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How a Wanaka family built an architecturally designed home for $500,000

With a budget of $500,000, this Wanaka family built an architecturally designed home that makes outdoor living a priority

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How a Wanaka family built an architecturally designed home for $500,000

Budget forecast compared to actual spend?
A quantity surveyor looked at the construction cost at the initial design stage so we could make changes to bring costs down. When the documentation was complete we tendered the project out to builders and also asked for suggestions on alternative cladding, roofing and decking. By seeking alternatives we saved $56,000 but we added in another $14,000-worth of items so, all up, we came in below our initial budget.

Would you change anything if you could?
Natalie: We made the mistake of economising on the heat-recovery ventilation system. At the time we built, there were limited options and we went for the $5000 system rather than the $12,000 option. The system is functional but it does not have the same level of user-friendly control that newer systems now offer.

Compromises? Splurges?  
We did redesign the laundry to save about $30,000 of construction costs. It isn’t as big as we would have liked but is still a very functional small space. We saved money by analysing the big costs of the build. For instance, we saved about $8000 by sourcing locally grown redwood cladding rather than imported cedar.

We also saved a similar amount by upgrading the wall construction. Moving away from standard timber framing to highly thermally efficient SIPs (structural insulated panels) meant the construction was quicker and less labour-intensive.

We also saved a significant amount on the internal joinery. By using standard hardware and simple, robust materials like plywood and Formica HPL, we achieved custom-built vanities, wardrobes, TV room and living room shelving, a study desk, pantry and kitchen, all for the same price as many spend on their kitchen alone ($25,500+GST).

We did splurge on the 2.4m full-height cedar doors, but there aren’t too many of them. It’s an easy, discreet way to add warmth and richness to a house.

Do you tend to buy high-end homeware or seek out a bargain?
We prefer to buy things that we love, often seeking clever, durable design. More often than not there is a price for quality, but that isn’t always the case – our Breville coffee machine was about half the cost of many of the Italian machines out there but it makes great coffee and is well built.

Best advice for spending money on a home?
Build the house for you and the way you want to live – don’t worry about the resale – and make sure you enjoy the investment. If you step above the standard solutions to design a functional, durable, healthy and enlivening home, someone else will pay good money for it if you ever want to move on.

Don’t try and do everything for a bargain as it is much more expensive to rectify bad decisions once you have built. Work with your architect and builder to discuss the options and prioritise what is important to you.

Budget $509,000

Natalie and Chris’ tips 

  • Employ a registered architect and engage a builder early.
  • Take your time to make and review your choices, including comparing your design against other houses.
  • Choose quality over quantity.
  • Increase your thermal efficiency to reduce the need for bigger energy sources (it will end up costing you less).
  • Thermal efficiency is not just about extra insulation; you have to get the planning and detailing right.

Photography by: Daniel Allen.

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