All the bits n pieces, logistics and interior design

Things have been slow on the house building front as life got in the way for the last few months. Plus it was winter so when I went up to my site in the mountains to camp in my monolithic steel house it was about minus three degrees (inside and outside) and not very pleasant for doing anything that involved having to leave my down sleeping bag.

Instead I have been plodding away at my desk on paperwork and planning in my spare time.

However, spring is sprunging as you can see in the photo above, you have to wade through camellias and rhodos to get to my house, so the build is back on the top of my list. There is a lot to do.

First up I had a problem with water coming into the house, where the three containers meet up. I don’t know if there is a bit of sag happening, a not-quite-level-bit or if it was just condensation/dew from the top container running down the wall and pooling, but it took a few goes to fix. I can’t say I did a stunningly professional job of it but there will be decking and cladding on the outside and insulation and plasterboard on the inside so all I needed was an effective fix, not a pretty one.

There was a pretty big vertical gap of about 50mm between the top and bottom containers, and about 25mm horizontal between the two bottom ones. There is a big strip weld holding the bottom two containers together at the roof. Anyway, I started with foam flashing strips to plug the vertical gap between top and bottom containers on the inside, and added waterproof byute foil flashing over that on the outside which was wide enough to be mostly touching steel (not the foam).

I waited for rain and it still leaked, and it turned out to be mostly around the weld strip as I could see drip marks on the inside below that section. So I wandered through Bunnings and found some bitumen waterproofing putty and lathered that all along the joins. That fixed the main living room section, but a few weeks later after waiting for more rain I still had leaks back over one bedroom so I went nuts with more putty to seal the lower edges of the flashing as well and now there are no more drips. It hasn’t rained for a very long time but there was enough to form a small pool of water over the putty a few weeks back and nothing ran inside. We’ll sort out the waterflow/pooling problem when the deck is added on. There are other gaps between the containers where there are no water issues and I have sealed those from the inside with spray foam for now which should do until the cladding goes on.

putty and flashing to fix water issue
The place where the three containers meet and water was coming in, on one side of what will be a deck. You can see the flashing and putty in the pic on the right, the putty runs either side of the strip of raw steel that was welded on to join the bottom two containers. The bit of carpet tile is there to block the flu penetration for my wood stove.

The other tricky thing was ordering a front entry door. Just go to a door shop and buy one I hear you say. I wish, not for a Flame Zone I’m afraid. The first company I found had some nice door choices in sexy aluminium (my door has to be metal framed), but the door would come from New Zealand and they wouldn’t supply a door frame for some reason. That sounded all too hard. The next two companies would do both door and frame but when it came to the final quote it took many weeks and calls for one of them and then an order time of eight weeks, and the quote never arrived from the other one. They were both very expensive and delivery fees even more so, and pickup was not an option.

To meet my fire regulations the door seals have to be silicon and that made it a BAL 40 rated door, and it turned out both companies would have ordered the door via Stegbar. So I contacted Stegbar, who quoted within days, I saved about $700 and have a door arriving around the 20th September, with frame. It’s mostly frosted glass to let in some more light, 6mm toughened of course as that’s the only glass I can have, and double glazed for cosiness.

Other things that I’m working on at the moment include:

1. Sydney water sewer and water connections – this has to be done through a water services coordinator and is a long and involved process, but it is well underway and I’m waiting on quotes from Sydney Water approved sewer constructors. I have to put in a low-pressure pump which is not cheap, and I chose the process where Sydney Water would own the pump and therefore have to fix it if it breaks, which involves more paperwork but saves a bit of money (they pay for the pump) and also saves me having to deal with any future sewer problems.

2. To get the inside fit-out happening, I need to finish my electrical plan, get the interior wired up and then I can insulate with spray foam and start to plasterboard. Most of the wiring and plumbing will be coming up through the floor due to the steel stud-work in the walls, but there is plenty of crawl space under the house due to the slope of the block so that shouldn’t be a problem. The electrical plan is taking some work as I had to work out where everything will go, including kitchen and bathroom design and cabinet sizes, power points and USB points, lighting, fans etc. So I’ve been a busy bee with SketchUp plans, trawling through Pinterest for ideas and crawling the net for various electrical and plumbing fittings. I’m finishing the plan this weekend so I can start to get quotes.

kitchen layout container home
Basic kitchen cabinet layout, or half of it. The inspector-looking fellow is actually standing in the bathroom. The big grey block in front won’t be there, it will be stairs and cabinetry I’m just not clever enough to do stairs with quarter turns in SketchUp yet. The hole in the wall is a window over the kitchen sink. The splashback might be copper or bright orange, I’m not sure yet if I’ll go for classy or loud. The benchtop will either be timber or white.

