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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Kitchen, pantry, sanctuary

It’s been nearly six months since we’ve moved into the main part of our house now and our baby boy is also nearly six months old. Just as he’s learning to be a fully functional human (sitting, eating solid food etc) our house is also, slowly slowly, becoming fully functional as improvements continue to be made and we learn the ins and outs of living in her spaces.

A big part of a fully functioning house is the kitchen and pantry – a lot of our lives revolve around these spaces and they really can be the engines of a well-functioning home. Our kitchen was completed before we moved in (that was a prerequisite for the move) but the pantry has been a more recent edition.

I think we first put together a kitchen design in December 2014 (at least that’s what the document properties on my excel spreadsheet are telling me) and it was the middle of 2013 when we purchased many of the appliances. So, this kitchen has been a long time in the planning. And, the design works, it really does.

In terms of layout, it’s nothing that out of the ordinary, just one long kitchen bench that flows into the pantry. The dishwasher is at one end, the sink is in the middle, the oven and stove are at the other end and the fridge is in the pantry. There is one main bit of bench space (about a meter wide) with a couple of other overflow bench spaces. For what it’s worth, here’s what I like about our kitchen design:

  • I like having the preparation space between the stove and the sink;
  • I like having the fridge a little out of the way so I don’t get interrupted if someone just wants to get a drink out of the fridge;
  • I like having the dishwasher close enough to the sink that it doesn’t drip if I move wet dishes from the sing to the dishwasher or vice versa; and
  • I love drawers – so much more accessible and organised than cupboards.

Having been pretty impressed with our Ikea kitchen in our old house, and recycled into the short-stay part of our new house, we decided to stick with the Ikea carcasses and hardware but add our own touch with cupboard fronts and the bench top.

The bench top was a no-brainer – laminated jarrah using left over timber from our build. A bit more work but cheap and good quality. The drawer fronts though caused a little more consternation. I was keen on a more modern, shiny type front to counter the many raw and more traditional elements in our home. Greg wasn’t having a bar of that. Greg was keen on jarrah drawer fronts. I refused to have the three elements of benchtop, floor and drawer fronts all in the same type of timber for fear it would look like a…well let’s just say it’s not my style. We toyed with the idea of timber fronts with something recessed into them (pressed tin, bright wallpaper, hessian sacks, even tea towels were mentioned at one stage) or perhaps getting a single photo enlarged, printed on vinyl and stuck on so that when all the drawers are closed it looks like a big photo. We may still go there but in the end we needed a quick solution that we could both agree on. So we ended up with plywood and, actually, we both kind of like it. Even if it is just a bit trendy on the ‘green home circuit’ at the moment.

Once we had the look and feel of the kitchen we were able to carry that over the pantry. The design for the pantry kind of evolved from the ground up. We decided on open shelves in the panty (not enough room for draws to open and too many corners). We decided to create a benchtop the same as in the kitchen and running at the same height (but varying widths) all around the pantry. Then we had to think about how to fix the shelves. Underneath we went with a readily available (i.e., from your local major hardware chain…the only one left…) wall plate and bracket system as you wouldn’t be able to see it under the bench with plywood shelves on top and a couple of plywood uprights to help support it. We kept the uprights away from the corners as much as possible to maximise ease of access into those spaces.

Above the bench it was another design evolution. We were thinking timber posts and frames but we wanted something a bit more flexible (you can design a pantry for what you want to store now but that’s likely to change in the future). We thought about the commercially available wall plate and bracket systems. They are flexible (you can move the brackets anywhere along the wall plates) but just weren’t going to look quite right in our house and the brackets still take up a fair bit of room in the vertical space. Then we hit on it – I can’t remember who had the idea – threaded rod with nuts and washers. We could install threaded rod as uprights with holes in the jarrah shelves that slide over the top of the rod. A nut and washer underneath to hold the shelf up and another nut and washer on top to keep it securely in place and voila! The only space you lose is 12 mm from the rod and a tiny bit from the two nuts in each corner of the shelf. The shelf heights are flexible (just screw the nuts up or down) and in the future we could add or remove shelves (although, granted, that would take a bit of mucking around). The shelves hold the whole thing nice and rigid and the rods are firmly located into the nice thick jarrah bench top.

We included space in our pantry for family pigeon holes, somewhere to put your keys, sunglasses, mail etc. We also made space in there for a laptop charging station and hung up the whiteboard. It is right opposite the fridge and in the food storage location so there is no, I repeat no, excuse not to put it on the shopping list when you finish something off. That whiteboard has become my brain in many ways (given the 6-month old seems to be borrowing mine). Besides the shopping list it’s got the menu plan, reminders, my job list and anything else I need to write down. It is a kind of sanctuary, an ordered space where I can also get my thoughts in order, a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of a house ruled by a three and a half year old, even if only for a fleeting moment.


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The Ikea Effect

Have you ever heard of the Ikea Effect?   I heard about it for the first time the other day and was immediately attracted.  Interestingly, it was introduced to our conversation by somebody who had little knowledge of the fact that we are on the trailing edge of building our own house!     Surprisingly, it has a whole lot in common with Owner Building.  Unfortunately, further discussion unveiled that it’s quite a shame that it has ended up with such a commercially influenced name, however appropriate.

But, in Ikea’s defence, I am truly amazed by their product’s level of engineering and having installed an Ikea kitchen in our old house (that we demolished) then built the same recycled kitchen into the short stay in our new house; and then kitted out the basement workshop with 12 Ikea kitchen drawers,  I’m quite in awe of their quality.  In fact, I haven’t found anything yet that comes close in ease of construction and quality.

Anyhow, there goes 2015 and another Christmas.  The start of 2016 has been remembered for its extreme heat and an unseasonal amount of humidity and rain.  There was quite a leap ahead in the final months of 2015 and then a quiet period over Christmas and now we are ramping things up again.  As this was the 3rd Christmas we have been building for I can tell you two things for sure.  One.. If you are owner building, you can completely give up getting trades on site from 15th December till 15th January… every year!   Two… We will be moved in by Christmas!!

In order to get a few more of the messy jobs out the way, we arranged for the bathroom to be screeded and tiled sooner rather than later.  This was done by Bob the Tiler, who’s name wasn’t actually Bob.  Despite the lack of name clarity, he did a wonderful job over two weekends.  Between the weekends, I applied a couple of coats of waterproofing ready for the tiles.     The pictures can speak for themselves but we chose a randomly patterned hexagonal tile for the floor and handmade Spanish subway tiles for the shower walls.  We purchased two sizes of subway tiles ( 40% are standard sized subway tiles and 60% are double length).  Being handmade, every tile is slightly different to the next which compliments the other materials used throughout our house.    The pattern of laying these tiles at random gives a slightly more interesting texture to the wall.  We also decided to add a splash of colour by using some Mexican handmade tiles.  These were made  in Puebla, Mexico by a small business owner (Maria) who sells them online via Etsy.

