Monday, November 1, 2010

The Laundry/bathroom/toilet

So now it is time to work on the inside of the project and this post will deal with the main wet area which is located in my end between the Kitchen/dining/sitting area and my bedroom.
The first job that needs doing is getting the floor tiled and we contract local tiler Alan Bourne.
As Michelle is not keen on tiles because of the cleaning issues especially the grout, and I am inclined to agree, we have kept the tiling to an absolute minimum. So we choose not to have a single row of tiles at the bottom of the wall and ask him to just create an area in the shower recess that will minimise water run off and to tile the rest of the floor. Bourney does a great job for us with some very nice grey/blue tiles for $25 a square metre shown here

We have decided to clad this area in Villaboard with one length of colorbond as a feature and laminex in the shower area over the Villaboard.
As I know it is going to be tricky to lift the Villaboard sheets above head high as they are quite heavy, I restrict the length of the sheets I order to 3 metres accepting that I will have vertical joints to fill as the room is longer. The sheets end up going up fairly quickly even with the height issue and the number of openings that had to be accurately cut around plumbing and electrical fittings.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The back door, ceilings and internal frames

So now all we need is to install a back door and and the project will have reached the milestone of lock up. Yee Ha!
Bunnings could almost have been described as our 3rd home during the 10 months of building as we were there so often. On one of the occasions we were there, we had discovered a great external door with 4 square panels of frosted glass arranged vertically. When you live with an artist, you just know that there is no way the door is just going to go straight up. Michelle had immediately seen the potential for a great illusory effect and so there was a little preparatory work to be done before the door actually went in.
The challenge for me was installing a Gainsborough external lock set something like the one below. This was quite complicated, and for all my efforts not to do so, ended up a little skewiff but hey it is still doing the job, not that we are using the back door much as we are still to install some back entrance stairs. One day!

So all is looking pretty damn fine from the outside now so finally we are working inside which is a relief as winter is now upon us and finally our floor is protected from the elements.

We have decided to use the Surfmist colorbond for the ceilings too, as this will relieve us of the onerous task of lifting and fixing large, all too pliable, plasterboard sheets knowing we then still have to join and finish them.
The colorbond can just go straight up with no further work required, further enhancing the industrial look, which we like, and also adds to the structural integrity of the building.
Although the ceilings are well over 3 metres at the highest point, getting the sheets up and fixing them is not too bad, once we have a organised system. They look fantastic reflecting heaps of light around the spaces and this is good news as we were thinking the house was going to be very dark.

The middle section is the trickiest, due to that stylish angle which you might remember caused the roofing issues. But Michelle, a whizz with the $12 angle grinder that has already accomplished so much, was up to the task and the sheets went up well leaving a most acceptable gap from the walls.

So now the ceilings are up we can get started on the internal frames finalising exactly how the house will look internally.
Michelles main concern is obtaining as much space in her studio as possible because she is currently creating paintings 2.4 metres square for her doctoral thesis in Visual Arts. She also needs some office space and somewhere to sleep, further complicated by the fact she also has the kitchen pantry intruding into her bedroom space. The upside of this is that it also creates an alcove in which to store her clothing etc.
She ends up with a little less than a quarter of the space as her bedroom with a single internal cavity slider leading out to the office space rather than a double into the main studio to preserve as much wall space as possible.

As I do not need quite as much space as Michelle, my area is split in half with one side containing my bedroom and the bathroom and the other side my studio/livingroom. We used a double internal cavity slider from my bedroom to the studio and single internal cavity sliders for the bathroom and toilet doors.

We decide to build the frames all the way up to the colorbond ceilings we had just installed to enhance the feeling of space in each area rather than creating additional ceilings at 2400.
This made the job a little more complicated and I did end up with a little more space between the top frame and ceiling than I was intending.

So now we have a much better idea of how our new home will be like.