3. I also need to get some quotes for plastering, including squaring up the walls as nearly everything that Port Shipping Containers did is crooked. I’m a bit sick of writing about them and finding more mess ups, so I think I’ll call them “They Who Should Not Be Named” to maintain a degree of distance. The wobbly bits include windows and wall stud work. I knew they couldn’t use a tape measure very well but it turns out apparently no-one there has a spirit level either. I have totally changed my expectations and I now assume nothing is quite where it should be, and nothing is level, and that has kept me much happier. I think my attitude might be called pessimism but I’ve put a cheery hat on it and I walk in ready to make a plan to adapt and fix stuff instead of having steam coming out my ears. I’m keeping tabs on things and the cost of fixing stuff, in case it’s worth suing them later on. Or finding the Elder Wand to sort them out.

The newly discovered level of crookedness slowed down the electrical planning as none of the dimensions on the drawings by They Who Should Not Be Named were correct, apart from the window sizes and the windows were made by someone else. So I had to go up to my site and physically measure all the internal walls to see where they ended up. Then I could work out where to place the power points.

4. I have finished the kitchen and bathroom design. I’m still looking into the pros and cons of Ikea versus Bunnings flatpack (overhead cupboards are the concern with Ikea apparently) but I have the basic design and cabinetry layout done, plus the colours of course as that’s the fun bit. It still includes my copper walled shower recess and I’m looking into the best way to achieve that. I’ve ordered a small piece of copper sheet to try hammering it, oxidising it and gluing it. I was planning on pressed tin with copper paint but all the tin sites say you should use powdercoat not enamel paint on the tin for wet areas, and the powdercoat copper colour is just a murky, dull, dark brown.

mood board for my bathroom
The mood board for my bathroom, including the copper shower recess and my fancy floor tiles. It’s a slightly dodgy cut and paste effort I did in Gimp (the poor woman’s Photoshop) and the bathroom should look much better in terms of finish than this! I’m still not sure if I should risk black tapware (hard to keep clean I’d say, and more expensive even on ebay) or stay with chrome.

5. An ongoing task has been removing the rest of the masking tape from the windows. This can be fun if the weather is nice and you approach it with a mental state of Zen, or it can be as annoying as a mosquito in your ear at 2am if you think about the fact it should not be this hard. True to form, They Who Should Not Be Named did not use window tape when they taped up all the glass for transport, they used the cheapest, nastiest masking tape you can imagine and put it everywhere. It crumbles into teeny pieces when you try to remove it, it won’t peel off. I tried solvent, WD40, window scrapers and just about everything else and it’s a torturous job to remove each strip of it millimetre by millimetre. I’ve had help from a bunch of people so it’s been several days of effort already. I eventually worked out that a heat gun was the best solution, it melts the glue behind it so the tape comes off in strips not atoms. Some of the tape is still left on the high windows and hard to reach places and will probably stay there until stairs and decks are on, or until I find a very tall volunteer because me plus my ladder is not enough.

windows with masking tape both sidesMasking tape masking tape everywhere, on both sides of the glazing.

6. I’m chatting with a talented local carpenter for my interior stairs, which also form part of the kitchen as there will be cabinetry underneath them. I think they are going to be pretty special and I will share designs and photos when the plans are finalised. I just have to get the electrics, insulation and wall linings done before they can be installed – which is not a bad thing as deadlines are always a good motivation for me.

 

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Hallelujah, the containers are on site!

I’d love to show you photos of all the angles of my new container house now it is on site, but the delightful thing is that most of it is hidden by the garden. Many of the pictures are of trees and shrubs with just a glimpse of container behind. You can see the whole house from the front where the view is, and it’s shown in the banner photo above.

Getting the containers into position while keeping a substantial garden intact was not a simple thing. I reckon I ended up with the best team in the business, both for the truck delivery and the crane. Adam’s team from Turner and Central Crane Services worked miracles to get the containers from the truck to the piers. Fifty tonne cranes don’t look that manoeuvrable but apparently they can turn tight corners quite well if they’re in the right hands, and this one inched it’s way off the driveway, down the little garden path, to a spot half way between the truck and the piers. I think I might be slightly oblivious to just how close we were to the maximum reach of the crane when it hefted the 6 tonne containers over the tree tops, but I’m happy to stay that way. Adam said not to worry they’d get it done, and they did.

