House Update


Wednesday 1 November 2000

Yesterday we received a an invoice from Builder 5. He's the one who estimated $A173,601 and we had quote because he was the lowest price. Then the quote came in at $225,000 and we said NO! He wants nearly $250. That gets a NO! too.

The steel power pole arrives either tomorrow or Monday. I gave up on the steel merchants who wanted to quote on all of the steel. They can't be reached on the phone and don't return phone calls. So today I went to their sources of supply and got all the information I need to order the bits. Fran is doing the same for most of the rest of the house. Michael will shop around the rival sources for the best price on steel, timber, plasterboard (sheetrock), fastenings etc. He used to work in the supply side of the industry.

Last night we signed off on the contract for the windows, agreeing to pay 25% at each stage of the construction and eventual installation. We invited the salesman to dinner at the cottage to sign the contract and we had a really interesting evening. Like all good salesmen, he really believes in the product. The chardonnay he brought went down a treat and we had a fine time.

The other week Michael came across a new thicknesser/planer that was half price, but he didn't have enough cash to buy it. So I bought it for him in return for that dollar amount of labour on the house. It's a real beauty. The seller lost the distributorship and after five years trying to sell it at full price, discounted it to make some room. The warranty still applies. It makes the thicknesser Michael has been using look like a toy. Now all Michael needs is the electrician to come and wire it in. It's three phase power.

The weather has improved and the last couple of days were warm and free of rain. Today there was a build up of thundery looking clouds to the north, but they dissipated after a few hours. We are getting somewhere at last.

Thursday 9 November 2000

Yesterday Fran brought by his list of things we need to build the house: how many studs, plates, plasterboard, etc. Today I am putting that together with my list so that Michael and I can go through it together tomorrow. Then he can start shopping Monday. This evening, I will phone the earthmoving contractor so we will have a date for commencing the foundation. 

Knowing what tools Fran and Michael have, I will be getting a second screw gun. I think I can get an almost new professional one for $A250. It will save heaps of time as there are lots of screws involved.

Fran suggested we go with plywood rather than steel bracing where the engineer wanted it. It will cost a little more and there is extra labour, but I want a solid structure. And we decided to put in timber Type A braces a couple of extra places. It gets windy here at the equinoxes.

Saturday 11 November 2000

A partial list of things we are buying for the house:

Part Total Measure
12 solid rod 54 m
75 mm angle iron 18 m
180mm x 75 mm channel 63 m
89 x 4 CHS pipe 80 m
Masonry anchors 24  
Spandex bolts 96  
100 C 19 purlins 750 m
Corrugated zincalume (roof) 200 m
Corrugated zincalume (walls) 210 m
Corrugated acrylic 24 m
Wood roofing screws 2000  
Steel roofing screws 2000  
Wall studs 1000 m
Plates and nogging 270 m
Insulation (tontine or similar) foil faced (square metres) 60 m2
Gyprock (vapour proof) walls (square metres) 328 m2
Gyprock (vapour proof) ceilings (square metres) 155 m2
Skirting 80 m
Architrave 120 m
T & G hardwood flooring (square metres) 14 m2
Waterproof chipboard flooring  for bath/laundry (square metres) 20 m2
Cement sheet for kitchen floor  2.5 m x 2.5 m  
Lintel over French window 5 m
Poly water tank 5000 gallon
Fibreglass septic tank    
squat zincalume water tank 1000 gallon
SS flue kit    

Hopefully, by the end of next week we will have pricing on most of this. 

Monday 13 November 2000

Woody says he can start the excavation for the house next Monday. We will scrape the rest of the topsoil away from where the house is to go and put that over the septic and sullage trench field in front of the house. Due to miscommunication with the architect, the measurements I made for the carport from the survey peg were based on the belief that the peg marked a different point within the house. The distance is only a couple of metres, but the current excavation for the carport needs amendment.

Since the laser level I had hoped to borrow is being used on some dam construction, Fran and I are going to use a long clear plastic hose filled with water. We will do this on Monday afternoon and then Woody can auger the holes for the piers. Once we have the weldmesh reinforcement in place, we can have the building inspector look into the holes again and pour the concrete for the carport and piers.

Tuesday 21 November 2000

The excavation is now scheduled for Thursday. Yesterday, the plastic arches and cloth for the septic and sullage trenches arrived. Fran and I lay out the pier positions. We make minor adjustments to where the house is to go to cope with the error I made when the excavation for the carport was made, We need to excavate the carport area back another couple of metres. We both agree that the survey peg was in the least useful place from our point of view.