Septics, Steve the plumber, roof flashing and final cladding

We probably should have got the work for the septics completed before this point. I was actually now concerned there was not going to be enough space between the next door neighbours fence and the building to get heavy machinery down to dig the trenches for the leach drains and the pits for the septics. We had considered a couple of other solutions including a Rotaloo, which was expensive to purchase and install and would have required a leach drain and septic tank aswell, and french drains which would have been difficult to fit in the area available without taking out more trees which we did not want to do.
Luckily, the first earthmoving contractor I contacted had the perfect piece of machinery to do the job which fitted quite easily through the space available.
Of course, we now also needed to call on the services of a plumber and we chose the inimitable Steve Larkman, also a local musician , who I had first met at the Great Southern Institute of Technology where I work.

Steve did a fantastic job managing the septic installation operation working well with the earthmoving contractors and even giving the local sand merchants a blast at one point for not turning up in time with a load and holding up the job. He also installed preparatory piping beneath the house invoking a job excellently done response from the Plumbing Board inspectors who turned up a few weeks later.
While the septics were going in Michelle and I continued work on the rest of the building wrapping the rest of the framework and getting the entire roof on.

Well almost the entire roof because as you can see there is still, what turned out to be a very tricky angled area butting up against the internal vertical gable of Michelle's end of the building, to complete.
I must acknowledge here Michelle's fantastic contribution to the project of installing and fixing all the roof cladding herself aswell as working out how to flash this critical area of the roof so that it was watertight including the use of a lead flashing replacement product called WakaFlex.

Now that we had got the roof sorted we could then complete the cladding of the rest of the building. We eventually decided on a three colour combination, to contrast with Michelle's Woodland Grey, of Surfmist for the central area and Manor Red for my end of the building.

Crisp clean lines that look great?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Michelle's purlins, roof and cladding

Michelle had been really fretting about her floor, as it had now been exposed to the elements for more than the recommended 3 months and was starting to show signs of deterioration, so we got stuck into her end as we had the steel 150 X 50 purlins already available to put straight up.

On the original shed structure, the purlins stuck out beyond the shed walls at either end but we did not fancy cutting colorbond sheeting to fit around them especially at Michelle's end of the building as it was 7 metres high. So we cut them off so as we could run the sheeting flush over the ends which also meant they were protected from moisture and consequent deterioration.

Getting the purlins up was actually less onerous than I had though it would be even though they were quite heavy and long. Our system required a ladder each to simultaneously get the purlins on to the top plates of the cathedral ends of the frames and the use of tek screws and triple brackets to secure them.

We were now we were ready to replace the roofing sheets on to the now almost completely rebuilt shed.

Doing the roofing was not a job I was feeling at all comfortable with for two reasons. One, I am not particularly enamoured with heights and two, I destroyed the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my right knee many years ago and if I needed to get myself down from a great height I really only have one good knee to use to absorb the fall and I did not want to risk destroying that. As you can see from the image above, fortunately, Michelle has a good head for heights and in the end completed all the roof sheeting herself with me assisting below or at the top of a ladder.

Our first job was a little frustrating, as we needed to place reflective insulation foil on the purlins before laying the sheets so a wind free day was essential.

This made it a little difficult to get the zincalume sheeting on as the foil would get in the way and the job was further complicated because Michelle was endeavouring to use the existing fixing holes. In the end she resigned herself to using silicon to fill any holes that were not lined up enough to use and was now ruing a little having bought the shed with the idea of reusing it to further minimise building costs.

For sometime now our $11,000 worth of beautiful black aluminium windows and sliding doors had been carefully stored inside the framing and it was now time to see if some of them would actually fit the spaces we had created in the framework before cladding Michelle's end with the existing woodland grey colorbond sheets. We were really looking forward to seeing how they looked but before we could do that we needed to wrap the framework in breathable insulation foil as the frames were constructed of timber which was a very challenging job as we had to do it from inside the building because of the height.
I can report that, thankfully, the windows and doors did fit with little problem. What a relief!

