All the bits n pieces, logistics and interior design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Hallelujah, the containers are on site!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A few interior design ideas, while I wait some more..

Happy Anniversary to me! As of last month this blog passed the one year mark. On the one hand that is a bit depressing since I naively thought the build would be done and dusted within 6 months, but on the other hand when I look at what was involved in the whole process it’s not that bad.  At the start I didn’t realise that container houses in flame zones were as rare as hen’s teeth and unicorns, so half of that time was house design and research into wall structure and other bits to comply with BAL FZ, the other half was DA and Council.

I decided not to stress over this build some time ago, as I have a day job that can provide as much stress as I would like if I need some, and the build process is creative and it’s supposed to be fun. I have started camping on my block most weekends and have begun to tidy up the garden and make some space for the house, and have also been doing some lovely hikes in the mountains and getting all inspired to live up there again. Hence the gap in blog posts.

I have had the engineering done for the foundations, and am currently chasing up the structural engineering for the house itself. Then my CC will be issued. Nope, that’s not a flavoured corn chip, it’s a Construction Certificate.

I am trying to get fixed quotes for the house itself then for the onsite works including the external cladding, but most trades disappeared over January and at least half of February so it’s been slow progress so far this year. Building seems to be the one industry where you ask for a quote on something and have to spend a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks chasing it up, like people don’t actually want the work. I guess if you’re out there building stuff you’re not on the computer doing quotes, so I just have to build that sort of thing into the timeline. The house itself should take about 3 months to build, not including on-site modifications.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some interior design and layouts just to double check that I can fit things like a sofa into my little container house. It is hard to visual the size of the space so I’ve been digging up pictures that show the inside of two containers joined together.

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Building a two container wide space (posted on FB by Mac Evangelista on “Living sustainably using shipping containers”)
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The finished space, two containers wide.

I think the width of the space above looks pretty good. My living area will have one glass wall made of glass doors down the length of it; the pic below has two walls of glass but you can see what a difference the extra light makes to the space. Half of my ceiling in the living area will be double height as well, adding even more sense of space.

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Two container wide space with lots of light (from http://www.banidea.com)

The layout of my place will be a bit cosier given it’s cold climate, and it includes a wet-back wood fuel stove for heating the house and boosting my hot water in winter.

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One of the many furniture layouts I have come up with, centred around the wood stove and with a dining nook/banquette up in the top corner – the dining table will probably fold up onto the wall and only be there when I need it so the space can also be a reading nook. The glass doors are not drawn on this pic but they take up most of the lower wall, and the main couch faces the view. The white bars represent bookshelves or cabinets, and there will be more storage under the dining nook seating, and in the sofa. The front door is top left. Ignore the colours, the design software didn’t have much choice.

Then sometimes I get a bit radical and think of alternatives to the traditional lounge/dining, like this below. At the end of work days when I sit at a desk, I either end up sitting on the floor or on the couch with my feet up, and I like the casual feel of these floor seating ideas below.. although I would add a lounge chair or two for older visitors whose knees might not be up to floor seating..

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Moroccan theme with low seating – it doesn’t have to be Moroccan in style, I just like the low cushions in this space (from http://www.brit.co/how-to-make-your-living-room-feel-bigger/)
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This is a bit more zen in design, and it could be fun to do somersaults on if the middle space was a bit bigger (from http://home-and-garden.livejournal.com/130234.html)

My colour theme will be natural – I am aiming for “things of stone and wood meets the hobbit”, if the hobbit went a bit tribal but liked metallic ceilings. Not minimalist, I don’t live tidily enough for that and I like books and timber feature walls.

It has been a while since my house design was posted, so here it is again but without any external colours added yet. The idea of the chimney/flue appearing on the back of the deck is to give out a bit of warmth in winter, something to huddle around and take in the fresh mountain air.

3D house designKL

That’s it for now, if no news is good news then I should be the happiest person on the planet.

Gold! Well, magnesium actually…

For those of you who have laboured through the last few torturous posts on wall structure and cladding options, it’s time to breathe easy, I have some good news.  A new solution has popped up. Popped up in the way that things pop up when you spend months dredging the internet for options, I guess it was more wrangled out of the cyberspace abyss.

I came across this option earlier but that was in the days when I thought spray foam insulation was the only option for containers, so I was ignoring a lot of the multi-layer external cladding options.

Builders out there are probably familiar with it, it’s magnesium oxide board – very green, almost carbon neutral, fire proof, rot resistant and termite proof. Now that is the personal profile I have been looking for in a cladding option, I could fall for this one. Oh and one more vital personality trait, because I am such a classy gal, it’s cheap!

Less than half the price of INEX weatherboard in fact, and it looks to be less fussy with the wall system you need behind it to meet BAL FZ compliance. Plus it’s manufactured in big sheets and would be much quicker to fit than individual weatherboards, so less costly in terms of labour. I discovered INEX does do a renderboard which would also be quicker to apply, but you have to then render it which would probably chew up any savings. This magic MgO board only needs a coat of paint. It complies with BAL FZ through the FRL option, of having flame resistance level of 30/30/30 or more – typically this stuff is at least 60/60/60 or more.