The other reason for doing the tiling now is so we can get the shower recess frames built and installed.  Yes, you guessed it, we are custom building the shower recess too!  We could not measure up for the frames until the walls had been screeded and tiled.   For the upstairs shower, we settled with the idea of having the entire shower enclosed in glass to prevent the moisture escaping into the general living area.  A velux roof window has been installed above the shower to scoop the breeze through or vent the steam (rather than the employment of an extraction fan.)  The bathroom itself doesn’t have a ceiling, it is just three walls and is open to the main roof above. I don’t think it was designed like that but it seems to work for us for now, however it led to the need to enclose the shower.   The steel frame we have constructed houses 6 pieces of glass, totally enclosing the shower recess.  An inward opening glass door will be mounted on the wall to finish it all off.

So now we are onto the third glass installation.  This time, it’s all the glass for the north wall, the bi-fold doors and the sets of triangular outward opening windows at the front and rear of the house.   In total, there is nearly 38 square meters of 24mm thick IGU’s (insulated glass units) on the north wall.   In preparation for construction and installation there was a need to make 20 templates out of plywood to send off to the manufacturers.  Each of them had to be a nice fit with a 5mm gap all around the edges.  Double glazing needs this for a few reasons.  The unit is very rigid and can fail if pressure is applied around the glass edges, particularly with steel window frames.  The IGU’s also require a breathing space left around the edges.   Once all the templates were made, the frames were all cleaned and inspected before being prepped and given one final coat of paint. The mind was boggling thinking about how long this glass could potentially be in these frames for.  Hopefully a very long time if the preparation work is done well.     The 4 triangular windows have had their 24v chain winders installed to enable them to be remotely opened and shut.   The bi-fold doors have also had a final check over.  Once we put the glass in them they weigh nearly 750kg collectively so it was very important that they work effectively before the glass went in.   Finally, up goes the scaffold again.   This was all rebuilt to help with the preparation but required mainly for the installation.   Some of the larger panels are nearly 1m wide and 2.2m tall.  They weigh about 75kg so manoeuvring these manually into position required a fairly permanent stable platform where one normally doesn’t exist.

Personally, being involved in installing the glass units in the 4 outward opening windows was another rewarding milestone.  We have invested hundreds (possibly thousands) of hours in getting these windows to this point.  Firstly, if you think about it, a side hinged outward opening triangular window cannot be done.  But defying impossibility has become our specialty and we not only made it happen but we built them, installed them, made them air and water tight, automated them and installed 24mm double glazing units in them!! But above all, the most unforeseen challenge came when we installed the glass.  As the glass unit didn’t have an edge at the bottom (to rest into place), but instead a point, the weight of the unit needed to be held vertically and manoeuvred into its final resting place in its frame millimetre by millimetre until it was stuck in place.  Each one of these took us about 2 hours per window to install but the final outcome has been ultimate success and will be hopefully be long lived.

After all the challenges of the triangle windows high up by the ridge we eventually found ourselves at the start of another day and the time had come to tackle the bi fold doors.   In total, 21 pieces of glass (this time all 4 sided with 90 degree corners thankfully) had to be installed.   The problem with square steel doors is they don’t stay square…. They sag easily and become parallelograms.  This can create issues with a concertina door system as the hinges must all be square and line up perfectly to prevent excessive friction forming when they are opened and closed and also risking popping the glass out over time.   Luckily the glass units themselves act like a diagonal brace in the steel frame and once installed, the door will not sag.  We spent a few hours with the doors in the closed position ensuring that they were all completely square before installing the first row (the largest upper ones) of glass. Once they were in place and before being sealed into position, we tested the free movement of the doors to check them for square with good results.   The final result looks quite amazing…  With the north wall of glass all installed the main living room is all closed in, the sound inside the house is noticeably different and the wind can be prevented from blowing through for the first time  Are we finally another step closer to a habitable house?

I take two camp chairs from their bags and set them up at the camp table.   There is a bottle of nice wine open, and the fish in the oven is almost ready.   The last bit of the day’s light is almost gone and the hanging light globe above the camping table is our light tonight.   As we sit down at our familiar camping dinner table we toast to peculiarity of the situation.  This may well be the first family dinner we have had in our new house and a toast to the realization this is the first “living room” we have ever owned!  The one we have built ourselves!  And that feeling you get when labour turns to love?  That is the Ikea Effect.

Footnote: according to Wikipedia, the Ikea effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. The name derives from the Swedish manufacturer and furniture retailer IKEA, which sells many furniture products that require assembly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IKEA_effect).


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Just add art

Put down the hammer and the drill for a minute, it’s time to tear up the plans! This is what owner-building is all about! The hard yards have been done and the house is feeling more like a home every day. It’s time to get funky and add some Art!   And by art, I don’t mean it’s time to hang some crazy-ass, psychedelic, indie, post-modern, Van Gough-esk paintings on the walls!… (That will come later)  I mean, let’s do something a little bit more different.

As you could probably tell by now, Alice and I certainly have had a fair bit of creative input into what this house looks like. From memory, we were sitting at the table one Sunday morning having breakfast when we first discussed building a house and we were living at 7a Bellevue terrace at the time, long before 18 Little Howard street was a deal we had a chance on. It must have been some time in 2008. We drew sketches of the façade and how we wanted the layout. I remember the imagination running wild, realizing that if we were going to actually design our own house then we could put on the blank piece of paper anything we wanted to. Anything we liked.  Then from that sketch (I’ll have to pull it out and post it here one day because I did keep it … somewhere!) things have evolved to where we find ourselves today. It is overwhelmingly mind boggling to recall where we have creatively been on this project from that Sunday morning breakfast to here. We are still dreaming and creating.

Maybe it’s better to see ourselves as instigators or creators rather than artists. The artists are the people whom we choose to transform our visions into material form (and in most cases, the results are much better than we had expected).   Mike Richardson, our architect, who melded all of our crazy ideas into an aesthetically balanced building of appropriate function, scale and form.   Nick the Stonemason, whose passion for his trade and attention to detail, makes him an artist in his own right. Peter the carpenter (or more appropriately “jack of all trades”) who I should correctly refer to as a wood-smith didn’t just help us build a roof but a timeless piece of amazing art.

