House Update

The House of Steel

Tuesday, 1 January 2002

Public holidays don't really exist when you work for yourself. Fran spent the day making more drawers and will spend another two days making more. There are forty drawers all told and while we are using the Blum sides and rails, the fronts, bottoms and backs have to be cut from the appropriate materials. Most have fronts of MDF and the bottoms and sides are melamine covered chipboard. The fronts in the laundry and bathroom are made of melamine and the edges are finished with melamine strip ironed on with Fran's old travelling iron.

Saturday, 5 January 2002

As you may have gathered, work on the house has left me too exhausted to write. The drawers went a little slower than anticipated, but they will certainly be finished in the coming week. If the weather is fine Monday, we will be installing the flue on the stove. That leaves the way clear for Tony Dunshea to come and tile the floor in the kitchen and the south end of The Lesser Hall.

The plumber finally responded to the messages I have been leaving him and he phoned Thursday morning to say he could come on Friday. But Friday was already taken by a client. Stan says he will come on Monday instead. The electrician failed to come on Thursday until after 5 pm. He says he will come on the following day and work while I am not here. I knew that was a mistake! The power point he installed in the walk-in wardrobe is occluded when the bottom drawer adjacent to it is opened. While we are not likely to use the power point with any frequency, it's mainly there "just in case", this is not good.

I have mentioned that the face of the island bench was marred by white glue on its surface, even though we wiped it off at the time. MDF is very absorbent. We have discussed a number of possible solutions, but they mostly result in the face of the island bench looking very different to the cupboard doors. Hughie encouraged me to sand the face of the bench to see if we can make it match. After 3 hours sanding with my 1/3 sheet palm sander and three coats of varnish, it's almost good enough. Very frustrating.

Marguerite has taped all the windows and I have commenced painting the door jambs and window reveals.

Monday, 7 January 2002

Needless to say, the Stan the plumber failed to arrive today. When I phoned him shortly before lunch, he said he would be here after lunch. He wasn't; I'm angry!

Fran has finished making the kitchen drawers apart from putting the scoop in the front of each. He will do that tomorrow. I spent the day painting reveals and door jambs.

To Do List for Fran and Me

  1. Finish painting door jambs, reveals and architraves
  2. Install architraves
  3. Sand and varnish two doors, and hang them as well as other four internal doors
  4. Varnish interior of island cabinet (50% complete)
  5. Varnish kitchen drawer fronts
  6. Install flue to stove
  7. Install vents adjacent to stove
  8. Build bookcase and TV/HiFi stand
  9. Make door for firewood box and line with zincalume
  10. Touch-up paint on walls here and there
  11. Arrange final inspection


  1. Move power point to where it's not in the way of a drawer!
  2. Get light in walk-in wardrobe working
  3. Trim suspension rods on main lights in Great Hall
  4. Install toilets
  5. Connect kitchen sink
  6. Install drain in shower
  7. Install drain in toilet hand basin
  8. Install drains in bathroom and laundry floors
  9. Tile floors in kitchen and rear of corridor

Tuesday, 8 January 2002

I awoke at 2 am -- the anxiety of waiting for Stan the plumber to deign to arrive and do what he agreed to is depressing me. The incessant rain/overcast is not helping anyone's temper. But today Stan does arrive and completes the final plumbing by mid afternoon. An hour or so after he leaves, the hot water stops running, so he comes back in the evening and removes a filter from the dreaded tempering valve that limits the water temperature.

The plumbing wasn't without incident. When we connected the water, the breech in the laundry had cracked when the hot tap was inserted. The top of the cabinet had to be removed to get to the breech. Fortunately, we had used latex gap filler rather than a strong glue! The temporary connection from the cold water line to the toilets was a piece of old polythene irrigation pipe in the "spare" heap under the house. It was one of the pieces that Marguerite had pierced with the garden fork in several places. I cut a piece of new pipe from the roll I purchased a year ago.

