Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ugh, rain

That has to be the most selfish sentiment ever! :)

Everyone else in the area is cheering for the rain over the last few days, as it's doing wonders for the smouldering fires on both sides of the hill and refilling empty water tanks.  The problem for me is that I've got bare naked plywood on my roofs, and the rain is going to ruin it in no time flat.

So I've gotta get tin up, and fast.

I've been intending to get all the Hebel panels up before I have the tin installed, but with the end of summer fast approaching and the increasing amount of rain we're seeing I just can't wait that long. At my current rate of progress, it'll be Easter before I get it all done.

So, instead I'm going to have to get the tin up, and then lift bits of it when I come to install the Hebel. This is a long way from ideal, but I've really got no other choice.

The other thing I really, really have to do pronto is order my windows. This is something I've been procrastinating over for a few months, as these are one of the single biggest-ticket items in the whole build. I'll see very little change out of twenty thousand dollars, and that's without stainless fly screens or steel fire shutters. For this sort of money I can't help but to think about constructing them myself, but who am I kidding, that would take me months I don't have...

We need doors, too.

Also on the need-to-do-it-soon list are water tanks. We'll need at least four - two collection tanks to catch rain water off the roofs, one big-ass storage tank to put a the top of the hill to which we'll pump from the collection tanks, and one static tank for the CFA which is part of our planning requirement.

It would be ideal to get at least the collection tanks installed in time to catch some rainfall...

Also on the expensive list is the sewerage system. We've planned all along to install a worm farm, but the price of this is pretty astronomical and so we're tossing around the idea of installing a septic tank initially, then converting it to worms when we build the house proper. Supporting this reasoning is that with a worm farm, unless it sees use proportional to its design capacity the worms will die, and then its more of a worm graveyard than a farm. Our problem is that the system is designed to support both a 4-bedroom house and a 2-bedroom guest unit, but for the next few years at least we'll have only the guest unit, and even then it won't be actively used until we move in. I suspect we'll need to contact the council and find out if they'll allow us to do this...

Then I have to find an electrician. Oh, and an off-grid PV solar system. And I have another suspended concrete slab to pour over the top of the shipping container and onto the hillside.

And I haven't even begun to think about the internal fit-out...

I think this is the point where I'm supposed to spend a little more time with my project-manager's hat on :)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fires at Tallarook

Early Sunday afternoon I got a beep from the CFA FireReady app - a new fire had started very close to our property, in the Dabyminga Creek Reserve at the bottom of our hill and was reportedly spreading up the hill quickly. Very soon afterwards I had several phone calls from concerned neighbours, checking that I wasn't up on the hill working without knowledge of the fire.

My neighbours Craig & Bec evacuated their family down to the bottom of the hill as a precaution, and I sat a home in Melbourne looking at my phone waiting for another update, but I couldn't stand the feeling of helplessness and so without much of a plan, decided to jump in the car and drive up. I know there's nothing I can do in the event of a fire, but I suppose more than anything I wanted to be nearby not only for information, but to lend support to Craig and others on the hill.

As I approached on the highway there wasn't a lot to see in the hills, but from our road I could see the smoke from the fire and a couple of helicopters working on it. I went all the way up the top of the hill and with no signs of fire anywhere nearby, retired to a friend's place to catch up with Craig.

When I arrived there, Karl was loading a water tank and pump onto his ute as a precaution in case the fire turned towards their place, and with nothing else to do we hopped in and drove back up the hill to our block to investigate. However, once we arrived I got another ping from the FireReady app indicating that a new fire had started over on Landscape Rd, and from their map coordinates it was actually at Peter's (my architect/builder/adult supervision) place! With Peter in India for a couple of weeks and nothing happening on our side of the hill, Karl & I decided to head over there with our water to see if we could help.

On the way in it was clear that this was a proper fire...

When we arrived, Peter's partner and their housemate were frantically making preparations for the fire so we pulled in with the water to offer assistance. A member of the DSE had arrived a little while before having seen the alert and smoke himself, and he'd gone over the creek to the fire to assess the situation and rake out the edges of the fire, to prevent it spreading downhill to the creek. If the fire got down there and crossed over, there'd be nothing stopping it racing uphill to the house. It was already pretty close, only a few hundred metres away and the CFA had responded with air support, tasking the water bombers from the Dabyminga fire near our place over to this fire.