The water tank and septic tank arrive; both are made of polythene. The plumber said he prefers fibreglass for septic tanks, but I wanted a polythene water tank and ordering the septic tank from the same manufacturer got me a discount equal to the cost of cartage. The water storage tank is 22,500 litres, that is huge. The colour is dark green and so it blends in with the background of trees. It will be even less visible as we plan to grow a screen of vining plants around it.

Finally for the day, the truck with 10 tonnes of bedding sand arrives simultaneously with the neighbour with tractor/slasher. We slash the grass to where I want the bedding sand dumped first. Luckily, the truck succeeds without losing traction on the freshly slashed grass. Only a small amount of bedding sand is needed for the house: the carport and under the water tank. The rest will be used to lighten the soil in the garden. It was dumped next to the garden, an area inaccessible by truck after Thursday.

I am suffering from sunburn on the back of my legs. Last weekend was the first fine weekend weather for many weeks. It was hot and I wore shorts while splitting firewood. To my delight, I notice that my tennis heel is healed! For months I have been nursing it, i.e. not walking very much. My doctor said that the anti-inflammatory drugs didn't cure it, nor did physiotherapy.  Despite being a "conventional" GP, he is a great believer in time and letting Nature do the rest.

I also notice that my belt is tighter by a notch. This is a very good thing as three pairs of trousers I will be wearing while working on the house are currently unwearable; I am too fat! By the time it's finished, I suspect I will be svelte. The physical hard work is also having its expected effect on my insomnia. Much joy!

Saturday 25 November 2000

This week has been somewhat of a blur! The excavator didn't turn up on Thursday, but there was still plenty of preparation to do. 

Peter turned up Wednesday with an ordinary slasher to cut the long grass where the tractor slasher was too big. It looks like a domestic lawnmower, but has two wheels the size of a bicycle. The drive is through a belt and pulley so the operator can quickly cut power to the slasher blades when required without shutting off the motor. Peter used the power of his ute (truck) to pull the old sheep fence out and cleaned up the grass that had been growing through it. 

Everywhere looks very neat and tidy!

Fran and I had carried the power pole near to its final position. and Tony the electrician comes on Thursday to pre-wire it. The steel pole is 8 metres long and very heavy! The electrical cable runs down the inside of the pole and the electrician attaches conduit to the outside for the telephone cables (4 pairs).

Tony asks about Stan, the plumber and I realise I forgot to tell Stan that the excavator was arriving a day later. I call Stan and it turns out he forgot about me, so that's all right. I remembered to call the engineer who needs to be on site for the augering of the first hole and the council inspector couldn't make it until Friday anyway.

Friday morning I am up at 3 am to get some office work out of the way. Stan the plumber arrives at 7.30 and we walk over the site. Stan notices that the septic tank would be on the same level or slightly below the trenches it's to drain into. This was where the health inspector wanted it. The architect had it positioned on the same level! Water only runs uphill on paper! We find another location on the other side of the house that's better all round. Stan also recommends a change to the positions of the sullage and septic trenches to minimise the amount of earth to be excavated. The bottoms have to be absolutely level so the soakage is even. He lends me a pocket size laser level to help in this. It's very neat.

Stan asks if I have ordered the gravel for the septic trenches and when I say no, phones the quarry and orders a truckload for me. I make a mental note to get my mobile phone and later do so. Amazingly, the signal here is much stronger than at the cottage only 50 metres away!

Malcolm the excavator driver arrives and we walk the site trying to organise the way things are to be done. Everybody involved wants their bit done first! We decide to go with the trench for electricity and telephone first as the electrician is supposedly arriving around midday. While the trench bucket is on, we decide it's best to make the water supply trench too. Of course the council inspector arrives expecting to see our holes for the piers and says he will return late in the day.

At the morning break, the engineer who needs to see the first pier hole made arrives. I give Malcolm time to finish his tea by taking Mark the engineer to the cottage for coffee and a look at the house plans. He only has one of the drawings. This takes around half an hour and we return to find Malcolm has the auger on the excavator.

The piers are to be 450 mm (18 inches) across and 2 metres (a little over 6 feet) deep. The engineer wants to go deeper in case there's something other than clay at that depth. This takes around half an hour. We find a few small rocks on the way, but nothing like what's to come later in the day. The engineer inspects the clay every so often and at 2 metres we find a small amount of very fine gravel in it. The engineer leaves to return on Monday when we have finished the holes. As he leaves, the gypsum for the sullage and septic trenches arrives, but not the water pipe. They have no 1.5 inch, 1.25 inch or 2 inch in stock! I order the roll of 1.5 inch we are to use from another supplier!

One of the reasons it's so slow is that the clay sticks to the auger. I clean it off between bites with a shovel and this is hard work. I get my son Thomas who has finished school for the year to come and help. We take turns doing this arduous work with Thomas getting most of the turns.