The tempering valve was in the wrong way, so Stan had to redo the piping in the hot water closet. Incidentally, 24 hours after turning on the electric water heater, the temperature of the water coming out of the kitchen tap is 52C since there is some heat loss between the tempering valve that limits the temperature to 55C. Running only the "hot" water into the kitchen sink for a wash-up, the temperature of the water is a miserable 41C, not even hot enough for a bath, never mind washing dishes. Since it is summer here, I expect the result will be much worse in winter. Fortunately, disabling the tempering valve is just a matter of unscrewing a coupling and blocking the ends of the uncoupled pipes. Excessively hot water coming out of a tap might be dangerous, but it seems to me that carrying pots of boiling water from stove to sink, or bath is far more dangerous. Presumably this stupid legal requirement is all a plot to force consumers into buying not just tempering valves, but dishwashers too. Then the hot water from the cylinder is cooled by the tempering valve so it can be reheated by the dishwasher. A pox on this stupidity.

Our main hot water source is from the wetback in the combustion stove and Stan had to connect that up too. Now I thought we had placed the stove and surrounding cabinetry so its flue would go straight up and between two roof purlins, but directly above the centre of the flue outlet on the stove is smack bang in the middle of a purlin. Moving the stove means either moving the major cabinet to the right, or fouling the drawers in the cabinet to the left. The only viable option is to put two bends and a sloping section in the flue and of course that looks downright ugly! Just as we make this discovery, a neighbour walks in expecting his usual guided tour to peruse the changes!

After Tony leaves, I decide that if we design the proposed range hood so that its pipe runs in front of the flue and the angle of the sloping portion of the flue coincides with the angle of the top of the range hood, it will look as though we designed things to look that way. So the stove placement and the cabinetry remain unchanged. Clearly, the stove was placed on the assumption that the flue outlet was in the middle of the stove rather than the right rear corner.

Somewhat after this period of intense discussion, a client phones wanting me to do a bunch of slide scans. She persuades me to do so, against my better judgement and it does create a minor problem the following day, but that's another story.

I started the day in a quite foul mood. Shortly after arriving at the house, around 3 am in the dark without the torch I had inadvertently left behind yesterday, I had a "call of nature". I knew that the 150 yard "dash" (one doesn't dash over lawn in the pouring rain) was too long. So I dropped my pants and squatted in the wet, dark night! But by the end of the day, all was well and I forgave Stan his endless failed promises. Hughie arrived in the mid afternoon, not in his usual state of mild-severe depression, but as jolly as ever I have seen him! He had received an income tax demand of only $24, and in the same post a cheque for $1,500 from the family trust.

We drank rather more beer at beer o'clock than we usually do.

After everyone left, I played Puccini's Turandot and wept during Nessun Dorma.

Wednesday, 9 January 2002

I forgot to mention another cock-up yesterday. When we removed the counter in the laundry, Stan disconnected the drain from the washing machine. When we subsequently tested all the taps, I also tested the washing machine. After persuading me that we didn't need drains in the laundry or bathroom floors, the washing machine emptied itself all over the laundry floor. I enjoyed making Stan mop it up.

Friday, 11 January 2002

Yesterday, Tony Dunshea started the tiling of the kitchen floor. The tiles are high quality ceramic, Italian, and a dark grey. The surface is lightly textured to give the appearance of slate. All went well until he attempted to use his angle grinder to cut a tile. The heat generated shattered the tile. Tony was using a stone cutting wheel, but what we really needed was a diamond wheel. I was more than happy to pay the $A100 for one, but Tony decided it would be a useful thing to own and insisted on purchasing it himself. Even with the diamond wheel, there were a few minor breakages. They could have been prevented by using water to cool the tile, but water and a 240 V electricity supply is not a fortuitous combination.

We made a minor change to how we are tiling the kitchen. The original plan had the refrigerator half on tile and half on floorboards. We decided to extend the tile so that it filled the space occupied by the refrigerator. The tile underneath the refrigerator and therefore hidden from view consists of three tile off-cuts. The spare tiles were consumed by the extension in the kitchen and breakages.

