A glass half full

Actually, the glass was not just half-full it was overflowing to the extent it was time to phone Noah and ask for a rapid-build ark design.

I had a call from my very helpful neighbour, who told me it sounded like it was raining under my house. I love phone calls like that in the morning, they get the adrenaline going and eliminate the need for caffeine. After the helpful neighbour went and turned the water off for me a friend popped over that afternoon to check whether it was a busted pipe under the house or something worse, like a leak inside the house.

There was a cold spell in the mountains a couple of weeks back where lots of old water pipes froze and busted. I don’t have old metal pipes, I have lovely new modern pipes that were plumbed in very recently. I was just gifted some amazing odds and got the one part in several thousand that was faulty, where a temporary cap on my laundry pipe fractured clean in half so I had a tap running at full pelt inside the house for roughly 24 hours. The report back from my friend was that it looked like a bathtub inside the house.

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Looks harmless doesn’t it? A simple little bit of plastic, but this fractured temporary cap caused a small avalanche of water through the house.

Back on the glass-half-full side of things the good thing about being rather slowish with my build (if you’re new to the blog think of a snail with sleeping sickness as the pace setter) is that I didn’t yet have any insulation or wall linings in, so the flood damage could have been much worse if I’d been running to schedule. There were just a few bits n pieces ruined, which the manufacturer of the temporary cap should be paying for. Plus an emergency trip up to the mountains to clean out the giant bathtub before things got mouldy.

Now that the cleaning is done, this week there is some build action happening; the dastardly power trench is being sorted out hopefully without damaging the gold-pated sewer pipe, the interior walls are being packed out a bit so that the studwork is straight and can take the plywood wall linings (and some cabinetry), and the two ground-floor entry decks are being built. There will soon be proper stairs in place up to the house, rather than my dodgy stack of wooden pallets. I’m currently sourcing the spray foam insulation for the inside as well, which is planned for installation after the walls are packed out.

The steel stringers for the deck steps are from QLD and they arrived in Sydney last week ahead of schedule, so I foolishly asked the freight company to delay the final delivery leg until this week when I’d be on-site. The stair stringers had other ideas and wanted to continue their interstate travels so they went to South Australia instead. They will be well-travelled when they finally arrive and hopefully ready to settle down.

The ground-floor decks will be made from Inex decking. I’m sticking with MgO board for the upstairs deck and wall cladding but the trick with the MgO is the delivery charges; it costs a small fortune to ship down from QLD and I don’t have anywhere to store large amounts of it while I stage out my build. Even with big delivery costs the MgO works out much cheaper than Inex if bought in large quantities, but it wasn’t worth getting some down just for 8m2 of decking. The Inex decking will look more like a timber deck which is nice and a little bit fancy for the entrance to the house, and the local hardware store had some in stock with free delivery, bless them. Plus, I don’t trust the wandering habits of these QLD products so I’ll be planning well ahead for the MgO order.

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With any luck…actually forget that I don’t want “any” luck, not the sort where you get the one-in-several-thousand faulty plumbing part. I’d be grateful for some specifically good and productive luck, luck that wants to help and make sure sewer pipes stay intact and materials turn up on time, and with that sort of luck I may soon be posting pics of a deck or two and maybe some straight walls. And a lovely dry house. In the absence of that rare type of luck, I’d like to thank climate change for making sure the weather is consistently dry enough to air out a flooded house and keep a flexible build schedule. On that note, I’m rather pleased my house will be flame proof.

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Sewer, water, power – the trinity of site construction

I have a trench. It has water and sewer running down it from the street to my house. I have a tap with running water in my yard. Having a tap is pretty special after many months of carrying around containers full of water. But wait, there’s more, the most exciting bit is that a low pressure sewer pump has been installed – an “LP” pump for those who speak the sewer lingo.

There were two different options to get the LP pump system put in. I selected the option of having Sydney Water own the pump, which has cost me a small fortune in the short term. Mine must be the only sewer system in the street that’s lined with gold. The advantage of this option is that because Sydney Water own the LP pump, they will reimburse me for the cost of it and if it ever breaks they have to fix it at their cost. If you do everything yourself with a licensed plumber the paperwork and construction are all considerably cheaper, but you then own and have to pay for and maintain the pump.