Recently we have taken a few of the “art” aspect to a different level and “commissioned” if you will, several locals to help us with some aspects of the house that demanded a little additional attention just because of what they are.

The Balustrading

When we built the short stay living area, Alice and I came up with the idea of adding a bit of “Fancy” steelwork to the set of double doors that looked out into the court yard. The initial reason for this is we wanted to create something that occupants could look “through” that was of some interest rather than just a plain door which drew attention only to the courtyard.   A fair bit of time was spent on this design with drawings being sent to and fro for a few weeks. We wanted something that was never seen before and what Wayne (GWM steel fabrications) provided to us on paper, then in material form, was exactly that.  So I suppose this was probably the influential moment that tipped us in the direction of creating some balustrading for the main living area in a similar style. The balustrading has always been on the plans as being made of steel with some small amount of fancy detail but primarily, a practical and simple design. I had always wanted to build the balustrading out of timber. Find some big “sticks” with natural curves and shapes and make it “rustic” looking. But, once the doors were finished, it didn’t take us long to decide that if we were to ask Wayne to make the balustrading in a similar style of design, we probably would not be disappointed. To say that Wayne was enthusiastic to put his skills and creativity to such a task was an understatement. He has literally been itching to get started on them for the last 18 months! And near the end of August 2015, that day came and Wayne started.   His creativity and imagination, coupled with the skills of welding and working steel gives a result that I’m going to find difficult to gratify. (This is where I need to thank the wonder of pictures!).

The “look” we wanted for the balustrading was by now a no-brainer. Sorting out how we were going to combine the practical function, without losing the essence of the art led us down another path of problem solving. Normally, balustrading has a stanchion or post to support the top rail at regular intervals. Our discussion concluded that to use a different (larger) diameter steel post, with decorative steel art work in panels would interrupt the aesthetic flow of the design. By using 4 pieces of 10mm square steel bar welded as a hollow square column would give the same strength as a much bigger bar but wouldn’t stand out. Each of these hollow stanchions were then free to “grow” away at the top like a tree, and all different directions of course, before they connect with the top handrail plate. As ideas evolved, so did the function and what we were essentially creating was a two layer balustrading with a 20mm gap. Another previously un-planned advantage of doing this was that the decorative detail now took on a quite 3D appearance. The planned use of recycled steel ball bearings on the ends of the steel art also plays a very practical role where the two layers of the pattern are “locked” together by welding a steel ball between the two layers. From a distance, the steel ball bearings seem to be sitting or floating in the design. As I write, the final pieces of the balustrading for the stairs are being completed. In due course, the top plate of the steel work is going to have a lovely smooth recycled jarrah handrail fashioned for it.  The results have already spoken for themselves. Recent visitors have been totally wowed by the steel art balustrading and we think they have turned out pretty awesome as well.

Glass Art

So with the recycled Jarrah front door installed, the attention moved to glass. We have designed the front door and side windows to take 18mm thick double glazed units but have also left a little bit of room for a bit of coloured glass. Even before we decided to go for a timber front door over steel we had discussed coloured glass design. When the time came we were presented with a few options. We could opt for a style of painted or even printed coloured glass. We could have gone old school stained glass windows done with proper lead seams and all. Or we could try something that I have only ever seen one example of (Upstairs at the National Hotel, Freo) . There was this little shop at the Freo Markets where a glass artist melts different coloured glass together to make bowls, platters, coasters and other arty little (and not so little) pieces. I wondered if Kooky Glass Art can do coloured glass that we can put in our front door?

Most of our initial communication with Amanda (Kooky Glass Art) was actually by email. By the time we met on site face to face, Amanda had a pretty good idea of where we were heading. It seemed like after the first 20mins of meeting her the ideas were flooding in quickly. I could tell Amanda was pretty excited with the prospect of this commission and to be honest, we were pretty excited at the fact Amanda was so enthusiastic and the ideas and possibilities became engulfing. We were going have to give this a go. Let’s take a moment to not forget that building your own house is hard work. Engaging in this process with Amanda was like a big reward and a celebration of how far we had come. With pens to paper again, Alice and I discussed form , function , colours , meanings, shapes , symbolism and pretty much everything in between to come up with some concept ideas we could present to Amanda. Without a doubt the standout concept involved, a rugged vast and unforgiving ocean juxtaposed by a sunset or sunrise, warm colours in abstract images.   Amanda was immediately onto the ultimate creation. The only problem was that I was having so much difficulty imagining the finished product. Amanda was so enthusiastic about the creation that at one stage she told us that it is going to look so awesome that she was going to make it whether we were going to buy it or not! In situations like this, I had to remind myself that we are the creators, not the artists and we should just let it flow.

We took the commissioning of this art in various steps. Firstly, from our original design discussions, Amanda made some life sized drawings of the design. Once this was finalized, we spent another session going through the many thousands of options of colours and types of glass available. Then, from the life sized drawings, we decided which colours were going to go where and Amanda cut templates out for each piece of glass that needed cutting. Before cutting commenced we had to completely commit to the design, as once the glass pieces are cut there is no turning back. Next, we met with Amanda again with all the pieces cut and assembled loosely. This was the last opportunity we had to change our mind on anything or discuss adding any additional detail to the design. From there it was into the kiln for fusion into single pieces of art. Amanda texted us pictures of the glass just before the kiln door was closed just to create the suspense and excitement of the process.   Our final visit to Amanda was to see the pieces all completed and the four glass panels together for the first time.

A long and detailed but rewarding and exciting process all the same. A fascinating process to go through and learn about at the same time too.   So all that was left to do now was to see if they fitted in the front door! Of course they did (once we had taken a slight shave off the sides)!

The glass art panels were installed by Matt (glazier). The morning he saw them, he was so excited about installing them that we got straight into it. The whole lot went together so nicely and look so great. A wonderful process and long journey from concept to fruition but now they are there for us to enjoy forever!


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Think about thinking a lot more or think again

The seasons have changed with what seems like the flick of a switch. Or maybe I have had my head down for too long.  We have been living on site for 6 months now and settling in to living in the little short stay quite nicely.   We have seen the hottest months of summer and are now seeing the autumn sun day by day creep further into the house. It warms the bedroom so nicely at a time of the year when it is becoming welcomed. And now with the onset of the colder days and frosty south westerly breezes our house has proven it can be reasonably comfortable to live in without the need of artificial heating or cooling.

