There’s no need to check the weather forecast in this energy-efficient Waikanae new build where temperatures are tropical all year round.
In a nutshell
Who lives here? Chris and Leonie Beggs (owners of North Face Construction), Jack, 13, Fraser, 11, cat Ruby and chickens.
What would you do differently with this house if you could? Leonie: I wouldn’t change a thing. Chris: I would build a floating staircase, if the engineers would allow it! I’d also build a bigger garage.
Leonie, why do you love living in Waikanae? We love the climate and the fertile soil, which is great for growing plants and veges. It’s a great environment for young families to grow up in.
What would your dream house be? This very house, but on five acres on the edge of the Waikato River.
Since moving into her Kapiti eco-house two years ago, Leonie Beggs has put most of her winter clothing into storage. That’s because the energy-efficient house she and her husband Chris built is a toasty 24 degrees celsius year round, meaning the family lives in T-shirts. “It’s warm and cosy even when the cold southerlies are blowing,” says Leonie.
Situated on a 2300-square-metre section in Waikanae, north of Wellington, this is the fourth house the couple has built for themselves. However, it’s probably their most adventurous so far. “We’re not tree huggers, but we were keen to install solar panels for heating and hot water. It has worked really well and I’d encourage everyone to think about solar energy.”
Leonie and Chris bought the section in 2006, attracted by its size and orientation towards the sun. The family spent five years living in the 1930s bungalow that came with the section, while they worked with local company AD Architecture to design their 340-square-metre home.
Solar heating aside, a key requirement was a wall of north-facing windows that flood the space with warmth and light. They opted for polished concrete floors and exposed beams, a favourite of builder Chris, who chose steel beams with circular cut-outs in the open-plan living area.
“We’d built a house for a client at Peka Peka beach based on the pavilion style – with bedrooms at either side and a living space in the middle – and we loved the style, so decided to do the same here,” says Leonie.
The couple’s desire to gain the benefits of building underground, rather than building up, meant 800 cubic metres of ground had to be excavated to construct the long and narrow house. It coincided with an exceedingly wet winter and Leonie spent one day shovelling dirt out of the polystyrene blocks they used as a foundation. “Fortunately, it was the worst thing that went wrong in the year-long build,” she laughs.
A flight of plywood stairs leads from the oversized front door to the heart of the house. Here, Leonie’s request was for a minimalist kitchen where she can chat to family and friends while she cooks. The three-metre kitchen island is topped with white Caesarstone, a timeless, practical surface that’s more cost effective than granite. “It also doesn’t reflect the light the way stainless steel would, which we’ve used on the cooktop and as a splashback.”
A small pull-out pantry, filled mainly with spices, is sited next to the stovetop while a more extensive pantry and appliance shelf is hidden behind metallic grey floor-to-ceiling doors that run the southern wall of the kitchen and also cleverly hide the laundry.
A grey rug helps to define the living room area and contrasts with the white TV unit that was designed and made by their joiner, as well as the matching coffee table from a local store. Although the lighting reflects Leonie’s love of clean lines, her favourites are the David Trubridge lampshades that hang in the living room and above the rimu dining table. “They were the first things I bought for the house, before we even started building, because I knew we wouldn’t have any money left at the end.”
To the right of the living area is the children’s wing, which can be closed off from the rest of the house by a grey cavity slider. Here, adjoining desks mean the boys can do their homework while overlooking the light-filled hallway. Both boys’ bedrooms lead off the open-plan study and their bathroom is almost the same as the other two in the house, with grey metallic panelled walls and modern plywood furniture.
The striking glass sinks in all three bathrooms were found online and imported from the US after a search for similar ones here failed. “We wanted wall-mounted taps but every sink in New Zealand came with holes for attaching taps. I searched online and found these sinks which, thankfully, arrived in one piece,” says Leonie.
The other wing of the house contains the main bedroom and ensuite, as well as sliding doors that lead onto a deck which runs the length of the house. Chris designed the large plywood headboard-come-wardrobe which he’d built in a previous house.
Another favourite feature is the large piece of polished matai which was gifted to them by Chris’s brother. “We’ve never been able to find the right place for it and it moved house with us for 10 years. It has special significance as Chris’s brother passed away, and we found the perfect spot for it as a floating hallway table.”
Past the bright green front door and accent wall is the ground floor which has been dubbed the ‘mancave’. Here, sound-proofing means the boys can play the drums and table tennis, or watch movies on the big-screen TV. Next door is a guest bedroom and ensuite, as well as the office which is the hub of the couple’s business and looks out on the garden where Leonie has spent hours planting fruit trees and a raised vege garden.
“I’d be more than happy living here forever, but with a builder husband, you never know what can happen next,” says Leonie.
Building an eco-friendly house
North-facing, double-glazed windows will give you passive solar gain, which equals free heat.
Solar panels can save you up to 100 percent on your energy costs. Talk to a solar specialist to ensure you get the correct number of solar panels for your particular home.
Energy-efficient appliances and low-energy lighting will save you money on your power bills.
If you can, build thicker walls and roofs to provide higher levels of insulation. This, along with a large thermal mass, will give you more stable temperatures in your home.
Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.