead horse.


The artist's impression shows the stream as a feature.

However we'd come this far and weren't about to give up. The great thing was all of these engineering, arborist and geotechnical reports had the authors' contact details on them. So I talked their ears off. After explaining to each of the professionals our idea of building a home either side of the stream, they surprisingly said that, although it wouldn't be easy, it sounded technically possible - so long as the council would permit us to build over the waterway. Now we were starting to paddle up the creek with a paddle.

In between, we had been fine-tuning our design and layout of the house, arriving at a final solution we loved. It was a modest three bedrooms, two bathrooms with a large open-plan kitchen, living and dining area, plus we had Kylie's genius idea of a rooftop deck, so we could maximise our outdoor living hours.

Meanwhile on the exterior we'd decided to clad the house in architectural cedar and incorporate as much full-height glass as possible, including our bridge connecting the two sides of the house together. Then we'd incorporated large cantilevered sections to design away the stereotypical "pole house" look as much as possible because we'd be building our home on stilts to keep it above any theoretical flood events.

Armed with these scale drawings, I asked an architect friend to create some elevations for me, which I then took to visualisation company DeeDee Studio to produce a 3D model of our home. It looked incredible.

It's exciting and daunting to design your own home. Exciting at the prospect of designing everything exactly the way you want it, but daunting in the fact you could balls it up and be left to live with the faults staring at you every day. So it was a relief to see the ideas that had been spinning around our heads come to life and look better than we had envisaged.

By this stage it was clear that all roads were leading to the council. So we arranged a pre application meeting to discuss our plans with them and find out once and for all if we would be allowed to build our dream home.

Find out more about Ben and Kylie's dream home at ourdreamhome.co.nz.

Watch episode 2 of Ben & Kylie's Brave New Build below:

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The master plan

Ben & Kylie are fast finding out just how many challenges are involved with building a house. If you're keen to take on a similar project, watch and learn! However, if a house that's ready and waiting is more up your alley, it's time to follow Ben & Kylie's lead and make a plan.

It might help to put together a checklist of what you're looking for in a property, broken into must-have, nice-to-have and must-not-have. Be prepared to move things from one column to another - you'll probably have to make some compromises.

Think about what the future holds when making your checklist. Looking to start a family? You might need more room than you think! Grand travel plans? Consider the property's renting potential. Thinking of changing jobs or studying? Your income and ability to pay the mortgage could change.

Kiwibank's First Home Buyer's Guide will help you put together your checklist so you can narrow down what kind of place suits you. Once you know what you're looking for, the real search can begin!

For more information on the Kiwibank First Home Buyer's Guide visit: kiwibank.co.nz and search for "first home".

- Herald on Sunday

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