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Setting up the crane in soggy ground near a garden retaining wall.
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The 50 tonne crane in position, with Adam from Turner and Central
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Crane in mid-lift. This gives an idea of how much garden everyone was working around!

Jodi Thompson from J & K Heavy Towing and Transport did some seriously talented driving to reverse the 12m containers down to the bottom of my driveway, with very little room to manoeuvre. A couple of other drivers had visited my site to give me a quote and said it wasn’t possible. Not only was there a blind reverse turn from a very narrow street involved but to add a bit more of a challenge there is a small garden right next to the road, directly opposite my driveway, which was right in the area where the truck needed to swing around. The garden now has large semi-trailer tread marks within 2mm of it, but is otherwise unscathed.

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The truck reversing into the driveway, neatly missing the neighbour’s garden bed by millimeters.
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The truck at the end of the driveway with a container being lifted.

We just had the wettest March since 1975 and then the rain didn’t realise it was April for a while so it kept on going. Delivery day followed the first good break in the weather but the ground was still soft and it’s a good thing we waited as long as we did – the crane only just got back out with the help of a few well-placed solid timber sleepers. I have a bit of landscaping to do to fill in the deep furrows it left in the driveway and path, but that’s a small price to pay.

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Lift off from the driveway – the truck pulled out to go and get the next container.
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A high lift over the trees.
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The first container going into place on the piers.

I am totally chuffed to finally have my house structure tucked away on site, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the rest of the build. I’m also pleased I chose this build method as anything else would have had much more impact on the lovely garden block.

The real fun is about to begin and I am now finally free from dodgy container fabrication companies.

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The first container in place, from behind showing the tree view through to the front.
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Container Number 3 going on top.
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A crane “dogman” with a fine sense of balance working on the roof of the first container.

If you read my last post, which was a frustrated vent about the performance of Port Shipping Containers, I have a relatively quick update for you. After some negotiation the Company Directors acknowledged they knew they were in breach of contract and didn’t care, they refused to release my containers until I paid in full. I offered several compromises including 10% payment after delivery (instead of the agreed 20% outlined in our contract), and a third party payment system where the final payment could be held independently until all parties were happy. Then I asked for payment by credit card, as that would give me a bit of protection via the visa charge back system if something was wrong. They said no to everything except payment by EFT, and decided to stay uncompromisingly unethical.

The company did a last quality check for me, where they picked up yet another mistake. We had actually picked this mistake up back in drawing stages and a correction had been identified then, but it was completely ignored during the build stage. They fixed it promptly this time, without arguing which was nice.

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The view from the garden path right near the containers. They can’t be seen at all from the street.
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The tree view from one side of the deck.

Then as a grand finale, as the one tarnish on an otherwise happy day of container delivery, Port had got the position of the bottom side rails wrong. This bit is rather important as the bottom side rails, along with the corner casts, are where the containers sit on the foundations. If they are not where they are supposed to be then the container might miss the foundations.

I checked the position measurements with Port when I was doing the foundations. Their measurements were way out, basically it looks like they didn’t check which type of bottom side rails the containers had and they gave me specs for the wrong type. So I now have a section where the side rail of one container is sitting only on an overhanging steel top plate not directly over a pier and it will have to be reinforced. The incompetence of their staff just never ends.

I am currently looking into whether it is worth the legal fees to try to recover some of my build costs from Port due to the extended delays, plus the cost of fixing the foundation. I’ll certainly be posting some reviews to give people fair warning – if anyone is looking for a container fabrication company I strongly recommend you look elsewhere and find a company capable of using a tape measure, reading the supplied specifications, and sticking to their own contract.

Overall, apart from what is hopefully the very last stuff up by Port containers, it was a very fine day and a great outcome.

My containers are not on site yet – thanks to Port Shipping Containers.

Why? Why? Why? People keep asking if the containers are onsite yet, and then why not? Isn’t one main advantage of this build method that it’s quick?

I wish.

Warning, this post is long and quite painful. Read it at your own risk and expect to come out confused at the end. If you’re not confused and it’s all crystal clear and reasonable please let me know as I could use some of that perspective.

It might be something to do with this flu that’s been doing the rounds, but I feel like I’m floating in parallel universe where rationality and written agreements have no relevance. I’ve been trying to keep a sense of humour with this blog but right now I’m just completely baffled by a constant assault of unreason.

I’ve been trying to organise delivery of my containers since my last post but the guy I’m dealing with at Port Shipping Containers is doing my head in.