There was absolutely no way to get near the fire with tankers; it was tough country to walk through with all the big granite and so the CFA weren't committing tankers and crew to this end of the fire. They were more concerned with the fire spreading over the top of the hill towards farmland on the plateau above and the Tallarook township beyond.

Karl & I ventured down to the creek to lend a hand, and began blacking out the leading edge of the grass fire, but were recalled not long afterwards so the water bombers could get in close.

With that we retired to the house, and busied ourselves clearing a fire break around the house waiting for dusk, when the water bombers would stop work for the day. Reinforcements were called for (a ragtag bunch of friends, locals and one or two DSE members nearby) and once the choppers left the scene we went in armed with rakes, shovels, rake-hoes and chainsaws with a plan to build a containment line along the western edge of the fire to prevent it creeping downhill and reaching the creek. In the meantime, the water bombers did their thing.

(No, that's not the sunset)

Once the bombers finished up, we began work by choosing a line to contain the fire, then digging a strip about a metre wide clear of grass, leaf litter and branches so that the fire has nowhere to go once it burns up to the line. With the fire close by and wearing heavy protective clothing, this was hot and difficult work. I definitely have a new appreciation for the work that the CFA and their volunteers do... With nightfall we worked by torchlight and fire light, with the basically full moon being a dim orange ball in the sky through the smoke.

We worked through the night, pushing our containment line to the north along the creek, blotting out flareups and felling trees which were either going to fall by themselves, or which were already alight and a threat to the containment. To the north of the line, the big granite really started getting in the way and it became increasingly difficult to clear a containment line or move freely. Sometime around midnight the fire up there flared up and so we made a final stand with a delaying tactic, clearing debris off the rocks and cutting a makeshift break to try and slow the fire's progress towards the creek to give the professionals as much of a chance as possible with the water bombers in the morning.

We finally pulled out of the field around 2am, and left the fire in the custody of the CFA who had finally arrived with a tanker to provide protection for the house in case our containment lines failed with a predicted northerly wind shift.

Thankfully the wind never really arrived, and when I checked in at around 11am the fire at the house was basically out, our containment having held the fire back before the creek.

I really am amazed at the response to the fire from a bunch of guys who just came together to help a local. None of us were fire fighters, but we all worked all night to protect somebody else's house without hesitation, and I'm sure we'd all do it again tomorrow.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The south roof/wall

So I spent all day today finishing off the triangular wall section at the south end of the roof. This has been without a doubt, one of the most difficult and frustrating bits of the build so far, mainly because I left my thinking about the design of this part of the building too late. Had I thought ahead a little, this would have been much, much easier...

As it was, at the end of Friday I had the basic frame erected and ready to sheet with ply. The problem however is that in order to permanently fix the frame into position, I need to gang-nail-plate a stud at each end of the frame to provide load bearing support. Unfortunately, as I've already built the structure around it I can't get one side of the studs fixed off without taking the frame down first.

So that's what I've spent




There are two problems - the frame is heavy, by my estimate 80kg or so with ply sheeting on one side, and it's a very awkward shape already, without having the studs attached at either end. These make manoeuvring the frame virtually impossible, especially by myself.

I attempted to stand the frame up for hours before I basically gave up. I don't give up easily :)

I sat here looking at it for a while, thinking of ways to get it to stand up before I decided that stubbornness is a virtue, and I tried something different.

It worked :)

After much sweat and many, many very carefully chosen words I finally got the completed frame into position and within another hour or two it was sheeted off and fixed permanently, and the roof sheets installed as well.

A good result, I'm loving seeing the finished roof taking shape!

Putting this up has definitely consumed all my available motivation for this weekend though, so tomorrow I intend to spend a quiet day at home with the kids after their swimming races in the morning.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Finishing the roof

The plan to weekend is to try and finish off the garage roof. With summer winding up, we're starting to see a bit of rain and with nothing protecting the plywood on the roof it won't last very long in repeated rain.

When I started sheeting the roof we'd not had any rain in 4 months, and now in the last two weeks we've had three heavy storms of an inch of rain each - I arrived last night to lightning flashing all around, followed by a torrential deluge. Sleep? Nah...