Progress on the house has been steady and a days work on site has become somewhat of a normality given the duration of the project thus far.   Nevertheless, still always something to be learned, a problem to be solved, an unforseen decision to be made and just the general make things up as you go along.

With no exception was the addition of the verandah. Given the tight space and the lack of room on our block it was decided early in the project that we would leave the verandah off the front of the house till later. It’s now apparently later. First job was to clear the front yard of excess dirt which meant getting in a bobcat and truck to move away 11m3 of dirt, leaving a generous void under the verandah and lowering the levels to later install the driveway. We then got a concrete truck to bring in a couple of cubes of concrete to pour the footings for the verandah posts and a footing for the east wall of the back yard.   It was great to have Pete back on site. (He helped us build the roof). This time his task on site was not as mammoth. I had spent a few days and evenings cutting pieces and laminating up four “hockey stick” rafters for the bullnose tin, so with all ingredients on hand it was a 5 day job from go to… Ahhhhh! A new lunch spot, a place for a quiet drink and maybe a little verandah warming party! With all the flashings now installed and completed is has transformed the front of the house. The only problem is it is still hidden behind a site fence!

We started building the chimney in November 2013. First with a hearth to take the fire box, then a fire place to support the mezzanine floor. Now that the roof is on we were able to complete the chimney right through to the weather cowling on top. Nick was quiet very correct to point out that our chosen method to build a chimney was somewhat out of the ordinary, going on to explain that the chimney is traditionally built first and then the roof is stood up and constructed around the masonry. In our case we did the opposite, and in my mind this was the most logic approach. This was until the task of constructing a work platform / access scaffolding on top of a 36.8° tin roof (capable of holding the stone, materials and tools for building said chimney)!! Within a few days, Nick had progressed past the shoulders of the chimney and had reached the timber roof truss and ceiling level. To see the limestone reach this level was a milestone in the project and all were happy to see it reach its final height. The bold and solid stone structure both competes with and compliments the truss as one folds over the other.   I was just happy to see all the many house of work and planning covered in stone…   Within the stone chimney there is more than meets the eye. We have insulated the evacuated tube solar hot water heating pipes and run them up inside the chimney. There is also piping to vent the hot water “thermal store”. Within the stone chimney there is also an air cooled triple skin flue. In a “normal” application, this would draw air from the ceiling space to cool the flue. However this is not the case in a cathedral ceiling so in order to have the option to bring cool air to the flue we installed a section of rectangular zincalume downpipe beside the chimney flue to bring air from the outside of the building. We have built a little “hatch” in the back of the chimney which will allow us to regulate the flow of cool air being drawn up through the triple skinned flue and hopefully allow us to not let the chimney get too hot but let us capture as much of the flue’s heat into the stone chimney as possible. For 5 days Nick worked on the roof building the stonework of the chimney. Luckily the days were cooling and a few days of easterly winds made for good conditions to be working on a tin roof. As we approached the final centimetres at the top of the chimney (and the whole house) we discussed a corbel with red brick and entered into a discussion on what would look good. So here we found ourselves looking over the Fremantle roof scape, admiring the various styles of chimneys. Most of solid red brick and far senior our age. There have been some very pleasant moments on this project but to be standing up on the roof in the warm Autumn Fremantle sun looking over the roofs up the hill and down the “flatlands” to the ocean admiring en-mass the architectural masterpieces that are the chimneys of this town, discussing in detail each one was something that I found quite fascinating and took great pleasure in.

 

We love the outdoors and one of the major features designed into this house was the seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. Achieved with a 6m wide opening in which we ambitiously decided we wanted to install a bifold stacking door system. Now if you know anything about bi-fold doors (and I realize now that I knew nothing) that is, something so seemingly simple is actually so enormously complex. Firstly, we have specified double glazing. This equates to approximately 14m2 of glass weighing nearly 430kg. Then, given the estimated frequency of opening and closing we wanted a smooth and lightweight operation that could be manually done with one finger. Of course we wanted it to be weather and air tight and last but not least, we wanted somebody who could custom-make the whole installation from steel out of non standard bits of material! Easy right? Without a doubt in the world, the single most important part of this system is the Brio door hardware. These are the precision engineered track, rollers and hinges. They are amazingly well engineered.. Followed closely behind by Wayne’s millimetre perfect doors which were fabricated in a custom made jig. Wayne spent over 100 hours fabricating the bifolds, starting with the top track and bottom track, the main door “Frame”. Brio have produced a wonderful worksheet that helped us to then establish accurate door height and widths for each panel, taking into account the allowances for the dimensions of their hardware . The task would have been many times harder without this worksheet. We initially spent a whole day drilling and tapping the 150 threads to fasten all the hinges to the six doors. Once they were all fitted and working we designed our own drop bolts with some stainless tube and rod, took all the doors down again to do the last bit of fabricating before the “Final” fit.   So once the doors were all complete we had to disassemble the whole lot for a third time so that we could lay them out and give them a good coat of paint. Although the glass is not installed yet, we are very happy with how the doors work and look. In fact, we could not be happier. So if you are thinking about Bifold doors… think about thinking a lot more or think again.

Once the steel bifold doors were completed we moved onto brackets for the door shader.   We all know that a solar passive house, when designed optimally, experiences an abundance of winter sun. Similarly, the design means that in the summer time, no sun will get in the building at all. During the “cusp” months however, a little bit of sun can get in when you really don’t want it, or maybe you do want that sun to heat the floor. This had therefor led to the designing of a 1.1m wide set of brackets that can in the future be set up to support a series of louvered boards meaning they can lay flat and create a shade awning or be pivoted/ rotated to allow light/heat to pass through. We are initially going to deck the shade awning with timber boards but would love to experiment with a louver system in the future.