Taking the Sydney Water option involves using Water Services Coordinators for plans and approvals, and then Sydney Water accredited constructors. They all have big overheads to maintain their Sydney Water accreditations and so they have to charge accordingly. That should make it a smooth and quick process to get approvals right? No, despite all the applications being done by professionals, Sydney Water still took a record 5 months to approve my plans, including Christmas break and a staff restructure.

Not only do I have a gold and jewel encrusted sewer pump, I also have my electricals all roughed in inside the house, done by a very efficient and professional sparky.

inside of house with some wiring
If you look closely you’ll see wiring in the walls and ceiling. That doesn’t include the big loose cables hanging near the door and the ladder though, those are extension cords that I have run across to lights that I’ve temporarily hooked up for when I’m camping in the house. All the neat stuff is the wiring.

That all sounds like progress doesn’t it? Slow but unusually smooth for this blog you might say. So what has gone wrong lately? Only small stuff really. You might remember in a previous post how I wanted to get the connections all done in one hit, so that I didn’t have an open trench running down the driveway preventing access for too long. I should be more careful about sharing my dreams publicly like that.

The trench constructors agreed to dig my trench 600mm deep so power could run in it too. That was nice of them as power wasn’t on their job list, just water and sewer, but they did have an excavator on-site at the time. Then they didn’t dig the trench 600mm deep, they dug it 500mm in most places. It was just before I went off travelling for work so after they said the trench was done I called my sparky to go and lay the power in, and he went to do it but couldn’t because the trench wasn’t deep enough. So now that I’m back from my travels I have to organise a new trench, which is trickier than it sounds as there are boundary fences and trees close together and not much room for trenches to run in parallel. One wide trench would have been much nicer. The current trench can’t be re-dug, at least not by machine, as it has the preciously expensive sewer and water lines already in it. Although if you know a precision excavator, message me.

On the upside, the excavators moved a large vintage camelia tree for me while they were on-site.

Anyway, due to the shallow trench the wiring inside my house is a bit lonely. It is hanging around idly waiting to be attached to a connection, while the mains power sits connected up on the street to a private pole and the two are sadly estranged from each other.

Another slight hitch, I had a local builder lined up to do some work while I was away for a few weeks but I’m thinking of reporting him as a missing person. He came and quoted, I agreed to the quote, we agreed on a timeline, then he entirely disappeared and didn’t answer emails or calls. I think he is now overseas. The work involved proper waterproofing of the top deck of my house, where the three containers all meet, so that I could start on the interior fit out once I got back from my travels. I don’t want to start on the insulation or interior plywood linings if so much as one drip of water is still getting in. So of course there are two sneaky drips of water getting in, one at each end of the house where the containers are staggered and the corners don’t meet up. I’ll have to look around again and find someone else to do the job, I might use a waterproofer instead.

Complicating the timeline is the fact I’m now on 6 weeks of fieldwork out in the bush and not around much, so late June is looking good for some building action. I’m pretty keen to be around for the rest of the work so that I can measure the depth of trenches, drop in to elusive builder’s houses and ask them if they’re ok, and make cups of tea for people who kindly move camelias for me.

Apart from that, it’s still a gorgeous little shell of a house to camp in for a couple of nights a week and I love being there. It’s a little cold at night now, being an uninsulated steel box, but it is my little bush sanctuary with its own lyre bird. I can’t wait for the next stage of interior fit-out to start, when I can go nuts with interior design. I have some very nice glass wall sconces that I carried around in my computer bag as hand luggage for 3 weeks, all the way from Zanzibar (that bit of my trip was not work). I am also looking forward to some little luxuries like a flush loo, which will drain into my gorgeous new sewer system.

Vintage wall sconce from Zanzibar
“Vintage” wall sconces from Zanzibar, or so the salesman said. I like them regardless. They will go with my The-Hobbit-Meets-Rustic-Industrial-Meets-Tribal interior theme.

Looking on the sunny side some more, I’m trying to build this house entirely mortgage free so the gaps leave me time to go and earn more money to pay for the next build stage, for example when the sewer costs me more than I thought it would.

I also found a quote on an earlier blog post where I warned myself this build could take a while:

Late 2016: “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.”

Haha. Time is an illusion anyway.

A Shiny New Year

What happened since my last blog? I got a front door. Yep, 3 months later and all I have to show for it is a front door.