The architect had made light of my suggestion that rocks were likely to be a problem. He claimed the auger jostles smaller rocks to one side, medium sized rocks jostle the auger to one side and if it's a big rock, well you let the pier finish on that. Problem is, we find many rocks. Also, they are very hard, so they aren't broken even though the auger is diamond tipped.

Several pier holes were very trying. One we had three rocks hemming in the auger and to get past them, we had to crowbar one out. Luckily one was small enough! We found one large rock only 15 cm down. Malcolm thinks he can shift it with the bucket on the excavator, so we leave that until later. By the end of the day, we had only 11 of the 24 holes done. So much for the estimate of half a day for the original 31! 

In the middle of the afternoon, a little after the electrician was supposed to arrive, the gravel Stan ordered arrives! We have him dump the gravel somewhat further away than is ideal, but the area around the house now looks like a bomb-site with spoil all over the place. Hot on the heels of the gravel truck is the builders' skip (for rubbish) Marguerite has ordered. If the electrician arrives now there will be a traffic jam!

The electrician arrives around 3.30 and we tie the power pole to the excavator to lift it into place. This is not trivial and it takes half an hour of jostling by the four of us to get it into place. Three ropes finally hold the pole in place and Tony mixes the concrete to place around it in my wheelbarrow. This is only just enough to hold it lightly. We will top the concrete up above surface when we pour the piers. We don't want water accumulating around the junction of the steel and concrete.

The power pole we will be connected to on the other side of the road has a pronounced lean toward the east as does the tree slightly further down the road. This makes our pole look like it's not vertical. Actually, we gave it a very slight tilt to the south east against the strain the power cable will put on it.

After a welcome beer, Malcolm leaves at 4 to go to one of his part-time jobs, that of pumping shit from septic tanks that are full. Despite a partial overcast, the day was very warm. Tony declines a beer, but I enjoy one while I watch Tony work.

The ensuing 3.5 hours sees Thomas, Tony and myself pulling cable through conduit and setting up the power box where we will be using it during construction. I must admit to some sitting down in the last hour or so. My legs are very sore from the unhealed sunburn and unaccustomed running around.

We backfill around the power box mixing sand with soil to make digging it up easier when it's shifted onto the wall of the house. Thomas finds he's too light to manoeuvre barrow loads of sand so I do it. I remember when I was young and fit having the same problem with barrow loads of concrete. I was strong enough, but didn't have the weight to pull the barrow back upright when it lurched.

I managed to shoot most of a roll of 36 photographs including a panorama during the morning. Some of this is for recording where things are buried in trenches, not just for interest's sake. I hope to get to town next week and have them developed for posting here.

Monday 27 November 2000

The first pier hole of the morning was just like the first. Smooth as poo! But the next few were difficult. I decide to forget the perseverance and just move on to the next pier hole when we strike rocks. Malcolm thinks we should use a 300 mm auger to drive down beside the rocks so we at least get to the required 2 metres of depth. When the engineer arrives, we put this to him and he agrees. 

The pier hole where we struck rock just below the surface yesterday, Malcolm attacks with the excavator. We haul three large rocks out before we can use the auger. We started at 8 am and finish the holes by 2 pm. 

On Friday I had tried to order some 1.5" pipe to bring water from the storage tank, supply water from the holding tank to the storage tank and bring dam water from the filter nearby to supply the toilets. On Saturday Margie notices an ad for a new store in the nearby township of Cygnet. Their loss leaders include poly pipe and farm gates. We purchase 150 m each of 1.5" and 3/4" poly pipe, a 10' farm gate and a 12' farm gate using our credit card. The storekeeper can deliver but can't tell us when.

Today I had Peter collect the poly pipe and gates. Then I put him in charge of cleaning the auger. Thomas is at a friend's place with several mates playing LAN games. This was planned some time ago and since Thomas is the master of the LAN (and owner of the hub) he must go.

The last two hours of the day, the excavator backfills the electric and water trenches. I put in three runs of the 1.5" poly pipe: one to pump water from the holding tank to the storage tank, one to deliver water from the storage tank to the house and one to deliver water from the dam for the toilets. The heat of the day has softened the pipe  and makes doing this easier than it might have been. Rolling out 150 metre coils solo is nevertheless hard work.

The brushcutter Peter has been using to knock down the grass is old and underpowered. Margie has finally agreed to us purchasing our own and Peter has brought some brochures and prices. I eliminate all but the Honda and Stihl, and quickly decide on Stihl because the dealer is a one man band. Steve Griggs has been in business locally longer than I've been here. Then it's choosing from the powerful rather than the light range. I have a choice between a 25.4 cm3 motor, 30.8 or 36.3 and choose the middle range. The bike handle style beats the loop handle, but the 30.8 cm3 displacement is only available in bike handle style anyway. I was tempted to get the smaller motor, but experience has taught me that it's far more fatiguing to use a lighter brushcutter than a heavy one.