This is of course my own personal experience and my opinion and you might have a different experience with Port Shipping Containers, I am just sharing for my own therapy. My recent experience has been with one particular person so it might not represent Port the company. I would rather not write about one person but all my recent dealings have been with one person and I think it’s probably a personality thing so I can’t see a way around it. So to protect them, imagine someone you don’t know, and whose name you’ll never know. To be fair he has copied a lot of other Port people onto his emails who I don’t know and they haven’t piped up in protest so maybe he does represent the company.

You might have seen my post from April last year with a summary of my not-very-positive experiences with various container companies. At the end of last year when the job from Port was looking like it was nearly done I was thinking that in comparison to those other companies the guys at Port Containers were angels wearing some extra halos of radiant professionalism (plus high vis vests and work boots). That impression is now gone.

Right now Port are in breach of contract and I’m hoping someone from their head office is going to help me sort this out because I’ve hit a wall of mind-bending, illogical reasoning and blame. We have an agreed quote that states clearly I will pay the final 20% on delivery. Port wrote the quote and I accepted it. I am calling the parallel universe guy I am dealing with “Port Guy” because if I have to think of another name at the moment it might not be polite. He might be a very nice person to others and at home. He might be being advised by other people in the email trail. He’s the 4th Port person I’ve dealt with on this job. The other Port people were friendly and pleasant to deal with and never accused me of anything. Even Port Guy started out OK.

Anyway the point is that I have an earlier email in Port Guy’s own words that refers to this agreed concept of payment on delivery and states that the “payment 30 days after delivery…gives you piece of mind, that if for some reason there is there is something needing to be done on site by PORT, it will be sorted out for you straight away.” Given everything that has gone wrong with this build so far, I really want that peace of mind.

Suddenly despite that email and our subsequent contract Port Guy is demanding I pay everything right now before he will release my containers for delivery. I might have been able to live with that if I’d had a different experience with this company, one where everything went right and the first quote I got was the only one and the job was delivered in 6 weeks as promised. But the reality has been different. Here is a very quick summary of the job so far, there’s a lot missing it’s just some of the bigger stuff to paint the picture:

1) Various staff members kept re-quoting the job so the final quoted cost was uncertain for 7 months. Yep, 7 months. Two months from one staff member, he left then another 2 months for someone else to do the whole quote again (“why did they have to do that?” you might well ask), then the last three of those months were after I had paid 50% of the deposit because the quote had finally been agreed with Port Guy. I started to pay then it was suddenly up the air again and being re-quoted. At that stage I was pretty worried I had made a mistake and might lose the money I had paid.
2) Since the first quote agreement this job has taken 6 months instead of the promised 6 weeks.
3) There have been significant errors in all stages of the build, including getting order specs for materials wrong and putting windows in the wrong way or in the wrong position. All but one of the errors was picked up by me, not by Port staff.
4) I’ve been told various things by  Port staff which have then been denied by other Port staff, and I wasn’t off talking to someone I shouldn’t have these were all people I was passed on to at Port. Some of this has meant I’ve been charged for things I was told would be included. There’s been little accountability within the company. I did keep an email trail on most of it as to me that is written record of agreement, but in this weird universe of Port Guy those emails are all apparently irrelevant or inconclusive.

This is a cute fluffy animal (baby albatross). It has no relevance to this blog, it's just here to cheer me up.
This is a cute fluffy animal (baby albatross). It has no relevance to this blog, it’s just here to cheer me up. (pic from boredpanda.com)

The current status – Port Guy is trying various tactics to get me to pay more money, preferably the full balance right now. I believe the job has come in at close to cost for Port due to inexperienced staff and the high number of errors in the quote and the job, and I appreciate them fixing them all and sticking to their quote. Having said that, it’s what I’d expect a professional company to do. It’s what the rest of us have to do if we underestimate costs in a quote.

It’s pretty apparent that Port Guy is now desperate to recover some costs. The bit I struggle with is that professionalism appears to have gone out the window and lately he’s been trying to blame mistakes on me. He’s now accusing me of having less than honest motivations. I find that a bit much given my tolerance so far and the track record of this job.

Port Guy utterly refused to correct the last error where a window was in the wrong place and was insisting I pay for it because it was my fault, until eventually just to save more time and my keyboard I had to suggest we get NSW Fair Trading to arbitrate. He was appalled I had suggested that, then he fixed the error at Port’s cost. His view is that since he came onto the job and sorted out all the quote issues everything has been rosy, but he’s been more heavily involved in the job since August 2016 and now we’re in March 2017 and not done yet. I see no roses.

