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…

Container home companies – a polite and friendly review, considering..

I was going to title this post, “Container Home Companies – Zombies and Shonksters” but I figured that might have legal implications so I didn’t.

Firstly, I am still waiting on the engineering, but once that is done I will then have my Construction Certificate issued. The reason this last step has taken so long is that I had hoped the engineering would be done by the company that builds my house. Instead, after crazy delays and encounters with crazy people, I have given up on that and I figure engineering is engineering and whoever builds it will have to follow the engineer’s specs for steelwork, so I’m getting it done as a standalone. That way I can finish off the paperwork required by council.

I will now share my experience to date with container home companies.
In a few cases, it has not been pleasant, in fact it’s been a comedy of errors which I am sure will be funny one day. Until then I might drink.

Please note, for any lawyers out there, this is just my personal experience and my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the experience that other people will have. No children or animals were harmed in the making of this post but the experience is not fictional and does represent real characters. Some of the language is creative but you have to have a sense of humour about these things, or otherwise curl up into the foetal position and wait for numbness to arrive.

Some of the behaviour by these companies is just frustrating, like the silent treatment and not ever answering emails or phone calls. Some of the behaviour is more serious, like being intentionally misleading;  two cases of this behaviour were both followed by a wonderful karma-type twist of fate, with the companies going bust soon after. Other companies have been OK and just weren’t the right fit for my type of build, but might suit others.

I will start with the two bigguns, the ones that take your hopes, and your time and money, and dash them against the rocks with a gleeful and unapologetic lack of ethics.

Number 1 – Nova Deko Modular. They fibbed.

They are Number 1 in a you-wouldn’t-want-to-meet-them-in-a-dark-alley kind of way. This is the original company I had 6 months of phone meetings with, getting input from them on the structural stuff including their standard wall structure, what was possible and what wasn’t, and the standard inclusions they provided for internal fittings. My DA was then submitted based on their standard building specs.

I noticed during the design development stage that their prices were rapidly going up, and I was told they were phasing out of doing custom builds and mine would be one of the last. So I kept checking with them if they could still do my build, if the price would be the same etc, and I was reassured that it had all been recently checked with the factory and with the MD and they would stick to their commitment, at least with a very close price. I did a triple check on that before submitting my DA.

After my DA went in, the guy I had been dealing with, Matt Chernishov, left the company. Before he left, he said we needed to get my build into a final agreement, which I heartily agreed with. The agreement was not in place before Matt left, although until the very day he left he assured me it was close, and copying in the factory manager and the MD he said of the MD  “You’re in good hands, Jim is a good man and will honour the original pricing the best he can.” Days after Matt left, Jim and the factory manager said they had no intention of building my house. They don’t do custom builds. No apology, no concern.

Soon after, the company closed its offices in Australia – they still operate overseas and you’ll find their website easily enough. If you want a simple build that is not a custom one then perhaps they are worth a try, but the lack of accountability and transparency within the company would bother me. If something goes wrong you might need an Italian friend to help sort it out. I have one of those but he’s not local unfortunately.

Jokes aside (memo to lawyers, that Sicilian threat idea was a joke) – a little honesty a little earlier would have saved me a lot of stress and time. Marks to Nova Deko Modular for customer service, zero.

As an aside, for anyone looking for a Mafia style threat I found this surprising website offering an online service  www.onlyinitaly.com/mafialetters

Marlon Brando the Godfather
Knowing someone like this might help in dealing with some of these companies. (Pic from here)

Number 2 – Rubix Modular. They asked me to fly to QLD, then fibbed.

I only found these guys recently, it looked like they’d had lots of positive media coverage and seemed reasonably solid, although none of these companies have been operating for very long given container house building is pretty new in Australia. I couldn’t find many negative reviews at the time, just one and that’s not bad these days. They used to sell Nova Deko Modular builds, but had troubles with them (which I related to) so they were doing their own home models nowadays.

It took a while to get an answer to my initial inquiry, but after one phone call finally got through they were keen and helpful. A few written quotes later and it was clear they hadn’t quite got their heads around my BAL FZ custom build, and suggested I go up to QLD and sit down with them to sort out the details (at my own cost of course). I booked flights for Tuesday last week, hired a car and day tripped up there and had a good meeting with a team of four of them including builders and Joshua Fisk the MD. It all seemed pretty positive. They had to go and check out a couple of details, said they would get the engineering sorted ASAP, and were keen to do the build. They showed me around the factory where some basic builds using insulated panels were under way, and it was good to see the size of two containers joined together.

They did act; within two days they had obtained a quote for my engineering and promised a full quote for the build by Friday. The next week (ie a few days ago), there were no answers to my phone calls and emails and I found a google review from this last week showing they are going into receivership and had to be out of the premises by last Friday. They would have known that was coming, but invited me up to QLD to lie to me in person anyway.

Seriously, how do these people sleep at night?
Or is that when they normally come out to feed?

I had a lucky escape, by the recent google reviews popping up now there are some people who have lost money or are stuck with dodgy containers that leak in the rain.

