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Inside the box living

Pete and Pip Whitlock on their Martinborough property. PHOTOS/BECKIE WILSON

How much room do you need to live a happy lifestyle? How traditional does it need to be? BECKIE WILSON talks to people who are thinking outside, and inside, the box when it comes to their homes.


Alternative housing seems to be the way of the future for many Wairarapa residents, who are moving away from the traditional three-bedroom bungalow.

Some have taken a leap well outside the traditional housing realm.

The Whitlock’s living area inside the yurt.

Pete and Pip Whitlock know the feeling of doing something “really crazy”, after selling their four-bedroom home in Palmerston North a couple of years ago.

They had been looking for a new home to move on to land they owned in Martinborough.

“We knew we wanted to do something different, but we did not want a huge mortgage, and we wanted to travel, declutter and simplify,” Pip said.

“And nothing financially added up as well as the yurt did.”

A yurt, or ger, is a portable, circular home, traditional in the steppes of central Asia.

The Whitlocks saw a yurt in a magazine which was the catalyst for two years of research, which finally led to the arrival of their new 9.1m diameter home in 2016.

Not long after seeing the magazine, they came across a website for Blue Mountain Yurts based in Australia, and were sold on the idea of living in one.

“Then we got really crazy after our house sold really quickly, and we just ordered it,” Pip said.

This is now the Whitlock’s second winter in the yurt, and they do not regret a single day since the purchase.

People driving past their property are always intrigued by it – “people just don’t know what they are”, Pip said.

The couple were able to custom design their yurt by adding additional windows.

It is fully insulated and they have a wood burner.

They chose the largest size, which cost $46,000, including the manufacture and shipping.

The yurts are built to withhold winds up to 180kmh, with the design directing gusts around and over the structure.

Before it arrived, the Whitlocks built the platform it sits on, including piles and insulation, which was an additional cost.

“A lot of people think they are for hippies – [but] we aren’t really alternative people,” Pip said.

However, they admit their new home has changed the way they think in terms of recycling and living a sustainable lifestyle.

They have built a small adjoining room for the kitchen and bathroom, and hooked the building up to solar power.

Pete says coming home to the yurt feels like a holiday, as the structure is peaceful and relaxing.

“You are really in touch with nature, you can hear everything,” Pip said.

“Moving from a four-bedroom home to this has forced us to declutter hugely, you have to think about what you want to keep and what is necessary.”

The Whitlocks love their home so much, they are now sales representatives for the company.

“It’s an alternative for everyone to consider – it’s actually a proper house,” Pip said.

And it is designed to be moved, if required.

David Hicks’ 40ft shipping container home on his Clareville property. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Self-contained living

Living in a 12.2m shipping container with his wife, two children and a dog for the past three years was not David Hicks’ original plan, but it certainly hasn’t been all bad.

While David is building the family home out of multiple shipping containers, the family has been living in a smaller container next door.

Based in Clareville, David and his wife, Mireille, and children Angelique, 13, Julien, 11, and their dog River, moved to the region in 2015.

Hicks said the idea of a shipping container home was inspired by his wood-making workshop at the time, which was the same type of structure.

“When I was planning the off-the-grid container home, I realised it would take a long time to construct by myself, so I decided to have a crack converting just one shipping container next to it.

“I thought maybe the house would take about nine months and this is our third winter, but we will definitely be done by next winter,” he said.

Inside David Hicks’ shipping container home. 

Over the years of building the larger family home, David has been approached by many people curious about the concept.

He has since started a business called Container Conversions.

David builds portable homes from the containers – from a complete custom-fit home to creating a base structure for customers to finish themselves.

The business isn’t “totally flying yet” which he says he is pleased about as, finishing the family house is still a priority.

“For one or two people, I couldn’t think of a better solution to keep you from a big mortgage,” he said.

Building a container home, such as the one he and his family live in, can cost from $50,000 to $70,000, but costs can “widely vary”.

“That’s a working home ready to be trucked to where you want it, just plug in your power and hook up drainage.”

All containers David works with are second-hand, which give them a bit of character, he said.

Some completed structures of the rammed earth home. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Earthly simplicity

The simplicity of a rammed earth home was the appeal for Carterton couple Erin Betteridge and Timo Jaegle.

The couple have begun the build on their Chester Rd section – the foundation size is 154m2, and the living area will be 127m2.

Rammed earth construction is a technique of ramming earth into forms to create structures.

The walls are 350mm thick, made from a mix of lime and a small amount of cement.

Timo, originally from Germany, said he was inspired to build a rammed earth home because he was “not really used to the kind of buildings here – the wooden framed houses
and stuff”.

Timo Jaegle, left, Erin Betteridge and Auckland-based builder Paul Geraets. PHOTO/WILLIAM HEATH

After looking for alternative options, he became inspired by Auckland-based builder Paul Geraets of Terra Firma Earth Building.

Boxing is put in first, supported by steel, then the mix is “rammed in”, and the boxing is taken away.

“There’s no insulation going in or painting or rendering or cladding or anything else,” Timo said.

Because the thick earth walls are breathable and absorb heat, no insulation is needed, and heating costs are low.

The initial cost of the build is higher than a traditional build, but a rammed earth house is more a long-term cost-saver.

The couple’s building progress can be viewed on their Facebook page: ‘We’re building a rammed earth home’.

The newbie

Fiona Christie has reached the building stage of her first tiny house project.

Her journey started about two years ago, after she became fed-up with having a mortgage on her Lower Hutt apartment.

“I thought, ‘Bugger this I’m going to sell’, but it sold in [just] two weeks,” she said.

She purchased a custom-made trailer, on which the tiny house would sit, and began to fine-tune the house’s design.

After more than a year of research, Christie’s partner David Field has begun the build on his property in rural Carterton.

The exterior of the home is based on a shepherd’s hut with batten exterior.

The internal width will measure 2.4m, the length 7.2m, and it will feature everything a traditional house contains.

The house will be fully off the grid, with solar panels, freshwater tanks, and a compostable toilet, as well as having space for a washing machine and plenty of storage, she said.

The bed will fold down over the couch.

Christie said the price of the trailer was a large amount of the initial cost.

She has decided to sell her first tiny home once it is built, but plans to live in the next one they make.

“It’s quite a risk and it’s a cool adventure that opens up doors – you get to meet other people doing the same thing and living in small spaces.”

Talking tiny

The NZ Tiny House & Alternative Living conference will be held in Carterton on September 29.

The 16 speakers on the day include Pete and Pip Whitlock, Fiona Christie, and David Hicks, as well as others who have built unique homes.

Tickets cost $139 and can be bought online at: tinyhouseconference.co.nz

Meeting requirements

As with any new build, researching building consents and requirements before building is important.

Carterton District Council planning and regulatory manager Dave Gittings encouraged those interested in alternative structures to meet the council’s building services team.

“Getting it right at the beginning and understanding the regulatory side of planning that dream is important – we can provide advice about restrictions, regulations and planning,” he said.

The building code was developed to allow for building innovation and was performance based, he said.

“This means that if you can demonstrate a proposed building can meet the building code then the council would grant a consent.”



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