Most recently, after a few months of me trying to get the BCA compliance paperwork for the glazing from Port Guy, which last year Port promised would be supplied, he said he finally had the correct paperwork but he wouldn’t give it to me. Not until I paid in full. Without that paperwork I had no evidence Port had installed the correct glazing (and they’d got the order wrong before), so no evidence the job was completed to my specs. My next payment was supposed to be on job completion. Port Guy finally released the documents after more discussion but it wasn’t easy to get it.

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Another cheer up moment. Don’t forget to eat your greens with this flu going around. (pic from justcuteanimals.com)

Now his new angle is to blame me for a late payment and tell me I’m a credit risk so I have to pay everything up now. Get ready, this is the mind-twisting part; the “late payment” is for the part of the deposit I didn’t send when he was re-quoting for 3 months.

So I was supposed to send them more funds during the time I had already paid 50% of the deposit but then found out the deposit amount owing wasn’t actually known anymore – when I was finding out that the window sizes and glass specs about to be ordered by Port were wrong despite them having had 4 months to check them, and that the quoted engineering costs might change, during the time that I didn’t receive a single payment invoice or reminder from Port or any emails from Port Guy requesting payment.

I was actually assuming they didn’t ask for payment then because they understood that might come across as slightly insane. I was instead thinking I might have to ask for a refund soon for the part of the payment I had sent because now the quote that took 4 months to confirm might not be valid and because the amount of mistakes was scary. As I said they did eventually fix everything at their cost and they stuck to the quote so I stayed with them. I saw Port Guy in person in Newcastle last month when I went to inspect the job and when to my great relief I saw the work had actually happened and looked good (apart from the last window position mistake) I told him then that I’d send the rest of the deposit. He said no worries, no issue. Suddenly now it’s an issue.

When that argument doesn’t seem to spin well Port Guy tries other tactics like saying the 20% payment on delivery was completely dependent on Port doing the delivery and if they don’t do it then it’s a change to the job and I have to pay everything up front. It wasn’t a condition, that’s not in the contract and to the contrary Port even organised a site visit by another transport company for me back in July 2016 so they knew then they probably weren’t doing the transport. I also asked Port Guy to itemise the delivery portion separately in their final quote/contract for that exact reason, in case Port didn’t do delivery due to site access limitations and the need for smaller trucks. He itemised it separately for me.

Then Port Guy sends me a quote from an independent transport company, but adds 30%-40% on top for Port as a gift I guess. I met with the transport guy Merv onsite last July and just last week again, and he’s been really helpful.  Port Guy makes no apologies when I pick him up on inflating the quote. Meanwhile he is accusing me of having unethical motivations and saying the only reason I’m pushing for the 20% on delivery payment is because I don’t intend to pay, and he’s therefore protecting the company with this policy of paying 100% now. Seriously? Protecting Port from overly patient customers who put up with everything above and don’t sue you for costs due to delays, great idea.

Oh and one more thing. Before I accepted the quote Port Guy agreed in writing that he wouldn’t charge me for storage for 90 days after job completion. Now he’s threatening to charge me storage, and says his previous agreement by email doesn’t mean anything.

Does your head hurt yet? Mine sure does. I’ve was hoping for delivery in February, then last week, then this week, now next week. I can’t book drivers, cranes and notify the neighbours until Port confirms they will release the containers and honour our agreed contract terms. Port Guy says that all the current delays are my fault for not paying 100% as he demands. I have stopped talking to him.

I wait in hope for the higher ups at Port to come good on this and bring us all back to reality.  I don’t do well in this alternative facts universe. Maybe this is good training for me to get used to it.

 

 

House of steel – the structure is done

You might remember that the Time Lord theme appeared in this blog previously, because of the weird clock system that twisted time during the development application process. Well it’s back again but this time in a good way. My little house reminds me of the Tardis in that it looks bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Not that I’m planning to go and paint it Police Box Blue, but you’ll see what I mean from the pictures below.

The very small and boring looking container house from the outside.
A very small and deceptively boring looking container house from the outside. Three white boxes. This is the south side, which has no windows. But wait, there’s more..

The core structure is all done, which includes the steel modifications and reinforcements, plus supply and installation of all the glazing. I went up to visit the containers all mocked-up into the shape of my house, and I’m totally chuffed with the light and spacious feel of it. The footprint on the ground is only 60m2 but it doesn’t feel that small due to two things: the decent amount of glass doors and windows; and also “The Void” – the 6m tall double-height ceiling section over the combined lounge/dining area. That design element has turned out to be a fine plan, it opens up the whole space. If you’re designing one of these container houses, I would highly recommend you include a Void if the budget allows. You lose some floor space but you also lose any potential for claustrophobia.