That’s what happens when you’re an owner builder, if you’re not around to do stuff or organise things, nothing happens. I did find some good trades who were not daunted by the whole container and steel wall situation, in fact several were very enthused by the concept, but they were mostly booked up until Christmas so I’m hoping to get them onto my job now that we’ve arrived in a brand spanking new year.

I also had some personal issues going on, you might have noticed an extremely good looking dog with a talent for photo-bombing in some of my earlier posts. We were a permanently attached pair for 9 years, but he was diagnosed with cancer back in August and I lost him just before NYE. If you’re a dog or animal loving person you might recognise the complete and utter heartbreak that comes with that sort of loss.

On the practical side, my trips up to my build site were a bit spontaneous and dependent on what was going on with him at the time. We had quite a few unplanned vet visits but we were lucky that various treatments helped for a while and he had good quality of life and maintained his wild puppy madness and crazy-happy exuberance to the end.

Back to the build, on the upside I enjoyed a disproportionate amount of delight from my new front door, which, in my mind at least, formally took my house to lock-up stage. As per my last post it was a bit of a saga to get the door, but get one I did and then a great local carpenter came and fitted it for me. It’s a fabulous door, it gives privacy but lets in some light and colour.

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My lovely front door, with a rhododendron glow coming through it. It’s made from double-glazed 6mm toughened glass as well of course, to meet BAL Flame Zone requirements.

You’ll see from the banner pic at the top of this post that there is no shortage of light coming into my house, and no shortage of green peering in through every window. Note that the scale looks a bit out in that photo, the inside is bigger than it looks because that brown chair is massive, my feet don’t touch the ground when I sit in it. It was scavenged from the side of the road, apparently casually discarded by some giants living up the street. While the giant-chair is comfy, I can’t recommend the green blow-up chair, it was  designed by someone with a nasty sense of humour – you have to perch towards the front of it to sit without rolling out, and it waits until you get relaxed and let down your guard then tips you forward onto your head. And that is regardless of any consumption of gin and tonic.

Aside from that piece of ill-chosen temporary furniture, the house is a really lovely place to be with plenty of birdlife around including a local lyrebird, no noise except for the wind through the trees, and a very short walk to a stunning mountain valley lookout. I’ve been camping in it for a couple of nights most weeks, working on the garden and doing bits n pieces. While I’m back in the big city I’m buying up some of the plumbing and electrical fittings in the January sales.

I wanted to get the connections all done at the same time, and get the big trench dug out to run them all from the street to my house. However, I also want to minimise the time the open trench is there as it will play havoc with access for everything else, and my Water Services Coordinators have been missing in action for a couple of months so I don’t know what is happening with the Sydney Water approvals for my sewer connection. So rather than waiting for that to go ahead, I’m now planning to get a plumber and electrician in to rough in the connections inside the house, so I can move on with interior insulation and fit-out, and do the trenched connections later.

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Cheeky King Parrot in my garden. He flew right down to my head and peered at me, then followed me around for a while – someone nearby is no doubt feeding him.

I have to finish sealing up some of the last gaps between the containers next visit. They are horizontal gaps and no rain comes in there but an absurd number of large huntsman spiders crawled down the walls towards my mattress last time I stayed. I thought I had a deal with Harriet the huntsman who lived above my new door for some weeks, she was supposed to hang out in the other end of the house, but instead she invited all her mates around for a party near my bed. She might also have produced 200 kids but these guys were too big to be her youngsters. I had to go get my tent out of my car at midnight and pitch it inside the house again and sleep in that. Yes I know huntsman spiders are harmless, and do good things like eat mosquitoes, and I’m grateful for that but if they’re crawling over you during the night instead of behaving respectably that is not conducive to sleep.

I’m looking forward to getting this project completed and moving into my little mountain sanctuary. There will be a few more hitches no doubt, the stud walls that They-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named installed turned out to be all more crooked than I’d hoped, to the extent that plasterboard would crack if you tried to install it (as a carpenter informed me), so the wall sections where any sort of cabinetry is going will all have to be squared up. I’m considering using plywood instead of plasterboard for some of the other sections, as plywood can take a less than perfectly level surface. I like the warmth of the timber as well.

Nothing ever goes to plan, but that allows for some creative licence, so bring it on 2018! Well, I qualify that challenge a bit – special request to 2018 to please be a little nice about it, my imagination is good but my budget is limited.

 

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.

 

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.

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…