 

As we have been building the limestone walls over the last two years we have been scraping/raking out the mortar joints as we go along. At the beginning of the project, Nick the stonemason provided us a few options as to how we could finish off the joints on the stonework. We opted to go for a flush joint. As you may or may not know, cement dries slightly different shades and colours depending on the air temperature , humidity and ventilation during the drying process. The sourced location of sand, bags of cement and even the way we mix it on site all leads to its different colours. I’m still yet to provide you with an exact figure (which one day I will folks) for the number of bags of cement used but Nick estimates its between 300 and 500 bags. So over two years and hundreds of bags of cement you could imagine the variations of mortar colour over 300m2 of internal wall would look like inside the house.   To overcome this we have recently had the team in to “point up” the limestone. By doing this to the whole house over three days means the mortar colour is consistent throughout. Firstly the walls were water blasted with a high pressure washer to remove the slurry left behind in the quarrying and cutting process. This took 3 days. Then the walls were cleaned up with any mortar dags chipped off with a chipping hammer or scutch. The final mortar joint is delicately applied with a thin slicking trowel and the wet mortar left just proud of the block surface. Once the mortar has had a few hours to dry, a flat steel blade can be used to scrape the excess away leaving a flush mortar joint. All that is left to do at the end is give it a soft bristled brush to soften the edges and remove any residue mortar. Sounds easy doesn’t it? This process of finishing off the exposed masonry on the inside of the house has completely transformed the look of the walls and the spaces as a whole. It looks great and is yet another little tick in the finished box. But there is still plenty more going on. It’s now time to focus on the timber windows and doors and the glass.

 

 


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801 Days

When we started this project 26 months ago we had ambitious intentions supported by well thought out plans of moving back in within 6 months (well at least into the short stay part anyhow).  Many times since, we have been asked the question when do we intend to move in? If an adventure can be defined as a journey with unknown outcomes or destination, then our journey to move in within 6 months must surely have turned into and adventure somewhere along the way.   Either way, I can now proudly say that we have moved in!  801 days after the building permit was issued to commence the project.

In that time we have moved 7 times and brought into the world a lovely little daughter.

Most recently we have been living at number 1 Little Howard street, a most beautiful 3 room “turn of the century” cottage across the road. A place which, without the generosity of the owners David and Hilary, would have made the last year of our lives a very different one. We will miss living there. The tiny cottage oozes character complete with outdoor dunny, 1950’s décor, ceilings higher than the hallway is long and of course the obligatory brick and concrete porch Little Howard street is renowned for.

But as all good things do, our stay at number 1 has to come to an end and there was nowhere we were interested in moving to than our own place. The plan for the last 25 months (in order of priority) was to get us to this stage and we now find ourselves with a 4 week dead line to be moved back on site.

 

So the last month has been somewhat of a myriad of little tasks compiled into a critical path where the next task can only take place once the former is complete. 10 tasks that all take a day to complete can all be done on the same day and this would be very productive but if each task relies on the previous one being completed then there goes a week already! This is also provided there are no delays along the way.  Logistically, the last 4 weeks have been by far the tightest of the project with the number of trades required on site.  The planning and communication with everyone was one of the most important things to make it happen smoothly. Prior to work starting on site at the beginning of November, Alice had all the materials ordered and delivered to site and everyone booked in ready to go. The tin was rolled for the dunny roof, the locks were all ordered and keyed, the double glazing was under construction, tiles and grout were ready for the bathroom.

To be completely honest, (looking back) I did not think that what we achieved was going to be achievable at the beginning of the month but this is where we were going to live… nowhere else was an option.  (and its okay for me to admit this now.  After all, the harder you work, the luckier you get.)

The first thing we had to do was a final cut and seal of the concrete floor. A work of art in itself that was poured and covered with a protective screed over two years ago!  Meanwhile, we commenced the final touches to the exposed masonry, firstly high pressure blasting the recycled red bricks and the rough sawn limestone to remove dust and slurry.  Then we acid washed the red bricks with a diluted 10:1 mix of hydrochloric acid and scrub each brick by hand to remove residue cement dags and lime. The bricks and limestone took an amazing transformation in this process and the final step in the process was to spray the walls with a heavy duty stone sealer made by Dupont. The sealer is not like any other stone sealer. It produces a completely undetectable seal on a rough, porous and sometimes very crumbly surface in a very sly way. The sealer is sprayed on with a weed sprayer at a rate of 5-6m2 per liter and spends the next few hours soaking into the stone where it then begins a 3 – 4 day process of expanding to fill the stone’s pores and creating a seal approximately 10mm back from the surface of the stone, leaving it with a completely natural dry look. Amazing stuff.

All the meanwhile, final works in the bathroom and toilet had commenced. The floor has been screeded and sealed and the floor and wall tiles went in.  The federation style black and white checked tiles, which have been planned for many months now started bringing the old dunny back to life and into the building. We turned the idea of brick bond wall tiles on its head (well more literally on its side) with long 100 x 400 white tiles and spiced it up with a random splash of colour using 100×100 wall tiles to match the colourful locally handmade basin.

One of the things we had to do when we first moved into the old house was to build a kitchen. It had a room designated for a kitchen but had no light and no cupboards. Just a sink in the corner.  At the time and with the budget we had we ended up installing an Ikea kitchen. Still being in “like new” condition when we commenced the demolition it was decided to upcycle the kitchen too and it was earmarked for the new short stay kitchen in the planning process and put in storage. The challenge on hand now was to fit the oven, cooktop, fridge, dishwasher, and the kitchen sink into a 3.8m long galley kitchen made of recycled ikea cupboards. I’m very impressed with the engineering of Ikea hardware, particularly the soft close draws. Having standardised sizes and heights also made the two day complete installation of the kitchen easy. The under bench fridge , dishwasher and oven were all purchased from the UK and shipped over in a container 2 years ago. This all happened for a few reasons and looking back there are a few more good reasons we have realised for doing so. In the planning stage, when we were working out sizes and locations and layout of rooms with the architect, he asked a few questions as to what kind of kitchen appliances we wanted and should be allowed for.  This obviously lead to researching what was available and we were very specific about wanting good quality energy efficient appliances and the need for us to move our search for appliances out of Australia. Luckily the Australian dollar was strong at the time and given that we had selected items for the purposes of helping us in the design phase, it seemed fitting to follow through and purchase them at the time.  It is also a good feeling much later in the project that the appliances have already been chosen and paid for so all we had to do was bring them from storage to site and “voila!”… one compact, upcycled and very functional home away from home kitchen.

A lot of work has gone into the design, construction, install and final preparations of our home made thermally broken steel window frames. The last week had been spent doing final painting, fitting locks and cleaning the frames ready for the double glazing.  Our next task was to install the glass units, delivered to site spot on 1030 on Monday, like clockwork. Good thing as the Glazier, Matt, was on site waiting keen and ready to install them.  I can honestly say (and I suppose it is really a product of being in Perth) that I have only ever seen double glazing units a handful of times in my life and on this day I find myself starting to install 25 panes in our house!! One by one, as the rooms became closed from the outside elements,  the acoustics within the room begun to change in a logical but unconsidered way. The double glazing absorbs sound well beyond our expectations and so does the limestone block. There are no echoes at all in these rooms and with all the doors and windows closed there is almost an eerie silence. Thermally, we haven’t lived in the place long enough to make a full assessment of the benefit yet but through a few days of mid to high 30’s in late November, we have managed to retain a comfortable 21 – 23° C inside.  We are looking forward to assessing the performance over the coming months of summer.

