House Update

Thursday 1 February 2001

Today we built the wall that has the door onto the small side deck and the three of us, Thomas, Fran and myself lifted it into position. It's temporarily held by wooden stays, but for the first time we have a real impression of how the house is to look.

In the process, we discover an error I made in calculating the length of the row of poles adjacent to the carport. It was a big (500 mm) glaring error and even though I instinctively knew it was an error at the time, I still deferred to my interpretation of the architect's drawings. It was my third error so far. Not a huge number, but enough to make me cringe a little. My excuse is that it's the first house I've ever built. And different drawings are to different scales so it's easy to forget when shifting attention between drawings that 10 mm on this drawing is 15 mm an another. Luckily we caught the error before it became serious.

The architect's drawings have numerous strange errors. One we discovered today is that he specifies 100 by 50 mm framing in one small load bearing wall. Elsewhere the specification is for 90 by 45 mm framing. Which is what I ordered. I'm not about to have non-standard framing lumber cut for a small wall that bears only a small load. You'd think after discovering these many errors I would be trusting my own instinctive feelings more. The problem is, we are trained to trust the experts.

Friday 2 February 2001

Tony came by to fix the problem discovered yesterday. It took only an hour or so. The height of the small (2 m by 2 m) platform between the back door and the carport is much lower and will require only two steps up from the carport. We will have a ramp running parallel with the rear of the house to bring heavy things into the house.

I spent the afternoon on the phone obtaining quotes from various hardwood flooring timber suppliers. Torenius, the supplier of the framing lumber had the best quote even though their timber is somewhat better than some of the other suppliers. The nearest quote was 25% higher.

Saturday 3 February 2001

I spent the morning on the phone obtaining, or attempting to obtain quotes from suppliers of paint, plasterboard, insulation and floor finishing. One paint supplier got back to me, but I am still in the dark on everything else but the floor finishing. The interior paint comes to $A1,000.

Several people told me there was one floor finisher who really knows his stuff, but couldn't remember his name. I lucked out and nailed him with my second call and we chatted for nearly an hour. Also lucky is that the soonest he will be available coincides with when we will be ready for him. For 10 days work he will cost $A3,500 and that includes the three coats of best quality polyurethane varnish. In a couple of days he is going to show us a just finished floor.

Monday 5 February 2001

There's an anomaly between the drawings and The House of Steel in regards to framing timber sizes. I realised that the drawings referred to 90 by 45 mm timber but we were using 90 by 35 mm! So, I phoned the engineer and for once he was available when I phoned. He did some calculations and said that we will need to nail a second stud to each one that's over 3 m in height. The 100 by 50 mm studs specified in the bedroom wall would have been radiata pine. Why we'd want to use crappy pine in one small part of the house and hardwood throughout the rest of the house only the architect knows.

The error has added almost $A3,000 to the cost and a lot of extra weight to the walls. Around half the studs are more than 3 m (10 ' high). We lowered the wall we erected Thursday and added the extra lumber. It stiffened the wall considerably. And that's a gratifying feeling, extra stiffness in an erection.

Despite the unexpected expense I'm glad we discovered yet another problem before it became a real chore to fix. I'm starting to wonder how many other WTFs are in store. Luckily the timber supplier can deliver within a week. Another stroke of luck is we've been offered the use of some proper scaffolding for free, so we won't have to improvise.

Tuesday 6 February 2001

There's a haze of smoke from the February Dragon (bushfires) but local this time I think. We had smoke last week from Port Lincoln in South Australia 850 miles away. Yesterday we nearly had a fire of our own. The sparks from the angle grinder set fire to grass I cut on Friday. It was about 10 m (30 feet) away from where Tony was cutting steel. Luckily I noticed the plume of smoke and we had stamped it out in a couple of minutes.

I've mentioned before problems with the plans for The House of Steel. Today's was the lack of a wall height for the next wall we want to build. However, it's a matter of simple trigonometry to calculate it based on the height of the wall we built yesterday and the distance from it. The slope of the roof is exactly 3 in 40. While the curved and sloping roof is around normal ceiling height of 2.4 m (8 ft) at the low points, it's as high as 5 m (15.5 ft) in places. I have memories of living in Melbourne 30 odd years ago and the house we lived in had high ceilings. Very cool on hot days like today.