Number 3 – Price and Speed Containers. Please leave a message at the tone…

This one started out hopeful, just like all the rest when I stop and think about it. It turns out that all the movies are right and hope is a powerful thing. Mix it with some eternal optimism, some stubbornness, and a basically trusting nature and belief that most people don’t lie all the time, and the damn stuff can keep you going on, and on, and on.

This company is Sydney-based and they do container modifications. Mostly pop-ups like cafes and bars plus some temporary single-unit housing stuff, but they had a design on their website that was very similar to my house with the 3 x forty foot container layout and they had done it as a pop-up bar. So I thought it was worth asking what that model would cost and if they could modify it to build mine.

I thought they might just do the containers themselves, for me to then organise the internal fit-out but on inquiry staff member Joe Caruana said they can do internal walls and insulation, electricals, plumbing etc. His replies were fast, generally within 24 hours and quite helpful including discussions on cladding, transport and installation of the build, and getting the engineering done. Until I sent him my plans that is; then I received one more email saying thanks and they’d get back to me with a full quote, then all communications ceased. I left quite a few phone messages and emails over a few weeks, the last ones just asking for confirmation they were no longer interested in my build. No response.

Obviously they are no longer interested but apparently don’t have enough courtesy for a simple call, text or email to let me know. I guess if you’re not interested in the first place ignoring an email isn’t so bad, a few of us are probably guilty of that, but to be in mid-discussion and suddenly disappear is bit weird… maybe something happened and the night feeders above got Joe or something.

This lot could be worth a go if you want container modifications only. They could be perfectly nice people, who just need to work on their communication skills.

Number 4 – Container Build Group. Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

This is also a company that has done a lot of single-unit temporary housing and general container modifications, and is now getting into finished container houses. They have a bunch of multiple-module house designs on their website, some of which look pretty good. Overall their sales person was helpful and I’ve been in touch with them twice now, last year as a general inquiry and just recently to see if they could do my build now that Rubix Modular has proven to be a waste of time.

The main issue here is the cost. I sent my plans through, they said they remembered the design from last time and within an hour or so sent me a brief four line quote for a very large sum of money, not including the BAL FZ extras of cladding, decking, roof or even the internal stairs. It did include the 6mm toughened glass double glazing. At a per square meter cost the quote was around $2300/m, which is on the luxury-finish side of a traditional house build (if you believe that stairs between floors are beyond a luxury item and are actually a pure indulgence that doesn’t belong in the main costing).

They use insulated panels for the inside walls, which are based on colour bond steel so to hang a picture you’d need a rivet gun, and to attach something like a TV you’d need to know where you want to put it (forever) so they can insert a wall stud. They said the standard flooring included in their builds was laminate, not hardwood, and not gold plating.

Why anyone would pay that sort of money and be restricted by the dimensions of a container home I have no idea.

On further discussion, they said several things:

  • That building with containers was not actually cheaper, that the advantage was structural soundness compared to other methods. They can stack 9 high and last for decades at sea, so they are much stronger that other build methods.
    I’m not preparing for a zombie apocalypse so would be happy with a building that complies with BCA, I believe they tend to stand up OK for quite some time. It seems a bit crazy to build with containers based on that rationale alone, unless you’re in an earthquake zone or something. In my opinion the main attraction of this build method is that the structure is already there, in theory making it cheaper to build.
  • They make their money out of the internal fit-out. No kidding. I asked would they sit down and discuss different internal options to save on the budget? They said if I agreed to that price they would be happy to discuss it more. Huh?
  • Would they be interested in just doing the container modifications not the internal fit-out? No not really, they want a good finish inside that is done to their own specs for the photos, to help them build up a good reputation. I’m not quite sure how steel panel internal walls and plastic floors fit with that, but each to their own.
  • They did eventually say if I sent through all my other quotes they might try to come close, or I could make an offer and wait and see. They were very interested in who else was quoting and how much. Given they didn’t even give me an itemised quote to work from (so that I’m not quite sure what I get for that large amount of money),  I’m a bit reluctant to give them all that information on the competition as it doesn’t seem fair.
    They also said they do a lot of single-unit basic stuff, and at the other end of the scale they have some very big multiple-module jobs on with 11 containers or more, but nothing much in between and no factory space at the moment. They said it’s possible the builder over quoted me because he’s not really interested, and from my experience he wouldn’t be the first to do that.
Zombie apocalypse
Zombie Apocalypse. If you have a container house, it might well be the only thing still standing. But it will cost you. (Pic from here)

So if you want a single-module house, or have millions to spend on a massive build and don’t care about the per square meter cost but want something that would survive a zombie apocalypse on land or at sea, give them a go. Or maybe if factory space frees up later they might be interested, it could just be bad timing.

Number 5 – Cube Modular, the strong silent types

Based in Western Australia, I don’t have much info on these guys. To be fair to them it looks like they might only build their own designs and not do custom builds. I sent them an inquiry about a custom build, no response.

Others – oh please let there be others…

There are two more companies I am either in discussions with or about to contact again –  Container Domain Designs and Port Containers. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Feature image from here