Monday, April 29, 2013

Installing the frames

I'm beginning to wish it was someone else doing this job, too...

I can see already that this is going to be a long and fiddly process. Normally, the window frames would be installed before the external cladding goes up, so that the cladding (brick, timber, Hebel, whatever) is cut to just the right size and abuts the frames neatly. However, a couple of factors (my own procrastination chief among them) meant that help was available (hi Gareth!) to erect the Hebel panels before the window frames went in, help which I couldn't refuse.

Two things about this are coming back to haunt me now:

  1. The Hebel is big, bulky and heavy and so cutting and installing it with any sense of precision is nearly impossible. Add to this the minor variations in the depth and width of the slab rebate and accumulating errors in my frame positioning and it's a minor miracle if the Hebel is within 10mm of its intended position.
  2. Despite my best efforts, the window openings in the stud framework are all ever-so-slightly different in dimension and plumb. No two are the same, and none are perfect. Add to this the problem of point #1 and in cases, the Hebel panel overlaps the window opening by as much as 30 or 40mm and is going to have to be trimmed in situ.
Now, with the windows all being sashless double-hung units the window frames themselves need to be installed with precision if the glass is going to stand any chance of opening and closing smoothly. In my (misplaced?) confidence I've only allowed 10mm clearance total (5mm each side) vertically and horizontally to the stud frame, so there's not a lot of wiggle room.


We began by oiling the frames, to protect them from the weather once installed. We've chosen (OK, well.. since I sent Alissa off to Seymour to buy it, she chose.. but she chose well!) to use a linseed oil-base coating which is virtually colourless, but very easy to apply quickly and promises to waterproof the timber. Just what the doctor ordered!

It doesn't show up as well in the photos as in real life, but the oil really brings out the beautiful grain of the timber. It's going to be a crime to cover it up with steel flashing...

With that final little bit of procrastination out of the way, I got stuck into installing the first frame on Saturday morning.

All of Saturday morning.

For just the first frame.

In fairness, a lot of my time was spent fart-arsing around with the Hebel, figuring out the best method of finessing it to size. I've tried (in no particular order):
  • A sanding float, with really course grit sand paper (from a floor drum sander);
  • A reciprocating saw;
  • A hand jack saw;
  • The circular saw with its diamond-tipped blade;
  • A chisel; and
  • A belt sander.

The sanding float is pretty good for finishing a surface, but rubbish at taking off large bits.

The reciprocating saw is quick enough (and can even cut through the odd reo bar) but its accuracy leaves a lot to be desired.

The jack saw is brilliant at cutting the panels (as long as there's no reo to get in the way) but it's horribly inaccurate (at least, on the far side where I can't see where the blade is going).

The circular saw is just plain bloody hard work; it already was when I was cutting the panels on the ground, but held vertically it's almost impossible (especially when standing on a ladder).

A chisel is remarkably effective at cutting the Hebel (again, reo notwithstanding) but it's woefully inaccurate over long distances and slow going.

The belt sander fairly rips through the Hebel with a course belt, although it creates monstrous clouds of silicosis-inducing fine dust which my mask does little to filter out. Oh, and it doesn't like rebar very much.

So, no silver bullet then.

I finally settled on a composite approach: Cutting the panel roughly to the right line with the jack saw (either vertically, or by making horizontal cuts to the right depth every centimetre or so, then breaking off the segments with a chisel) then finishing off with the belt sander.

Still, a royal PITA. It's not like we took any shortcuts with the Hebel either.. installing that was a hard slog in and of itself and plenty of attention was paid to getting it right.

Just not right enough, it seems...

Anyway. After several hours of fettling, frame #1 is in and as perfectly square as I can measure. It may not be perfectly plumb, but square is more important and I don't necessarily have the space to achieve both.

These are going to look sensational with the glass installed!

The second frame went in much quicker, the planets aligning so that little fiddling was required to get the frame in place and square. The third and fourth however were much tougher going; in one case I even had to deal with a piece of rebar vertically in the way by digging it out and cutting it where it joined to the horizontal bars. This promises to be the story of my life for the next few weeks, I think.