The day ends with a third wall built and erected. Fran and I worked much more efficiently together today. We are becoming a team. He tells me he had a chat about The House of Steel with the chap building across the street from where he lives. He had come over for Fran to sharpen a drill bit. He is a professional builder and expressed amazement that anyone would even consider trying to build a house like Fran and I are building. While it's challenging, it's also a great deal of fun.

Thursday 8 February 2001

As promised by the Weather Bureau, today was 38C and 65% humidity. Despite the perspiration running in torrents off our bodies, we managed to erect the front bedroom wall. Then the zincalume cladding and steel purlins arrived. The truck driver made a few half-hearted attempts to turn into the driveway, then gave up. So I had him offload the materials onto the grass verge by the road. Neville and I will carry the purlins and cladding up the drive to the house tomorrow. Hopefully with Thomas's help.

Marguerite and Thomas spent the morning in the city, buying books for college and shopping for those little things that rural stores don't carry. Like $A3,200 of polished granite countertops for the kitchen. It was my fault, really. When Marguerite visited a new friend's kitchen the other day, she was astounded by the beauty of their granite counters. I had already seen them and kept quiet about it. The problem is, if you can afford them, there is no better material for the job.

Granite is hard, so it's almost impossible to scratch. It doesn't wear at any significant rate. The polished surface is almost completely impermeable to any substance likely to be used in a kitchen. It's hygienic because there are no fissures or pores to harbour noxious bacteria. And when I was phoning for the quote, I mentioned to the salesman that I was building the house I am going to die in. So he offered to put the inscription for my grave on the underside of one of the counters so I wouldn't be continually reminded of the date of my death. Funeral directors may lack humour, but monumental masons make up for that! And I'm a sucker for anyone that can amuse me.

Around three years ago, we purchased a Bosky cook stove second hand for a saving of several thousand dollars. Bosky's wood burning cook stoves are pretty much the Rolls Royce of cookers and as enthusiastic cooks, we knew that was the most important element of our dream home. It's been sitting in Wayne and Tony Walker's apple shed ever since. I phoned Tony and arranged for him to deliver it late next week before the final wall is in place. I believe it weighs something North of 500 kg (half a ton) and is therefore difficult to manoeuvre up or down steps. Much easier to build around it.

Friday 9 February 2001

Thomas, Neville and myself spent four sweaty hours shifting the steel purlins and corrugated iron up the drive to near where they will be needed. Neville and I started with the longest sheets of corrugated iron while the air was still. Nine metres (almost 30 ft) of corrugated iron makes a big enough sail that the lightest breeze will carry it off in a blink of an eye. A breeze came up just as Neville and Thomas were carrying the last of the shorter lengths. The breeze was welcome while carrying the purlins as it helped evaporate the sweat. Thomas worked harder at this than any other House of Steel task so far, so he received $A50 for his effort as did Neville.

I ordered the marine plywood for the gutter that runs through the centre of the house. It is 1.5 m (5 ft) wide and was meant to be covered by steel zincalume sheet. The problem with this is that the steel sheet comes only in 1.2 m wide rolls and would need to be attached to the underlying plywood in order to keep the required shape. Laying 1.2 m sheets across the gutter overlapping like shingles creates a potential entry point for rain. A bead of silicone would prevent this, but the different rates of expansion of the steel sheet and plywood might cause failure of a bond between the two. My solution to this conundrum is to forget the steel sheet and coat the plywood with a flexible marine paint.

I contacted the Australian distributor of International Paints by email as we will be harvesting the rainfall for our water supply and I wanted assurance of its suitability. Within half an hour, I had a reply to my message! The main International Paints website was useless. I have Java etc turned off in my browser so the single link on the main page didn't work! I found the above link through a more specific Google search. The paint and epoxy filler will cost around $A350, so it's comparable to the cost of the steel when folding and marine grade silicone is taken into account. The required 27 sheets of 1.2 by 1.8 m marine ply came to $A2,250. While this is an expensive gutter, cleaning it will be a breeze. I will be able to walk down it with a broom.

The inspiration for the eclectic house design was to echo the surrounding hills. It's like the junction of two adjacent hills. Some refer to its shape as akin to wings. The metaphor that Fran is using compares it to an open book. And that's my favourite! The House of Steel will indeed be a house of books, frequently opened.

