House Update

The House of Steel

Tuesday 5 June 2001

Yesterday was mostly spent calculating the exact number and size of gyprock sheets needed for the internal walls. We also calculated and ordered the glass wool insulation. Towards the end of the day, we put the folded zincalume edging on the eastern and western edges of the roof. This has two purposes: it makes the edge look much neater and it prevents capillary action allowing drips of water to travel into the wall cavity by running down the underside of the roof.

Fran also put some chipboard flooring that will be underneath where the corridor stair will go. Michael Henrysson delivered the stair sometime during the weekend.

Today, Tony Heron, the electrician arrived and continued wiring for power points, telephones and TV. Hughie helped by drilling large holes through the steel beams where required and cleaning the holes with a home made device. This consists of a piece of 10mm rod with a slit cut in it parallel to the sides of the rod. Into the slit he placed a strip of coarse emery paper that he wound tight around the rod. While in an electric drill, the rod is poked into the hole to be cleaned and the drill turned on. When the hole is deburred, the drill is turned off before removing the rod from the hole. Much quicker than filing off the burrs.

While Tony and Hughie worked at cabling, Fran, Thomas and myself put up some more cement sheet. Until the insulation arrives, we cannot complete the cement sheeting. We need to put that in under the already installed chipboard flooring in the laundry/bathroom area. We can't commence laying down the tongue and groove flooring until the insulation is in place and the wiring is finished. So Fran starts pop riveting the corner flashings we had made for the house. They look just as good as I expected and are much less expensive than the original design.

Diagram of trim

The diagrams show the two methods of finishing corners from above. The original method, shown first, requires thrice as much zincalume sheet and five folds rather than three. As well, the corrugated zincalume has to be cut exactly to length or the effect is spoiled. Since the sheets from Stramit varied by as much as 25 mm from the nominal length, this would have required a lot of extra cutting. The second method hides the variations in length. Note the folded edges of the zincalume -- this markedly stiffens the material so it runs straight and the added thickness makes it look more substantial.

Wednesday 6 June 2001

Lots of thinking to do. Tony Heron and I worked out a lot of lighting stuff -- location of switches etc, but he needs to know more specific information about how the light fittings we are purchasing will attach to the ceiling. I dug up the power and telecom lines where they were buried at the foot of the temporary power box. Fran cut a hole through the corrugated iron on the south west corner of The Great Hall and made a flashing from some plain zincalume sheet. Then Tony removed the fuse from the top of the power pole while we shifted the power box from the temporary location, onto the wall. As usual, Fran's work was precise and the box fit well.

Removing the steel star post that held the temporary power box rigid from its position next to the house was a great relief. Whenever I was working on a ladder near it, I had visions of falling on it and becoming impaled.

The last of the coarse gravel and the insulation arrived.

Thursday 7 June 2001

This morning Michael Henrysson came to fit the stairs in the corridor. It didn't take long and we covered them with corrugated cardboard to protect them during construction. It's a great relief to be able to move between the front and back sections of the building with comfort.

Fran and I fixed the corners of the cement sheets where they butt together. We didn't bother to trim the lengths to fall on a joist. Instead while I held a scrap of chipboard on top, Fran used a screwdriver to drive screws through the corners of the cement sheets into the scrap. A liberal application of gap-filler acts as glue to reinforce the bond. Then we commenced filling all the gaps between the cement sheets. The gap filler is a proprietary compound in a tube used with a caulking gun. We waited until there was a special a few weeks ago and purchased a box of 20 at 60% of the usual price. Sealing the sheets will have taken about 10 tubes at $A2 each when we have finished.

The latter part of the afternoon we spent laying glass wool batts between the joists in The Great Hall and the master bedroom. Unlike the glass wool batts of yore, there's a minimum of loose fibres, so we don't need the protective gear that used to be required.

While yesterday was drizzly and damp, today was almost constant drizzle interspersed with heavy rain. Finally, just on beer o'clock, the setting sun almost broke through the clouds, producing a magnificent double rainbow that lasted for almost ten minutes.