There were a few times in the last weeks where the comment had been made, “This is the moment I had been waiting for…” The moment when the mass of materials that have been fixed together in various different ways, turn from “a construction” to “a home”.  The glazing was without a doubt one of those and so was the feel of our bare feet on the clean polished concrete for the first time, but the one that made the most impact and I had until now considered least was the visual impact of being on site at night with all the lights on. There is an amazing lovely warm and homely glow of the stone and timber.   We are running our main interior lighting on 24v warm white LED’s on a DALI (digital addressable lighting interface) system.  Majority of the lighting products we are using are OSRAM and we have imported from Germany.  This enables the lighting to be integrated into the KNX automation of the house and will eventually allow us to freely program lighting groups and flexible switching as well as automated energy saving features like constant light control, presence sensors and PWM (pulse width modulation) dimming.  The research and efforts that we have put into selecting a LED lighting system that is going to serve us for the next 30 years plus has been phenomenal.  So it was rather exiting to finally be incorporating them into the building.  As the electricians helped install the DALI light controllers by day, Alice and I would sit on the porch in the evenings, stripping back wires, crimping on terminal ends and mounting the LED’s to our prototype wall luminaires.  On the Friday, the day before we moved in, the lights were powered up for the first time and we were only able to switch them all on and off by temporary power supply. When we finished up in the afternoon, I could not wait for it to get dark, just to see how the lights would all look. We weren’t disappointed. The warm wall washed lights bring the natural texture and cosy colours out of the limestone where the marri and jarrah timber cathedral ceiling no longer has shadowed corners. All the character of the timber is on show and the vastness of volume in the room can be felt. In the kitchen we have finally achieved a life long dream..  No shadows on the kitchen bench!  And the recycled red brickwork really comes alive.  27 x 7.5w led lights now light the short stay with a little under 200 watts.

So here we are, once again living at 18 Little Howard Street. I sit in the armchair, gazing around at our newly transformed living space, trying to realize the genuineness of the situation. I comment to Alice that it’s a little hard to believe.   I briefly recall sitting is this same armchair gazing around at the weathered humble beauty of our old house, and if I recall rightly, I was thinking at the time what it might be like to sit here looking at what the new one will be like.  801 days later, I’m realizing it might be a little better than I’d imagined.


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Half Way, So They Say

Today the site was quiet, just me pottering about. Looking, thinking, planning and finalising a few jobs about the place. A far cry from the past 8 weeks of industrious sounds, busily created by workers and tools.   Whilst ambling along through a most lovely sunny winter’s day the realization that our little house has a completed roof finally hit me, 7 days after it was actually completed and five years after the house was a new idea.

Without a doubt this has been the most intense 8 weeks of the project, if not my entire life. Looking around the roof I began to realize for the first time what we had actually achieved.   All of the un-imaginable set-backs and risks associated with building a roof on the cusp of winter have now passed. We emerge appearing seemingly unscathed.

On the 7th April 2014, all the crew – two roof carpenters, a stone mason, two labourers and myself – turned to the first day of achieving the task of getting the roof completed before winter came. Two of the four trusses had been  built, lying down flat on the mezzanine floor. The first truss was built with trial and error (but mostly accurate trial). The second truss was built notably swifter given we were replicating the actions of the first. The last two trusses seemed to construct themselves and made us wonder why the first one took so long. Never the less, the pleasure and the craftsmanship involved in such a construction had all involved eager with anticipation of what lie ahead. On the 11th April the trusses were all stood up in place with the use of a crane and for the first time the shape of the building became a material thing. (See “Truss Me”)

In total 5.57m3 (approx. 4,650kg) of jarrah has been used to build the roof structure. Once the trusses and ridge beams were in place we set about putting all the rafters into place, giving the roof a skeletal look. The joys of rough sawn jarrah is that each piece has its own character both in look and in shape! A piece milled to 150mm is more likely to range from 141mm to 148mm along its length. It’s also likely that each piece not only naturally bows in a vertical plane but also woofs left or right (and in some cases both left and right) . During the rafter installation it was necessary to cut and fit all 56 rafters individually as we went along. Peter , Max and Josh worked together skilfully to ensure each join and plumb cut fit millimetre perfect. A real credit to their workmanship and it shows in the finished product.

The whole Jarrah structure supporting the roof is going to be kept internal of the building. It was therefore time to install the lining boards on top of the jarrah to form the cathedral ceiling.

The lining boards are made of marri which has been milled to 19mm x 150mm, kiln dried and dressed on both sides. It took two full days to install 970 lineal meters of lining board totalling approximately 2,340kg.   When the boards were delivered to site it was clear that the “lot” was from a few quite different trees. There was a variation in contrast and detail of the timber’s distinct sap grain. Throughout the multiple oiling and moving steps to get the boards to their final place in the building we made a concerted effort to shuffle the boards like a pack of cards.   The final result is quite amazing.

With winter now fast approaching, we were literally racing the clock to get the roof sealed up. There is such a thing as Murphy’s Law. And I think it’s part 8 of Murphy’s law that states if you are building a roof, it is going to rain. And that it did.   Our major concern with the rain was that the Marri lining boards are prone to staining by water damage and it was for this reason we went to several extreme lengths to keep them protected. Several days were ended and begun covering and uncovering the roof with several 6m x 4m tarps.   On another occasion, Alice and I were sitting on the veranda across the road from the site (where we are living) having just finished dinner and a nice glass of wine or two. A quick check of the forecast and a look at the rain radar indicated that it was inevitably going to rain throughout the night. And the ridge of the roof was still uncovered. So we did what all conscientious and caring owner builders do. We donned the head torches, tool belt, drill, a can of expanding foam and some aluminium flashing and made our way up the roof in order to beat the rain.   I don’t know if anyone did walk up our street while we were busily working but it would have been a puzzling surprise for a passer-by in any event. By 9.30 pm we were both sitting back on the veranda, satisfied with our efforts and more content with the long term wellbeing of our beautiful ceiling. And when I heard it rain that night, I was able to roll over and go back to sleep.