Saturday 10 February 2001

Marguerite and I went shopping today. First we went to Brewsters to pay for the marine plywood for the gutter. Since my phone call, they had decided to give me a 20% discount, rather than 10%! I asked Max if I could look at some metal lath used for attaching Gyprock (sheetrock) to ceilings and walls. I needed to see if it was flexible enough to bend to the curve of our ceilings. Max showed it to me but recommended I buy from John Cowley. I told him that since I was buying the Gyprock from John, that was my intention. Max is one of the old school who believe that customer service is good for business.

Our next port of call was The Fibreglass Shop where Peter assisted us to purchase the paints for the plywood. Peter is young and knowledgeable and also pleasant to do business with.

So, it was on to the plumbing supplies. Janice Shepherd manages the Hobart branch of Robert Fergusson and over a period of more than an hour we manage to learn the important points of difference between various brands/designs of taps, toilets and troughs. We left with a bundle of brochures and prices having yet to decide on taps (faucets). The toilets we have pretty much decided on are on special and there are only three left in stock (we need two). I said I'd phone Monday to let her know my decision.

You may remember my learning about the propensity for recent toilets to have difficulty flushing excreta efficiently. I noticed that this would not be a problem with the toilet we like, though it's twice the price of the el cheapos in hardware stores. Monday will be phone calls around the three rival plumbing suppliers to compare prices. My inclination is to purchase from Fergusson's as Janice seemed far more interested in our needs than the assistants at the other two suppliers we have visited. I need to push for a discount on our plumbing purchase since none has yet been offered and the cost looks like reaching $A5,000 if I don't. The plumber tells me that $A5,000 is the typical total plumbing bill for a house our size including his work and materials!

Monday 12 February 2001

A busy day working on The House of Steel. We managed to weld the roof purlins on the carport and complete the penultimate curved-top wall. I decided to space the purlins closer than in the architect's plans and borrowed some that were intended for the front deck. I also borrowed 5 sheets of the 9m long corrugated iron and both will have to be replaced later.

The original builders' estimates were for a cost of $A250,000 to $A300,000 ignoring that we were to provide some $A30,000 of essential fittings and labour. So the true cost was $A280,000 to $A330,000. My latest estimate for final cost is between $A140,000 and $A150,000. Note that this is in many ways a luxury home; small(ish) but with quality fittings and finish. Nevertheless, the saving is between $A100,000 and $A180,000. This is money I don't have to earn and pay taxes on, or money I had to borrow. 

Had we followed the architect's prompting, we would have had to skimp on quality to make the house affordable. Had we bought generic house plans, or engaged an unimaginative draftsman, we could have had quality of fittings and finish, but the house would have looked just like anyone else's. This house is an expression of our needs and aspirations.

Several people have expressed scepticism at the magnitude of the cost saving. Be certain it's not the value of the manual labour I am doing. Most of that is hired. It's the decision-making, problem solving and phoning around for quotes. There has also been a lot of research, much of it via the Internet. Much of the problem-solving has been a joint effort between Fran, Tony and myself and I have no doubt they could have done this satisfactorily without any need for my input. And that leaves the essential task -- decision-making.

I believe that anyone of above average mental skills and a generous larding of self-confidence could do what I am doing. The mental skills required are nowhere near genius level. Patience is definitely called for. My virtual income from the project is several times what I could expect to earn over the same period. And perhaps even more important, I am thoroughly enjoying myself.

Tuesday 13 February 2001

Windy with occasional showers. Made putting the corrugated iron on the carport difficult. Actually, it was the builder's foil (Sisalation) that goes underneath the corrugated iron that was difficult. It tends to tear in the wind. Brute strength controlled the corrugated iron. Underneath the foil is a layer of wire netting that I had lying around. The builder's foil had been lying around awaiting a use too. We managed to put a lid on half the carport before we gave up. Very impressed by the self-drilling roofing screws, they go in very easily and quickly.

Wednesday 14 February 2001

Frequent showers today made work on The House of Steel all but impossible. The extra framing lumber I ordered arrived, as did the cement sheet for the underside of the floors and the treated pine decking. The only major things left are the windows, internal lining and flooring.