We were now ready to get the cladding on and I had been really concerned with how we were going to manage sheets of colorbond over 6 metres in length at a height of 7 metres and was considering that we may now have to hand the job over to a builder.
As we had been going so well with the building so far, I decided to investigate the cost of scaffolding to allow us to continue although I was worried that it might be expensive. The first quote, I received to deliver, erect, disassemble and pick up, came in at couple thousand dollars or so confirming my fears.
I decided to drop in at another scaffolding business for a 2nd quote and discovered that it would be easy enough to assemble ourselves and that delivery and pick up of the amount of scaffolding we needed would cost around $500. I was rapt and arranged for the delivery immediately.

So now we had to erect the scaffolding having never done it before.
This was a most interesting and challenging experience as Michelle and I had a fair amount of disagreement during this process.
We got it up eventually and I was pleasantly surprised at the manner in which I happily climbed and swung around on it like it was monkey bars even with my now somewhat diminished through neccessity fear of heights!

Accurately cutting out the openings for the windows and getting those massive sheets up to such a great height was still a huge challenge, and again complicated due to trying to use existing holes to fix through, but we did it and stood back proudly to view the emergence of our new home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The deck and middle section frames

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, one of my favourite features of this building project is the massive 12 metre deck. Now that we had the shed frames erected at each end of the platform we had lost our work area so we needed to create another flat area to build the frames to join those two end section together. So I started work on laying the timber for the deck using 90 X 21 reeded treated pine. This was the easiest job so far and the only down side was a sore backing from leaning over nailing for a long period of time but it went on very quickly and looked magnificent.

With a new work area now available we could go ahead and connect the two outer sections together with two frames.

The front one, shown here was the biggest frame built to date, as the middle section skillion roof is at it's highest point at the front of the building. As this wall was to meet the other at an angle there was a little tricky cutting required to ensure a reasonable fit.
Having completed the 2 halves of this frame each with a big openings for a sliding door and lifting the first of them into position at the higher end of the platform our OBFU became most obvious.
In our endeavour to provide Michelle with as much wall space as possible in her studio we had decided to move the position of one of the door openings in the internal frame of her shed. Unfortunately, it became apparent that half the door opening was on the deck and the other half inside. Even with the frames in place we managed to rebuild the door opening back where it should have been thankfully resolving the issue.

The rear frame was the smallest and the first attempt also resulted in an OBFU as the kitchen window later needed to be shifted! Even with the best of intentions and pre-planning they happen!

All done and you can also see that we have got some purlins up on Michelle's section as she was getting worried about her floor and was super keen to get the roof on over her area

The shed frames

So now we have a beautiful big flat area to rebuild Michelle's frames on. They were constructed quite lightly with a mixture of 35mm X 90mm and 45mm X 90mm timber at 900mm centres. Our specifications called for 45mm X 90mm timber at 450mm centres so there was quite a bit of work for us to do.
The 6m end frames used a cathedral design to support the purlins and were split in 3 metre halves so as they were not to heavy to lift into position and then joined together.
When I last built frames it was back in the late 80's and I used 2nd hand Jarrah from salvage yards.
In those days, I had to use a power saw to cut the 4inch X 2inch jarrah, a chisel to cut housings for each stud on both the top and bottom plates and a hammer to fasten.
How things have changed since.
This time I am using treated structural pine cut with a hand saw, with the studs attached using a nail gun to top and bottom plates without housings! Much quicker, I must say and more than adequately strong.
Squaring up the frames before fixing all the requisite cut timbers together was the most critical and important part of the job. A project such as this is always a challenge for a relationship. More on that matter in a later post.
Michelle had concerns about lifting the frames in to position especially as the first frames were to be erected at the highest end of the platform. I have had some experience with doing so and was not as worried and once we got one up she realised that it was not going to be as difficult as she had imagined. We used long lengths of timber nailed to the edge of the platform so as there was some support behind the frame to stop it toppling over the edge. We then also attached timber lengths about 2/3 of the height of the studs as further supports that could be fastened to the flooring once vertical and squaring had been accomplished.

