House Update

The House of Steel

Monday 2 April 2001

Wow! Déja vue! Here I am looking forward to Monday so I can get stuck into The House of Steel and it's bloody well cool and raining again. Bugger! Actually, it won't stop us doing what we intend today -- cutting up the plywood sheets for the gutter. It'll just be uncomfortable under the carport roof.

As it turned out, the rain was just nuisance stuff and we managed to attach the first layer of plywood to the curved gutter beams. We now have what looks like a giant water slide with a 5 metre fall to the ground at the end of it. Thomas wants iron spikes sticking up out of the ground while my preference is for a large vat of green slime. We intend to invite politicians to view the gutter and then push them so they slide down to meet the sticky end they deserve.

While Fran and I worked on the gutter, new team member Paul shifted the large pile of gravel in front of the house. He astounded us by running with full loads of gravel, constructing the various paths around the house we need. After demolishing the gravel pile, I had him move the decking from its storage area, closer to where it's needed. After that, he split firewood until beer o'clock. He worked seven hours without a break, not even for food. He refused the complimentary beer as he was off to football training.

Michael visited in the morning to arrange ordering floorboards from an alternative source since Torenius are now long overdue. It's only a couple of weeks until we'll need them. He's also going to dowel and laminate timber to create the steps for the entry points to the house. We can't seem to find timber thick or wide enough.

Tuesday 3 April 2001

An interesting day. I invited the architect to view The House of Steel. Despite my lack of respect for his engineering abilities, he is responsible for the overall design and it is everything one could hope for. I could not deny him this opportunity, as the house will look very different when its "bones" are covered with "skin". Stephen arrived with his lady, Jackie and they were as overjoyed by the viewing as I am. Every window frames an interesting view.  They visited nearly 60 minutes, left us with hot cross buns and took some Royal Gala apples, the variety currently at its peak of perfection.

Once again my weight came into its own to hold down the second layer of marine plywood on the gutter while Fran put in the screws. We also used floorboard glue to ensure that the structure remains rigid. I finished the day applying a two part epoxy coating that soaks into the very fibres of the timber, rendering it immune to the ravages of water.

Michael has located suitable flooring, though it's blue gum rather than swamp gum. Blue gum is harder and paler than swampy. Michael says he has some fluid that will temporarily soften the timber when it comes to sanding. The paler shade is not an issue -- it's still a beautiful timber. The profile is for secret nailing rather than the symmetrical sort that Torenius promised to supply 8 weeks ago. Also, it's 3.5 mm thicker and supposedly cheaper -- around $A1,500 less.

Wednesday 4 April 2001

The gutter through the middle is all but finished. Fran and I battened it down the edges so we could attach narrow strips of 10 mm marine plywood to bring the height of the gutter edges up to the underside of the corrugated iron roof. Several people have told me we will regret having a valley gutter, it will overflow and flood the house. Well, I calculate the volume of the gutter at 2,300 litres (607 gal US). The slope is 3° and the ends are unobstructed; the water will fall into a wide funnel. If that gutter floods, we will have other things to worry about than water ingress under the edge of the roof!

Rain was predicted, so I didn't put the epoxy putty in the joints. It's expensive stuff and I didn't want to have to stop because the plywood was wet. So we commenced putting the front decking on. This went much quicker than my solo effort on the side deck. Cutting the lengths was complicated by the fact that the longest length is shorter than the deck, but not by much. Fran went to some trouble to randomise the lengths so that it looks better than if we just went one very long, one very short length alternating, which is what I would likely have done.

The rain did come, in short periods of drizzle at first, then a continuous downpour from around 3:30. It's supposed to be fine for the rest of the week, so first thing tomorrow I'll use the compressor to blow the moisture from the cracks between the plywood sheets and putty them up late in the day. Then there's three coats of marine paint, so it's likely we will be roofing on Tuesday if it's not too windy.

Whoops, I miscalculated the number of coats of paint -- it's six, so roofing won't happen until after Easter. Fran puttied up the cracks while I put screws in the decking.

Tuesday 10 April 2001

It was very wet yesterday, but today is fine, albeit windy. I am up to the first coat of undercoat on the gutter and it seems to take forever. Rather than use expensive solvents to clean an expensive brush, I am painting with 50¢ brushes and discarding them after their first use. They tend to leave bristles in the paint, though, and this is the worst yet. I might need to rethink this idea as it added an hour to the time taken to paint.

I phoned Stramit to discover when the rest of the steel was arriving and there's apparently no sign of it having been ordered! The salesman is out of mobile range, so he can't be contacted. Grrrr!