The tiles are 300 mm (12 in) square and so we decided to go with a 5 mm wide spacing between. The spacing was set with small plastic crosses designed to be left in place. After laying out the kitchen, complicated by the island bench, Tony called it a day. This morning, he laid out the rear of the lesser hall and in the afternoon, we chalked arrows and numbers on each tile so that it would be laid in the same spot and orientation. Even though these are high quality tiles, there are small variations in the squareness and size. Accumulating these errors can lead to lines that curve. To assist when cementing the tiles, we used masking tape to define the edge where the tiles started and pencilled between the tiles to leave a grid of lines on the floor as a guide.

While Tony laid the tiles, I mixed up 3 kg batches of cement. It's a flexible mixture designed to be used on timber floors and appears to be a mixture of PVA and cement. While the working time for the mud is some two hours, the kitchen scale we used to weigh the white liquid and grey powder only weighs up to 3 kg. Also, it made sense to us to use it as fresh as possible. Lifting of tiles improperly laid is a common occurrence.

When Tony laid out the tiles in the Lesser Hall, there was a very slight curve of the line, only visible by kneeling and sighting along a join. To our delight, when they were finally bedded in the cement, the line was as straight as a die. Tony plans to return on Sunday to cement in the kitchen tiles and Monday will see the grouting of the joins.

I phoned Gary Lorkin, the council inspector and he will do the final inspection of the house next Friday morning. 

Monday, 14 January 2002

We ran out of tile adhesive yesterday while laying the kitchen tile. Only a square metre short. I suggested to Tony that he grout the tile in the Lesser Hall, but there's an additive for when using it on tile laid over timber floors that the supplier failed to supply. Marguerite will buy more adhesive and the additive today as she has taken another week off work. She will also purchase some 45 bends for the flue so we can install that tomorrow.

Fran is working for another client today and I will finish varnishing the internal doors and continue varnishing the kitchen drawers.

Wednesday, 16 January 2002

Yesterday we discovered that there is a leak in the toilet. The water has seeped underneath the linoleum and it has lifted. Stan the plumber declared the other day that he didn't need to do a pressure test, thus providing a corollary to Finagle's Third Law: In any collection of data, the figure most obviously correct, beyond all need of checking, is the mistake. She Who Must be Obeyed has called me away to prepare the Guest List for the housewarming. It's to be on 2 February, Groundhog Day, though of course it will be 1 February in USia. There's a possibility we will have a webcam running so my internet friends can join us in a big toast. I will likely not make my next major post here until Sunday, the day after we move into the house.

Friday, 18 January 2002

Fran and I spent the morning struggling with attaching the heat shield to the stove flue. From the stove to within 700 mm of the ceiling, the flue must be prevented from radiating heat onto the nearby wall. Above that height, it's totally encased. The heat shield is half round and attached to brackets that we riveted onto the rear of the flue. The job is complicated by two factors, the proximity of the wall and the kink in the flue.

flue diagram

Fortunately, there was just enough room to place my Makita battery drill, though it was awkward to control. The shield was made one piece at a time and the join pivoted on the central rivet we placed to achieve the correct angle. Then four more stainless steel rivets were placed to hold the assembly together. After putting the shield up and taking it down countless times, we managed to get all edges parallel except the lower edge of the sloping portion. When we later add a range hood, we can hide that edge.

We purchased brown, heat-proof paint for the flue, but Margie wants to leave the stainless steel unpainted. In use, the heat creates interesting multi-colour effects from the thin layers of oxides that form on the surface. Unfortunately, areas of contamination can produce a most unsightly effect -- especially fingerprints. The flue will need a thorough clean with methylated spirit before we fire up.

Garry Lorkin, the building inspector arrived and made short work of declaring the house fit for occupation. We placed a smoke alarm in the upper portion of The Lesser Hall and he wants us to install another inside the master bedroom. We could have placed it outside, in the lower portion of The Lesser Hall, but then it would have also functioned as a toast detector. These detectors are mains powered and have no switch and the prospect of hearing the piercing beeps whenever we made toast was not enthralling.