I wonder if you can spot the OBFU ( Owner Builder F**k Up ) in the frame facing this way? No well more about that later.

They went up easily and quickly in the end.

The Shed

An interesting and sustainable aspect of our building project is that it was designed around a 6 X 6.5 metre shed, Michelle had purchased, that resided in the back yard of our architect's home in Albany where we also live. It was very similar to that pictured above but with a wooden frame, steel purlins and Woodland Grey Colorbond.
Our next job was to dismantle it and transport it up to the building site where the frames would be rebuilt to specification and re-erected. My end of the building is a duplicate that will be built with new materials.
It did not take long to get the shed down and we carefully marked each sheet, frame and purlin to ensure we could get it back together again.

Turpsy had kindly hired us his huge 6m trailer and a large 4wd at a very generous rate and we managed to get all the sheeting and purlins on board the trailer.
Turpsy had manufactured some stirrups which hung off the sides of the 4WD that we stacked the frames on and they reached just little under the legally allowed 4 metres in height.
The return trip to the back to the block 56kms away in Denmark was slow and a little nerve racking as it was a hot and windy day and included a stop in the middle of one of the major Albany streets to re-strap the frames which had started to shift. There was only a little space for other road users to pass but there was nothing we could do about it and needless to say we were glad to hit the open road albeit gingerly!
Of course, once we got there we then had to unload the trailer as Turpsy needed his trailer and 4WD back that evening.
Our friend Roland happened to turn up just in time to help us unload the frames.
He surprised us by at first refusing as he was too tired from surfing.
"Well good try Roland, but you are being a bit of a bloody woos, so get yourself on the end of that frame and give us a bloody hand mate!"

Roland made a quick getaway before we asked him to do anything else as we then had the exhausting task of unloading the 6m+ long sheets one at a time as it was a fair distance down the block to where they were to be stored until they were ready to be fixed.

So now we just had to rebuild the frames and pop them up at the high end of the platform!

The floor

Now that we had the fibre cement sheeting attached beneath the joists, we could now go ahead and place insulation between the bearers on top of the sheets and fix 22mm 3600 X 1200 sheets of termite resistent particleboard flooring as our joists were at 600mm centres.

Bloody hell those sheets are incredibly heavy.
Luckily Michelle is an extraordinarily capable and strong woman of Dutch origin and she did an admirable job handling the other end of the sheets.
In fact, I should make clear now that apart from the estimating and ordering of materials Michelle contributed to the project as an equal partner. Was it always a smooth and amicable team? Well more of that part of the building process in a later post.

So back to the flooring.

Squaring up that first sheet is critical. Blow that, and the last sheet in that row may end up not being able to be fixed to a joist!
We completed the job in sections, placing the insulation in first, then fixing the floor using the trusty nail gun again. We then covered the sheets with black plastic, which in hindsight may not have been a good idea. Ultimately, it was a race to get the roof on within 3 months/before the rain came and we had been advised to use the black plastic. It took a little longer than 3 months and the rain beat us before the roof was on and the black plastic created pooling resulting in some of the joins swelling up. This may not have occurred, had we left the plastic off, as we were on the site often enough to brush excess water away.

In the end it was not too much of an issue as the joins were pretty easily fixed using a belt sander.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Our first ugly job!