While I painted, Fran put diagonal strapping across the purlins of the great hall and small bedroom. Then, to fill in the rest of the day, he finished putting the screws in the decking. Until the steel bridging and extra purlin arrives, there's nothing left for him to do. Or me for that matter!

Wednesday 11 April 2001

Today is very wet and the Stramit salesman phones. He says that he was waiting for me to tell him what quantity of bridging we needed! Back in March, he took money off me for that bridging. Not liking being treated like a complete idiot, I phone the local Stramit manager and explain my frustration and he says he will investigate. The sales idiot phones back later and says that we arranged to use up what we could of the original delivery and then call him back to tell him what we needed. Since none of the bridging originally delivered is the correct length and all but one were ends rather than intermediate pieces, all we could use were a couple of brackets where the bridging starts. We needed them as the gutter obstructs putting them on now. I am angry and frustrated. How do these people manage to remain in business?

Later in the day, the sales idiot phones me to query the length of the bridging because it is different to the length and quantity he calculated on-site in March. The length and quantity he didn't have this morning, because he was waiting for me to tell him what it was! Moron! He promises to deliver the bridging first thing tomorrow morning.

Thursday 12 April 2001

Well, the Stramit sales idiot failed to show up this morning. Hardly surprising really! Since he seems to forget what he said an hour or two before, he's likely forgotten to go to work!

Tuesday 17 April 2001

Chris Bell Removals just phoned to say the windows have arrived. Of course we can't install them until we have the purlins finished and the framing inspection. I have arranged to have the windows put in storage. I am angry and depressed.


I think that the old adage that it's the squeaky hinge that gets oiled works. I faxed every branch of Stramit in Australia about my problems with Stramit Tasmania and lo, the manager commenced to treat me as a valued client instead of an enemy. We were still having a nice little natter when the bridging was delivered -- with considerable bad grace according to Tony who's welding some steps for me today.

Leon's originally a local (born half an hour's drive south of here) and an ex-scientist to boot. Looking forward to his visiting The House of Steel now that we can talk in civilised terms. Oh, happy day! All I need now is the final purlin and we can look forward to putting the lid on the house on Thursday.

Marguerite was none too pleased with my tactic -- she would have preferred lawyers at 40 paces. According to my records, we have paid for 31.1m of purlin that we'll never see minus the cost of 50m of steel strapping, but at least we have enough purlins to finish the roof. There's a gap above the external wall of the en-suite bathroom and laundry that was to have been filled by purlin not required structurally and we will fill that with timber. The corrugated zincalume will now run all the way up to the roof, rather than terminating at that purlin.

I am happy enough with the compromise -- there's not a lot one can do when a company has a monopoly.

Just because nobody complains doesn't mean all parachutes are perfect. -- Benny Hill

Wednesday 18 April 2001

It feels good to be working on the house again! Last night was the first decent night's sleep for a week. Fran and I got most of the roof purlins on today. The length of bridging delivered was the length I calculated rather than what the sales idiot calculated. Over the Great Hall, his calculation resulted in the final bridge being 100mm or so short, so we had to use a scrap of 100mm purlin to extend the final bridge. I erred in the opposite direction. It's a lot easier to cut 12 mm off than on. And less visible!

I have phoned the building inspector to come and do the framing inspection and he'll be here Monday. 

The roofing team will consist of Fran, Tony, myself and Hughie. Hughie is a friend of Fran's and insists that it's bad Ju-Ju to take money for helping me. Who am I to complain about that? Oh, and we'll have my son Thomas to help. Hopefully, that will be Friday.

Another visitor to see The House of Steel this morning. And the now frequent comment on the fact that it's the tidiest building site they have ever seen. "A tidy a building site is a safer building site," is what my boss Bill used to tell me when I was working weekends for him as a teenager back in the sixties.

Friday 20 April 2001

Yesterday was a washout due to rain in the afternoon, so we didn't finish the roof purlins until today. Now they are all in place, the House of Steel takes on its final shape. A milestone.

Had a chat to Leon Williams about the 31.1m discrepancy I referred to on Wednesday. It seems that he overlooked that in his zeal to deal with the $435 overpayment. So the value of that now gets credited to my future purchases of Stramit materials. While we no longer need the 150mm purlin, having worked around that, we still need some guttering for the carport and a 150mm downpipe for the huge central gutter of the house. Plus we need some more 100mm purlin for the long ramp Tony is constructing for the rear. And I've a mind to build a proper woodshed rather than our current system which is loose sheets of old corrugated iron held on top of the woodheaps with large rocks,

I guess that means I will have spent a little more on Stramit materials than I'd planned, but what the hell. There's nothing wrong with the materials, they are functional and superb to work with. Even though it took a lot of squeaking to finally be 100% satisfied, the lesson to be learnt I think is that it's better to squeak than employ a professional squeaker (lawyer). They just ensure both sides lose.

