There’s been another long gap between blog posts but progress has been made, in the usual two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance style of this build.
My garden is coming into its full spring glory and I’m going to pretend I didn’t already post about that one year ago. A bush block with a garden full of giant camelias and rhododrenons is not a bad place to be stuck in Groundhog Day.
The ground floor decks are done, with steps in place, and the power is now connected up from the street to the house. It’s feeling more like a house and less like a campsite on arrival. Instead of climbing up my dodgy pile of timber pallets to get in the front door, and then setting up 50m of extension cords from the power box on the street to the house, I can waltz up my front steps, open the door and flick on a light switch. And since the proper power cables went in, the lights are much brighter inside the house so there are no dark corners. There is only the one live powerpoint at this stage as the wall linings aren’t in yet, but it feels like utter luxury to have even one.
Inex Decking on both sides of the house; a small entry platform at the front door, and a 5m long deck facing the view to the east. The main deck will be upstairs on the roof of one container. Frames and steps are metal to meet BAL Flame Zone requirements.
I’ve left off the deck balustrades for now as I figured it would be easier to manoeuvre building materials like wall lining boards inside the house without them. A note on the Inex Decking; the boards are fine and look good, but at least one of the recommended sealants is rubbish. I hunted around and bought the recommended “Flood Spa-N-Deck” and applied two coats to each board before it went onto the deck and one more afterwards, and the stuff practically scratches off with a fingernail. I then went to Bunnings and got some Cabot’s exterior stain and varnish and tried it on an off-cut and that works much better. The Inex boards are basically concrete and if water gets under the stain it looks dark but just has to dry out, no damage done. So I’ll do the final coats after everyone has finished plodding over the deck into the house with building materials.
Walls and Spray Foam
The internal wall studs put in by They Who Should Not Be Named (a shipping container company, to be avoided if you’re new to this blog) turned out to be an organic work of art. The walls had waves in them and also vertical twists; it still melts my mind a bit to think they did days of welding steel and didn’t bother to put anything in straight.
Some vertical studs were set in line with the side-rail of the container, some were set forward and some back, while the horizontal bits (called “nogging” I believe, at least in the timber equivalent) were either set flat or welded so they randomly stuck out 10 to 20mm. No doubt that melted my carpenter’s mind even more, as he was tasked with fixing it all. There is a lovely rainbow of different coloured timber and spacers scatted across the walls, all representing different thicknesses, the end result of which is straight walls.
Rainbow of different thickness timber used to make the walls flat; see green, white and brown here with different coloured spacers.
Well, there was a lovely rainbow of timber, and said carpenter’s heart might break if he saw what happened last week to that masterpiece of work. The one-step-back part. After quoting me for 10mm thick closed-cell spray foam for the internal walls, then for 20mm thick, it turns out that spray foam is not that controllable and the company I hired to do it has put in anywhere from 20mm to 110mm thick foam. A lot of the foam sticks out past the timber battening. The walls apparently have some innate desire not to be flat, ever, and are again resisting their lining boards.
However, both walls and foam will be beaten into submission and it’s not too big a deal as the foam can be trimmed back. It is a fair bit of work though so I’m currently negotiating not paying for that part; the cost can come off the spray foam company’s invoice. Our agreement was clear and extended over a long email trail including why the foam had to be thin, with measurements and photos of how much space we had to play with between the corrugated container walls and the face of the timber battens. We agreed on 20mm thick, and had allowed for the minimum depth of 35mm of wall cavity which they stated was needed for any overspray. Hopefully the spray foam company will come to the party and agree to fix it, or pay for it to be fixed, they seemed to know there was too much trimming to do as they mentioned it when they sent the invoice.
The spray foam is in, like snow all over the walls! On the left ceiling you’ll see the temporary timber floor that was put in, as the 6m tall void that is normally there is tricky to work with from a ladder. Once the walls and ceiling are finished that floor will come out.