Because the building is constructed on posts, we were keen to make sure that the floor was insulated and enhance the protection against fire.
So our first job was to attach 27 2400 X 1200 sheets of fibre cement butted together on to the bottom of the joists between the bearers so as we could easily sit insulation batts on top of them before laying on particle board flooring.
As we had chosen to use joists set 600mm apart rather than 450mm the timber specified was only 35mm thick rather than 45mm. Now for all Turpsys great work there were of course discrepancies in distances between bearers and my measuring and trimming of the sheets using an electric saw fitted with an appropriate blade was not always as accurate. This would often mean that there was only not enough fibre cement sheet covering the bottom of the joists so nailing was out of the question and I would need to hammer a nail with a large washer around it to hold the two sheets up.
The height we were working with ranged from about 6 inches to 3.5 metres so the system we used needed to vary as we moved further towards the higher end of the platform. One of the most useful investments we made toolwise was a Paslode portable nail gun, and it was not only a god send for this job but for many others, as it is difficult enough to hold a quite heavy sheet in place without then having one person need to release two hands to place a nail in to a joist.
The first part was tricky because there was restricted space to work and we used a chocking arrangement and initally a normal hammer to fasten until there was space to use the nailgun.
Once we got to the middle section we could use our bodies to hold the sheets up so it wasn't too bad and we had our system sorted by then.
Once sheets need to be fixed overhead we needed a new system, which Michelle came up with, to hold the cement sheets in place while they were fastened.
This entailed drilling 4 holes about 50mm in from the side and a comfortable arms distance with from the ends so as thin ropes were threaded through for us to haul up the sheet and attach the ropes to other nearby fixings to hold the sheet up whilst it was fixed. This entailed Michelle, who is not missing an ACL ligament from a knee and a better head for heights, balancing precariously above me on the joists whilst I used the nail gun underneath. Before starting to do so, I make sure to let her know so as she could get out of the way because occassionaly I missed the joist and the nail would shoot straight through the sheet!
It was a buggar of a job taking us about 4 weeks to finish as we both work part time so that meant a maximum of 4 days on the building site.

Bush fire zone building!

As we are in a fire zone ( a block in the middle of a Karri forest basically ) there are certain requirements relating to house construction.

Apart from the usual planning, building and health approvals, we were also required to assess the degree of fire risk at our property before we could obtain a building license.

This involved getting a copy of the Australian Standard AS3959 ( Construction of buildings in fire prone areas ) and using the procedure outlined to make an assessment. This then needed to be submitted to the local shire council building inspector who then completes his own assessment and makes a final decision as to the level of construction required.

The following will give you some idea of what was required.

There are five categories of bush fire attack that are used to determine the appropriate level of construction to be applied to a development:
flame zone.

The categories of attack are determined by:

The type of vegetation
How close your building is to the vegetation
What the effective slope is (i.e. fire runs more readily and with greater intensity uphill).
The Fire Danger Index applicable to the region

Depending on the outcome of the assessment there are Level 1, 2 or 3 construction requirements.

The various categories and bush fire attack and the associated construction requirements are outlined below.

Minimal attack from radiant heat and flame due to the distance of the site from the vegetation, although some attack by burning debris is possible. There is insufficient threat to warrant specific construction requirements, but residents should still do basic property preparation.

Attack by burning debris is significant with low levels of radiant heat (not greater than 12.5kW/m2). Radiant heat is unlikely to threaten building elements (i.e. unscreened glass). Specific construction requirements for ember protection and accumulation of debris are warranted (Level 1 construction standards).

Attack by burning debris is significant with an increased radiant heat levels (not greater than 19kW/m2) threatening some building elements. Specific construction requirements for protection against embers and radiant heat are warranted (Level 2 construction standards).

Attack by burning debris is significant and radiant heat levels (not greater than 29kW/m2) can threaten building integrity. Specific construction requirements for protection against embers and higher radiant heat are warranted. Some flame contact is possible (Level 3 construction standards).

Flame Zone
Radiant heat levels will exceed 29kW/m2. Radiant heat levels and flame contact are likely to significantly threaten building integrity and result in significant risk to residents who are unlikely to be adequately protected. The flame zone is outside the scope of AS3959 and the NSW Rural Fire Service will recommend protection measures in addition to minimum Level 3 construction where the applicant does not provide an adequate performance solution. Other measures such as drenching systems, radiant heat barriers and fire rated glass may also be required.

