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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Roof, floor and ceiling in one

The next cab off the rank was to install the ‘wet-area flooring’ for the balcony. The balcony is at the front of the house and is formed by setting back the second story in relation to the ground floor. This means that the floor of the balcony is also the ceiling of the garage and the front sitting room. That makes it a fairly critical little piece of infrastructure as it has to be water tight.

Greg tackled this task himself over a couple of weeks. The first step was to lay floor boards on top of the joists to form the ceiling below. This was purely aesthetic as we weren’t keen to look up at fibre cement sheeting when sitting in the front room. Then he cut batons to put on top of the boards that provide the appropriate ‘falls’ to make sure that water shed from the surface and didn’t puddle anywhere.

Next step was to insulate using the same foam board that we used in the walls. Each piece was cut to fit and then the edges were taped to prevent early degradation from moisture etc. It was just like ‘old times’ getting back into cutting and taping foam insulation – it’s been a while since we were doing that for the walls! We also put a bit of conventional ‘wool’ type insulation in over the brick vault.

Then Greg had to measure and cut the water proof fibre cement sheeting. This was all a bit fiddly in the tight spaces of the balcony but Greg managed to get it millimetre perfect and perfectly calculated. It was touch and go for a bit but we came out with about half a sheet to spare.

The other big challenge was to build a gutter and drain to funnel the water to the down pipe. This is yet another ‘bespoke’ solution that we needed and the problem solving process went through a few iterations. Plan A was to build a square drain out of fibre cement sheeting but this was very fiddly and would have been hard to water proof and to get the correct falls. We thought about using pvc pipe cut in half to form a spoon drain. This was also going to be hard to water proof where it met the rest of the floor and also difficult to achieve the required falls. Having scrapped that idea we then moved to the idea of building a drain out of tin (as we had the material handy). Greg worked out that by making a straight box section but then cutting the edges on an angle he could create the required falls. What’s more, the drain could be built out of a single piece of material, with a lip to tie it into the floor and up the wall to tuck in under the flashing. Multiple sections could be overlapped, riveted together and water proofed with relative ease. Bingo! There is a certain satisfaction when a simple, elegant solution presents itself.

Once the drains were in and the fibre cement sheeting was laid, Greg then went around with a tube of polyurethane and sealed all the joins. He also tarred the walls under the drains and made sure everything was stuck down properly. Then came an undercoat/primer and a big tub of green ‘goop’ (otherwise known as a water proof membrane). The green goop got painted on none to soon as the weather had been threatening all week and the following weekend the heavens opened and Perth was subjected to a wild and wooly weekend. We are pleased to report that the balcony didn’t leak a drop. Which is pretty good since our soak well (which is currently taking a lot more storm water than it is designed too) nearly over flowed!

The green goop isn’t intended to be used as a final covering but we haven’t quite decided was to put out there in the long term – tiles? decking? something else? In the short term we thought we might start with astro turf and a couple of pink flamingos (Alice’s choice) or pot plants (Greg’s choice) or maybe both…