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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 1 – Nova Deko Modular. They fibbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On further discussion, they said several things:

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

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

Number 5 – Cube Modular, the strong silent types

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

Others – oh please let there be others…

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

 

Feature image from here