I assessed our block at level 3 but the building inspector was so impressed with the clearing we had done that he assessed it at Level 2.
The details required for each level of construction are well described in the following brochure produced by ACT Planning and Land Authority.

The foundations!

We had considered that we might attempt to build the house ourselves because our budget was very small.
As I have already mentioned, the block had quite a steep slope on it and there was now an added difficulty as the house was skewed across the block to take advantage of the northerly aspect so setting out the footings was going to be something that we were better off getting someone with appropriate experience to do.
Our architect had recommended a builder known as Turpsy to build the house for us as he specialised in homes that were built on steel poles so we engaged him to do the foundations up to the joists with the notion that we would take over from there!
I was stunned when he first came out to check the block out and informed us that the high point of the house would be 3.5 metres above the ground. The slope just did not look that steep!
So the first step was to get the footings in for the posts.

Turpsy bought in his crew, which included his son, and I was astounded when they set to work digging all the footings by hand including 4 huge ones that needed to hold up Michelle's end of the house.

This occurred because Turpsy, Michelle and I decided that rather than tacking a carport on to the back of the house it would make more sense to use the space underneth, so he redesigned the bearer layout and footing dimensions to accommodate the change.

You can just see the extra length engineered spans and larger footings supporting the high end of the platform.

Turpsy and his team did an amazing job especially with the fabrication of the steelwork not even bothering to use the adjusters often used to but relying on his accurate levels takings to get the correct pole heights. A couple of mini cement mixer loads and within a couple of weeks it was all completed.
So now it is our turn, as nearly $40,000 of our budget had disappeared already, so we are going to have a crack at doing the rest of the building ourselves.
This is the second time for m,e as I built most of a large two storey extension on a former home in West Leederville, and basically the first time for Michelle.

Clearing the block!

As I mentioned here there was alot of work to do to clear the block of some smaller bushes and trees and years of built up tree debris which needed to be raked up and burnt off.

We started this in September of 2008 and I reckon it took a good 6 weeks to get it cleared.

Also during this time we got the tree lopper Albert in to take down a quite a number of the larger trees which were Karris mostly.........

including a huge one.

Of course the poodles had to get involved also.

and we had plenty of wood.

Following consultations with our builder Turpsy, we also needed to get a digger in to remove some rocks so as we could get the footings where they needed to go and we ended up with a fantastic big rocks which Michelle got the driver to place interestingly.

Now we have all these wonderful big rocks and lots and lots of smaller ones too which is terrific as the bottom of the block does not have a fence all the way across the block so Michelle decides to build a dry stone wall.

This is really heavy work but Michelle treats it as a sculpture and gets heaps for herself out of the experience.

As there were only enough rocks to cover a certain distance, sections of split large rounds and the complete smaller ones from the felling of the trees were used to span the rest of the distance and it looks awesome.

The design!

Following the death of my mum in March 2008 and the completion of the administration her estate we were ready to go ahead with the move to Denmark.

Michelle and I knew pretty well exactly what we wanted in a house that would suit the range of our interests.

It is a basic and cost effective ( budget $100,000 ) design constituting a large space at one end for her ( the artist ) and a large space at the other end for him ( the musician ) with a bit in the middle to share.

Here is one of the sketches that Michelle made showing a design with a walkway between the rest of the house and her studio.

One of our surf buddies Pete Jongen is an architect and he had mentioned that, incredibly generously, he would be interested in drawing up a design for us based on our requirements in return for the creation, development and ongoing maintenance of his design studios website.

We took our little sketches around and he quickly roughed out some designs with a massive deck as shown in the image below which was something I really wanted.

So pleased with what he had proposed we left him to it and a few weeks later this is what he had come up with.

And so the building odyssey commenced!