One document we needed, but had failed to acquire was a certificate of compliance from Certainteed, the supplier of our windows. I finally got around to phoning Ian Rudd around 6 pm and had a pleasant chat with him.

Stan the plumber arrived to fix the leak in the toilet wall. After tearing a hole in the plasterboard, it became evident that the leak was from part of the complicated shower tap. Accessing that was from the shower side, so the hole wasn't really necessary. Stan also forgot to turn the tap to the toilet cistern off, so when we turned the main water control back on, the toilet was flooded, the water running out into the Lesser Hall. The leaky part of the shower tap is a valve used to control the rate of flow of the cold water, so that its pressure can be equalised with the hot water where that comes from a header tank. Since we have equal hot and cold pressure, it's redundant and Stan replaces it with a piece of threaded brass pipe.

Early in the day, Fran strained a muscle in his back, probably because he was tense in anticipation of the inspection. This slowed him down considerably and he finished early with a few architraves and skirting boards left to cut and fit. I hope he is fit and well by Monday after a couple of days rest.

After the water supply was running again, I turned on the electrical heater in the hot water cylinder, and after a while, the stand pipe began to drip. It's very nearly full as the water supply tank is full. The drips from the stand pipe run down the roof to the flue where its rubber collar is bogged in with silicone and held in place with self-tapping screws, also liberally covered with silicone sealant. Nevertheless, the water is finding its way into the house there and drips on the stove. My temporary measure to stop this is to put a polythene pipe onto the outlet of the stand pipe so the water flows directly into the gutter. When the roof is dry tomorrow, I will need to ensure that the sealant is intact and add what's needed before the rain arrives on Sunday.

Saturday, 19 January 2002

John and Ruth lent us their utility (small truck) for the move. First we loaded some of the accumulated junk in the carport for a tip run. Hughie was a bit disappointed with the rather small amount when Margie remembered some we had dumped in the corner a few metres from the house when we were excavating. After they had grabbed the loose stuff, I told them to stop struggling as it will be reburied by spoil when Squid arrives to do some more excavating next week.

Most of what others would consider garbage, we find useful. All paper products make excellent mulch under trees, as does sawdust. Most of the plasterboard offcuts ended up in the dam to flocculate the clay. Some of that was used to mulch young trees in exposed positions as it doesn't blow away as readily as cardboard. Burnable timber is fuel for the fire. What we threw away was mostly plastics and small pieces of steel.

Neville from across the road and Hughie moved the heavier stuff in the afternoon, while Margie, Thomas and I used the Subaru wagon and our legs for the lighter stuff. The distance is only a tad over 100 metres so it went relatively quickly. We left some that we intend to sell, or dispose of in other ways and some for later. The books and other papers we intend to fumigate before we bring them into our new home. They are infested with silverfish. If we decide to use something toxic, I'd rather we did that in the old cottage.

I recall seeing TV footage where some archivists sealed books in clear polythene bags and left them in the sun for a period, killing the insects and the eggs. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the period they used. Most of the advice is to use a moderately persistent insecticide, something I am loath to use. I have discovered that we could use a microwave oven and zap them for 60 seconds, but we do not own one.

Despite Fran arriving to put more silicone sealant around the flue shroud, the leak was still in evidence when I tested at 6 pm. Shortly before this, I discovered that the Bosky cook stove was missing its grate and ash pan. Margie remembered a box of bits, but I don't recall ever seeing it. The day was the hottest this summer, around 30C, so it wasn't the best day for testing it anyway. We dined on fish and chips for dinner and fell into our beds after watching The Bill.

Sunday, 20 January 2002

I think I found the leak. The water was lapping around two roof screws. Even though they have a neoprene rubber washer, if they are too loose, or too tight, they have a tendency to leak. Fran had sealed around both with silicone, but not completely, so I put more on. We shall see.

The missing Bosky parts -- the grate, grate attachments and tools -- were in a Taylor's Unwooded Chardonnay box that Marguerite had put under a dark shelf in the cottage several years ago. I knew it was too good to be true that I had found a box of missed wine! Inserting the grate and its wings that enable the grate to be lowered for a large winter fire, or raised for a small summer fire, was quite simple, though made somewhat difficult by the lack of light inside the firebox.