Friday 8 June 2001

While I spent most of the morning on the phone and catching up on correspondence, Fran put up more corner flashings. Almost all are now in place and they make the house look much more "finished". I am looking forward to seeing the flashings for the tops of the walls in place. Fran is going to make an adjustable template from plywood for those since the gap between the purlins varies considerably.

The afternoon was once more spent at Michael Henrysson's shed drinking beer and telling lies. Except for Fran who had to do some welding for a friend. Chris, a fish farmer dropped by and confirmed that gypsum is the cheapest flocculant to clear the clay suspended in the dam water. She Who Must Be Obeyed doesn't like the brown stain in the toilet bowl at the cottage and keeps trying to get me to agree to connect the toilets in the new house to the potable water supply. Since toilets consume as much as 50% of the typical household water supply, I am reluctant to do this. Even though our water catchment is far more efficient and we have double the storage capacity, I am sure we will consume far more water than before. And long periods of drought are not uncommon here.

Saturday 9 June 2001

I spent the afternoon laying all but two packs of floor insulation. Since the laundry/ensuite area already has the floor in place, we will have to put in the insulation from underneath immediately before putting the cement sheet in place. I also put one pack of the glass wool batts on a wall to see how they performed. Batts for walls are stiffer than ceiling batts, but here batts rated R1.5 are the only ones used in walls. Nevertheless, the R2.5 batts are stiff enough to stay in place long enough to staple the polythene vapour barrier onto the studs.

The wall insulation sits somewhat proud of the studs, so it will be compressed slightly when the plasterboard is attached. Presumably, this will slightly lower its insulation rating. I should perhaps have purchased R2.0 instead. Were I to build The House of Steel with the knowledge I have gained, I would have ordered custom scantling for the wall frames. Probably 100 mm by 50 mm instead of the standard 90 mm by 38 mm.

Monday 11 June 2001

Fran finished placing the corner flashings and then finished off the steel purlin and corrugated zincalume boxing around the electricity conduit coming from underground into the meter and fuse box. While he did this, I was rolling around on the ground under the en suite and laundry area, stuffing glass wool insulation batts between the floor joists. This wasn't a particularly pleasant task as the batts picked up particles of earth and dead weeds, many of which fell back on my face.

In the afternoon, we finished placing the cement sheets under the floor joists. Thomas was a great help with this task that's next to impossible for two. Fran then proceeded to place the corrugated zincalume behind the bottom of the wall underneath the house. My original intention was that only the visible portion of this would be zincalume, the "invisible" portion was to have been cement sheet. But there's lots of zincalume scraps and the judicious use of rivets holds them together. Anyone that crawls under the house is unlikely to see that they are left-over bits. Far more likely they would have concluded that we ran out of zincalume had we used the cement sheet.

Just as I had set Thomas the task of backfilling the trench below the electricity meter box, our neighbour Tony Walker came by for a sticky beak. So I declared beer o'clock half an hour earlier than usual. After backfilling the trench, Thomas accepted my offer of a beer. It's the first time he has done so.

Tomorrow, while Marguerite and I shop for the light fittings and finalise our plumbing needs, Thomas and Fran will commence laying the floorboards. Initially they will be laid upside down while we put the plasterboard on the walls and ceiling. Once that's done, we will flip them over and glue and nail them in place. There are two reasons for this: first the boards get a further period of drying and second any surface damage they sustain will end up underneath the floor. No need to sand the inevitable scuff marks off.

Marguerite's summary of the day: "You didn't achieve much today!" Women!

Tuesday 12 June 2001

Marguerite and I went shopping today. We have pretty much decided on the exact light fittings we will be using in the house. We can highly recommend Eddy at Lights 'n' Lamps in Hobart for his enthusiasm and knowledge of his products. We paid a deposit and took one of the exterior bunker lights so we can make wall brackets to suit.

