WHAT you need to write about," said my friend Pete, who knows everything, "is people like me, retirees living in house trucks".

Pete has lived (mostly) in house trucks for the past 30 years, putting in many miles on the road.

When he was travelling with the Gypsy Traders, his 12m "Pete's Palace" live-in catering business had once taken out the telephone line at Kowhai Park, which didn't make him too popular with our council.

Pete called through last weekend with his current iteration — a yellow 1980s Ford truck with a house on the back, that he'd made while working at Mega in Petone before retiring this year.

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Pete is a craftsman — while working at Mega he'd designed kitchens. He'd built houses and house trucks and owned and run restaurants in the past and knows his way around kitchen joinery, timber, steel, electrics, plumbing and solar power.

Pete's truck had all the bells and whistles — 1000 watts of photovoltaics on the roof, and a blue self-containment sticker on the back. The truck had a kitchen, shower, toilet, lights, TV, a fridge and a phone-charging station — and all for $46,000 he told me.
"That's nothing — this shed cost me $35,000, including the caravan," I replied.

We agreed that it was possible to make small, cheap housing solutions if it wasn't for the regulations.

While we are having a house built at the other end of the paddock, my travel companion and I are living in temporary accommodation — ie a shed and a caravan. A small, well-insulated space with a concrete floor and a wood stove meant we have had one of the warmest winters ever, and our power bill is under $70, and that includes the lines charge.
Pete said that living in a house truck wasn't for everyone. Finding places to park, picking up water and disposing of grey water and sewage depended on a range of skills and connections.

Although adopting the superior tone of the migratory towards the permanently settled, Pete was impressed with our shed because of its efficient use of space, its functionality ... and cheapness.

Pete's truck.
Pete's truck.

The original inspiration came from George McLeod's Small Spaces combined with ideas from staying in backpacker accommodation, and Asian architecture. The shed is a fusion of recycled and new materials and components and, in environmental terms, it has a small carbon footprint, both in manufacture and running costs.

Pete and I discussed the "housing crisis". How come we were living in satisfactory accommodation that was around a tenth of what a traditional house and section cost?
Pete repeated that it wasn't for everyone. To be self-reliant means you have to be responsible for your own life, Pete observed.

"There's a whole bunch of people out there who are barely capable of living in a house where everything is turned on for them, let alone handle the complexities of being on the road."

Having once built a house from start to finish, Pete had strong views on the current "housing crisis" — "enforced consumption of crap," was his opinion of the raft of building regulations enacted as a response to the leaky buildings syndrome.

Fred Frederikse
Fred Frederikse

"The whole leaking buildings drama was caused by the mainstream building industry. As a result, it's been made illegal for "cowboy" carpenters like you and me to pick up a hammer ever again," said Pete, getting on his favourite hobby horse.

I told Pete I would be 70 next year and I was trying to avoid picking up a hammer again — preferring to use screws and a rechargeable drill.

"Many houses being built these days are too big. We've lost sight of housing as a shelter for a couple of people — housing has been captured by the investment banks.

"On one hand we have couples living in ersatz mansions and, on the other hand, people are living in cars and vans. What we need is something in the middle — small, well-designed affordable shelters like these," Pete concluded, waving his arms around.