ADVENTURE

‘We’re going there for adventure’: Family in off-grid house in Auckland head for Cromwell hut

They built their off-grid architectural dream home in Auckland, but now this family are heading for a merino farm with “a couple of huts”.

Jessie Chalmers, Andrew Duncan and their three sons, Kea, 8, Kahu, 5, and Sol, 23 months, have an enviable lifestyle on a picturesque property in Swanson. Their homeschooled children roam free, building tree huts, collecting eggs, and careering down the driveway – and in April there will be a fourth baby boy joining the family.

But now that the family has their home exactly as they want it, they’re off to start over on a 242ha property they own in Cromwell, which is currently leased for merino sheep grazing.

“We’re going there for adventure,” Duncan says. “There are a couple of huts on the property, which we may be able to join up to make a temporary home. It’s pretty rugged, but it will be good for the boys to experience a different way of living. Not everyone gets to live in a house like this one here.”

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“A lot of my friends say the boys are South Island boys in disguise,” Chalmers says. “They are really excited.”

Andrew Duncan, Jessie Chalmers and Kea, 8, Kahu, 5 and Sol 23 months, are swapping a charmed life with an off-grid house in semi-rural Swanson for a couple of huts on a merino farm in Cromwell.

Abigail Dougherty/Stufff

Andrew Duncan, Jessie Chalmers and Kea, 8, Kahu, 5 and Sol 23 months, are swapping a charmed life with an off-grid house in semi-rural Swanson for a couple of huts on a merino farm in Cromwell.

The couple say if they can’t make the accommodation work, they will rent, but they want to spend at least a year on the land, through all the seasons, before they build a new house. And yes, it will be another sustainable home.

Their Swanson house, which they have listed for sale, is completely off-grid – a decision partly prompted by the cost of running a power cable from the road to the house. But they also liked the idea of being completely independent of the national grid, saying there are six to eight power outages a year in Swanson, and more in the “loop” that services the street and Bethells Beach.

“Resilience is a good thing, and it’s simpler to be off-grid,” Duncan says. “We worked out that it would take nine to 11 years to pay for itself, and that includes the cost of borrowing to fund it. And at the end you own the asset, and you’re disconnected from any rising energy costs.”

They have a huge bank of solar panels on the roof, which is “the perfect pitch” to maximise the sun’s heat. Power is stored in batteries, but there is a generator should they ever run out. They say they have only used it twice a year since they built in 2018 – most recently because the oven was accidentally left on all day.

Kahu (left) and Kea have woodworking tools in their tree house.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Kahu (left) and Kea have woodworking tools in their tree house.

“The batteries recharge in two to three hours, but they won’t charge if it’s raining,” Duncan says. “We chose not to have a huge number of batteries, because they will only store power for so long, so we didn’t think that was necessary.”

Sustainability initiatives don’t end there. The couple say the house has high-performance glazing and insulation that’s triple the standard. The layout maximises the sun’s heat in winter, when the polished concrete floor soaks up the sun’s heat by day to release it at night. In summer, a large covered deck keeps the hot afternoon sun at bay.

Two tanks store rainwater, ensuring the family never runs out.

The front of the house resembles a whare, providing shelter while opening up to the sun and views.

Harcourts

The front of the house resembles a whare, providing shelter while opening up to the sun and views.

With 1.76ha at their disposal, the family has planted terraced vegetable gardens and numerous fruit trees. They also keep chickens, and they’ve created a natural adventure playground for the boys. There’s also a sauna tucked under the trees.

“It’s a very dry piece of land, because it faces north,” Chalmers says. “And we notice that compared to other properties that face a different way. The northern slope makes such a difference.”

The couple also say the home’s elevation is a plus: “The house is 3.6m above the footings, because we really pulled it right up. You can see Rangitoto and even the harbour bridge.”

Much of the 271m² interior of the house is given over to the huge family living area, which features a soaring ply ceiling that follows the pitch of the roof. In the current format, there are two bedrooms, a second living area, and two bathrooms, including an ensuite.

Polished concrete floors provide passive heat on sunny days in winter.

Harcourts

Polished concrete floors provide passive heat on sunny days in winter.

Jessie Chalmers, pictured with Sol, is expecting the couple's fourth son in April - the <a href=family plans to move south before then.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Jessie Chalmers, pictured with Sol, is expecting the couple’s fourth son in April – the family plans to move south before then.

Meanwhile, the family is planning their new life – and they are not afraid of the cold: “We love the snow,” Duncan says. “Our boys have been snowboarding since they’re about two years old. We’ve gone to Snow Planet a couple of times a week. Climbing is great, too, and I’m a hunter.”

The couple will continue to homeschool the children, and say they have already had job offers in Cromwell. Chalmers will continue to be a director of organic food manufacturer Zenzo & Tonsu. Duncan has a background in civil engineering and residential development.

The property is being marketed by Celia Challis and Micaela Challis of Harcourts Titirangi, and will be auctioned on March 4, 2023. It has a 2021 RV of $2.025 million.

The couple originally owned a neighbouring property, which they subdivided to build.

Harcourts

The couple originally owned a neighbouring property, which they subdivided to build.

The sauna is tucked beneath the trees on the fence line.

Harcourts

The sauna is tucked beneath the trees on the fence line.

A massive row of solar panels on the north-facing roof provides all the power the household needs.

Harcourts

A massive row of solar panels on the north-facing roof provides all the power the household needs.

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