How incredible does a house have to be to justify shipping the entire thing from Northern Europe?
Wade and Sandra McMillan, who recently built their own log house on a section in Methven, would love to show you.
They ordered their 200m2 home from Latvia, Sandra’s homeland, and six months later, it arrived in three containers.
“Once it arrives, it’s all there,” she says. Anyone who’s attempted to purchase jib recently, had their work stall due to a stretched tradie, or sent back an incorrectly sized window will understand how many headaches they saved themselves.
They chose a log design so Wade could do most of the work himself, getting the odd hand from his Dad and friends. For a typical team of four people, the estimated build time for their design is within a month.
“We moved in after three months,” Wade says, with Sandra quickly adding, “But that was like camping.” They spent a few more weeks completing the roof, getting the power hooked up and finalising other necessities. They also did this with three young children—the youngest of whom was born the week before the build got underway—while Wade worked part-time.
That’s a combination of challenges they don’t recommend, but their enthusiasm levels are still high as they talk about the crazy summer of 2019-’20.
They left a buffer in their $400,000 budget, which doesn’t include Wade’s labour. However, they didn’t need the safeguard with such a straightforward build.
They have four bedrooms, an office, 3.5 bathrooms, two lounges and a laundry room for all their effort. The house is made of cross-laminated, dried wood around 200mm thick—a material not currently produced in New Zealand. Inside are solid oak doors, an oak staircase and oak floors.
The windows are triple-glazed, and Sandra says that an evening of running the fireplace in winter can keep the house cosy for days.
“It’s everything that you’d pay for in a high-end house, but entry-level prices,” Wade says. The size of the market and the level of competition in Europe help keep prices down. So even with the current premium on materials and shipping, they don’t think there’s better quality for the money.
“Automation is the way forward for housing,” Wade says. “Kit sets should be the norm. It arrives, everything’s numbered, and everything fits.”
They point out that a kit set doesn’t mean cookie-cutter; they were still able to design their house within loose parameters.
Early in their quest, Wade and Sandra found one company that imports a similar product, but the margins were prohibitive. So they decided to take the risk of importing and dealing with the council themselves, showing the council the plans and a sample of the untreated wood before committing.
“They were actually impressed by it,” Wade says. “New Zealand has also been building untreated wooden houses for decades.” He says painting the outside surfaces and design details like overhanging eaves can ensure they last.
The council approved their plans without any issues.
The family returned to Latvia in mid- 2022 for several months, partly to continue research for their own enterprise, Catalyst Design. There they do bespoke landscape structures and offer encouragement and know-how to Kiwis considering importing a house. They say that technology continues to improve, and the options are expanding.
“We love our house, and we’d love lots of New Zealanders to build with an ambition to build a house they want to live in,” Wade says. “We didn’t set out to build our dream home. We set out to build a house and went—we can afford to do this.”