Having decided to make the small (10-20W) light over the corridor stair automatic, dependent on light level, I was surprised that there is no device available to do the switching. You can purchase a chatty looking light that plugs into a standard wall socket, but it is also not adjustable. Sounds like a job for my friend Robert.

We ordered the hot water cylinder from West Hobart Plumbing and it looks like we will be purchasing the rest of our plumbing requisites there. Unlike Fergussons who hiked their prices 10-16% without telling us, their prices have remained pretty much the same since we last spoke and we have also decided to purchase more traditional tapsets saving some more money. Adrian explained that ceramic washers don't like the heat of the hot water coming from a combustion stove, explaining why we have had so much trouble with our current kitchen tap.

We ended our day in town with a visit to a hardware store to purchase some ventilator objects that will be used to control the entry and exit of air from the house.

Glass wool batts in the master bedroom wall. wallinsulation01.jpg (58010 bytes)
The power box attached to its permanent position. The purlins each side will have corrugated zincalume attached to protect the electric cables. To the right is the telecomm connection. powerbox01.jpg (87959 bytes)
This is the platform at the rear of the house between the carport and back door. The tape to the left of the door is holding some bunched up stuff to prevent the door handle damaging the wall. It will be replaced later by something more sophisticated. backdoor01.jpg (67948 bytes)

Wednesday 13 June 2001

Yesterday, when we arrived home, Fran informed us that the floorboard packs had been inhabited by rats during storage prior to delivery. They made a real mess! Michael arrived to inspect and says that any boards we are not happy with will be replaced. A good thing as some of the boards are far from satisfactory.

Fran cut and laid quite a few floorboards today while Stan ran the hot and cold water pipes hither and yon. Marguerite assisted with placing polythene between floor joists while Hughie and I sorted through the floorboards to make a pile of rejects.

Thursday 14 June 2001

Marguerite continued to place the polythene vapour barrier between the floor joists while Fran cut and laid floorboards. By the end of the day, they made quite a display even though they are loose and upside down.

The shower, bath and toilets arrived. We stashed the shower below Thomas's room, the bath on some timber across some timber on the grass over the other side of the driveway and the toilets in the carport. The carport is crowded by the floorboards in the process of being sorted for quality. I reject any that are 30% or more unusable. By late afternoon I have measured about 25% of the rejects. Fran shows me how to use the drop saw to cut the floor boards so I can continue over the next three days. Tomorrow he is working for another client. The boards are cut with a slight angle so that they meet firmly at the upper surface.

Friday 15 June 2001

The house is now at lock-up; that is we can keep all but the most determined intruders out by locking the doors. Apart from this being a major milestone, it means we can insure the house and Marguerite arranges for $A220,000 of cover.

While Marguerite continues her polythene cutting and laying, I continue to measure the reject boards. We are pleasantly interrupted from time to time by visitors come to admire our efforts.

By the day's end I calculate that 28% of the floorboards are useless except under fitted carpet. Why one would purchase boards intended for secret nailing and then cover them escapes me. Fortunately, there are just enough boards to complete the flooring. The reason for ordering more than needed was against this possibility. I expected that the boards left over would be good enough for making doors, bookshelves and so forth, but the rejects are far worse than would be good enough for those purposes.

I telephone Michael to give him the bad news and he informs me that he took a couple of boards to show the supplier and is in full agreement with me regarding their unsuitability. This is a great relief as I was in some trepidation as to what his reaction might be.

The following illustrates the difference between secret nailing and face nailing. Notice that the boards intended for secret nailing have an asymmetric profile so that there's more "meat" where the nail goes through. You can secret nail the symmetric profile boards, but the chance of splitting is much greater. Face nailing requires twice the number of nails and you must use a nail set to drive the nails below the surface of the boards and then fill the nail holes. However, when face nailing you lay up several boards and then cramp them together with floor cramps before driving the nails. With secret nailing, you use a chisel as a lever to cramp each individual board before driving a single nail and this is somewhat slower. Many prefer the appearance of the unblemished surface, and because the nails are driven at an angle, the boards are more securely held.