Thursday 15 February 2001

Today saw the finish of the carport roof. At 6 m by 8 m (20ft by 26 ft) it's bigger than our current living/kitchen/dining area! But it will be used for far more than garaging a car: firewood storage,  workshop and undercover barbecue area are a few of its expected functions. In the meantime it's an undercover work area for the house.

We also struck yet another problem. This one's my fault. When we changed the design of the windows to less than full wall height it meant that there needed to be a structure above the windows, called a header, to take the load of the wall above. For all except one window, this is no great drama since ordinary timber will do. The French window in the front of the house is 4.5 m wide (almost 15 ft) so the header has to be of heroic proportions if it's to be timber. Unfortunately, there is no such timber available. We could laminate a beam from several pieces of smaller lumber, but that's just far too expensive. It's steel or nothing.

The engineer is preparing sketches of several possible ways to do this as the municipal council will require an engineer's certificate. Then we will have to organise a suitable piece of steel to be delivered before we can construct the final load bearing wall.

There's plenty we can be doing in the meantime, so it's a minor hiccup really. More of a nuisance is that the replacement purlins for those we purloined to make a stronger carport roof will not arrive until the end of the month. Fran asked if I had compared the price of timber to steel. Based on this last order, it's around half the price of timber!

Friday 16 February 2001

Fran and I erected another of the smaller load bearing walls today with help from Neville from across the road. From this I extrapolate that it's going to take five or six stalwarts to lift the two large walls into place. But before that we need the steel beam for the header over the French Window. The engineer's requirement came through after the steel merchant closed for the week. So we will likely be doing it Tuesday next week.

Saturday 17 February 2001

I started building the smaller of the two decks on The House of Steel. The timber is radiata pine treated with a copper/chromium preservative. The specifications for the use of zincalume coated steel state that it must not come into physical contact with such timber. The hardware store claimed that most builders don't worry about it. I purchased some plastic damp course and cut it down the middle so I could have a strip between the zincalume steel purlins and the pine decking.

An attempt to use silicone sealant as a temporary adhesive was an utter failure. It doesn't stick to the damp course plastic. So I had a fine time capturing the ends of six strips of damp course under the first strip of decking. Even an octopus might have wished for an extra tentacle or two! Nevertheless, I eventually succeeded and had a half a deck completed in half a day. The purlins are closer than in a normal deck and I used the recommended two screws at each crossover. I don't want too much warping of the timber that I see all too often when people skimp on the expensive Tek screws.

The power screwdriver takes some time to come to grips with. It has several variable controls. Depth gauge, torque, maximum speed and the trigger is also a speed control. By the twentieth screw it's all under control and routine. I'd still be at it next Tuesday if I was confined to a drill and ordinary screwdriver. 

Monday 19 February 2001

The steel for the header over the French windows is ordered. I phoned around for Tek screw prices having used up the box of 500 I used yesterday to not quite finish the deck. At the local store, they are $A90 for 500. Elsewhere they sell for $A111 to $A120 per thousand!

Fran and I made the south easterly none load bearing wall and erected it. Then we put a plywood brace in it and ordinary timber braces in a couple of walls. A short downpour led to an early finish on this muggy day.

Saturday 24 February 2001

Pictures taken over the last couple of weeks.