"It is rare indeed that there is not ample occasion for grumbling." -- John Wagstaff.

Sunday 22 April 2001

Margie planted out several shrubs, trees and decorative plants around the house site. I indicated the limits of how close to the sides of the house she could plant and she has come a little too close in places. I have warned her that we need plenty of space for working and plants may be trodden on accidentally. Most of them are well away from where we're working.

I sprayed the weeds under and adjacent to the house with glyphosate (a clone of Monsanto's Roundup) weedkiller. I don't like to use weedkiller, but it's the most efficient thing to do at this time. Underneath the house will be covered by a layer of fine crushed rock later to suppress weed growth.

Monday 23 April 2001

Fran didn't turn up today as he has a cold. Tony and I managed to get a few things done in the absence of Fran's Amazing Toolkit. One side of the front steps is in place and we made a concrete pad to support the bottom of the other side. We also made a concrete pad to support the ramp up to the rear entrance platform. One side of the ramp will be attached to a large rock that refused to budge when nudged by the excavator some months ago.

Garry, the building inspector arrived and spent twenty minutes admiring my House of Steel. As we anticipated, he managed to find something for us to do. The long wall that forms the rear of The Great Hall has only one brace at the windward end. Garry wants us to brace the other end as well with strapping to form a crossed diagonal tension brace. Given that there's around double the amount of wall bracing required by the engineers, you might think I'd be complaining. But like Garry, I'm a great believer that lots of bracing is a very good thing in a windy location. And it will just use up the last of the 100 metres of strapping I purchased for the house.

Garry commented on the double-studding and said that had we used single studs, he would have insisted that they be doubles. Of course this is what a "registered" builder would have done and we would have had to pay for the noggins to be removed in order to place the extra studs, the noggins trimmed and refitted. A costly exercise. Much better to get it right beforehand. Bill, the builder I worked for in 1968 and 1969 used to say, "If you have time to re-do it, you had time to do it right in the first place".

Garry also noted that we hadn't strapped the bottoms of the studs. I pointed out that we will be screwing the bottom edge of the corrugated iron wall cladding to the steel beams to make a continuous positive tie, making the need for them redundant and he agrees.

The weather slowly deteriorated and we (mainly Tony) repaired a wheelbarrow and reinforced the other in the shelter of the carport.

Tuesday 24 April 2001

Today it's pouring with rain, so it's a lay day. I have been taken to task again for my cost-saving claims. The original quotes ranged from $A225,000 to $A260,000, but the money we were paying on top of this, $A30,000 for water tanks, septic tank, excavation, kitchen and bathroom cabinets etc must be added to this as well as $A14,000 architect's fees. Thus the range is $A269,000 to $A304,000. If we take the average of this, $A286,500 and the architect's fee is 10% of that, $28,650 less the $A14,000 already paid to the architect, then the price becomes $A301,150. The architect suggested we place $A10,000 aside above and beyond that price for contingencies. Our current guesstimate of final cost is still around the $A150,000 mark or approximately 50% cost saving.

Wednesday 25 April 2001

Fran is still ill, so I made a large and substantial workbench from bits of scantling and remnants of chipboard flooring. I don't have any coach screws for attaching my woodworking vice, or metalworker's vice yet. Strangely, neither of the vices came with any details of screw diameter requirements and so on. One might have thought that the manufacturer's might have included that in lieu of the actual screws.

Michael came by to tell me the floorboards arrive tomorrow and that the steps for the front of the house will be ready a week on Friday.

Thursday 26 April 2001

Today, Leon Williams, state manager for Stramit came and admired The House of Steel. I have the impression that he was impressed by what he saw. Not so impressed by the design changes The Bastard Salesman from Hell inflicted on me! He brought a CD of insulation product information with him that was very interesting. I can get foil-faced glass wool insulation in rolls, so we can cut it for exact fit. Our stud and purlin spacing differs a little from standard here and there due to the nature of the building, and this may well be a more economical alternative to pre-cut insulation batts.

Fran's bout of 'flu appears to be over, but three days of immobility has left him somewhat stiff and sore, so it will be Monday before we are back into building. Tomorrow should see the return of the scanner and pix posted Saturday Australian time.

Saturday 28 April 2001

The long awaited pictures! Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version.

