Friday, April 25, 2014

Has it really been four months!?

So it really has been a long time between drinks.

I really must apologise to everyone for the lack of updates, progress on the build has been slower than I'd liked. It's all Christmas' fault. To those concerned who asked, we were very thankfully spared from the Kilmore fires earlier in the year - the closest fire of any real concern was 20km away, on the far side of the Hume. There were a couple of lightning strikes in the Tallarook Ranges which caused a moment or two of worry, but they were swiftly dealt with by the local CFA legends.

There was a major push in the week leading up to Christmas to get the place liveable - lights and power installed and commissioned upstairs, the kitchen in, walls and doors up. And I did manage to get all of that done, so when Christmas and the extended family rolled up, work and its motivation came to an abrupt halt.

With this sort of view every day, who wants to work!?

It really was amazing seeing the place come to life over the holidays, though. For the last couple of years it's basically been me, myself and The Dog on site, with the occasional weekend with wife and kids. So to have 30 or so extended family members here for Christmas was a pretty amazing experience. The place went from a building site to a home in a couple of days, and it's been that transformation which has slowed my progress. It's hard seeing the place as an unfinished project when it's so comfortable to live in now.

Not that we can live in it yet. For a start, there's no completion certificate, so legally we're not allowed... but practically, I've insisted from the start that we're not going to move in here until the place is finished. I've made that mistake once before - we renovated our current house in Melbourne 12 years ago, while living there at the time. And it's still not finished, nor will it be until we move out. So I'm not making that mistake again. This place will be finished before we move in.

Given that Eldest Son starts high school in the area next year, I really ought to extract a digit and get on with it. There's still so much to be done.

Looking around at the building and my photos, there really is quite a bit to talk about. I'll try and put one post up each day for the next little while until I catch up. If I try to do it all in one go, I'll run away and hide from the workload :)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

CFA Tank

With so much focus on getting the building finished, this is another of those jobs I’ve been putting off. One of the requirements of our planning permit is that we install a 10,000L static water supply for use by the Country Fire Authority near the building. This has to be within 50m or so of the buildings, so that the CFA have a means to refill their trucks if they need to attend our property in the event of a fire.

There’s a mostly-clear spot just up the driveway from the house site which I’ve earmarked for this tank, but it’s a long way from level. So although I’ve had the tank here for some time (it was delivered along with the collection and header tanks last year) it’s been sitting around looking pretty at the top of the hill until I could get busy on the bobcat and excavate a level pad.

So that’s what I’m doing! Under the watchful supervision of Coda, of course. He won’t let me do anything without keeping a close eye on it :)

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Sadly this is about as far as I got before .. you guessed it, another ram seal blew.


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I’m not surprised the machine blows seals occasionally - it’s an old beast and doesn’t get much of a workout these days, but what’s frustrating about this one is that it’s one that I replaced about a year ago, and it’s completely disintegrated!

Luckily, when I replaced this seal last time I thought ahead a little and bought spares.. but they’re in the Hilux, and this weekend I left it at home and came in the Mini. So work on the tank stand has ground to a halt.




Fast forward a week, and the new seals are installed and the bobcat up and running again. A couple of hours digging later, and voila!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

What to do with these walls...

When I describe the building materials and techniques I'm using on this project, one of the things that many people find most surprising is our use of plywood internally on the walls, instead of plaster. I've plastered walls and ceilings before, and hated it with such vengeance that I swore never to do it again.

And being that I'm building this place myself and minimising the use of subcontractors, we needed an alternative wall lining. Enter the plywood.

From memory I believe it was actually suggested to us by Peter, our architect and Adult Supervision before I'd even mentioned my hatred of plastering. And his recommendation as to the finish we'd apply was to limewash with a water-based, low VOC paint-of-sorts.

Really, we have three options:
  1. Paint as if we were using plasterboard;
  2. Polyurethane or oil the ply with a transparent, if tinted sealer; or
  3. Limewash per Peter's recommendation.
The first would be completely wrong, hiding the wonderful A-grade plywood grain behind opaque paint. Not only that, the joints between the sheets (being impossible to hide without using some sort of ugly plastic mushroom cover, like that used with cement sheeting) would be visible and their reason for being would be hidden by the paint. So that approach was never an option.

The second alternative is appealing enough, if we were to use a natural oil finish for example which would protect the timber and bring out its features. But I feel like an oil or polyurethane finish would wind up being too dark; too much like the wood panelling of the '70's. So that was eliminated as well.

So we're left with the limewash finish - which gives us the best of all options. It's translucent, so the grain of the timber will be expressed through the finish and it'll still be obvious that we have plywood walls. It'll be protective and seal the timber against moisture and grubby hands, and it'll be light and airy in appearance. Perfect.

So with that decision made (well, Peter's recommendation adopted really) I've been experimenting with paint. I've got a plain white water-based acrylic, and diluted it in various ratios with water and applied them to a test piece of ply.

What we'll end up going with is something somewhere between the third (most translucent) and second patch, which represent one and three coats of the diluted acrylic at a six-to-one ratio. In reality, we'll probably end up using a liming white floor finish for the top coat, as this will give us a strong protective coating which we can wipe clean. So one coat of say four-to-one acrylic and one coat of liming white will probably do it.

In other news, I finally got around to assembling and installing one of the overhead kitchen cabinets. It went together and up on the wall with ease, but it wasn't until I installed the doors that I spotted a small problem.

