modhouse Blog Series: No 2 - The Build

We’re jumping straight into part 2 of our blog series with a frank examination of building our first modhouse. What unravels below is an honest assessment from the architect and owner, John (my ideas man) and outtakes from me too. To play fair, we’ve also checked in with the builder for his thoughts.

Flicking back to our first blog, we shared a few details on why we chose Hawkes Bay for our first modhouse. To recap; we discovered a subdivision that matched our environmentally sustainable ethos, land affordability was a motivation, and better yet, my mother lived just 1.5km away.

The site we purchased was part of a master-planned subdivision with an ambitious Environmentally Sustainable Design philosophy. ESD involves designing the built environment and services to comply with the principles of ecological sustainability and to achieve a Homestar 6 rating. All good foundations for launching a new brand that mirrored our vision.

modhouse series - the build

We settled on the site in early 2018 after approval from Hawkes Bay District Council to do something a little offbeat in comparison to our neighbours.

Thanks to John’s 10-year design study of the perfect modhouse, we could move fast, and because of its modular merits, we were able to move the pieces around the site for best effect – orientation to north, window and door placement to suit etc.  

Building consent arrived quickly and by mid-2018 we were on the hunt for a builder. Initially, we approached someone who had completed other houses in the subdivision, but due to the specifics of the modhouse design we couldn’t get budgets to align. This was a frustrating halt in progress. 

Our luck would turn when a former colleague of John’s knew a young builder in the area, and he was soon given the greenlight. No doubt, this is a risky way of procuring a build due to the level of unknown, but we had costed the house in the tender process and knew our price-ceiling. With good communication and a builder who understood our needs, we were able to bring the house in for considerably less. 

modhouse series - the build
modhouse series - the build

What a ride! This was a big move (literally and emotionally). We had lived and raised a family in Auckland, all the unknowns led to many ‘oh-my-god-what-are-we-doing’ moments, punctuated by wine and supportive friends. Juggling our working day with the pressures of building six hours away meant flying visits to Hawkes Bay to assist. Having a two-week Christmas ‘holiday’ onsite was so good. Otherwise it was countless weeknights and weekends liaising with our fantastic builder, Mark Boys.

Hugely valuable lessons were discovered along the way. We jumped into this project eyes wide open - to build, learn, grow, laugh and commit to modhouse in all its guises. Hopefully very soon we’ll take this wisdom into the next modhouse.

With such a large chunk of the house involving offsite elements and having it prefabricated also presented challenges and required John’s input very early in the process. Even before John met with Mark, he had completed the shop drawing process with Xlam and Techlam for the engineered timber frames, floor and roof panels. Already we had invested about $70,000 into timber sitting in the factories ready to go. So there was never any doubt… we must build! This is starkly different from the standard house build process and allowed Mark to hit the ground running once the slab was down in early December.

By the time we arrived for Christmas, the laminated timber frames (think rugby posts) and the first storey Xlam floor panels had all been craned into place. Thank you prefab technology, how cool to have all the engineered timber parts ready and waiting to be bolted into place onsite. This happens so quickly.

modhouse series - the build
modhouse series - the build

After Christmas, the timber ceiling panels were craned in. Next up, the roof panels themselves were craned in; getting undercover with this building approach happens very fast. From here, things do slow down as it reverts to more of a traditional build where pre-nailed side and end walls are erected. These walls have cavities containing all the services such as electrical cabling, water, sanitary plumbing and drainage and so on.

From here, the cladding commences so the door and window joinery can be installed. Before long, a weather tight envelope allows the project to progress with all the internal finishings - wall linings, kitchens, bathrooms and so on.

All the tradies deserve high praise at this point. There are so many moving parts to a build and we saw first-hand how much effort is required to coordinate various skills and personalities. Tradies working on top of each other, or worse, waiting for someone to finish so they can jump in and complete their craft. It’s a balancing act of good behaviour, great communication and a sense of humour.

modhouse series - the build
modhouse series - the build

In time, we might investigate having the bathrooms made as pods and craned into place complete, even the walls coming to site pre-clad and ready with windows could be a consideration – all stage II musings for the architect. But for now, modhouse is a hybrid of the best offsite and traditional build methods. We’re also confident it can be constructed in less than six months, a real feat when you consider the high quality and performance of the finished product.

On reflection, it was such a great process. Helping where we could, Hawkes Bay sunshine and hospitality, learning along the way and beers with tradies after work. In a heartbeat we’ve made friends, shifted locations, built a home and squeezed in a holiday.  

modhouse series - the build

But now it’s time to hand the mic over to builder Mark…

 1. What did you honestly think when you first reviewed the modhouse concept and plans?

Excited, the meeting with John was great and his enthusiasm towards the project and his realistic out look towards the build was exactly the clientele that a builder wants.
The concept took a bit to get my head around, bringing together new products that I hadn’t used before and the extra details required to connect them. But once I had looked through the plans, it was clear that it was going to be a lot easier than first thought and that’s when we got excited to get into the build!

2. From a builder's perspective, if you could highlight your favourite thing about this building, what would it be and why?

The Xlam and Techlam system was by far my favourite as it connected together very quickly on site, I also enjoy the beautiful cedar cladding.
As a system it was great, 7.30am just a slab down 4 hours later we had a full structure erected and the build only grew from there.

3. Finally, we think you were brave taking this project on! This was the architect's '10-year dream in the making' prototype, add a self-confessed OCD interior designer wife and we think it's only fair you dish the dirt! How was the modhouse building journey for you?

Mark Boys Builders have been proud to have been a part of modhouse and as an overall project I think it is awesome. We had details and obstacles to overcome as we do with every project, but now that these are ironed out modhouse 2 will be even faster to build. And obviously, as it was your dream, limited amounts of OCD is allowed.

Nikki McNamara