The Bosky wood burning cook stove is a lot more complex than the Everhot we are used to. There are six air controls as well as the control that determines where the heat goes inside the stove (to heat the water, or oven). When I lit the fire, smoke poured out of various crevices and steam came out of the corner of the insulated top cover. One of the tricks to making these beasts work is to have a good strong flow of air. All air controls wide open except the supplementary air inlet on the flue. I had missed opening the thermostatically controlled one all the way.

Another trick is to have a fully insulated flue, so that the flue heats quickly, increasing the draught of air through the fire. Mysteriously, fully insulated, or even partially insulated flues have been made illegal for new stove installations! I was somewhat worried about this as the Bosky manual warns that these are essential for proper operation of the stove. The taller the flue, within reason, the better the draught and since ours is 1.2 m (4 ft) longer than normal, I hoped this would compensate for the lack of insulation and in fact it appears to.

Once the fire was hot enough, we had a roaring blaze going with the grate at its highest position and soon had the kettle boiling for a nice cup of tea. It will take some time to learn the nuances of the Bosky, though we had a successful and delicious roast chicken with new potatoes dinner. Learning the Everhot, having never used a wood burning stove before, took us around two weeks! The most difficult part will be thinking in terms of Celsius, rather than Fahrenheit degrees. A worrisome thing is that the hot water jacket and cylinder emit loud banging noises when the fire gets hot. I telephoned the plumber and left a message.

The draw slides in the kitchen all needed an extra screw to satisfy me that should one give way, there will still be two to hold the slide securely. At the same time, I used a damp sponge to wipe the MDF dust away and Marguerite proceeded to fill them with our kitchen stuff. No doubt some of our ideas about ideal placement will change over the coming weeks, just as new ideas have struck us during the main construction phase. While The House of Steel is complete enough for us to live in, it will be some time before I declare it complete, so this journal will continue for a while.

Many thanks to the well-wishers worldwide that have emailed their congratulations. 

Monday, 21 January 2002

A day of much needed rest. Fran phoned to say his back needed another day of recovery, so I took the opportunity to have the day free of labour, too. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2002

Fran finished putting on the architraves and skirting boards before making a start on the door to the firewood box. The door is around wheelbarrow height and will allow us to get firewood directly into the house, rather than having to carry it in. Inside, it's accessed by lifting a lid that serves also as a seat when talking on the telephone.

I rewrote the To Do list and ended up with 40 items needing attention. Rick who has a second-hand/antiques shop in Franklin brought a rug for the floor of The Great Hall yesterday. It's a perfect match for the furniture and a bargain at $A150. More on that here.

Squid phoned to say he's coming on Thursday to do some of our needed excavation. I'm hoping he can get done what's needed in one day as I have a dental appointment Friday. Leaving tradesmen to do their work unattended tends to lead to undesirable results.

The dining table Tony Dunshea and Michael Henrysson made for us is 50 mm ( 2in) higher than standard, so we feel like children sitting at it, even on one of the chairs made to go with it that is 10 mm (3/8 in) higher than standard. The chair height means that women have their heels raised when seated and that's bad for comfort. Tony has agreed to come and remove some of the steel on Saturday, or Sunday. That leaves me plenty of time to finish the chairs before the housewarming on Groundhog Day, 2 February.

Wednesday, 23 January 2002

Most of the morning was taken up with photographing the house. Hopefully, the pictures will be available for posting during the weekend. Fran worked only half a day today and has nearly completed the firewood box. The balance of the day was consumed with tidying up -- there's a lot of that needed before Groundhog Day!

Thursday, 24 January 2002

Squid arrived with his excavator bright and early this morning. He's every bit as good as Malcolm was in terms of artistry, but he's twice as fast! He made short work of moving the heap of spoil adjacent the water storage tank, decent sloping drains alongside the carport and the east side of the house. He scooped out a heap of earth in front of the master bedroom and made a French drain for the cottage; necessary for us to be able to sell it. What's more, he is much more careful when placing the spoil to ensure that topsoil is on top and subsoil below, rather than all mixed up.