Joists for the lower level are almost complete. joists01.jpg (55066 bytes)
Starting the first wall. firstwall01.jpg (57377 bytes)
This is the completed first curved top wall that was the template for the rest. firstwall03.jpg (87542 bytes)
This is the "come-along" that we used to bend the top plate to shape. There was a tendency for both the top and bottom plates to curve, but the weight of the wall flattened the bottom plates somewhat. They were then wound down flat with threaded rod and nuts. come-along.jpg (91642 bytes)
The front wall to Thomas's bedroom is the first to be lifted into place. tomsfrontwall.jpg (93198 bytes)
Moving the walls is a team effort. That's Thomas to the left, Fran to the right and me playing piggy in the middle. We used short lengths of rope so we could keep our backs straight. Walking the floor joists while holding onto rope is easier than walking on them without a counterbalance. moving-wall.jpg (62544 bytes)
Ricky guards the steel lest anyone decide to walk off with it. The top sheets of corrugated iron are 9 metres long. ricky-guards-steel.jpg (44382 bytes)
The carport is framed up and ready for the chicken wire, foil and corrugated iron. carport-framed.jpg (70057 bytes)
The lid is on the carport and we have somewhere dry to work when it's showery and shaded when it's sunny. carport-lid-on.jpg (56617 bytes)
This is where the deck is to go. The purlins tended to flex until the deck was in place. We discover that we are supposed to place stiffening on the underside and later we will. Mysteriously, but unsurprisingly, there's no indication of a stiffening member under or between any purlins in the architect's drawings! deck-purlins.jpg (68013 bytes)
This is the completed side deck. All but the extreme right hand end are within one metre of the ground, so we won't need to put up a balustrade. deck.jpg (45944 bytes)
This is the Bosky wood burning cookstove that will provide space heating, hot water and cook our food. This was the first purchase for our new home. One has to get the priorities right! bosky.jpg (49370 bytes)
This shows the pagan rock sculptures that I assembled in a fit of creativity a couple of weeks ago. rock-sculptures.jpg (43184 bytes)
This view shows several walls in place. The wall that is sloping top left to bottom right is only there temporarily. It's the rear wall of the spare bedroom/office. southeast.jpg (61450 bytes)
The pipe used to create the braces started to distort when the braces were tightened, so I had Tony weld end caps on the pipe. endcap.jpg (55997 bytes)
All four walls of the master bedroom are in place. The plywood bracing is a third wider than required and a grade stronger. We are also bracing almost every wall, not just those required by the engineer.  complete-bedroom.jpg (58151 bytes)

Monday 26 February 2001

The Big Day arrived at last! Neville, Michael and James arrived to help with the lift of the big wall and the front wall of the living area. It was a bit of an anti-climax in some ways as the big wall lifted easier than I suspected. We left the extra studs out of the front wall as Michael and James were in a hurry to leave. This made it lighter to lift though the temporary studs in the space for the French window fell out and the wall was very wobbly until we braced it.

Fran and I adjusted the temporary braces on the walls to ensure they were vertical. On the big wall this was no mean feat -- it's almost 5 metres (15.5 ft) at its highest point! Attaching the plumb bob to the top meant we had to use rope to attach the top of the wall to the carport to take the weight of the ladder. Attaching the plywood bracing was also quite an effort. The lower sheet is easy enough, but shuffling the upper sheet past the ladder required me to push on a piece of lumber while Fran bounced the ladder away from the wall while he also guided the sheet into place.

Seeing that wall in place was awe inspiring and led me to speculate on the availability of stepladders tall enough to change light globes. Margie still insists on concealed low voltage lights in the ceiling.

Fran and I then put up the rafters for the remaining rear room and erected the two walls previously made. The final shape of the house is now clearly visible and makes the effort so far seem much more worthwhile.

Tuesday 27 February 2001

More walls in place and we now have the rear of the corridor framed. I painted the poles of the carport with undercoat and enamelled the poles and brace at the rear finishing at 7:45 pm. Tomorrow I will put the corrugated iron on that wall in anticipation of the arrival of the floorboards. I don't want them to be spoiled by exposure to rain or sun.

Had a phone message that the marine ply for the gutter is now available. That will be the first part of the roof to be built and I realise that the roof purlin that should have supported it over the deck terminates at the wall. Fran says we can get Tony to weld an extension to it, but purlins take several weeks to arrive from the mainland. I decide to make a laminated wooden beam. It should look more attractive than steel purlin. I will varnish it with the epoxy I purchased for the initial coating of the gutter.

Wednesday 28 February2001

I spent most of the day putting corrugated iron on the rear of the carport. First I placed timber horizontally on the girts that Tony welded on for me. There are three timber supports for the top, middle and bottom of the vertical sheets. I used the power driver to screw the iron on, but the screws are long and the timber hard. It was slow and difficult to keep the sheets aligned. Since this is walling rather than roofing, the screws can go through the valley rather than the ridge of the corrugation. I order a thousand shorter screws from Brewsters for the house walls.

The completed wall looks satisfactory enough when viewed from where most will look at it and it's weatherproof. When we clad the house it will be a team of two making alignment much easier. As well, the corrugations will be horizontal rather than vertical and that will also help.

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