There are a bunch of different magnesium oxide (MgO) boards and structural insulated panels available, some with dubious qualities as they are all made in China. There appear to be two here that are certified to BCA standards and have sufficient details on bushfire qualities – MgOBoard and Modak. Modak also do a very cleverly designed gutter that removes the accumulation of leaf litter and so reduces bushfire risk.

Modak's clever leafless gutter design, which is also anti-bushfire.
Modak’s clever leafless gutter design, which is also anti-bushfire.

From the specs it looks like the board just needs to be fitted to an external wall with some decent insulation under it, no special plasterboard as part of the wall system. If there is no need for plasterboard then I might even be able to have some container steel showing on the inside of the house,  which would be great to expose the bones of the house.

Exposed container steel inside home.
A container home showing some exposed container steel for character (from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/558305685030848306/)

I did hear back from the container home builders and they are not real keen on the NASH wall system – they do builds at low cost by making them all the same, so a whole new system would not be easy or cheap for them. They suggested I get the wall system fitted once the containers are on site, but there are more layers and labour involved in that than just adding battens, insulation and cladding to the outside. And now that I know that insulation on the outside is actually a good thing, not a bad thing, together with the fact thinner walls in the inside will give me more space, the exterior cladding option is looking like the best for me.

For anyone out there creating more space with more containers, and who has the time and skills to add interior walls, NASH steel clad walls for BAL FZ could still be a good option – as of this month the standards have been adopted into the National Construction Code.

I am meeting with my bushfire assessor this week, to look at running with the MgO board and getting the final documents together for my DA. Whoop whoop!

There is still the small issue of the roof, but once the rooftop deck is on (which could be MgO or INEX) there is only a small amount of actual roof left (one container at 28 square meters) so it should not be a big deal to whack on something BAL FZ compliant. MgO do some roofing products as well. Or maybe I could have a split level rooftop deck and no roof…

The wheels get wobbly

The wheels have not fallen off, not by a long shot, but they did get a bit wobbly this week. Before you read on, this is a technical post about wall structure and cladding, so if you have something better to do with your weekend like a good book, a movie, or maybe watching grass grow then carry on with that. If you are interested in the nitty gritty then read on, but be warned, you might need to sit down with a gin and tonic at the end of this lot like I did.

I have put a moody mountains picture up the top of this blog post because it calms me, and reminds me why I am doing this. The project is progressing but I’d really like to get my DA in SOON.

Optimist that I am, I have been carrying on thinking that I have at least two options for my wall structure to meet BAL Flame Zone compliance. This week they both became a lot less certain, and probably more expensive. Darn you Flame Zone, darn you.

Option 1 bites the dust; well that’s a bit melodramatic, Option 1 bent down and tasted the dust and stood back up again, thinking about whether or not it would like to spend more time with the dust. After getting the NASH standard wall structure info (see previous post) I sent that to the company I am hoping will do my container build, and they said no worries we can build anything you want if you provide the specs, and something like that should only add about $2K to the cost of your build. Yes, $2K! So I thought right, we’re on.

elephants on the Zambezi
The lovely effect that dust can have, if used correctly.

The company has been amazingly helpful so far with such an out of the box build and a hundred emails and calls from me, and they are pretty busy developing a lot of cool new off-grid container homes. I’m fairly sure in this case they didn’t actually take a look at the NASH wall extract I sent before replying to my email in such an encouraging way, because when I then sent them the full house design and asked for a quote using that NASH wall structure, the first wheel went wobbly.

They recommended that I stay with the polyurethane spray foam insulation that they use as standard, because not only is it really effective, it also reduces the risk of condensation happening. Condensation can be an issue with the corrugated container steel if the corrugation gaps aren’t all filled by insulation. Normal flat batts are not so good. There might also be an issue with the type of internal framing they would have to add in to support the NASH wall structure in a container.

I can see their point but from what I have found so far, polyurethane foam is organic and therefore considered potentially combustible, so will not meet BAL FZ requirements. I am yet to see a BAL FZ approved wall system that doesn’t use mineral or glasswool insulation.

The condensation is also a risk but I reckon (being the builder architect that I am, NOT) that risk would be greatly reduced because of the thermal barrier in the NASH wall. Condensation happens due to the difference between the inside air temperature and the outside temperature – like if you sit in a vehicle with the heater on in winter and the windows up, and it fogs up the glass and drips moisture (not so much in these modern days with the aircon on though as that removes condensation).

condensation
The evil that is condensation. Pic taken from here.

So if, from the inside of the house to the outside, you had just plasterboard then normal flat insulation batts then corrugated steel then the risk of condensation, and therefore corrosion of the steel, is high in extreme temperatures. Like the temperatures you get in winter in the upper Blue Mountains; warm heated house inside, minus 2 outside. However, the NASH wall system has from the inside to the outside; plasterboard, insulation, plasterboard, 20mm air gap (air is a good insulator), then the steel. So I am guessing/hoping the condensation risk would be far less as the temperature difference by the time you get to the steel would be minimal.

