Peter 'The Wolf' Wolfkamp, talks about almost becoming a priest and getting his break in late night talkback radio.
1 Growing up in South Auckland, did you always want to be a builder?
No my first job after leaving De La Salle College was as a youth worker for the Catholic diocese. I toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, as many young Catholic men do, but got into building on a whim. I'd grown up in a house where people were always making things; Mum's a seamstress; Dad's a metal worker. I worked in Dad's factory at age 10 operating the guillotine from a plank placed across two paint tins. Worksafe would probably frown on that now.
2 What kind of training did you do to become a builder?
I was lucky to get an apprenticeship with a friend's dad, a Dutch immigrant like my parents. Europeans have a high regard for the trades that we don't have here. He taught me everything from concreting, carpentry and brick laying to roofing, joinery and gib stopping. Tradies have a much narrower focus these days because of changes to the Building Act which mean only licensed building practitioners can do work in certain categories.
3 You've been working in radio for over 30 years. How did you make your break?
At age 21 I got a job as an overnight talkback host on the newly created NewstalkZB. The audience was tiny back then so there weren't many callers. I learnt to do a lot of talking. I saw playing music is a sign of defeat for a talkback host and I can be pretty damn stubborn so I still remember with tremendous satisfaction the first time I stumbled out of the studio at 5.30am having not played a song.
4 What do you enjoy about doing the 'graveyard shift'?
At that hour, it's not topic driven. It's more about building a relationship and a space for people to feel comfortable to have a chat. Everyone's got a story - even the most obnoxious self-righteous person. One of the best nights I ever had was when I mentioned a story about a guy who kept a Lancaster bomber in his barn; that produced three hours of people talking about their encounters with Lancasters. I love that stuff. Once a guy rang to say goodbye after taking an overdose. I managed to keep him on air long enough for the ambulance to get to his house and revive him. I look at that as the best thing I ever did in broadcasting.
5 As NewstalkZB's Resident Builder and Sunday morning host, do you advocate for a raise in building industry standards?
Absolutely. New Zealand has a desperate need for better housing. Every time I get into a fierce radio debate, people say 'Harden up - I grew up in a cold house; we just put an extra jersey on'. I don't believe that stoic, she'll be right attitude is serving us well. Of New Zealand's 1.6 million dwellings; best estimates are that more than 950,000 have no insulation in the walls. We've got literally millions of Kiwis living in poor quality housing stock with all the associated costs of people not being able to go to work or school. It's a massive problem. Fortunately the level of consumer knowledge has gone up significantly in the last 10 years.
6 Do you think the government should introduce laws forcing landlords to provide warm, dry homes?
Yes, with certain provisos. My wife and I installed under-floor and roof insulation at our rental property because we wanted to do the best thing for our tenants. That's worked for us on a number of levels. But asking landlords to remove wall lining to install insulation is expensive under current laws because you need a building consent. Licenced building practitioners should be allowed to supervise that work instead of councils. There's been talk about obliging landlords to install wall heaters but that doesn't mean tenants can afford to turn them on.
7 You're the site foreman on Three's The Block NZ. Do you like being the scary guy?
Look, building is stressful. There's a lot on the line. My responsibility to the producers is to ensure the buildings are compliant with the Building Act. I like to do things by asking for co-operation but I also don't have time to wait for people to figure out whether they're going to be helpful. If they choose not to then we'll just go straight to the default, 'Well actually I'm in charge and you'll do it my way', position.
8 You've been in all seven seasons of The Block. Who have been your favourite team overall?
Alex and Corban back in series three were some of the hardest working people I've ever met. Corban himself is a really outstanding engineer and thinker. They were deserved winners.
9 Did any front-runners emerge in the latest season over the open home weekend?
Not yet. This could be one of the most even competitions we've ever had. We've had office sweepstakes in the past but I'm not sure anyone's prepared to bet on this one. Arguably the end house with extra light was going to be the most desirable property but they've made four genuinely different homes from almost the same footprint and that's been completely down to their creativity. Some teams have a real cult following. Their supporters turned up in team colours bearing gifts.
10 What's your proudest achievement on The Block NZ?
As I've grown into the role I've been able to steer the direction towards building better houses. The New Zealand Building Code has been described as the worst house you can legally build. There's nothing aspirational about it. But because we partner with insulation providers, I'm able to get the teams to insulate every single interior partition. The Homestar 6 and 7-rated homes we produced in season five are my proudest achievement on the show.
11 Is New Zealand's DIY culture doomed?
We pride ourselves on that pioneering do-it-yourself approach but we're getting to the point where that might not continue because our lives have become too busy and the skills aren't being passed on. To me there's a real pleasure in crafting something real.
12 How are we going to learn the DIY skills that used to be passed from parent to child?
Community workshops are popping up, like the Clay Store in Devonport where I live. It's staffed by retired Navy guys who have tools set out they'll show you how to use for a koha. A friend of mine gets guys from a bloke shed in Glenfield to upcycle furniture to sell in her charity shop The Make It Collective in Northcote. There are people out there who are the holders of this sacred knowledge. We need to seek them out and learn from them.
• The final week of The Block NZ is on Three tonight and Wednesday at 7.30pm with the live auction finale this Sunday at 7pm.