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.

door light
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.

king parrot
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.



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.

Setting up the crane in soggy ground near a garden retaining wall.
The 50 tonne crane in position, with Adam from Turner and Central
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.

The truck reversing into the driveway, neatly missing the neighbour’s garden bed by millimeters.
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.

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.
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.

The first container in place, from behind showing the tree view through to the front.
Container Number 3 going on top.
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.

The view from the garden path right near the containers. They can’t be seen at all from the street.
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.

Bending time like Beckham

I think every council is probably issued with a TARDIS.

When it comes to Development Applications, time just doesn’t follow any rules.

If you want to know about “the clock”, have a read of my previous blog post. If you want to know how to make time stand still, talk to council. If you’re not sure what a TARDIS is, well there’s nothing I can do to help you, you need to watch more TV

I never thought the DA would be easy, but I also didn’t think it would take quite this long. It’s not like I didn’t put some research into the thing. The delays are due to a combination of some fair requests for more information, followed by what seems like long and unnecessary delays. It also looks a little bit cheatsy and time-twisting on the part of the council.

The clock on my DA has still not been restarted. There were about 5 weeks in there where I submitted all the required information that had been requested, but the clock stayed mysteriously stopped. The reasons given for the delay were that council are very busy, overloaded with overdue DAs so mine was just not being looked at during most of that time.

That sounds sort of fair, but from what I have read the “clock” is supposed to give an idea of how long DAs actually take, and councils are obligated to make a decision in 40 days “on the clock”. The rules for this mysterious clock are up on this NSW LawLink site, which states that the clock should be restarted when the information requested by Council is provided by the applicant. So not restarting the clock when the information comes in appears to be messing with time, and only Time Lords should be able to do that.

Looking at the average time for DA’s to be fully considered I don’t think many councils actually make the 40 or 60 day limit, so maybe the clock is unrealistic. But if so, the clock is a source of false hope for people submitting DAs, and that’s just plain mean.

I have since had another request for more information and I submitted that just last Friday, and the clock for my DA is still looking stopped. It’s only three working days since I submitted the information, but I’m a bit paranoid as my clock seems to have been totally seized up since September. Time has not moved since then.

Through the roof

It took me the full 21 days to submit the requested information this time, as it involved redesigning the roof in my spare time, and I didn’t have much spare time.

The roof on my house, if my new design is accepted, will no longer involve magnesium oxide boards (MgO) with an FRL of at least 60/60/60, compliant for BAL Flame Zone. What new magical fire repellant material will it involve you may ask? Plywood. Yup, tongue and groove plywood. “But isn’t that less fire resistant?”, would be another good question. Yes it probably is.

Adding a layer of Colourbond steel to the roof, over the top of the MgO board, is not part of the fire-tested system. So there are apparently issues around adding another thermal load to the the MgO Board, and putting more holes in it to screw on the steel sheet. Those are fair concerns and I was asked to address them.

For the record, the Colourbond steel is used in several other fire-resistant BAL FZ roofing systems, has a low thermal load and is reflective so should reduce the amount of radiant heat reaching the MgO Board and therefore possibly improve the system. The MgO Boards are screwed onto frames anyway so the tested system includes perforations, and lots of them close together depending on what you are fitting the boards to (for example heaps more screws are used to clad structural beams than for wall cladding), so the number of perforations needed to attach the Colourbond would not exceed the number of perforations in their other tested systems.

However, I have had enough of this new BAL FZ frontier and am not going to be the one to try to convince council, RFS or anyone else that a combination of materials that has not been specifically tested should be OK for Flame Zone. The boxes on my DA need to be ticked, preferably quickly. To be fair, I also don’t expect council to stick their necks out and be the first to approve this system, given the high risk of fire in the Blue Mountains. So I found a different BAL FZ compliant roof system that uses Colourbond, timber frames, an Anticon insulation blanket and plywood, and I have put that on the roof instead. I have no doubt this system is not nearly as fire proof as MgO Board, but then I have 2mm corten steel and yet more insulation under that so it’s not going to be a cause for concern.

More pesky perforations

The other issue was the need for vents in the sub-floor, when the MgO Board system had not been tested with vents in it. So you shouldn’t have holes in the sub-floor due to fire risk, but you have to have holes for ventilation to comply with BCA. There is no reason why vents can’t be just the same as doors and windows, it’s not like this wall system is hole free over the entire house, so with the generous help and advice of local builder Frank from Mountaincraft Constructions we planned out a sub-floor that, we hope, should keep everyone happy.

Now that is all submitted, I am hoping that time might start to behave normally again very soon.