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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A Rough Guide to Building a House

If anybody ever tries to tell you owner building is easy, they are lying.  In saying that, building a house is not rocket science.  There are certain aspects that need resolving long before the project has started.   There are other aspects of the build that cannot be resolved until you reach that stage of the construction.  And there are aspects of the project that, no matter how much time you spend pondering, researching and planning; the resolution clearly and un-questionably appears once it is in material form.   We are progressing into the project now and have become well accustomed to the “Drawings” that have been our guide to building this house.

We were given some wise and invaluable advice from fellow owner builders and friends. To get a copy of our working drawings and plans laminated for use on site. With this advice was the reminder that we will probably need them handy to consult on a regular basis.  This latter comment being a complete understatement! They have become the single most important tool we all use.

On site, our sets of drawings have become known as the “rough guide to building a house”.   The magnitude of detail on the plans is comparable to that of a ship’s navigational chart with enough information to safely navigate our way through the build.   (I have been studying and working from these drawings for close to two years now and am surprised every time I find a piece of detail that the drawing explains that I had not previously seen or considered.)   The drawings direct us to layout and construct the building to millimetre accuracy.    But the great thing about owner building and constructing this house with a creative vision is that, like the navigational chart, is that there are no strict paths that need to be adhered too. Of course there are “can do’s” and “don’t do’s” but there is always “sea room” in which to move.  (Let’s not mention the usual cost for variations if engaging a builder here)

It has been said before, but our architect Mike presented us a set of drawings that he considered to be “well resolved” with enough information for a builder to build our house.   There are unwritten rules to follow and one that we are particularly aware of are the “flow on effects” that need to be considered seriously and with great detail.  For instance the slight widening of a room (even 20mm) can have a huge effect on the size of a roof, its angle of pitch and the dimensions of all the materials that have already been ordered!  So the decision to make small alterations must always be well considered.

The drawings show a fair amount of creative detail so throughout the planning stages we already had a fair idea of the overall look of the house.   But every day we work on site there are many small creative problems that need solving.  For instance, the way we do the corner returns of the limestone block wall ends and piers.  The short answer is that it is easy, but the first time we came across this problem there was some 2 hour discussion on what will look best, what will work best, what fits the best.  This was a very valuable two hours spent on a project like this as we have formed an unwritten  set of “standards of consistency” that is now used on the same re-occurring problems throughout the build.   This gives the building a look of quality and consistency.

When the day came to set out the fire place, we could all tell that we were excited about it.  This was the beginning of something special, something that is going to be in our lives for a very long time.  This was our opportunity to get creative with very few boundaries.   I mean, wow, who gets to build a fire place and chimney for themselves every day!  We drew the hearth and chimney out on the slab with pencil.  The double sided fire place had arrived on site the day before and was available to cross check our measurements with.  This is a perfect example of problems that you can contemplate for months but are most easily and clearly resolved with all the ingredients on hand.   Within the first few hours we had solved the basic problems… Is the fire box going to fit nicely or look to big or too small in its new place?  Are we going to be able to build a limestone rubble chimney within the designed dimensions as shown on the “rough guide”.

One thing is for sure, we are really enjoying working from our “rough guide to building a house” and it is sometimes surreal to sit with the drawings in the shade with a beer at the end of the day, and see what they have helped us to create.  We are looking at them in an era of time when half of the drawing is complete and the other half is still to go.  The mind starts to wonder into the detail of the drawings again looking at all the bits we still have to go.