Maybe you could also drill tiny, less than 2mm holes in the bottom of the steel wall to allow more air mixing – but small enough not to allow ember attack because as we know from BAL FZ, embers grow up to be bigger than 2mm.

So this wall system is not written off yet, it’s just a matter of whether the container builders can adapt it to a container wall system, and how much it will cost. The walls would also end up being about 130mm thick, which is a bit of extra space to lose in an already tight space.

Option 2, INEX cladding. The magic silver bullet that, in my starry eyed optimistic state, looked like it was a standalone BAL FZ cladding solution. A silver-bullet-proof werewolf caught this bullet in it’s teeth and spat it back out. Being a tough little bullet it’s only partly damaged by the wolf’s teeth so maybe I can still use it, but it lost a lot of its sparkle.

Reading the INEX specs for use in bushfire zones it says “No fireproof plasterboard required” and that it gives FRL 60/60/60, double that required for BAL FZ. I really wanted that to mean that all you needed was the INEX cladding to meet BAL FZ requirements, without any other wall layers.

My bad. As with everything in BAL FZ, the INEX weatherboard was tested as a system, and that system included R 2.5 rockwool or glasswool insulation underneath it. So adding the INEX cladding onto a steel wall with polyurethane foam insulation under that will not match the approved BAL FZ specs.

An option here is looking at how much it will cost to add the insulation to the outside of the steel under the INEX, instead of having the poylurethane foam on the inside. And looking at the relative cost of this compared to other solutions. If it’s affordable, that would make for thinner walls inside the container and a bit more space.

So, I am back to getting some more quotes and information on feasibility from the experts, and we’ll see what the best and most affordable option is. A tent with a heater is looking pretty good at this stage. I miss my block of land, the view I don’t get to sit and look at yet, and the cool fresh mountain air.

Patience, persistence…and a bit more persistence…and some stubbornness for spice ; the essential recipe for building a container home in a Flame Zone. Mix thoroughly and roast slowly over the flames.

 

 

 

Plans, plans, plans

The pic above shows a lovely spot for a container home, no? Apart from the potential to perish in the Flame Zone of course. Plans are coming together to reduce that risk as much as possible, and to try to make this build feasible, affordable and beautiful.

There has been a bit of a gap since my last post since life and work got in the way. However, during that time I have managed to get my site survey done, which will form the basis of many plans for the DA including a landscape plan, a site plan and a vegetation management plan. I have also detailed out the first concept house design into floor plans and elevations.

Since this build involves a new wall structure and quite a lot of Flame Zone extras that all have to comply with a range of Australian Standards, and I also have a day job to get on with, I have been talking to a shipping container company about the actual build part. To be honest this was always the plan, much as I would love to get in there with angle grinder and welder and do it all myself (well, at least part of me would), I would also like to be able to live in this house very soon.

container house pic Norway
Example of a pre-built container home – this one is by NovaDeko Modular.

Part of the attraction of the whole project is the pre-fab modular bit – where the containers are all fitted out off-site, shipped in and within a couple of days they are all connected up and ready to live in. That also reduces the amount of transport needed for bringing materials on to the site, and the amount of wasted building materials. Plus it removes the risk of potential timeline blowouts from miserable weather and trying to get various trades all lined up at the right time so that nothing is delayed.

My customised floor plans are below. I finally managed to find and chop up some 3D stairs in Sketchup so a cut-out showing the stair structure is included too, just visualise a large pantry cupboard under them, and maybe an oven.

Floor plan - ground floor
Floor plan of ground floor – the containers are 12m long by 4.8m wide when combined. Bedroom 2 is small and likely to be an office/library. I am still considering whether to have a large sliding door (clad in reclaimed timber, as a feature), or just keep it completely open plan from the living space. (Yes, I remembered to put dimensions in the floor plan, I just cropped them off for these pics).
Floor plan - top floor
Floor plan of the top floor – this floor will have only one container, with the floor cut out for half of it creating the double height ceiling over the back of the lounge/dining, then one large loft room about 6m by 2.4m, opening onto the rooftop deck (top right).
sliding door reclaimed timber
Reclaimed timber sliding door, which might feature between my living and office areas, except it would be larger at 1.5m wide. (click on pic for source)
Stairs in the kitchen.
Sketchup cutaway showing the stairs in the kitchen that will house a pantry and appliance, then run up into the top story loft.

I am now waiting on the CAD files for my site survey, which I will use to put some concept drawings together to take to RFS and Council. It is time to start pulling all the pieces together; the contour survey shows the property details then I add on the planned house footprint and elevations, water tank location, nearest fire hydrant, Asset Protection Zone and planned changes to vegetation etc.

I figure there is no point hiring a draftsperson at this stage to make lovely final drawings if the concept gets knocked back.  So it is time to dredge out the decades-old graphic designer skill set and see if I can remember how to whip up some technical drawings. How hard can that be?