Secret nailing versus face nailing

For information on wood flooring, The Wood Floor Doctor is a great resource.

Saturday 16 June 2001

Today I managed to lay quite a few floorboards until it became too dark around 4 pm. It's very satisfying to build up a rhythm. The only fly in the ointment is that Ricky the Wonderdog barks when the drop saw fires up. Actually, he's taken to barking when he hears the squeak of the hinge on the drop saw before I pull the trigger and he continues barking for some time after. I'm glad I have ear protectors!

Sunday 17 June 2001

A few less floorboards laid today. Visitors stopped play for a couple of hours. Nice seeing them though as we haven't seen them for several months. Actually, we haven't seen most of our acquaintances for several months.

Monday 18 June 2001

From Roy Harvey:


I found your description of asymmetric floor board profiles interesting, as it isn't something I've ever seen here in the US. I wonder if the wood you are using might be more prone to splitting than the white oak that is standard here.

Your description:

"With secret nailing, you use a chisel as a lever to cramp each individual board before driving a single nail"

left me wondering whether you install the flooring using a simple hammer or a nailer. Over here the standard tool for blind (as we call it) nailing hardwood flooring allows the job to move along at a reasonable pace. See:

and look at the animated illustration near the bottom for what I am talking about. One blow of the hammer tightens the joint, the other drives and sets the nail. The latest version of this idea is pnuematic for the actual driving:

Roy Harvey Beacon Falls, CT (as in Connecticut USA)

Thanks for the info, Roy. I will certainly check if the tool is available for hire. Most wooden floors here are face nailed and several people have offered me the use of standard floor cramps for free! None of them have indicated any knowledge of the nailers you point me to. If they are available here at the right price, I might even purchase one and hire it out when I've finished!

The three main timbers used in Tasmania for flooring (all eucalypts) are not particularly prone to splitting, but when a split occurs it's a major pain to remove the board; hence the special profile. I have secret nailed the standard profile successfully before, but it was a small floor.

The timber we are laying in The House of Steel, blugum, is the hardest of the three and we were hopeful that we could use the fit-out gun to drive the nails. As you can imagine, driving nails home with a nail set would be *very* slow.

Today we tested the fit-out gun on some scraps of floorboard and the timber we used for joists. Even though the gun needs a service, it worked perfectly, so that's what we will use.

Fran started cutting and installing the flashings for the tops of the walls between the purlins. While he did that, I carried on with the floorboard cutting and laying. Around half of the floorboards are now done. Marguerite finished laying polythene between the joists and commenced placing glass wool between the wall studs. A satisfying day.

Tuesday 19 June 2001

Much the same as yesterday until Ross, one of the partners in Certainteed came by with Steve the window salesman. We showed Ross the wobble in the centre of the French window and he's going to send us a sample of the frame material so we know what we need to tie into to stabilise it. The long shelf idea seems the most promising still. 

Naturally, Ross asked the $64,000 question: "When do you think you'll be finished?" So I asked Fran if he thought we'd still be at it in nine weeks. "I hope not!" he replied. 

Fran commenced the flashing that closes off the ends and open sides of the roof purlins at the front of the house. As I expected, this makes them look like solid beams of steel and the ends catch the light adding to the visual effect of the curved roof.

Had Ross and Steve not come by, I would have finished the flooring in The Great Hall. Nevertheless, more than half the flooring is laid. Even with a trip to the city tomorrow (it's likely to be a wet day) the flooring should be finished some time during Saturday or Sunday.