This morning I started by finishing screwing down the ply I'd already installed. For some reason last weekend I managed to break three screwdriver bits so I ended up preserving my last one and only putting enough screws in to hold the sheet down, so that job needed finishing today.

After that, a couple more sheets went down to provide a working platform for my next job, the plywood box beams for the triangular wall sections.

I'd done all my drawings in SketchUp for these during the week, but of course I managed to leave my laptop at home and so I've had to go back to drawing in pencil and paper, Pythagoras and a calculator.
It's slow going but not a bad result! :)

Since I've had to measure everything by hand, I wasn't game to fully assemble the frame before hefting it into place for a test fitting, so I spent an hour or so setting up trestles and lifting it up. I may have only dropped it once... maybe twice...

In the end I have it in place, and it fits! I'm buggered if I'm going to lift it back down to finish assembling it, so I'm doing it in place. It'll be a PITA fixing the ply bracing, but less painful than trying to lift the fully-assembled frame back into the sky.

A job for tomorrow.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fixed, I think?

The replacement brushes for my circular saw arrived from the UK yesterday (ridiculous isn't it, that parts for a saw engineered and manufactured in Australia are only available from a UK seller...). I've installed them and the saw runs fine, but I'm not sure whether it's right - I don't remember seeing it arc this much before, but then I've never paid it any attention either.

This is with the new brushes in. With the old ones it sparked about twice the size, and gave an unhappy smell...

If anyone knows whether this is normal or not, I'd be interested to hear before I blow this thing up for good!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's all but a roof!

Only a half day on site today, but I spent it well and got nearly all of the rest of the roofing ply down.

It was hot going today, especially on top of the reflective plywood in a black t-shirt (good thinking, that) but it's amazing what you'll put up with when the end is in sight :)

Still left to do is the little section over the garage entry at the far end of this pic which drops to meet the flat roof over the pump room. I'll wait to do that section until I resolve the detail of the triangular end wall sections.

Speaking of which, I had a word to Peter about these today and he made a good suggestion: sheet the existing truss with ply to strengthen it (it then effectively becomes a box beam, which is an extremely strong structure), then frame up a triangular section sheeted with ply as well (another box beam) to support the Hebel load.

I'll draw this up in Sketchup during the week and see how it feels. With any luck I might be able to get it built next weekend.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A solid day

I tried a slightly different tactic to get my lazy arse out of bed this morning - putting my phone alarm on the far side of the caravan! Whaddya know, I was out of bed before sunrise! :)

First job this morning as planned yesterday, was to finish the flat roof structure over the pump room. I had originally intended to install corrugated iron roof sheet to this roof as for the rest of the building, but in order to use that I need a 5º fall, whereas I can use flat sheeting and get away with 1º (why!?). With very little room to play with underneath the garage roof trusses, I've elected to go with 1º - I would need a full 250mm rise at the wall end of the roof to get 5º, and there's just not that much space.

So with that decision made, I got into it. First job was installing the permanent wall bracing below, and making sure it was all square and plumb then tying the top and bottom plates to the studs. Then with that done, I used a single 90x45 bearer at the wall end to give me 1.5º fall over the length of the roof, which is plenty for the flat sheeting. More 90x45 rafters at 450mm centres provide the structure, with a notched 90x45 atop the internal wall to support the rafters.

Tying all this down however took approximately forever...

.. but shortly thereafter I was able to start installing the ply sheeting. Any doubts I may have had as to the sufficiency of my structure were very quickly dispelled - this roof is solid as a rock, with no hint of bounce in the rafters or flex in the ply. Quite unlike the trussed roofs - these are spaced at 1200mm centres, and there's a very definite give in the ply if you stand on the sheets between the trusses.

So with that job finally out of the way, I got cracking on the rest of the garage roof. This section however is shorter between the trusses than the 2400mm length ply, so there was a bit of head scratching to be done when I got to the junction between the trussed roof and rafters, which I'd already clad. This last sheet also creeps up onto the wall/truss structure which I've not yet constructed, so at the moment it's cantilevered in free space.

Must remember not to step on this bit...

With day fast running out, this is what I've got left of the garage roof to go. Might just get it finished tomorrow! :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

No fires, on with it

So with no sign of fire overnight or this morning, I got stuck into the garage roof.