In other related news, after inspecting the doors which were part of this order, I think I've found a problem. The entry doors upstairs are double, inward-opening glazed timber doors, with the left-hand door (looking at them from outside) as the "lead" door. This means that the right-hand door will remain closed and bolted most of the time, and we'll enter using the left hand side. This arrangement is necessary primarily for ember and weather proofing - the surfaces where the doors meet are rebated and overlapping, creating a perfectly ember-proof seal.

Or that's what they're supposed to be.

It turns out that the doors are both "plain" edged - neither are rebated the way they should be. I've spoken to the manufacturer, and as soon as I mentioned the left-hand-lead the rep cut me off and told me he knew exactly what I was going to say. It turns out they have a worker on the factory line who's not been doing his job properly and they've had several cases of doors going out sans rebate, and so he's promised to get the doors picked up, rectified and re-delivered ASAP.

Even with this little fubar, I have to say I've been quite impressed with the service and quality of the workmanship these guys have delivered. Homeview Windows, via Bowens Timber & Hardware are well worth a look if you're in the market.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Roof plumbing, and ... window frames!

With work being so busy at the moment and with Anzac Day giving us an extra short week, I completely forgot to confirm that the window frames were still on target for delivery on Friday. I hadn't heard anything to the contrary but that's usually a signal that something will go wrong at the last moment... but just in case they did show up as planned I thought I'd better do something about the road in. It's been about a year since I last graded it, and the rain has done a great job of ruining it and so it's been getting increasingly difficult to get in and out, especially in a truck.

Twenty minutes on the bobcat later...

Much better! :)

So a couple of hours after Savva arrived to get stuck into the roof flashing and capping, the windows actually arrived! Because I'm installing them solo I asked that they be delivered unglazed, and I'm glad I did - the sashless double hung units will be heavy, much more so than the few kilograms that the bare frames weigh. Installing them should be relatively straightforward...

As for their construction, they're pretty standard fare - Meranti, set up already for the sashless units. As we're classified BAL-FZ, no timber species meets the required fire rating without protection and so our window frames all have to be protected with 2mm (!!) galvanised flashing externally, in addition to stainless fly-wire mesh and steel shutters. This level of protection basically means that we're free to use any hardwood species, which actually reduces the cost over something like ironbark, spotted gum or redgum which are suited to the higher BAL ratings.

I'll get stuck into installing them tomorrow, hopefully.

Savva managed to get a few bits and pieces finished off, but it's been slow going adjusting all the flashes and caps to be perfectly straight. It's worth taking the time though, as I'll be looking at the end result for a long time and I'll see all the little imperfections (even if nobody else will!)

I finally managed to chase down the clips necessary to fix the flat deck roof over the pump room, and so that went down easily:

The barge caps are installed on both ends of the dwelling roof, and they're looking good!

There's still quite a lot of flashing to install, and it's going to be slow, fiddly work interfacing it all with the Hebel panels...

I'm glad it's Savva doing this job!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Solar hot water

With winter fast approaching and our plumbing half finished, it's time to start making some decisions around some of the more expensive items on our shopping list.

First up, the hot water system.

There are basically two ways we can go with this: Your basic run-of-the-mill instant gas hot water service, or gas-boosted solar. While it's seriously tempting to take the cheaper way out (initially, since we'll be buying bottled gas), we've decided to go ahead with a solar system for a couple of reasons, really:

  1. Part of the whole point of building a fully self-sustainable house in the bush is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, or resources derived from them. We're completely off-grid for power, water and sewerage and our only fossil fuel requirements will be for the gas cooktop and oven, potentially a gas fridge / freezer, and the odd litre or two of diesel (bio-diesel, hopefully!) for the backup generator.
  2. Since we're on rain water only, our water consumption is going to be a long way below average. It is already really - in Melbourne the average daily consumption target is 150 litres per person, while we get by on about 250 litres per day for a family of five. This means that we can get away with a relatively small solar panel and collector, which reduces the cost significantly.
So with Savva the Plumber on site on Friday, today we made a purchasing decision on the hot water system. We've decided on an Apricus system, which comprises an array of 22 evacuated solar tubes on the roof, a 250L stainless steel storage tank and a 26L/min Rinnai gas booster. After we claim the government rebate on solar hot water installations, we should be able to get this system for around the $3,000 mark, and installed for well under my budgeted figure of $5k.

