Designing an age-friendly house

After many years living in Porirua, north of Wellington, an offer on their house prompted a move for Kilian and Bruce, who are both in their 70s.

This is their story, as told by Kilian.

The thoughts behind our decision to sell and move?

  • Financial – our house would not attract the kind of money to let us even go into a retirement village, let alone pay the ongoing costs of such a move
  • Geographical – if we moved, we would need a place accessible to our relatives around the North Island, with facilities suited to our age, and good medical cover
  • A challenge – there’s nothing like a prospective house move to stimulate the elderly brain and get the adrenaline running – and they say that keeps you young!

To buy or build?

The next dilemma was whether to buy an existing house and property or build new.

From previous experience, we knew that existing houses require maintenance so something new was preferable.

Levin house with ramp

Where could we get a section we could afford?

Obviously not in Porirua ($300,000 needed there these days!).

So we tried Levin, which fulfilled all the above criteria. Eureka! A small section for under $50,000.

Then, what to build?

Our preference was for modular housing as being the most practical. That way, you can choose how many modules you want or can afford.

An internet search led us to EcoTech Homes Ltd (Nelson-based NZ company) which provides modules built with container technology.

Not out of old containers, but brand new.

This sounded a good option – long expected life (50-100 years which will definitely see us out), very low maintenance (absolutely what we need in our advancing years), and practical.

Apart from the above, a huge advantage in this type of construction is the speed with which it can be moved into.

Once the deposit is paid, the estimated time of arrival on site is 3½-4 months.

Levin module being craned

Part of the modular unit is craned into the Levin section

The price includes the foundations, construction, shipping from China (where all work is done under NZ supervision and to our standards), GST, port costs, transport from the point of entry, and actually lifting onto the foundations.

The units come in fully plumbed, wired, insulated, double-glazed, with cabinetry, bathroom fittings, floors, lights, extractor fans, oven already installed.

Modular design

Levin wet floor bathroom

Several of EcoTech’s designs have a MultiProof certificate from MBIE.

That means the building consent can be granted much more quickly than for a conventional building.

Ours was granted in only five working days!

If you have the drainage, electrical and communications connections already in place when the units arrive, you could be in the house within less than a week.

We requested a few adaptations to the standard design to make the units more age-friendly.

We were keeping in mind that as we grow older, we often also lose some of our mobility.

These include doorways wide enough to take a wheelchair and wet floors in the bathrooms (no shower cabinets which have to be climbed into).

We also added a ramp for wheelchair access.

The bathroom has wet floors so a wheelchair user can still use the space

Having taken the plunge ourselves, we feel this kind of housing is ideal for us older folk.

What we like

  • Low maintenance
  • Warmth – the insulation is something again!
  • Low power bills – our first month’s bill from 9 Sept to 5 Oct, when we had the heat pump operating nearly every day, was $58.73!
  • LED lights – very economical
  • Bifold doors on all three front-facing rooms
  • Two bedrooms, two bathrooms!
  • Floor to ceiling cupboards – lots of storage

Features we added for our own benefit:

  • PVC decking and railing – again, low maintenance
  • Heat pump hot water system – again, very economical
  • Wide eaves (1.2m) – shade in summer and sun in winter

 

Consider the advantages to a person or couple who own a large house on a large section, both of which they are struggling to maintain.

What is the problem with dividing the section and putting on it a modular house such as I describe?

If you feel inclined and have children’s families looking for somewhere to live, perhaps they could occupy the large house and you go to live in the smaller one.

 

Levin kitchen

You could subdivide the section, sell the main dwelling and own and occupy the other. Or you could sell both and rent the smaller one from the new owners.

If you decided on one of the above, you would be able to stay in your community and save yourselves the stress of having to get to know a new one.

If, on the other hand, you do what we did and decide to move somewhere else, you have the challenge of coping with a new experience.

There’s nothing like a challenge to keep you young!

Some of the comments we have received from interested visitors include:

‘Amazing’, ‘deceptively roomy’, ‘great concept’, ‘awesome place’, ‘excellent design’, ‘impressive’, ‘well thought out and spacious’, ‘fascinated’.

If you’d like more information, you can email Kilian on kilianv@xtra.co.nz

Editor's note: Views of contributors are not necessarily those of the Office for Seniors.