The dog, and “The Void” in the lounge/dining area. The two tall windows will face north, letting in some lovely warm sunlight in winter. The main view will be outside the 3.6m wide glass sliding doors to the right of the dog. Doors  and windows are all double glazed 6mm glass.
Looking back into the container house from the lounge/dining,
Looking back into the container house from the lounge/dining, Steve the engineer is standing in the kitchen, with the loft room above (no stairs to it yet). The bathroom will be up the far end past the kitchen. On the left near the larger windows (and view) is the office and then the main bedroom (which is more than one container wide). There is some temporary bracing in The Void which will be removed after transport.
View from upstairs in the loft, looking past the stair penetration back into The Void
View from upstairs in the loft, looking past the stair penetration back into The Void. I will be hanging some staggered chandeliers down through that space over the dining nook to make more of a feature of it. You can see all the steel stud framework in the walls which will support the plasterboard with spray foam behind it. Past the stair cut out at the base of this photo, the upstairs room is full width for about 3m and opens onto the upstairs deck.

It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point, a road that felt about the same length as the Eyre Highway (the longest road in Australia) but right now it was mostly worth it. The start of the quoting process by the container modification company, Port Shipping Containers, was way back in April 2016 and unlike the mind-numbingly straight Eyre Highway it has not been a simple or a predictable journey. There have been quite a few speed humps and potholes along the way. In fact occasionally the potholes got so big they reminded me of the giant ones you get in some places in Africa, where you need to drive off the road to get around them, or occasionally someone parks a truck in them so that you can use the truck roof as bridge to drive over the hole.

 

The western side of the container house.
The western side of the house, with few windows to keep the heat out. The profile will be broken up by a lot of garden. It’s a big canvas waiting for cladding…

I am very glad this fabrication stage is nearly done. The house is looking fabulous and I’d love to just be happy with it and move to the next build phase; the finish looks great to me and the engineer I hired to inspect the steelwork seemed impressed with it. But there are still a few final things to sort out before the containers are ready for transport, including one more correction for Port Containers to do (moving a window) – and the end of this road is getting bumpy again.

I think the container company has had enough now too, they have had to fill in all those giant potholes and they say this job has come in at close to cost for them due to a range of errors they’ve had to remedy plus some unexpected developments. To their credit until now they have fixed every mistake and stuck to their quoted price (as they should) despite increased labour and material costs on their side. The main cost to me has been a lot of time, and a bit of sanity. However, there is increasing reluctance in the air from them now – I hope they hang in there, we are so near to the finish.

On the up side it is exciting to see a building come to life from my paper design, and I’m really pleased that it looks big enough to live in. The dog sure looks content in it. In fact he settled in right in front of where the fireplace will be. I am looking forward to seeing this structure tucked away in the garden on my mountain block.

The next step is organising delivery logistics, which is not so simple as I need a very clever truck driver to get these three large containers into my driveway, plus some smaller than average trucks. Whoever built my street forgot to make it full width, it’s more like a laneway, so the opposite neighbour’s garden is alarmingly close. After the delivery hurdle it is onto the fun stuff like electricals, plumbing, insulation, plasterboard, scavenging some recycled cabinetry and putting in my hobbitsy faux copper vintage/contemporary shower recess (which I have not built yet). And some stairs. Things will get very interesting when it comes to the interior…watch this space. Oh, and the exterior – the western side of the building is one big 6m x 12m canvas just waiting for an interesting cladding pattern.

The foundations are in

Tis the festive season and nearly the end of the year, and it is time for an update on the build. It has been a while between blog posts, but during that time things have been happening onsite. Lots of things, from little site preparation things to large steel piers going in.

Some of the smaller stuff took a bit of time, like getting the first few Development Application consent conditions in place including temporary site fence, portaloo, and silt fence. The first two should in theory just involve a delivery but in my case getting the site fence in place meant quite a lot of work hand-clearing the vegetation at the front of the block, which had grown over right to the edge of the road in some places. I’ve been continuing that hand-clearing down one side-boundary, which was massively overgrown with vines that were reminiscent of the ones in the movie Maleficent (below). Once I had battled through the head-high thorns and chopped off all the sneaky tendrils that kept trapping my boots whenever I tried to move, I discovered some hardy camellias surviving underneath it all that will hopefully grow back into the hedge they were no doubt intended to be.

Hedge of thorns from Maleficent.
Hedge of thorns from Maleficent – I had to clear something similar from the side boundary of my block of land.

