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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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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