I have Squid get a full truckload of drainage stone for the French drain and dump the remainder with what I already have, then gravel the path in front of the house. A few sweeps of the rake have this area that has been an eyesore looking wonderful! The remaining three cubic metres or so will be used to make the concrete footings for the woodshed and an extra car parking space.

Thomas and I moved all the plasterboard remainder to the cottage ready for renovating the bedroom from where I will be removing the myrtle boards. There's enough to also fix another room, or two. Then we proceeded to sort the scraps of timber and steel in the carport, so that by day's end there's enough room to park two cars, as well as my tools and workbench in the corner.

Fran finished the woodbox and proceeded to put the zincalume sheet strip on the kickboards under the kitchen benches and the splashbacks behind the two straight benches. The woodbox holds around one and a half wheelbarrow loads of firewood, enough for three or four days at the cottage. This means a week's worth at the house as warming it requires so much less energy.

The French drain at the cottage needs the stone covered with trench cloth before backfilling and I don't have any. Squid suggests using plastic weedmat from the discount store as it's a fraction of the price. 

Some days visible progress is slight -- this one was the exact opposite! The only flies in the ointment are that Tony the electrician failed to arrive, or phone (as usual), nor did Carl the linoleum layer. Nevertheless, beer o'clock was a very happy event. Even my son Thomas the morose teenager was cheerful!

Sunday, 27 January 2002

Yesterday, Fran finished off a few minor jobs, strips of timber underneath the French window in The Great Hall, the windows in the master bedroom, and Thomas's room. While in the pub on Friday, chatting with glass artist, Richard Clements, I said that in any work of art, ninety five percent of the work is in the final five percent. he agreed and we chatted about our artist friends, Tom Samek, Kevin Perkins and Allan Moult. The House of Steel is ninety nine point something percent finished, but the remaining few percent will last the rest of our lives. The house is part of the landscape and Marguerite's efforts in that area continue as will mine.

Below are some recent photographs. We will have to see if Allan can be persuaded to spend a day here in the not too distant future creating pictures that really do justice to my thirty-odd year long dream. My gratitude to all those who helped make it real cannot be expressed, but here is a partial list of them: my wife, Marguerite Porte, who insisted we engage an architect, my son, Thomas Sturm, who like any teenager loathed most of the jobs we gave him, but nevertheless overcame his loathing and lightened my workload, Stephen Firth, the architect who converted our vague thoughts into a physical shape, Fran Allen who converted that shape into concrete reality, Tony Dunshea for his love of steel, Hughie Parish for refusing payment, Michael Henrysson for his insistence on my being an owner-builder and making the furniture that will become the focal point of The Great Hall... Lists such as this are tedious for the reader who is not among those mentioned, so it is greatly truncated. If you are not on the list, be happy that you are mentioned in this 18 month long record. I deeply appreciate your efforts.

Fran made a "compass" to guide the router when cutting the curved edge of the island benchtop. compass
This is the router in action. routing the edge of the island bench
The bench is almost finished. island bench near completion
The ensuite bathroom. bathroom
The bath I won't be able to truly enjoy until we remove the stupid tempering valve! the bath
The master bedroom. The bed was made for us by Peter Atkinson many years ago. It is constructed from a local timber called sassafras. Some pieces of the timber, Peter found on the local tip! master_bedroom
The laundry -- the front loading washing machine is a delight to use compared to the twin tub in the old cottage. Note the subdued sheen of the linoleum compared to the gloss of vinyl. laundry
Just inside the entrance to The Great Hall, a club chair that Marguerite restored some years ago.  chair in the corner of The Great Hall
The TV watching/music listening corner of The Great Hall. The pictures you see awaiting hanging are by local artists Elspeth Vaughan and Richard Bacon. Elspeth's is a picture of cottages on a Scottish island and Richard's is a south west wilderness stream. entertainment area of The Great Hall
The kitchen corner of The Great Hall. I ran out of film at this point. Sort of! There are two or three rolls somewhere in the cottage or The House of Steel. The kickboards under the benches are now covered with zincalume steel and look very posh for such an industrial material. Everyone likes the look of the stainless steel flue, too. kitchen in The Great Hall
These are the drawer fronts we fabricated. Both of the benches have drawers underneath, rather than cupboards. We made the drawers various heights to accommodate different sized objects. The drawers to the right include a file drawer that holds the household documents and telephone directory. kitchen drawers

