A Little House at No. 18

The ins and outs and inbetweens of building a new house in Little Howard St, Fremantle


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Things of Stone

Right from the very beginning we decided to build in limestone. Limestone is the natural stone of the Fremantle area, lending to the brightness of this place and the brilliant contrast between the turquoise of the Indian Ocean and the cream of the stone and sand. Building in limestone helps us to maintain a sense of connection with Fremantle’s historical past and is  also inspired by the local architecture, both from the turn of the previous century and more recent architecture, particularly the work of Brian Klopper.

On a practical level, the decision to build in stone, both inside and out, means that there is no plastering and no painting required. In keeping with our general design philosophy – if it doesn’t have a structural purpose, then there is no point in having it (but we can make the structural elements look amazing).

From a sustainability perspective, limestone is a porous, breathable and quite variable material (difficult to rate for its thermal efficiency). The exact thermal performance of a double limestone block and cavity wall is therefore a bit of an unknown. We have countered this unknown to a large extent by installing 25mm phenolic foam insulation board in all of the wall cavities (this foam has an R-rating of 1.25, or a thermal conductivity of 0.02 W/mK*).

We started building the limestone walls in April 2013 with the short stay the first cab off the rank. We are building in rough-cut second grade blocks (mostly because we like the raw look, but also as they are a bit cheaper).

Once again, it is exciting to see the walls start to go up and the space of each room start to take shape.

Nick (Stonecraft Masonry Solutions) and Greg have spent countless hours discussing and planning each wall, paying attention to details like the corners and pillars to make the walls look like they are built from solid blocks, when in fact they have a cavity in the middle.

We have also been using our recycled red bricks to detail the limestone and build the internal walls. The bathroom walls in the back wing were built over a couple of rainy days in August. It was a thankless task in the cold, wet weather with drips of water from the floor above running down the back of the neck. The final result, however, looks amazing and once again the contrasts between the natural materials (clay brick, limestone, steel rail) really works well together.

It has also been a job for Greg and I to keep ahead of Nick by running all of the electricity, gas and water cables/pipes through each cavity, as well as installing the insulation board and having the window and door frames fabricated so that they can be built in. All of this means that the walls take a bit longer to get up (we don’t have a team of stonemasons on site ‘throwing’ the walls up). But, we feel that we get a much better result at the end though (and we hope to make up a little time at the other end as the cables and pipes will already be run, whereas in a conventional build, they would be cut into the walls later and covered with plaster).

So far we have used 30 pallets of an estimate 60 odd pallets of limestone – so we must be about half way there! The walls of the back wing are complete (the roof is being installed as I write) and the eastern wall of the house will be done within the next day or so. The red brick ‘skirting’ has been laid for the front room and the rooms of the house are really starting to reveal themselves. Over the next few months the remaining walls will go up and we can really start thinking about adding things of wood (mezzanine floor, timber roof) to our stone.

*http://www.foamsales.com.au/information/phenolic-foam/

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