Instead of moving out, the Basson family looked to an alternative – digging under.
WORDS Clare Chapman PHOTOGRAPHY Scott Espie
Yvette and Neil Basson purchased their home in the Auckland suburb of Birkdale five years ago. Since then, the area has continued to grow, but while it is now a vibrant suburb, it retains its quiet suburban charm with a feeling of community amid its leafy streets.
Over the years the Basson family has also continued to grow, and in the last couple of years, the family found themselves outgrowing their 80m2, 1970s weatherboard home.
For Yvette, the main issue with their home was a lack of space: the original three-bedroom dwelling was becoming increasingly small for the growing family. With only one living area, the space was no longer practical, particularly for the couple’s children, who are now aged 17 and seven, and at different stages of life.
“There was a real lack of flow between the spaces too. The living spaces were impractical as there were also walkways, which meant we had to have the furniture pushed up against the walls. In the outdated, U-shaped kitchen, the walkway into the area was also where the fridge door opened, which didn’t work.”So it was a matter of working out whether it was best to sell and purchase a larger home or renovate the existing property.
“We needed a larger house one way or another and decided it was important for us to stay in the same area, and then decided it was best to work with this house,” Yvette said. “Our aim was basically to make it larger, update it and make the spaces work better. Then there were things like adding insulation and double glazing.
“When we decided to invest in and embark on this project, we really wanted to make the house somewhere we would want to live for at least another ten years, and I think we are on the way to achieving that.”
Due to the slope of the site, the house lent itself to excavation and a renovation that included developing the cavernous, three-metre-high area underneath the house. “We were using the area for storage and there seemed to be a lot of under-utilised space there,” Yvette said. “We thought there was potential to do something with it and given the slope of the section, there didn’t appear to be a lot of work involved in excavating. The height of the house at the back seemed to invite the utilisation of that space.”
So with the help of Refresh Renovations, the Bassons embarked upon a renovation project that will essentially see their tired home almost doubled in size and transformed into a contemporary abode.
“The important thing with this renovation is that while we were able to increase the size of the house considerably, we haven’t extended the footprint by much, which means we were able to avoid the significant added cost of upgrading the stormwater and drainage in line with the stringent restrictions on the North Shore,” said Refresh project manager Tim Walters. “We’ve increased the size of the house from approximately 80m2 to 140m2 while only extending 25m2 from the existing footprint. It has meant that we have been able to keep the impact minimal on the 800m2 section.”
Once the design stage was completed, the renovation got underway in earnest in July this year. But due to its complex nature, the project is being undertaken in two stages. The first is the excavation of the area under the house, and the completion of what will become the parents’ area downstairs, including a master bedroom, walk-in wardrobe, ensuite and second lounge, along with a laundry area and deck leading out from the north facing master bedroom and second lounge.
The second stage will see the upstairs area modernised with insulation and double glazing added, the kitchen re-done, a deck added that will sit on top of the new downstairs area, and an internal stair to the additions.
The first job was to excavate, which took just over one week. “Around 80m3 of dirt was removed from under the house,” Tim said. “The good thing in this project was that we were able to reuse that dirt on site and avoid the costs of dirt removal, which can easily double the costs of excavation. As the former section sloped away from the house to the fence line, it was essentially unusable. So we moved the dirt and used it to flatten out the section creating a much more practical space suitable for the family.”
While the excavation itself was a relatively simple process, an old sewer pipe that ran directly underneath where the new footings were placed had to be re-routed, and propping the house proved to be a challenging process.
“In order to create the addition, we needed to remove the total existing support structure of the house. We worked with experts to work out a suitable propping solution. It meant that the concrete slab had to be poured in stages so the propping could be moved once one section was poured and dried, and then moved back to allow for the next section to be done,” Tim said.
Once completed, the house will be supported by the perimeter concrete block walls of the additions, as well as additional internal structural walls.
The addition, although underneath the original house, will be a spacious and well-lit area. Designed to maximise the use of natural light, the master bedroom and second lounge face north and large aluminium slider doors lead out from each of these rooms onto the veranda.
“We’ve also used windows carefully and really thought about the lighting,” Tim said. “High picture windows ensure maximum natural light is filtered into the rooms from the west, while the walk-in wardrobe was placed at the back of the addition as an area that does not need natural lighting. The ensuite incorporates a long, narrow window, which again, draws as much natural light as possible into the space.”
The outcome is a truly efficient use of space, with large rooms and a light-filled, contemporary feel. “This is a renovation that will see a small three-bedroom home with one lounge turned into a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with two lounges; the equivalent of what everyone is building new.”
For the Bassons, the unfolding project has been, thus far, a great experience. “I’ve been fascinated by the project,” Yvette said. “It has had its challenges, like when we didn’t have a toilet for a week, but every day I want to come home from work and see what has happened.”
Check out the final look and feel of this home excavation renovation story, in our Stage 2 article.
This case study featured on page 60 of Issue 018 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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