He’s probably New Zealand’s best known builder, but his top tips for home renovators are undeniably simple.
“I’m gonna be really cheeky when you ask me for three tips for renovation and just say that they are: planning, planning, planning,” Peter Wolfkamp says.
“Know what it is that you want and the information about contractors that you’re going to use. Then plan what it is you’re asking them to do, when they are going to be doing it.”
Speaking to Stuff Homed as part of First Rung: Reno 101, a new podcast on everything you need to know about doing up your home, Wolfkamp says renovators also need to think of the supplies – what and when you will need them to make sure they are available and not holding up the work.
Homeowners overseeing their own projects, including contracting the builder, plumber, electrician and other tradies, often underestimate how big a job managing the timeline is, says Wolfkamp.
“You need to be super well-organised, and you need to be constantly talking to your (tradies) so you know who’s responsible for ensuring the progression of work, without significant gaps.”
French farmhouse project
With more than 30 years in the building industry, Auckland-based Wolfkamp has had many stand-out projects in his working life.
Last year, he was renovating a run-down villa in Devonport.
But one special one was a three-month renovation on a centuries-old farmhouse in the south of France.
“It was fabulous for the food and the wine and the scenery, but also really, really, interesting to work on something that was so old.”
Local building techniques were different, but the homeowners were happy for Wolfkamp to introduce some Kiwi ways.
“Typically their interior partitions are all bricks, basically, like a terracotta brick. And I said, well, that’s not really something that I do. What about we do timber framing and plaster board?”
Wolfkamp, who has just finished his ninth season as site foreman on The Block NZ, and who also has a call-in radio show on Newstalk ZB on Sundays, says it’s great that Kiwis are so keen on DIY and will “give it a go”.
‘Good hat, good feet’
However, he thinks we need to put more emphasis on making our homes warm and dry.
“An old saying about houses is “good hat, good feet” – that makes a good house.
“Most of us encounter a house that requires some work. We find that it is poorly insulated, that it is draughty, that it may well be leaky, that it has no fixed form of heating. Amongst a thousand other things that you want to do on the house, you really need to look at those basics.”
Having houses that are thermally-efficient should also be a priority, he says, given many New Zealand homes can’t meet the World Health Organisation standard of maintaining an indoor temperature of 18 degrees Celsius.
Respect the professionals
Wolfkamp says the flipside of Kiwis’ can-do attitude is that we don’t always recognise that some work in better left to the professionals.
“Building is considerably more technical and more complex than it has been in the past, and so I think that we need to respect what professionals do.
“Say you’re a homeowner with lots of enthusiasm, but not a great deal of competency, then sweat equity is the best thing you can do.”
By that, he means that homeowners can help tradies like builders, plumbers or electricians by clearing rubbish, emptying bins and generally helping out.
“I mean, watching your builder with a broom is costing you 60 bucks an hour or thereabouts. So why not be active on the site, come in and help out in that way?
“And don’t underestimate the power of a cup of tea and a scone to keep the builders on track as well.”
If you’re deep in renovating, or you want to make a start on doing up your place, check out First Rung: Reno 101. Find out more here, or download, subscribe and listen here.