The House of Steel from the north. The House of Steel from the north
From the east. The House of Steel from the east
From the south-east. The House of Steel from the south-east
Looking down the corridor toward the front of The House of Steel. Looking down the corridor toward the front of The House of Steel
Looking down the corridor toward the back of The House of Steel. Looking down the corridor toward the back of The House of Steel
You can see here how the gutter is supported by laminated wooden beams, rather than steel. You can see here how the gutter is supported by laminated wooden beams, rather than steel
The interior of the gutter with the seams patched and ready for sanding, then painting with marine paint. The interior of the gutter with the seams patched and ready for sanding, then painting with marine paint
The purlins, bridges and strapping over The Great Hall. The purlins, bridges and strapping over The Great Hall
A stainless steel frame and blackwood chair made by Tony Dunshea and Michael Henrysson. A stainless steel frame and blackwood chair made by Tony Dunshea and Michael Henrysson
The bridging from Stramit. There were supposed to be only two of the sort in the top row. The rest were supposed to be like the two at bottom left. They were also supposed to all be the same length! The bridging for the eastern half of The House of Steel
Here we see the "accuracy" of The Bastard Salesman from Hell's order. The purlins in the upper part of the picture are 100mm (4 in) longer than those in the lower part! Here we see the "accuracy" of The Bastard Salesman from Hell's order. The purlins in the upper part of the picture are 100mm (4 in) longer than those in the lower part!

Sunday 29 April 2001

A fairly quiet day recovering from the Franklin Apple harvest Festival yesterday. Marguerite helped me lug the second side of the front stair up to the deck to where it's to go. We marked the concrete pad for the drilling of the fixing hole. I fixed the threaded rod in the concrete pad with Araldite, there being no liquid epoxy left. Since nearly all the force here is at right angles to the rod, I don't need as secure a fixing as for the house foundations. While I bore the brunt of the weight (approx 45 kg), Marguerite guided the bottom of the stair on to the threaded rod. Friction hold the top securely enough to nudge it into position so that the stair sides are completely parallel, leaving 5 mm clearance for the treads at each end. Then I placed one of the beautiful timber stair treads that Michael has made for us temporarily in place and put the spirit level on it. Side to side, the level is as close to perfect as makes no difference. Front to back, there's a slight fall to prevent water ponding on the treads.

Michael made the eight treads by joining three pieces of timber together, edge to edge. There's a wide variation in figuring and colour despite being the same species of tree. To preserve them, Michael has treated them with Organoil and recommends applying more two or three times a year. I wonder how many organs it takes to make a litre of Organoil?

Marguerite is disappointed that the treads are not to be attached today. First I apply Cold Galv to the welds and later there will be two coats of paint. Much easier to paint the steel first and attach the treads after. They will be held in place by Tek screws from underneath.

The weather forecast through Thursday is for cold mornings and light winds, ideal conditions for putting on the roof.

30 April 2001

It was a frosty morning and the gutter was covered in large beads of moisture. Since we are putting a large old canvas tent in it to protect the surface while we put the roofing steel on, I mop up the moisture and we leave it to dry. Meanwhile, Fran puts a strip of steel down the side of the long stud adjacent to the French window. That stud, despite being a double stud is a bit wobbly due to the inertia of the heavy steel header. Then he goes on to put a steel crossed strap brace in the big wall as per the building inspector's direction.

Meanwhile, when I put the steel side for the stair in place yesterday, I checked the bottom step for level and assumed that the rest of the steps would follow suit. However, the top of the construction needs 15 mm of steel removed and this moves the hole where the threaded rod attaches the stair to the concrete pad. So Tony cuts the steel and enlarges the hole with Hughie's help.

While all this is going on, I gather the various tools and power cables that will be used on the roof. Around 10.30, we start the roof with Fran and Tony up on top and Hughie and myself lifting the 9 metre lengths of corrugated steel up to them. At one point, we try using rope slings, but they are more trouble than they are worth. Brute strength and ignorance wins the day.

After the first two sheets of steel are down, we commence laying Tyvek plastic sheeting down first. We run this from the gutter, up over the purlins and down to the bottom of the wall. There are special miniature steel gang-nails for this, punched from steel sheet. The steel is rather soft and some of the points tend to crumple which is a little frustrating. The Tyvek is very noisy in the slight breeze making communication between the ground and roof difficult even when the power screwdrivers aren't going.

The job goes quicker than anticipated and by 4.30 or so, the western half of the house is roofed. As expected, the subjective size of the house has changed yet again. While on the roof, the house seems quite small. Inside The Great Hall it's big again! I suspect beer o'clock might have continued for another hour, but by a little after 5 pm, it was becoming quite cold. Another frost tonight and the prospect of yet another windless day tomorrow.

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