First and foremost, before installing any more ply sheets (or walking on the rafters) I finished tying everything down - 6/40mm coach screws in each of the joist hangers to secure them, and gang nail plate and trip-l-grips to the studs at the other end, along with half a dozen nails to tie them to the jack trusses.

This roof ain't going nowhere :)

So with that done it's safe to continue installing the ply sheets.

I tell you what, it's so much easier installing roof ply when I can carry them from the bobcat onto the roof, without needing to hoist them up! They're going on nice and square too, so there's no frigging around trying to get them to land in the middle of the rafters.


About now the hillside went eerily still, and I started hearing the distant rumble of thunderstorms. A couple of nice cells developed nearby (a big black blob on the BOM radar over Broadford) and with lightning starting to flash about I thought it best to pause work in the open on the roof. Being struck by lightning is not my idea of fun...

With the approaching storm came a little rain. We didn't get much, just a sprinkle really but not knowing that in advance I moved the bobcat out of the weather.  It struck me then that I've parked it out of the rain, INSIDE our garage!!

This is the first time I've had an "inside" in the garage :) :)

Once the rain stopped I cracked on with the ply, dodging more lightning flashing around, and by 6pm had about a third of the roof done.

With all the lightning this afternoon however came the inevitable fires. My phone has been going off every hour with a new fire within 20km of the place - there's been half a dozen close enough to be a concern, just this afternoon. Thankfully the CFA have been right on top of it, but boy have they had a busy day!

Assuming we're not alight in the morning, tomorrow I'll look at completing the flat roof structure over the pump room and get some ply on that before moving on to the rest of the garage roof.

No fire on the hill?

I arrived late last night and drove into the state forest a bit to see what I could find, and there's absolutely no sign of fire, though even now the CFA are still listing the fire as "going" with one truck in attendance.

I'll keep an eye on the FireReady app, but I'm not very worried - we got an inch of rain with the thunderstorm last night, and the ground is nicely wet so a fire isn't going to have much success unless it's BIG.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fire on the hill

A little bit worried at the moment - I'm in Melbourne but lightning strikes have started a couple of fires within spitting distance of our place at Tallarook.

The CFA apparently have a few trucks in attendance, but after 90mins the fires are still "going" and there's no word on their success. It doesn't help that the CFA FireReady app is doing nothing but crashing...

No Hebel this weekend, then

I can't say I'm all that unhappy about it, but I'll not be doing much Hebel-ing this weekend, for the simple reason that my faithful old circular saw is still not fixed.

It turns out that Triton (an Australian company which developed a bunch of very cool woodworking tools and benches over the years) was acquired by GMC several years ago, and then not long afterwards GMC went BANG, taking Triton with them.

Which means finding spare parts for my saw is turning out to be an exercise in futility, at least in Australia. Kingchrome have apparently taken over the brand here, but do not yet have access to parts for "legacy" Triton tools such as mine.

I have however found a website operating out of the UK who stock the brushes, so I've ordered them there and will now wait for them to arrive. Until then, I get to focus on jobs other than Hebel - you can hear the disappointment from miles away... ;)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thanks, Gareth!

I suppose to be successful as an owner-builder, you have to have a certain amount of self-confidence in your own abilities otherwise you'd never get anywhere. I'm no exception - if anything, I'm over-confident: "I can do that!" is the stance I take with regard to most challenges I face.

Except when I can't :)

There's no doubt that I would have jumped in and attempted to install our Hebel cladding by myself, without asking for help. Call it pride, but I'm the sort of person who will attempt something and fail miserably, before I admit that I'm out of my depth and ask for help. Thankfully, so far I've largely been able to "cash the cheques my over-confidence is writing", so to speak :)

However, even if I had managed to erect the Hebel panels by myself, I'm certain they would have taken their toll on me physically, if not mentally. That I'm still whole and able is all thanks to Gareth's willingness to voluntarily put his time, considerable effort and sweat into helping me with this part of the build - not once, but twice.

Thanks, Gareth. I really, really appreciate your help these past few of weeks. I probably couldn't have done this bit without you (but now we'll never know ;) )

-- Simon

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Something other than Hebel

With my old faithful circular saw out of action, today we have an opportunity to attack another job I've been looking forward to for a while - installing the rafters to finish off the garage roof structure.