Wednesday 20 June 2001

For the first time in many months, I walked to the southern end of the property. I wanted to take some photographs and check the water level in the dam. Here's the photograph I took:

thru-the-trees.jpg (49283 bytes)

The water in the dam is about a metre below full, so it should fill before winter's end. I plan to flocculate the clay with gypsum (calcium sulphate). My neighbours were shifting the electric fence they use for strip grazing and I stopped to chat. They have used Limil (calcium hydroxide) to successfully flocculate the clay in water troughs, but the recommendation they received for dams was to use cheaper aluminium sulphate. Since the dam water is to be used on my garden, as well as for flushing toilets, I don't want aluminium in the water supply.

Viv pointed out that for the dam water to remain clean, we will need to fence the dam to keep the stock out. And that means we will need to provide a water trough for the cattle to drink from. I suspect that Viv will do this for us as it's his cattle that we are agisting.

Here's a photograph of the house from Viv's property:

dawn-east.jpg (55478 bytes)

Stan the plumber arrived while I was chatting to Viv and his son, Dennis. He told me that he needed the breeches for the bath and shower taps, so it's just as well that Fran and I are off to Hobart shopping today.

The main purpose of the trip is to purchase battens for the ceiling. These are pressed steel strips that we will use to support the polythene vapour barrier and the glass wool insulation. In turn, the plasterboard will be screwed onto the battens.

Before that, we go to Tas Fasteners. A builder friend of Fran's left a nail gun there some time ago for repair. When informed of the repair cost, he declined and purchased a new one elsewhere. He offered Fran the nail gun for spares and on our last trip we picked it up only to discover when we arrived back in the Huon that it had been gutted -- it was an empty shell. On being asked for the innards today, they declined to offer up either the parts they had purloined without permission, or to pay for them. The firing pin alone is worth $A90 new! While there I saw a useful quartz-halogen workshop light, but decided to buy one elsewhere.

We went to Brewsters to purchase a 3.6 m (12 ft) aluminium stepladder. They need to order it in and inform me that it will arrive from Launceston tomorrow. We have less luck with the screws we need for the final bit of decking and the battens for the plaster. They will take a week or so to arrive from the mainland.

The final port of call was West Hobart Plumbing to purchase the breeches for Stan. It turns out that the shower breech is supplied with the shower tapset and they are now out of stock. It will arrive Monday. They don't have a bath tapset breech, so we take a slightly wider one intended for a laundry trough or kitchen sink. I don't think it matters if the bath taps are set slightly wider apart.

When nearly home, I receive a call from Stan on the mobile asking me to pick up the breech sets from the local hardware store -- he'd forgotten asking me first thing this morning. At the house, Stan has completed nearly all the hot and cold, and is now working on the waste system. The hole through the floor for the ensuite toilet waste reveals one of the steel beams. Fortunately, it's the beam where the floor joists are on top and there's enough clearance to put in an extra bend.

Pressure relief for the hot water cylinder is a vertical copper stand pipe through the roof, terminating slightly above the level of the top of the water storage tank. It's some 2.5 m (8 ft) above the roof. I mention that I will paint it white so it looks a little less stark against the sky and Marguerite thinks I'm referring to the pipe in the wall causing some momentary confusion. She also thought I'd referred to it as the "Stan" pipe. Rather than attempting to disguise it, it might be fun to fly a flag from it instead. I favour the Jolly Roger.

Marguerite has now placed insulation on much of the Master bedroom, bathroom, laundry and the western wall of The Great Hall. It won't be long before we can expect to be quite warm in the house. The temperature indoors at 3 pm was 10C (approximately 60F).

Thursday 21 June 2001

Floorboarding has progressed as far as Thomas's room, so the end is in sight. Of all the tasks, this is my favourite so far. Fran continued with the flashing on exterior wall tops, including the curved ones under the gutter above the front and back doors. Marguerite is more than halfway through putting insulation on the walls.

John Clennet, supplier of the floorboards, was supposed to arrive today to explain why 28% of them are useless for my purposes and hopefully do something about them. His staff didn't know where he was and he wasn't answering his mobile phone. Feh!

There is a gale blowing today and the copper pressure relief pipe through the roof is swaying so I will have to make wire stays to prevent this.

