House Update

The House of Steel

Monday 2 July 2001

Not a lot happening while we await the arrival of the electrician to wire the lights. He was due last Thursday and Friday. I had told him that any day except Wednesday was OK, so he turned up on Wednesday. The weather has been wet, so the outside finishing touches can't be done. Slippery ladders are too dangerous. In any event, this is non-urgent work. The next stage is putting up the ceiling battens we will be attaching the plasterboard to. Since they will support the polythene vapour barrier, which in turn supports the glass wool insulation, the wiring must be in place first.

Thursday 5 July 2001

The electrician turned up yesterday, but Fran has come down with a bad case of the 'flu. The replacement floorboards turned up yesterday. Originally, the floorboards were supposed to be 22 mm thick, but what was delivered were 19 mm thick. The replacements were 22 mm thick and since you can't mix and match floorboards, they had to go back. At least the electrical wiring is finished.

Tuesday 10 July 2001

Fran is still very ill, so there's not a lot happened over the last few days. Today Stan the plumber turned up and pressure tested the hot and cold which was fine. Then I helped him with the sullage pipes. That leaves only the sewage pipes and then the connection of the taps, toilets, sinks, shower and bath. Stan told me that Michael has sold his house, so he won't be building our kitchen after all. He's moving to Tenterfield in New South Wales.

The second lot of replacement floorboards arrived today -- this time the correct dimensions!

Sunday 15 July 2001

Today I started putting down the replacement floorboards in the spare bedroom. They are much better quality than the original delivery, so we will have the best floor in the least used room! It felt good to be back working on the house after not doing much for the last couple of weeks.

Fran phoned in the evening to say he's back tomorrow.

Monday 16 July 2001

At last we commenced putting up the battens for the plaster board on the ceilings. We started in The Great Hall by cutting a length of black builders polythene somewhat longer than the east-west dimension. Then we rolled the polythene onto a long rope, attaching it to the top of the east and west walls a little over half a metre from the south wall where we had set up the trestles. A rope between the north and south walls held the middle of the polythene roll close to the ceiling. We captured the southern edge of the polythene by screwing the batten to the underside of the purlins close to the wall. The next line of battens was 450 mm away and once that was finished, we moved the trestles and stuffed the glass wool insulation between the polythene and the roof. Then it was a repeat process of battening as close to 450 mm intervals as possible. In places the boards we had placed on the purlins to hold the lights meant we had to deviate a little, but that doesn't make any difference to the plasterboard when it is attached later.

By beer o'clock we were at the halfway mark. We should have the battening finished by Monday at the latest.

Tuesday 17 July 2001

While Fran and Hughie continued placing the ceiling battens etc in The Great Hall, I finalised the plaster board order and arranged for delivery next Tuesday. Then I put reflective foil insulation as the vapour barrier on the northern wall of the master bedroom. I had squirreled away a whole roll and two part rolls over the years. Some has already been placed on the north west part of The Great Hall and the remainder will go on the western wall. The foil should help reduce the amount of summer heat entering the house.

The black plastic and fibreglass has changed the acoustic properties of the house again. The dark colour has also "lowered" the ceiling. Today was bitterly cold (by local standards), but it was bearable indoors while generating one's own heat from physical effort. Next week should see indoor temperatures climbing.

Thursday 18 July 2001

The battens, insulation and vapour barrier on the ceilings is all but done. Fran will finish that job on Monday. Tomorrow he has an urgent roof job to do for someone else, but we will hie off to the Grand Hotel for lunch. Wednesday, Certainteed, the suppliers of our excellent vinyl windows are hiring Fran to help install some windows in the city, so the plasterboard installation will start Thursday. Between now and then, I will complete the insulation of the walls and putting the vapour barrier on.

The corridor ceiling is a little different to the the ceilings in the other rooms. The roof is the marine plywood gutter and is supported on 50 mm (2") curved steel tube leaving little room for insulation. To make more room, we put 50 mm deep wooden battens down the length of the corridor. Before I put in the insulation and vapour barrier, there's a job to do. On the underside of the plywood, mould has been growing, presumably because of moisture condensing from the cool winter air. Once mould commences to grow, it no longer needs an external source of moisture as it can supply its needs from the breakdown of the cellulose wood fibres. Before I seal it away, I will treat the mould with a fungicide. I will use a copper based spray that I use on my fruit trees in the spring.

The hot water cylinder arrived and looks suitably impressive. It is a 250 litre (60 gallon) capacity rather than the more common 180 litre (45 gallon) capacity. That's Imperial gallons. If you want to know US gallons you'll need to do your own conversion.

Sunday 22 July 2001

Yesterday, I spread gypsum (calcium sulphate) on the dam to flocculate the suspended clay. Margie requires clean water for the toilets. The effort left my elbows inflamed and painful.

Despite the lingering pain in my elbows, I managed to place the polythene vapour barrier on the bathroom and laundry walls, as well as placing the insulation in the corridor ceiling and the southern wall of the spare bedroom/office.

The loathsome starlings have decided to commence removing the exposed insulation from above the walls on the side deck. Fran will have to frustrate their nesting desires tomorrow by putting the zincalume flashing between the purlins.

Monday 23 July 2001

The insulation and vapour barrier inside the house is all but finished. I ran out of polythene sheet. We only need about 15% of a roll, but I will find a use for the remnant. Fran has manufactured two carrying handles from some 16 mm iron rod, a piece of zincalume cut from a C purlin and a handle made from galvanised waterpipe, to make carrying the sheets of plasterboard easier. The plasterboard arrives tomorrow. The most likely task for Fran will be installing the shower, or finishing the flashing at the front of the house.