Next week will mostly consist of finishing the dining chairs, dining table and cleaning up ready for the housewarming on Saturday. So, there are more pictures to come and tales to relate. I have been offered the use of a webcam, so all being well, there will be a broadcast of the event on this website.

I have also posted a page of all the photographs from the initial excavation to here.

Monday, 28 January 2002

There's a Yahoo over in Yahoo Clubs, the Owner Builder Club, trying his hardest to claim that cost-saving by owner-building is illusory. My home is now completed and I know how much I have spent compared to quotes that may very well have been inaccurate. For instance, the $A4,000 we spent on light fittings is doubtless more than was included in the quote. The Cat5 we had the electrician pull wasn't included, so the builders' quotes were likely a little lower than we would have paid. Best to work in round figures.

My time was around 2,000 hours. Most days, this old fart can only manage six hours, but I worked most available days. And most days, I also wrote about the process and conducted research. The latter hours haven't been counted. Nor have the hours spent on research over thirty years prior to commencement of the actual project. I have built enough houses in my imagination to create a small village. The final cost was $A160,000 and subtracting that from the $A300,000 for the lowest effective quote leaves me with a saving of $A140,000. This amounts to $A70/hr, well above average for my location and pretty close to what I would have earned; except if I had earned that money, I would have had to pay income tax on it.

If I were younger and fitter, I am sure that I could have managed twice that number of hours. Deducting that from the paid contractor hours at $20/hr, I could have spent as little as $A120,000. Alternatively, I could have paid someone younger and fitter than myself to do the physical work I did. Since the amount I was charged for so-called unskilled labour was $A12-15 and $A20-25 for skilled, I would have still made a considerable saving.

I have written here before that builders are project managers; they hire and tell the contractors what to do and when. As well, they supervise the contractors to ensure the work is completed to a satisfactory standard. The builder purchases materials and ensures they are delivered intact and in a timely manner. Having never done this before, I made several errors of judgement and given my time over with the experience I now have, would no doubt do much better:

  1. I should have taken control from the architect at an earlier stage. Had I taken his concept drawings to a draughtsman for creating working drawings, we would have saved quite a bit of money. This is not a criticism of the architect, who is doubtless unused to working with owner-builders.
  2. Having done the above, I should have spent more time with the engineers. Much of the grief with Stramit could have been avoided if I had known more about the construction technique with steel purlins. As well, I suspect from speaking with the engineer who made the site visit at the foundation digging, that we could have reduced the number of piers further.
  3. Had I taken construction to the stage of the carport completed and foundations poured, then paused to allow green scantling to air dry in the carport for 3-6 months, we would have saved a bundle compared to using kiln dried.
  4. Instead of purchasing the steel pipe and beams locally, I should have sourced them from the mainland.
  5. Instead of purchasing all of my corrugated zincalume from Stramit, I should have started accumulating "seconds" from another source. These are pre-cut lengths that were never purchased by the person placing the order. They are in no way inferior, but do cost considerably less. While it's unlikely that I would have managed to accumulate all the corrugated zincalume I needed, the saving could have been substantial.
  6. The sheet zincalume we applied to the exposed ends of the purlins should have been done before we placed the purlins. Working with a drill and pop rivets from a ladder is much slower than at ground level, not to mention safer.
  7. I should have purchased ready made architrave and skirting material, rather than filling the groove in the rejected floorboards with latex filler. This consumed far too much time and the filler wasn't cheap. Alternatively, we could have created satisfactory architraves and skirts from plain boards using Michael's planer/thicknesser.
  8. I should have waited for Torenius to deliver their cheaper floorboards, rather than purchasing from Clennetts. While the narrower boards look nicer, they cost more to lay and the reject rate was far too high at 30%. Even if Torenius's boards had a similar reject rate, they were wider and consequently more useful with the tongues and grooves removed.
  9. I should have placed the stove so that we could have kept the flue straight. 