It seems the cabinet maker has cut each door one thickness (16mm) too narrow, so we have a 32mm gap between the doors. I'm in two minds how to handle this - I could ask them to make up new doors, I could dismantle the cabinet and shorten it slightly, or I could install a filler between the doors as they are now.

I don't think I can be bothered pleading my case with the cabinet maker, especially so long now after they completed the job. And it takes two people to lift the thing off the wall, so in the short term I'll probably just make up a filler to install between the doors (this is the bonus of specifying plain white melamine cabinets ;) ). With the handles on you'd probably never realise it wasn't supposed to be this way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Commissioning the kitchen!

With the benchtops successfully installed it's time to get this kitchen cooking!!

We have a functioning sink!!

After a little fiddling with the position of the gas pipe, the stove is installed and working! This is a major milestone :)

With Savva finished up I turned my attention to another important detail. With something like 30 family members joining us for Christmas, I thought one or two might like a little privacy in the bathroom. What better way than installing a door!

First, the frame. This took a lot of fiddling around to get cut to the right size, then plumb in the (not so plumb) stud frame. I really must talk to the carpenter about that.....

With the jamb set up properly the door went in pretty easily.

I'm getting the hang of using a chisel to rebate hinges :)

Next detail - the door furniture!

Aaand, finished!!


In my haste I grabbed the wrong lever set from the box. Being the bathroom, I've got a "privacy lockset" for this door to allow it to be locked from the inside. Except I didn't grab that one.. and the one I did grab has a 70mm backset (the distance from the edge of the door to the centre of the door handle). Of course, the correct privacy set has a 60mm backset, doesn't it.. which means I can't install it in this door because the hole is in the wrong place!!

So it looks like I've got a bedroom door here all fitted up. I'll grab another door off the pile tomorrow and try again :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Render update

Barrie has been on site this week getting the colour coat on the exterior of the building. It's starting to look really good!!

The only problem is .. Barrie's run out of top coat. And the supplier doesn't reopen for business until the new year, so it'll be a couple of weeks into January before we get the place finished. There are only about three sections left to go, plus all the window sills, but the render isn't holding us up for anything else so I'm not fussed about the delay. It would have been nice to have it finished before Christmas just to have it ticked off, but it's no big deal.

It's beginning to look a lot like ...

... Kitchen!

Today is finally benchtop day. After more than a week of delays I finally have the stone mason on site to install the bench tops. These are a composite product and not actually stone - they're a mixture of crushed rock aggregate set in an epoxy resin of some sort and polished to a high gloss. It looks a lot like stone, but it's stronger and more consistent and (all importantly) cheaper!

I supplied the templates to the stone mason a couple of weeks ago, marked them up and labelled them with A-A and B-B etc. so they'd know how they all fitted together.


I hadn't cut out the sink opening from the template, because the last time I did templates for stone benchtops the supplier wanted to cut the sink out on site, as moving the stone around with a gaping great hole in the middle is a recipe for breakage. I did however scribe the outline of the opening from underneath just in case. And it turned out that they did want to cut the sink opening at the factory, mainly because this composite is stronger than stone and it has a 40mm reinforcing edge.


It appears I've somehow moved the template around after drawing the sink opening, because it's in entirely the wrong spot. Thankfully one of the stone guys spotted the mistake before cutting the stone, and so rather than possibly make a wrong cut they've decided to cut it out on site.

Good decision if you ask me.

Perfect! The hole is in exactly the right spot!
Evidently I'm not too bad at this building caper after all. The walls are almost perfectly square, the cabinets are perfectly level.. so the benchtops are going down easily and fit like a glove.

All done!

The bathroom vanity fits perfectly too :)

It's looking a lot like a kitchen now!

I'm very happy with the benchtops and the quality of the installation is absolutely first rate. There's only one joint in the whole thing, and this is it. Almost invisible!!

This is what we'll likely do with the splashback in the bathroom. The mirror will sit on top of the tiles, and the power point will have to be moved. It's too close to the sink in any case.

While I was here I figured it was time to finish off the vanity cabinet.

Looking good!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lights.. camera ..

Hole saw!!

After an awfully uncivilised start to the morning at something-past-five and a mad round trip dash to Craigieburn, I have my hole saw!

And it's made its first hole!

This is how the lights will look in the ceiling (if you stand on your head!) :)

Without the ply, it's ugly...

Hole saw at the ready and positions marked, and the first holes are cut.


The hole saw makes tiny sharp red hot shrapnel, and throws it off in every direction. I'm dressed up like a white Oompa Loompa in my insulation-installer coveralls, with goggles and earmuffs and I'm still getting pelted. Nasty job!

I'm told we have steel-eating ceiling gophers!

Here's the first light unit installed.

It's full steam ahead now!

It's cut about 18 holes in the tin, and this is what the hole saw looks like now. A couple of hours ago and it had teeth...

It's not cutting anything else in this lifetime. I wonder if they'll take it back under warranty?? :)

The switchboard is looking very, very full. And it's not finished yet!

A quick aside - I saw these at Bunnings yesterday for only $55, so I grabbed one this morning. Nice!

But, drum roll please.

We have light!!

I'm particularly pleased with the stair lighting. One of the units has an internal loose wire which I can fix, but I need my soldering iron which I don't have on site. So it'll wait.