Another big day in building the roof was the installation of the insulation panels. This again required the employment of the crane and a fair bit of prior problem solving and a lot of planning leading up to the day. The longest panels for the eastern side of the roof are 5.8m long and weigh about 90kg each (much too heavy to man handle onto the roof). Given the lack of space at the front of the block (as it was occupied by the crane) we were able to add a 5m fly jib to the crane boom and reach right over the house to pick the panels up from the back yard 24 meters away from the crane. The panels were lifted with soft slings one at a time and then carefully landed at the ridge first then lowered to rest on the top of the lining boards at a 36.8° roof pitch angle, chocked at the bottom temporarily to remove the slings.   In all, this was an eight person operation. Two people to land and secure the panel at the roof’s ridge and another one placed mid-way down and one at the bottom of the panel. Each person screwing and unscrewing blocks into the roof to support themselves as we progressively moved along the roof. Two labourers were running tools, slings, blocks to stand on and moving panels ready for slinging; plus the crane driver and dogman.   In all it took us about 6 hours to land all 17 insulation panels. A very methodical and co-ordinated operation that ran smoothly throughout and was a credit to everyone involved.

Once the panels were in place it was literally impossible to climb the roof but also time to install the services like pipes for the hot water evacuated tubes, wiring for lights and DC cable for the photo-voltaic panels. The blue top-hats (these support the corrugated iron) were installed on top of the panels to allow access to the roof again and a few days were spent with various trades like the plumber and the electrician installing pipes and cables whilst the rest of the roof was being screwed down with long 140mm screws, through the top hat and panels and embedding into the jarrah rafters below.

Soon after a small piece of open space appeared in our tight and congested work site, a truck arrived with our 1,100kg of zincalume sheeting, gutters, ridge capping , barge rolls and valleys. The longest of the tin roof sheets was 7.7m long and although an individual sheet is not that heavy, we did have fun manoeuvring them from the street, over the front wall and through the mezzanine front doors, out the bathroom window onto the neighbours roof and finally up to the main roof. Putting roof sheeting on is very satisfying. There is something about this timeless Australian invention that is corrugated iron and it lends itself so nicely to the roof-scape of the beautiful old houses that surround it. In context with the building of the whole roof structure (or the whole house for that matter) the zincalume sheeting goes on relatively quickly and has somewhat instant gratification magnified by the fact that (through all the layers of construction) this is it! The only element to go above this is the weather.

On the 6th June, 8 weeks after we had started, Peter and I spent the day on the roof screwing off the roof sheeting, between us putting in just over 1,200 screws.   And then finally the ridge cap. A moment I have thought about many times. A symbol that we have reached the top of building our house. The rain had cleared and the sun came out. Natures acknowledgment the roof was now water tight. Sitting on the ridge-cap, I briefly soaked up the view. Cockburn sound looks calm and the ocean sparkling. The town looks so lovely from up here.  The soak wells, the rainwater tanks and the concrete footings seem so distant now, so far below. But as we have heard many times, once the roof is finished you are half way to having a completed house.

 


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Kevin McCloud’s two favourite questions

If we had a dollar for every time we have heard a comment containing the words “Grand Designs” we would be able to fund this project!   One TV program seems to noticeably affect the way people view our project.  Standing on a building site amongst a shambles of half-erected materials must stimulate flashbacks of time spent viewing the aforementioned “reality” program.  We like to think that the individuality of our project arouses the imagination to a point where “Little House” becomes its own episode.  Whatever the case, a parallel always seems be drawn.  It also appears to bias the types of questions asked.  For the benefit of those who are considering owner building (or reading this blog with the view of giving it a go) and for those who just want to be Kevin and ask the questions then this is the blog post for you. So go on, ask them…

How much has it cost you?    When do you plan to move in?

As I often get the opportunity to step away from the project and take stock of it all in preparations for the next intense period of building, it is also a good opportunity to look back at the big plan to see how we are going.

Editor’s note: the photos in this post are a snap shot of new photos to show where we are up to know. If you would like to see photos of the previous stages of our build, please have a look at some of our older posts.

In 2011 / 12, during the planning, we split our project into 6 stages.  This was set out in an excel spreadsheet (of course). Everything from estimated costs to quotes and contact numbers through to projected dates and time frames were put in as we went along.  By the time we started demolition (in September 2012), we had a pretty good map to follow as a lot of the decisions for major materials and services had been resolved.

Little House Project Stages:

  • Stage 0 – Planning, Design and Admin costs.
  • Stage 1 – Demolition
  • Stage 2 – Excavation, Ground works and Foundations
  • Stage 3 – Walls and Floors
  • Stage 4 – Roof, windows and doors
  • Stage 5 – Fit out and completion.

As we are now well into stage 4 of the project, we can share some of our experiences and some data we now have available from the earlier stages with you.

Stage 0

For no actual visual change to the old house yet, Stage 0 was extremely daunting for us.   Not knowing what lie ahead made it extremely difficult to justify or accept over-running expenses.  Stage 0 was planned at 9.7% of the overall budget of the house. Architectural and Structural Engineers fees played a major part. Council approvals, Insurances, Owner builder licensing and education, Quantity surveying (mainly for the bank), site survey and re-pegging, utilities approvals and the need for a storage unit all helped themselves to a little slice of the pie. In fact, the multitude of small administrative expenses like these should not be under estimated and in a modern bureaucratic world, they are un-avoidable expenses that seem to breed new requirements daily. (Owner Builder Network has good “up to date” list of administrative costs to expect… WA specific.)

We ended up spending 128% of the allowed budget for Stage 0!  Half of that was spent on Architects fees. Do we have any regrets? Definitely not.  Engaging Mike has been an amazing experience. It is understandable that people get daunted with such a large cost upfront long before anything can even happen on site. But our experiences mirrored many others who we have spoken with about engaging an architect.  The money spent on an Architect and a well resolved set of plans saves so much time and effort later in the project that the initial huge cost becomes insignificant or “pays for itself”.

We did spend more than we budgeted for on Architects fees and this was understandably a bold decision at the time. As the project progresses, we have seen the absolute benefit and savings in this initial investment plus a house design that well exceeded our initial expectations.

Stage 1

Stage 1 hit stumbling blocks in the planning stage!  Consultation with all of Perth’s major Demolition Contractors highlighted to us a resonating fact.  Our project was different and too difficult for most. A small one-way street, a tight block with limited access, heritage listed buildings directly adjacent and pretty much every other reason for anyone to easily refuse the offer to demolish our old house, meant a creative solution or good luck.  We even considered demolishing the entire old house by hand!  So costing this and planning in the budget was tough.  Stage 1 was budgeted at 6.1% of the entire build.

