delivering excellence

building on a steep or complex site

Choosing a site can be an exciting process. No piece of land is the same, and it’s in the intricacies of every section that things become interesting. 

Perhaps there are natural features that define the site, perhaps its undulating land, or challenging soil types. Is the land part of a heritage neighbourhood or a new subdivision? Is it coastal, remote, bush covered? 

Even when a site is part of a seemingly flat urban subdivision and the same size as the sections on either side of it, there will be differences. How will the position of the neighbouring buildings (if any) impact on the amount of sun your site receives at different times of the day? Does a neighbouring building help to buffer winds or is it an exposed site?

No site is simply a piece of land. Every piece of land is part of a wider landscape and interconnected ecosystems. Every piece of land has a history. What were its prior uses? What native plants grow in the area? Is there wildlife unique to the area? 

Taking time to understand the intricacies of a site is important, and can be a rich and interesting process - and one that can help to inform the final design.

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What types of sites are more expensive to build on?

While every site is different, there are some common factors that generally lead to the need for higher budgets. These can include sites where there is limited or difficult access, those that are particularly steep or require significant earthworks, and sites where there are predominant natural features that need to be worked around and/or incorporated into the design. Obtaining a geotech report is a crucial part of determining what additional costs may be incurred in addition to the build cost. A geotech report determines factors such as soil types on the site and what storm water and wastewater systems are required or recommended. 

Covenants on a section may also impact on what can be built on a site, as well as restrictions set out in the District Plan, or building requirements if the section is part of a subdivision. In many cases, these types of restrictions lead to creativity during the design process and innovative solutions that result in unique, forward-thinking homes. 




The first thing to consider is whether a site already has services in place. If not, this can be an additional cost. 

The second thing to consider is the type of site. If it’s a steep site that commands expansive views then it’s likely a more complex build will be worthwhile. However, if it’s a steep site where building a home would cost significantly more than another site but there is no value in terms of views, privacy or design possibilities, then it may not be the best option.

Other important things to consider are environmental and geographical factors. For example, is the site in a high earthquake zone and therefore will a building need to adhere to higher seismic requirements? Is it a coastal site where certain materials will be required to withstand salt spray and corrosion?


An excavation cut in langs beach

langs beach excavation


How to determine what it will cost to build on a complex site

There is no one answer to this as every site and project will be unique. However, understanding the types of sites and factors that can significantly increase costs in any project such as earthworks or retaining walls is a good place to start.

If you’re unsure about a site or would like to get an estimate of what could be achieved, get in touch with us today and we’ll arrange a free site visit when we’ll meet you at your site or proposed site. Following the meeting, we’ll provide you with information about the type of home that could be built on the site, any potential challenges and how these could be overcome. We’ll also provide you with estimated costs for any development of the site that is required in addition to the build cost so you can ascertain the total project budget.