Next up.. water tanks and the sewerage system!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hebel'd Gables

Last weekend saw the beginning of the end of the Hebel installation. I cannot say I will be sorry to see this part of the build finished...

For quite a while I muddled over how I was going to get the Hebel panels installed up high on the gable ends of the roof, before I realised I've been staring at the solution in all its yellow glory all along. With the forks on the bobcat and a platform constructed out of form ply and pine, propped with a sturdy pine frame I can lift the Hebel up to the gable and stand on the platform to install them easily. It really is quite stable and safe.

The panels fairly flew up, and in the space of a couple of hours I had one end of the garage all done (save for the little end bits, which I have to measure in situ). I'm using a strip of 10mm expansion joint foam between the wall and gable panels, and leaving a 10mm x 10mm gap to fill with fire-proof polyurethane sealant. This gives me a good control joint to allow the roof panels to move slightly, independently of the wall.

With daylight fast fading (so long, Daylight Savings.. I'll miss you) and the last of my Hebel adhesive going off it was a bit of a race getting the other end of the garage done, but I made it with about 5 minutes of discernible daylight left.

That just leaves one gable end to go, which (not coincidentally) is the most awkward to reach with the bobcat.

I must remember to pick up some more Hebel adhesive during the week, or it's going to be a pretty unproductive weekend...

Monday, April 8, 2013

An update on the windows

Early last week I met with the door and window suppliers, to discuss the specifics of the project and to go over the drawings and measurements. I'm really glad we met, as there were a few details I'd not thought of and we were able to compensate for my .. ahem .. errors shall we say in the dwelling frame without additional expense. Expense which I definitely would have had to incur had the windows been supplied as per the nominal specification...

In any case, after forking over the thick end of twenty grand, we have a delivery date scheduled for the frames: April 26th, or a little under three weeks from now! :)

I'll aim to get the frames installed that weekend so that the following week the sashless glazing supplier can visit to measure up on-site, and then 10 days or so later they'll return to install the glass!

That will put us -->   <-- :d="" close="" lock-up="" p="" this="" to="">
I will still have two sets of doors to construct myself - the double garage "barn" doors and the pump room door, both of which I will fabricate myself onsite. These will be a sandwich construction around a SHS steel frame, with galvanised steel facing on the outside, a layer of Anticon insulation blanket and then finished with plywood internally. This more-or-less matches the roof construction which is rated for BAL-FZ, and so the doors will comply without requiring additional shutters or screens.


I've been thinking long and hard about how I'm ever going to be able get the Hebel panels installed up on the gable ends of the garage and dwelling roofs. The section adjoining the vaulted roof over the garage has seemed straightforward for ages, since I can just walk onto and over the roof to this part but then again, the panel sections here are larger (and heavier) than the rest. Too large and heavy for me do manage by myself.

The other gable ends however I can get close to with the bobcat and so I've been mulling over a plan to build a platform I can lift with the forks, which will get me close and high enough to fix the panels into place myself. I tested this theory last weekend and discovered that yes, I can get the forks that high and even at the east side of the dwelling where the site cuts into the hill, I can still get the bobcat close enough (although whether or not it will be stable enough there I'm not yet sure).

So with a rough plan in mind, on Friday morning I set about throwing together a rough pallet of sorts which I can lift up to the gable ends, and a scaffold which I can prop underneath to ensure that the weight of the Hebel and I at full reach don't threaten to overbalance the bobcat.  That, and the hydraulics on the machine do leak a little so the lift arm does sink slowly over time.

