There are very few of us who can say we built our homes by hand, but Len Prager can.
As a master craftsman, artist and builder, he has the skills, but building his eco home in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland was still a labour of love – it took him 10 years and he lived in a 10 square-metre hut on site all that time.
Thirty years later, it’s time for Prager to move on – he is 86 after all – so he has listed the house with Ray White Damerell Group.
But this is not just any house. It’s quirky and different. The entire ground floor is essentially one giant man cave – Prager’s commercial-sized workshop, which he says was “70 years in the making”. He even says he is happy for some of his tools to be included in the sale.
Not that the man cave has to stay that way. It could be converted into three bedrooms plus a bathroom. And underneath a protective plywood floor is a brand new tawa floor, to match the one in the living quarters above.
The living area is defined by a large, loft-style space with a curved ceiling that follows the distinctive, curve iron roofline.
Solid tawa joinery features throughout the interior. As listing agent Elaine Ferguson says: “They don’t build houses like this any more.”
Prager even made the bowed, tongue-and groove insulation panels needed to line the interior of the walls and ceiling. “There were 35 of them, so that took some time,” he says.
In true eco style, Prager introduced environmentally friendly systems. Being an early adopter, he installed one of the country’s first composting toilets, which he says not only negates the need for a septic tank sewerage system, but also feeds his sixteen organic raised vegetable beds with nutrient-rich compost.
And he says it’s easy to maintain, and not smelly.
There’s an evapotranspiration pond for waste water from daily washing, plus any run-off from the land. The pond runs harmlessly into a creek that flows through the bottom of the property.
“Everything grows like crazy down there,” Prager says. “I haven’t had a chance to plant it out this year. I guess that will be for the next owner to enjoy.”
Not surprisingly, the house is not on mains water either. But with plenty of rainfall and two huge water storage tanks under the house, he’s never been short of water – and he says it’s “great water”.
The house is not off the grid, but is well situated for solar panels. If the power supply does go off, there’s a wet-back hot water system on the log burner in the workshop.
Prager, who hails from the US, says he chose to come and live in New Zealand back in the early ’60s partly because this was the only country that shared his anti-nuclear stance.
“I read an ad in the paper that said ‘section for sale’. I was keen to explore an alternative way of building and owning a home, based on a premise of buying a section and paying it off immediately, then buying components of the structure of the house and paying them off as I went along, so that when the house was eventually finished I’d have no debt. That was the theory.”
The property, in Anawhata Road, will be auctioned by Ray White Damerell Group on 7 November, 2018.