Tuesday 24 July 2001

We were going to install the shower today, but the shower is the wrong type! I ordered an alcove shower, but Fergusson's delivered a corner shower. Maybe that's why the price was hiked 16%, not due to two price rises after the quote as the manager claimed. Fergusson's response: "We will call you back!"

The plasterboard arrived so offloading that from the truck was a priority. I had tidied the carport so we could stack the boards and ferry them into the house later. The end of the day saw only about a third of them indoors so we covered the remainder with polythene.

Tomorrow is Fran's day of working for Certainteed windows in the city, so I have organised Tony the welder and Paul to come and help carry the plasterboard indoors.

Wednesday 25 July 2001

Paul and Tony carted most of the plasterboard indoors. Several sheets are so long (6 m) that they would just get in the way, so they have been left in the carport until they are needed. Plasterboard weighs a lot so it took more than two hours.

Leon, the manager of Stramit Hobart (and The Bastard Salesman from Hell) came by to see how the house is progressing. He said he thought it would be finished by now and I said that I did too! I mentioned a few of the problems we'd had and he said he was glad that it wasn't only Stramit that made mistakes. I said: "We all make mistakes!"

In response to his question about whether we were still on budget, I replied that yes, we were pretty much on course. While I have yet to look at the figures for the current quarter, I suspect that variation is still within 10%. The original budget estimates were all fairly conservative thus allowing for considerable flexibility. There is a considerable amount of timber in reserve. Some will be used for making the internal doors and architraves, some for bookshelves etc.

The internal doors for instance will be made from material originally intended for framing and the off-cuts of floorboards. They will be stronger, more beautiful and less expensive than the budgeted for hollow-core doors. Converting floorboards into skirting will require only machining the tongue edge as the groove will be hidden. Converting them into architrave will require treating the groove also. I might fill the groove with timber of a contrasting colour rather than machining it away. This will likely cost more than buying pre-finished craftwood architrave, but also look much more interesting.

Thursday 26 July 2001

Well, what a day! We ended up with a crew of seven today as Hughie brought along a friend, Ian, just in case. With four and sometimes five on the scaffold, two with power screwdrivers, the plasterboard went onto the ceiling much quicker than expected. By the end of the day, we had covered most of the west wall of The Great Hall and made an excellent start on the south wall.

The Great Hall is longer in its short dimension than the longest available sheet of plasterboard, so there had to be a seam where sheets are butted together at the ends. The long edges of the sheets are chamfered so that tape and filler can be applied to make a smooth surface, but the ends must be chamfered where they butt together as well. Gillian took on that job and rapidly became an expert with the craft knife and Surform.

Most amateur "plasterers" (they should be called "board hangers", really) butt the boards together tightly. Even some so-called professionals do. It's best to leave a small gap so that the filler exudes slightly through the other side as in the illustration below. This creates a much stronger joint that is less likely to crack when the house frame moves.

Diagram showing how the filler and tape work on plasterboard joins

Cutting the plasterboard is just a matter of cutting through the paper on the face side with a craft knife and snapping the board in two. The rather thicker paper on the reverse of the board can then be cut through with the knife. We had two sorts of craft knife, the modern snap-off blade type and the older Stanley knife. The scoring was easier with the old-fashioned Stanley knife as its blade is stiffer. Gillian's job of cutting the paper off the edges of the boards was easier with the modern sort as more blade length can be used. We kept both sorts nice and sharp with the linishing belt on my grinder.

Window cut-outs required the use of an old hand saw. Old because the plaster blunts the saw making it useless for sawing timber until it's resharpened. The diagram below shows the order of the cuts.

diagram showing cutting method for openings in plasterboard

The first cut is made from A to B with the Stanley knife. The board is then lifted so that the cuts from E to C and F to D can be made with the saw. Then with the board oriented as in the diagram, the sawcuts are finished with the saw upside down. This is to avoid flipping the weakened board over as this could easily cause a breakage at A or B. The final step is to snap the board along the knife cut made first.

The team took a while to gel and we made a few (unimportant) mistakes at first. While Fran as the expert was in charge of technical procedure, I took over the role of making sure everyone was directed to where they were needed. My physical labour was only rarely required, but the overall view that I had was necessary until everyone had become used to the routine.

Let me emphasise here that many hands make light work. I have put up plasterboard before with just one other to help me and it was hell! Having three pairs of hands holding a board in place while two people fastened the board in place was much quicker and far less tiring. Because the battens on the ceiling were overlapped, rather than butted, I could direct Fran and Tony to fasten in the correct place from my viewpoint down on the floor when they missed.

As well as screws for attaching the boards, we used the approved adhesive (a water-based acrylic). While the ceiling battens were on the outside of the polythene vapour barrier, the wall studs were covered. Tony sharpened the edge of a short length of galvanised water pipe to make a punch. Hitting a piece of water pipe with a lump hammer is much quicker than cutting holes with a craft knife. The blobs of adhesive were then applied through the holes.

Friday 27 July 2001

This morning saw all but the east wall and a small portion of the west wall complete. The crew was down to five and once more my role was minimal, so next week we will be a crew of three, calling on Hughie's random assistance from time to time. 

The room seems much bigger again, being pale grey on the walls rather than the severity of the black polythene. Also the acoustic nature is much brighter -- too bright for high fidelity music reproduction I suspect. I hope the addition of furniture and curtains makes for better sound.

Saturday 28 July 2001

The starlings are removing insulation from a few unprotected parts of the gap between roof and walls. I covered them over with scraps of flashing taped in place with ducting tape, but I am afraid that this will only be a temporary fix -- they're persistent little bastards! 

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