But that’s the boring stuff, the exciting part is that the foundations are in! That might not be all that exciting for normal people but for anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while I’m sure you can understand that some major site works finally happening, after what seems like decades of paperwork, has been a source of great joy and happiness for me. I can now wander around amongst my piers and visualise how big the house will be and how tall it will be which, due to the slope of the block, is much taller than I thought and might just result in an awesome valley view from the 1st floor deck.

The piers went in first, then they were cut down and levelled onsite.
The piers went in first, then they were cut down and levelled onsite.
Steel piers in concrete, ready for the containers
The steel piers with metal plates where the containers will sit (and be welded to). Note that this photo was taken on panoramic setting on a phone so there is no curve in the steel framework, it’s just an illusion.

I’ve had power connected onsite up near the road but it has not been run down to the build site yet – all the main connections will go in after the containers are in place as the connection trench will run down the driveway and could be crushed by the 50 tonne crane. The trenching under the house will be prior to delivery though.

While I’m happy to do the gardening and dig in a silt fence or two I won’t pretend for a second that I did the foundations myself, as I firmly believe that the structural bits are rather important and should be left to the professionals. Full credit to Aaron Becroft and his team who did the steel piers in concrete and organised all the welding and reinforcement/bracing.

Nothing is ever straightforward though and the first test hole that was dug went down just under 3m before it hit bedrock (in this case, Banks Sandstone), which was deeper than I had hoped or budgeted for. My block is mostly sandy infill and the piers have to go down deep enough to sit on solid ground, so we were bracing for a few surprises and the possibility of having to dig through to China – well actually the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean is opposite Australia on the globe so we would have hit cold water instead of China. It turned out that the test drill hole was in the deepest part of the build site and all the rest of the pier holes came back to a depth of around 1.5m -2m. I mentioned in my last blog post that I was hoping to encounter some pleasant surprises – although elusive little rascals this proves that they do exist and perhaps a little herd of pleasant surprises will move onto my block now that the nasty vines have gone.

A hole caused by overzealous residential construction
The sort of hole that could be caused by overzealous residential construction. Fortunately this did not occur in my case.

The container modifications were delayed for various reasons which I might go into in another post, or I might just forget about it all in the spirit of Christmas. There’s been a few minor hitches so far but the container company has been professional in sorting them out; I’ll put up a review of the company when the containers are all done and sitting on their piers. At this stage the containers should be ready mid-January with all glazing in place. They’ll be put together in the factory so I can see the house all mocked-up and get engineering sign-off, so I’ll be going up to inspect them which I’m really looking forward to.

Next, it’s into the fun and games of organising logistics and manoeuvring three forty foot containers down some narrow mountain streets, under power-lines, reversing them down a narrow dirt driveway and craning them over a lovely garden onto the piers. The crane driver has been up to visit again and says it’s all possible so together with the presence of a herd of pleasant surprises what could possibly go wrong?

I might think about all that next year…

Spring has sprung and the containers have been ordered…

Spring is in the air and it’s turning into a time of action after all that winter torpor. The action includes me finally getting around to writing this post. My Owner Builder’s Licence is completed and issued, and I have my construction certificate in hand. The licence application wasn’t a big deal and only took about 16 hours to complete all up since I’m a well-practiced desk jockey, it just took a while to find a spare 16 hours. Yes that bodes well for building a house this millennium doesn’t it, if 16 hours is a push.

The containers are about to be built off-site; I have put in an order for the containers with structural modifications including wall cut-outs and reinforcements, steel stud framework for all the walls, plus supply and installation of the double-glazed windows and doors. There’s about a 6 week timeline on that. I’m waiting on a final quote for the concrete and steel pier foundations, and will soon start on getting the other site-works and connections in place. And start on all the owner builder paperwork that comes with starting the build.

The plan, Plan Z that is, is that the first stage of the build will be delivery of a basic house structure built from the three containers, with windows and doors in place, and all welded together on-site for basic weatherproofing. Then fit-out will come after that including electricals, plumbing, insulation and plasterboard, then external cladding etc. I have a few more creative ideas for the internal fit-out, which will follow.

September was a crazy month for me in terms of work and October isn’t much better, so you’ll see some more pictures and more detailed explanations of my plans in later blog posts. This is just a quick update to say that things are moving and despair is no longer in the equation. It might be replaced by a bit of frustration and angst during the building process, or perhaps just a string of pleasant surprises mwahahahah. It doesn’t really matter, my garden block is blooming and it’s time to stop and smell the rhodos.

I have much more time to spend on the build in November, probably just as all the trades get too busy with other jobs that are due before Christmas.

Ps I have some video footage of another container house being delivered in the Blue Mountains back in August which I will post soon, after I edit it.