First cab off the rank: fit the rafter top plate to the wall framing. First, we ran a string line along the top chord of the jack trusses at either end of the roof opening to find the height at which we need to install the top plate. Then, with these two points known we ran a chalk line between the two and marked out the position of the plate at each wall stud. Finally, I cut a 20mm rebate into each stud with my Christmas present cordless circular saw, which we then chiselled out square. This allowed us to snugly fit the 120x45 LVL timber, which was screwed to each stud using two of the 100mm bugle-head batten screws we're using to secure the Hebel panels.

This sucker's not going anywhere :)

With that in place, we could set about installing the rafters.

To secure these to the top plate I'm using off-the-shelf 140x45mm joist hangers, and birdsmouthing the rafter timbers at 15º so they're a neat fit in the hangers.

I don't yet have them, but these will be secured (in addition to the nails) using 40mm coach screws to both the rafter and top plate. I may even add to that with a length of hoop iron around the plate as well, to resist any tendency of the rafter to pull away from the wall.

At the truss end of the rafter I'm supporting it with a 90x45 stud, cut at the top at a matching 15º and trenching the log to provide a stable "footing" for the stud. The whole thing is then nailed to the adjacent truss, and the rafter is gang-nailed to the stud.

Working all of this out with the first one and building up our rhythm took a little while, but once we hit our stride we had all seven installed in next to no time. There are still two to go, one at either end of the opening but these are the ones which will form the outer triangular wall sections and I still haven't arrived at their final design, so they will wait.

With the rafters in place and looking sensational, we couldn't help ourselves. With an hour before we needed to start packing up to make Gareth's flight home, we decided to throw some ply sheeting up there as well.

We didn't get many installed (probably just as well until I finish tying the rafters down and securing the joist hangers) but it's a great feeling having the garage roof taking shape!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Slightly smaller tracts of Hebel

With the long, 18m side of the garage just about completely clad in Hebel, today we turned our attention to the rear wall, about 8m long.

But before we could get near it with the Hebel, we needed to clear the space. Like the space alongside the long wall, I used this spot to dump the spoil from the garage slab footing excavations and until now I've not got around to doing anything about it. This is what we're faced with this morning:

It doesn't look like much in the photo, but there's rather a lot of soil piled up there and so we're into it with the bobcat. Here's Gareth doing his utmost to avoid rolling the machine down the hill...

... and here's the result of my over-exuberance and underestimation of the rear overhang of the bobcat, making a turn with a full bucket :(

These things are bloody hard work enough to put up once, without having to do it again! I rather like Gareth's assessment:
I'm effing glad that wasn't me driving!
Of slightly greater concern is the increasing quantity of hydraulic oil dribbling out of the bottom of the bobcat. When I had it apart to fix the chaincase idler gear I did notice there was rather a lot of sludge in the guts of the machine meaning there's a hose leaking in there somewhere.. but it's obviously worsened as I'm leaving a visible trail of oil behind me.

Please, please, please don't break down on me now...

In sympathy I decided to clear just enough space to manoeuvre the Hebel panels, and leave the rest of the pile until I can afford for the bobcat to break. If it goes now, our workload will treble having to carry each panel a good 40m from the stack to this wall.

With the space clear (enough) I set about cutting panels to length while Gareth finished off installing the battens. By early afternoon we had a large part of the wall installed:

... and a correspondingly large quantity of empty beer/cider bottles to match. I can sense a pattern forming here... ;)

However, we have the beginnings of a problem. To cut the Hebel panels I'm using a diamond-tipped blade in my trusty old Triton circular saw. This is about 12 years old by now and has already done its fair share of hard work on my saw table but cutting this Hebel is really making it sweat. All day I've been starting to sense that its no-load speed is slowing down slightly, and it's not developing as much torque as it has been. I can't say I'm surprised, I've asked a lot of it these past few weeks.

With a little mechanical sympathy we pressed on, and got as far as cutting the opening for the last window when I began to smell a very distinct hot electrical odour through my face mask. The saw is producing a very impressive light show around the brushes which I guess means it's had enough. Me too!

We very nearly got the rear wall finished, but fell two panels short and with no means to cut any more, this is how it'll stay until I can get replacement brushes for the saw.

All in all, not a bad result for two days hard labour :) The good news is...

Yaaay!!! No more Hebel to install!!!

I'm a bit over it at the moment.. :) Tomorrow we'll attack something more fun!