On the upside it looks like good coverage and solid insulation, and the upstairs section is much better than downstairs and won’t need as much work to fix. Another step back though, they sprayed my first floor kitchen ceiling by mistake which I was going to leave bare to show the bones of the house as container steel. I haven’t decided if it’s worth trying to remove it or not.
The internal foam is mainly to prevent any condensation forming on the steel container walls, there will also be insulation batts on the outside of the steel containers under the Flame Zone rated cladding. I’m going for insulation inside and out as it gets cold and misty in the mountains and I want a thermally efficient house, but it’s probably not necessary for everyone.
Another little adventure was a mysterious high-pitched and piercing alarm going off at my house, at around 3.30am each morning while I wasn’t there and as a lovely surprise for my neighbours. It was something to do with my new gold and jewel encrusted sewer system and pump, and according to the sewer constructors and the Water Services Coordinators it should not have been happening. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of that one, the pump and alarm have been disconnected for now.
The alarm would go off, then stop for a night or two so everyone thought it had finished misbehaving, then it would do it again. I believe that type of randomness is used in torture. I went up to check the power was all disconnected and that night it stopped, then I had to leave for two weeks of remote fieldwork. My lovely neighbours followed up with Sydney Water and my sewer constructors when it went off again the next night. A back up battery issue would make sense, but the 3am timing was weird and the sewer guys said it was bad wiring. I’m not convinced as it was wired up weeks beforehand.
Google “torture method noise” and you get some interesting stuff! One of them is the Aztek Death Whistle which this fellow is playing and which sounds like 1000 corpses screaming. Roughly the same level of ambience as a sewer pump alarm at 3.30am.
The Tardis has reared it’s ugly head with Council again (see here for more information on why Council has a Tardis), they are messing around with time. I am contemplating a change in cladding, but I’m not sure yet. I have not found one builder or carpenter who likes the thought of MGO board as a finished cladding and is happy to do the job. Some have said they will do it, but that it will chew up labour and be tricky to get a good finish on it, and so it might not be the cost saving solution I was hoping for. It doesn’t help that delivery of MgO from QLD is around $3,000 either.
So I went back through my BAL Flame Zone cladding research and am considering using a Firefly blanket system, and then Colorbond steel over that which could look really good on a container house. It’s considerably more expensive in materials, but should save on labour and also would not need painting, so there are two cost savers there.
I rang Council to ask about changing my cladding and if I needed to modify my building approvals. They asked me to email the details, and within a week or so said they just needed to chat to the building certifiers and would get back to me by Monday. Silly me for falling for that, they didn’t say which Monday it would be. Two months later, and I’m still waiting on a response just to find out if I need to submit a formal modification to my construction certificate or not.
In the meantime I’m getting on with other things. Without the external cladding on I have to make sure the place is water tight before putting timber plywood walls in. I’ve been monitoring the drip locations in my house during rain for a year now (see, isn’t it good this build is taking so long??), and the last ones are around the windows which I’m fixing this week. As an extra measure I’ll also put some more waterproof flashing around the external gaps between containers as a short-term thing.
Then the internal fit out is all systems go, although it might be “go slow” as all the trades are getting booked up before Christmas. Apparently in September people suddenly decide they need a new deck to have Christmas lunch on, or a house extension for the relatives to stay in. Those people are part of the reason I’m not yet sharing the names of my good tradies, because it’s hard enough at the moment to get them as they book up with work. Later on after I’ve finished being utterly selfish about it I’ll be putting up a thank you list for them and letting you know all the professional and ethical people it’s been great to work with.
Thanks to my loyal blog followers for all your encouragement. I’m not sure what happened but since last year this blog site has been getting up to 1000 hits a week, despite my sporadic posting, including in the US and Europe – cargotecture might be taking off! I hope this blog helps others that are considering taking on something like this. Despite everything, it’s fun and I love my little container house in the bush!