 

Fully prefab, or owner build? The choice is made.

First up, my Construction Certificate (CC) was finally approved last week, after a lot more messing around with “the clock”. The Council is on the clock for the CC as well as the Development Application, apparently being carefully watched by the powers that be to make sure that they process applications within a reasonable amount of time. However, the clock is still very selective in who it ticks for; it seems to run just fine when I need to submit information to Council, but stops whenever Council has to do something. After I submitted my engineering the clock seized up again for over 2 months before my application was progressed. Someone needs to come up with an independent clock that hasn’t been raised and trained by Council.

Now that the Council paperwork is done, what’s next? Well, things have changed a little since my first grand plan. All things either evolve or die out, and I’m working on evolution rather than extinction for this building. I have had to make a call on how this project will be built, and I am about to apply to do my owner-builder licence – partly because I’m stubborn and won’t give up, and partly because it’ll be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

I figure all of that waiting on paperwork was good practice for the actual build process, and I now have my patience and persistence muscles all warmed up and ready to go.

Building my own house was never Plan A, but it looks like it is the only way to build this house on a budget. The two container home companies who offered an affordable build went bust (see previous post) and based on new quotes from several other businesses the cost of a fully fitted-out prefab house is way too high. These companies all seem to make their money on the interior fit-out, which cancels out the cost advantages of having a ready made structure. In fact there appears to be little to no price difference between the fully-fitted container homes and standard modular prefab homes offered by a range of companies.

My quotes for a fully-fitted out house ranged from around $2,400-$3,000 per square meter, not including external cladding for BAL Flame Zone or site costs, and often not including things like the stairs, the bathroom or the kitchen. Laminate and vinyl were popular materials so the quotes weren’t for a luxury standard of fit-out either. To me it would be crazy to outlay that sort of money to build with containers, where some rooms are restricted to being 2.4m wide, since to build a house using a standard construction method in a BAL Flame Zone has been estimated to cost around $2,300-$3,000/m (plus site costs, but including things like kitchens).

Based on quotes so far, and there have been a LOT of quotes, the logic behind my decision goes like this: my options are to either 1.) save up more funds and get a large loan to build a larger house (not made from containers) and start from scratch with the design and DA, or 2.) try to make this container house work, on a budget. If I went with option one it would be a good investment but would take a long time and I’d want to set up a shed or caravan on my land so I could stay up there in the short term. And if I’m looking at putting in a caravan or shed then I might as well put in a container and fit that out, and if I’m putting in one container why not put in three and make a house?

Also, a major motivation behind this small house idea has always been about avoiding a big mortgage and therefore keeping my freedom to do the work that I love, which doesn’t pay very well (yet) but gives job satisfaction by the bucket load and makes me happy to be alive. That is a big thing to consider giving up just to build a bigger shelter to live in. I also like the concept of clever use of small spaces, with low energy requirements. Those values are all still important to me and the fact that I can’t have a completely fitted-out container house delivered to my site and ready to live in hasn’t completely put me off – although that would have been very nice.

So I will continue with the container home build as an owner-builder, in all my spare time, and the clock can continue to tick slowly.

plane jumstart

I jump-started this plane with a Series III Land Rover, which involved a rapid reverse of the vehicle when the propellor kicked in. There could be a market for extra-long jumper leads. Nothing to do with building a house, but shows I’m up for a challenge!

Have I ever built anything in the past, you might well ask? Not exactly, but I have dabbled in the world of practical things – I kept my old Hi-Lux working out in the bush, rigged up my remote tented camp each year including wiring up solar panels and inverters to run my office, and last week I just finished building some bush-rock steps in the backyard. There are a bunch of other things I have kept in working order by applying different combinations of cable ties, duct tape, inner tyre tube and wire (which are the materials that hold the universe together), but these materials are possibly not at their best when used in a new house build.

You might be relieved to hear that I do intend to use trades. In fact I still hope to get a builder to help with site works and install the containers when they arrive, as I would like them to be structurally sound when stacked and joined and not my responsibility if they fall over. I am currently getting quotes from container companies for just the structural steel works and glazing for the containers (windows and doors installed), so the plan is to have a lockable structure delivered to site. The interior fit-out could then be gradual and also include recycled materials to streamline the budget and give the house some character.

What is the timeline? Well, how long is a piece of string? I’ve decided not to worry about that, the clocks never work properly anyway.

I don’t think the owner-builder licence application can be any harder than preparing a DA and CC, it certainly looks like it’s much simpler (about 4-5 days study apparently including the white card). A bit more paperwork, and the build will begin…