So how did we go Kevin?  Demolition came in well under budget at 46%!  How did we do it? A number of factors led to considerable savings.  We wanted to keep a lot of the old house to recycle/up-cycle into the new one.  This meant spending the first 6 weeks of the project dismantling the timber parts of the house ourselves (by hand). We estimated to have salvaged approx. $20k worth of materials from the old house (a saving still not included in the budget but will speak for itself when incorporated back into the build.) The other big saving was purely down to luck.

I met Garrett (Olympic Civil Engineering) when he came around to quote for pile driving / underpinning along the eastern retaining wall.  He asked me who was doing the demolition. “Are you interested?” I asked. The rest was history.  All machines (Bobcat, excavator, compactor etc), trucks and labour was charged at an hourly rate rather than “contracted” (set price) job.  The guys took time to segregate materials for waste disposal and craft-fully left on site the materials we wanted to keep and managed to skilfully get all their equipment up and down our street despite others saying it was not possible. In the end the cost of demolition was around only 60% of what we had budgeted. Other considerable savings in this stage included buying site fencing instead of hiring, careful management of waste so as eliminating the need for skip bins (would find it hard to fit them on site anyway) and a fair bit of DIY wherever possible.

Stage 2

One of the many great things about Garret’s involvement in the project is that we rolled straight from stage 1 to stage 2 seamlessly. Without noticing in-fact.  Once the demolition was finished the earth works started and without Garret’s casual can-do attitude and vast experience, I, as a newby Owner Builder with little experience and such a large project ahead, may have found this time somewhat of a very big challenge.   There is plenty of merit in having the right person for the job. In this case, we were extremely lucky to have Garret and his team working for us.  It’s worth emphasising the importance of selecting trades people with whom you are like minded. We look for certain things when interviewing / selecting trades. Obviously cost, quality of work and experience (references) are essential but if you don’t see eye to eye with somebody in the first meeting you have with them, you most probably never will regardless of their price or quality of work. Gut feeling shouldn’t be ignored. If something doesn’t feel right when you meet them, it probably isn’t.

Earthworks and Foundations are expensive. We budgeted 38% of the overall construction costs for stage 2 and it was not un-common to see a few weeks’ wages flash before our eyes on a daily basis. Daunting at first but we got used to it. The progress was good and we learned that you can move a lot of dirt and make 304m3 of land take on quite a different shape in just a few hours.

So how did we go?  By the time we had completed stage two we were at 61% of the budget! An awesome surprise.  Though looking back, the numbers do reveal that we did overestimate the costs of most things.   This stage also covered Concrete slabs on ground (a little under budget), cost of building utility brick retaining walls (under budget), sewage and plumbing works (under budget), doing the installation of steel re-enforcing mesh and painting the backs of the walls with waterproofing ourselves.  Burying in the soak wells ourselves.  I also take it upon myself to purchase all materials and have them on site for the trades to avoid the cost plus factor, over stocking and not to mention the time costs for the contractor to source and supply.  These all add up to considerable savings.

Stage 3

The main part of stage 3 was the walls and from the very beginning we emphasised how much of the building’s personality is going to be expressed by the 620m2 of face limestone it will have. The quality of the workmanship could make or break the building’s formality.   This being said our ideas and fastidious attention to the stonework detail has come at a price and we are currently at 173% of the budget for the limestone materials and labour.  Nick (the stonemason) has been employed by us for nearly 18 months and has been a real credit to the project. We have no regrets with the cost over-run and prefer to look back and recognise, for the quality and volume of work involved, the budget was probably a lot under-estimated. We could have probably built the walls for less but the quality of the finish had we done so will now be forever unknown.  This stage was expected to be 22.2% of the overall construction budget.  To date we are at 95% of the budget for stage 3 and look to exceed 100% before we complete it.

Shopping around throughout the build is a good way of saving money.  Gumtree (online buy and sell website) has been great. We are able to set “alerts” for things we are looking for rather than having to trawl for things all the time.  If we search far enough ahead we will almost always get things for a good price. It took about 5 weeks of waiting but we managed to buy another 2500 recycled red bricks for 85c each. Currently about $1 to $1.50 a brick.

Another purchase recently brought home the value of getting multiple quotes. In this instance I sourced 6 quotes for the same volume and quality of items. Needless to say that I was shocked to see that the quotes varied in price from $2400 to $5000!

Stage 4

As the project progresses we are noticing more and more the cost estimates are less resolved in the plan.  This is attributed to a number of factors…  The whole project up till now has involved an enormous amount of planning and it feels like the building of the roof, windows and doors was so far away when we set out from the beginning that less emphasis was put on their importance in the budget.  Also, getting accurate quotes and interviewing labour for a service involves precise details and quantities. 18 months ago some of this information was scanty, unresolved or just not available so early in the project.   Stage 4 is far from complete and as I write this we are probably entering one of the most labour and material intensive phase, building the main roof.  We have put 20% of the total budget aside for Stage 4 and currently we are at 78% of that budget.

 

So when do you plan to move in?  My latest answer is …  We want to be in by Christmas… (not too sure which year yet though)

When we initially embarked on this project (in September 2012) we had an ambitious goal to be moved back on site within about 6 months (March 2013).  This involved focusing purely on constructing the short stay / rear wing to completion. The roof went on the short stay in October 2013,  10 months after our initial time frame.  The demolition went slower on the timeline than expected, the earth works went much quicker than expected.  When it became apparent the extra time and costs involved in building one section of the house first to completion, then essentially doing everything a second time  for the remaining section of the house, the natural / logical path has been the one we have taken to bring it all up from the ground in one go.

There has also been a massive shift in our perception of the project.  Once we realized just how gargantuous the project was we had to change our approach to the way we measured the speed in which it was progressing. Firstly, we started asking ourselves every evening, could we have achieved any more today? Most of the time we have been very content with the progress made.  Secondly, we did what all good Grand Design episodes do and had a baby. This put things a little more into perspective. What’s more important in life than the journey of life itself?

There is without doubt many attributes of the construction that involve real time constraints. i.e. Having the main roof on before the winter rain and storms set in!  But we realized long ago that building this house for ourselves is only ever going to get one go.  We agreed that we certainly did not want to make sacrifices we had to live with for decades to come just to get a week or a few days closer to lockup.  We are realizing more and more that we are building something that we are going to enjoy living in so doing it once and doing it right (the first time) is the approach we believe is the right one.

A little soiree to celebrate reaching mezzanine level.

A little soiree to celebrate reaching mezzanine level.