So this is what I've come up with:

Access to the platform is pretty straightforward - I can easily climb up the back of the bobcat, over the engine and onto the roof and then up onto the platform. It's surprisingly stable and solid too - without the props in place it definitely felt a little hairy, but propped I can jump up and down quite heavily and it doesn't flinch. It should easily take my weight and that of the Hebel quite safely.

The best part is that with this system I can reach the most troublesome gable end at the east end of the dwelling. I really didn't know how I was going to get up there with 60kg of Hebel, but this solution makes it pretty easy. I don't have to lift anything! :)

(I do have to make sure the handbrake works in the bobcat, though...)

So with that little problem solved, I set about measuring and cutting the Hebel to size. With the roof pitched at a perfect 15ยบ I've mercifully been able to take one measurement (the distance from the peak of the gable to 10mm above the lower panels to allow for a control joint) and extrapolate out from there to each side. This has meant that I've been able to take four measurements in total, and cut all 52 gable panels in advance.

Wow. I hadn't counted them up until just then - 52 panel sections! No wonder it took nearly two full days...!

That probably explains why I'm thoroughly sick of working with the stuff, too...

Anyway, with all my Hebel cut (which was all I had really planned to get done this weekend in any case) I agreed to take a look at my neighbour Craig's track with a view to hauling the bobcat over there to clean it up enough that our Hiluxes could traverse it. Sadly when the DSE pushed the track down to the creek during the recent fires they made a return visit to "return it to nature" so-to-speak and they've effectively destroyed it, so much so that I wouldn't even be able to get the bobcat close, let alone clean it up. Craig's going to have to subcontract a dozer driver with a big machine, methinks.

While I was there though I did lend a hand to help construct a landing platform for a flying fox (or zip line, in American) which Craig is installing for his kids. A 60 metre flying fox, mind you - with brakes. Craig doesn't do things by halves! :)

(As an aside - while we were there, Ewan had a go on the kids' trail bikes and is now bitten by the bug, rather badly. I had a go too and I have to admit, it's great fun and so I can see a slightly-expensive new hobby in the making...)

But I digress.

In return for my help with the landing platform, Craig lent me a hand with my Hebel and in an hour or so on Sunday we managed to get the heaviest of the gable panels installed above the garage roof.

So that's the most difficult of the remaining Hebel all done! Thanks Craig!!

With that bonus, I can see myself actually getting the rest of the gables done next weekend!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Will this Hebel ever end!?

Truth be told I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but damn if it isn't taking the enthusiasm out of me!

Hebel is a fascinating building material, but as a solo builder it's still concrete: heavy, dusty and cumbersome. But on top of that it's incredibly fragile, and the panels in my stockpile which haven't been damaged in transit and storage are very, very easily broken when cut or placed on the ground to rest briefly. The end result is that there are very few panels in the entire building which don't have a little damage, requiring patching.

At one point I thought I'd have enough (155 panels can you believe!?) to build both the garage+unit and the house, but...

... only three and a half full packs left, and a few damaged panels in there too!


After a couple of weeks away from the site I re-energised in time for the Easter long weekend, and with my brother Gareth and his family visiting from Sydney again we managed to finish off most of the remaining full size panels which I'd have been unable to do by myself. And there were a couple there which we were barely able to do two-up:

The right-most panel in this pic was an absolute bastard to install. What we should have done was install it and its neighbour (which still isn't in place and I don't know how I'll do it either) first, moving right to left. In fact, I think Gareth said as much before we started this section but I didn't "get it" until we came to it and so we had to lift the roof iron and flashing, then try and "wiggle" the panel down between the garage roof and the wall. Easier said than done with an 80kg concrete panel... and it's still not right as it's too tall and is pushing the roof iron up slightly.

The other major section we got done was the pump room...

... although I forgot to get a photo of it with the Hebel on!

So although I had hoped to get all of the Hebel finished over the 4-day weekend, we didn't really get close. All of the gable end sections are still bare, largely because the panels take ages to move and cut so we were pretty much unable to get a good workflow going. That said, thanks to Gareth's help we were able to get a shedload more done than I could have managed by myself. Thanks Gareth!!