Saturday 23 June 2001

Yesterday, John Clennet arrived to make amends for the useless floorboards. They are to be replaced later in the week. He also took an off-cut to test the moisture content, though this will undoubtedly be different to what it will be when we finally fix them in place. John explained that he is attempting to develop an export market for blugum floorboards for sports arenas. The uniform, light colour is excellent for TV and it would be difficult to find a timber more resistant to wear. John asked if he could view the house when complete, so I invited him to the house warming. That should suitably annoy my Greenie friends, some of whom despise the Clennets for their involvement in the forestry industry.

Gale force winds last night lifted the door of the electrical meter box, leaving it dangling by one hinge. The door consequently severely abraded the adjacent wall as it swung about. Bother! Marguerite used ducting tape and polythene to protect the inside from the rain. The Tyvek temporarily attached to the windward end of the carport with wooden battens survived intact.

The floorboards are laid in more than half of Thomas's room, so my goal of having that job complete by tomorrow afternoon appears achievable. I telephoned Tony Heron, the electrician and he will arrive Thursday to complete the wiring for the lights and switches. I also phoned Tony Dunshea, the chap who has done all the welding to see if he was available to help with putting up the plasterboard. I have also commissioned him to make frames for eight of his chairs. Instead of the blackwood that Michael used, I will use remains from the floorboards.

Tony and Michael's chair

Sunday 24 June 2001

Michael arrived this morning; we loaded the reject floorboards and took them down to his shed for strapping so they can be returned.

Around 1 pm a fierce storm commenced. The rain poured and the wind blew (gusting to 169 km/h) all accompanied by thunder and lightning. The light was too poor to continue laying floorboards and I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of using the drop saw with all that lightning anyway. The house coped well with the storm. Not a drop of water entered the building. At the height of the downpour, the gutter was less than 10% full, so all the naysayers were wrong. The house is definitely storm-proof.

At the height of the storm, the house shuddered very briefly. Once. After it was finished, Marguerite came over and reported that the cottage had shuddered many times from the force of the wind.

By day's end I had laid all the floorboards in Thomas's room and set up the drop saw there ready to commence laying the boards in the spare bedroom tomorrow. Not quite as much as I had planned.

Tuesday 26 June 2001

Fran took yesterday off to build a new shelter for his rapidly growing pigs. The weather is atrocious (wet, cold and windy) and it makes no sense to keep pigs warm with food. I found an interesting job to apply for and so spent the day writing a job application.

Today Fran first fixed the door of the electricity meter box. It now has a second latch to prevent the door blowing off again. While he did this, I marked the relative positions of the lights in The Great Hall on the floor. Then using my new step ladder, Fran dangled his plumb bob over the marks I had made and transferred them to the ceiling. Three required us to measure the height as custom suspension rods are to be cut for them. The three heavier lights and the ceiling fan also got wooden noggins made to take the weight.

In the afternoon we put wooden battens for the plasterboard on the corridor ceiling. We used these instead of metal battens as I wanted to make the space above the plasterboard big enough to put in R3.5 insulation. I managed to lay floorboards over only about 20% of the small bedroom floor, but I can finish it on Thursday morning when Tony Heron comes to do the lighting wiring. Tomorrow I go to the city to hand-deliver the job application and purchase a birthday present for Marguerite.

Late in the day my friends Alan and Anne Brumby came by to have a look. Alan wants to buy the hammer drill when we have finished building. Since he is putting up a garage before we next need it, I lend it to him in the meantime. He is trying to decide between a house of steel and cordwood masonry. I suspect that the house of steel will be the less expensive approach because of the insane council requirements for foundations. Cordwood (firewood) is cheap, especially what you cut yourself, but the huge volume of concrete will cost a huge amount of money. Laying up cordwood walls will also take a lot longer than standard stud framing and covering with corrugated zincalume steel.

I assured Alan that the building inspector is far from being an ogre and to ask his advice on anything he needs to know.

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