Despite my errors, we have a home that looks wonderful and performs beautifully. We saved a bundle of money and had a lot of fun.

Tuesday, 29 January 2002

Today was one of considerable frustration. First, I phoned the suppliers of the faulty taps. The distributor of the New Zealand made Greens shower tap seemed completely disinterested in the problems caused by the faulty assembly of the shower tap. The woman I spoke to at Dorf about the leaky kitchen tap must have got out of the wrong side of the bed. She demanded that I instantly fax proof of purchase before she would dispatch a field rep to fix the problem. The only problem was, I didn't have the receipt to hand and an extensive search revealed that a whole box of documents had gone missing. 

While we built the house, I noticed that the electrician and plumber left a trail of documents behind them on the floor, assembly and operating manuals, warranty papers etc. I duly gathered them up and placed them all in a box, along with discarded Allen keys, spanners, weird pieces of plastic and wire and so forth. Presumably, this box of invaluable data, and doubtless useless items too, became a repository for invoices, receipts and delivery dockets as well. Doubtless all of it is now consigned to the tip in the interests of tidiness!

My next task was to empty a full tube of silicone sealant around the leaky junction between the flue and roof. Sadly, this was to no avail. A test late in the day indicates that the water is still finding its way in!

Then I attempted to tackle the matter of screwing the myrtle slats on the stainless steel chair frames that Tony Dunshea made for me. It took weeks to track down self-tapping screws short enough for the job, but some still broke through the surface of the slats as the holes in the stainless steel were countersunk. So, I purchased some washers that mysteriously cost more than four times as much as the screws. The problem now is that this interposes the full thickness of the stainless steel and the screws aren't long enough. I recently purchased a new pair of high quality pliers, so I used them to snip the points off the screws. This works well for the first three screws, but the third goes straight through the hole in the stainless steel. I grabbed a drill bit close to the size of the holes and sure enough, the hole sizes vary by around 1.5 mm in diameter.

On a brighter note, I have received several emails asking about the performance of the Bosky cookstove. It is much better than our old Everhot. Getting the Everhot really hot for bread, pizza, deep frying etc. required lots of small sticks. The Bosky gets really hot on ordinary firewood if you want it. Changing temperature is much faster. So far, we have only used it with the grate in the elevated position. No doubt we will be able to achieve the rated 6 KW rated output in the winter with the grate in its lowest position. Even though the water jacket is below the grate, it's generating enough heat to warm our water. Please note that our Bosky is a smaller model than those described in the link above.

We are only lighting a fire to cook the evening meal and the house is staying around 20-25C  throughout the day and night. Outside temperature range is approximately 10-30C.

Wednesday, 30 January 2002

Fran dropped by to help fix the leak at the flue. He unscrewed the heat shield plate under the ceiling and peered up while I poured water on the roof. The water was making its way under the rubber sleeve where two sheets of corrugated zincalume overlap. We removed the screws from the sleeve and sufficient from the sheets of corrugated to lift them apart. After giving the area time to thoroughly dry, we cleaned the surfaces of the corrugated zincalume and the underside of the rubber thing. Then we applied a liberal amount of silicone sealant and screwed everything back together. Let's hope the fix is permanent.

Fran's solution to the chair problem is to fill the screw holes in the stainless steel with an epoxy called liquid metal and use longer screws. Now why didn't I think of that?

Most of the early part of the day was spent moving the bits for the wood shed close to where they will be needed and lots of leftovers in the carport to underneath the house. Hot, sweaty work despite the strong wind today.

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TC Jonathan Sturm 2002 - 2011

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