I phone Steve and tell him Peter will be by with a cheque, or I can pay by credit card. Paying by cheque gets me a $25 discount on an already heavily discounted price. There's only one of that model in stock and it's mine.

Tuesday 28 November 2000

The excavator is not available until late Wednesday because of an urgent job elsewhere! The day is very hot and humid making hoeing sand into my garden beds very sweaty. I have Peter do a cleanup of the old fences, brushcutting where they were and we make a run to the rubbish tip then the rural supplies store. Here I get a proper face mask for use with the brushcutter, order two dozen very long star posts for trellising in the garden and for the grapevines, get a long piece of rope and spare nylon line for the brushcutter.

I organise the concrete for Friday and order the steel mesh for the carport concrete to be delivered later today.

There being nothing urgent we head for the pub and some refreshing beer. On the way we stop off at Richard's to borrow a CD with fax/modem software I need. The manufacturer did not include the software with my modem and seems unable, or unwilling to send it to me. Richard has given the computer to his wife who now lives in the city, so I must await his daughter bring it back after her next trip to visit her mother. Richard is a glass artist and we watch his magic briefly. His work is hot.

At the pub I talk with a newcomer who is planning to build his own house about an hour's drive south of Franklin, a place called Lune River. He is a chef, but I suspect there's not much call for chefs that far from "civilisation". Richard arrives with a friend of his father from England. We have a nice chat and she remarks on the fact that in England she doesn't go to the pub as it would take far too long to be accepted. Wherever she has been in Australia, people are always willing to chat. I draw her attention to an extra difference in Tasmania. We leave our money on the bar and the bartender takes what's needed. Nobody would even dream of stealing it. The only other place I have seen this was the pub at Uraidla in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.

Wednesday 29 November 2000

Fran arrives with timber and tools to make the concrete formwork for the carport. We will locate this by placing a string across adjacent row of pier holes. Immediately we strike a snag that makes me feel completely nauseous. The pier hole at the eastern corner is well out of line with the others! I think that the only way this could have happened is if someone removed the peg and marker dye from where we had placed them. This is not characteristic of the people in our part of the Valley. 

While I feel like vomiting and am unable think, Fran and I remeasure the major corner piers and place strings across the rows of holes. Twenty minutes later the problem becomes clear. The corner hole is correctly located, but the three holes between the corners are displaced making a straight line.

Diagram of pier misalignment

What has been happening is that the displacement down slope caused by the rocks in the soil is a function of the depth at which the first rock was found. Near the surface, the rock causes a greater displacement than at depth. The second pier from the left needs to have some soil and a rock removed from the upper surface. Fran suggests shaping a piece of discarded corrugated iron to stop the soil from falling to the bottom of the hole while we do this. Even though the excavator is supposedly arriving later today, the augers are not.

While the diagram makes the situation clear, the terrain makes seeing such things far from easy. Not only does the ground have a pronounced slope, there are undulations and piles of spoil between the holes. Many of the holes, too are far from round at the surface from the necessity to angle the auger around rocks. While we could have the excavator remove the spoil now, this would potentially knock more rubbish into the holes than has happened already. Instead of barrowing the concrete to the holes, we will use a concrete pump.

Any delay in placing the concrete exposes us to the potential disaster of heavy rain washing soil into the pier holes necessitating lots of cleaning of the bottoms. When the bottom is 2 metres away, this is difficult. More on that later.

We use green timber to form the edges of the slab. While Fran agrees the $400 laser level is a neat toy, we set up a water level as it's much quicker to use. The water level is a clear plastic hose almost filled with water. One end sits in a bucket of water on a sawhorse in the middle of the carport and the other is taped to a stick with ducting tape. When the bottom of the stick is placed at the point from which you want to measure relative levels, you use a pencil to mark the water level in the hose. Moving the stick from place to place, it is easy to see how far above or below the benchmark you are.

Even though I expect the excavator to arrive, Thomas and I start digging the trench around the perimeter of the carport just in case. The excavator does arrive and the pace picks up. It keeps Thomas and I fully occupied with barrowing the spoil away using two wheelbarrows. I am an almost 50 years old tubby sedentary worker and Thomas at 15 and taller, one would have thought fitter than me. Nevertheless he has more trouble with the pace. 

Late in the day, the excavator makes the hole for the septic tank, 1.8  by 2.4 by 1.5 metres deep. Malcolm asks why we didn't build the house where the septic tank is to go. We don't strike a single rock until we reach the 1.5 metre depth!

The mesh for the carport concrete still doesn't arrive and Fran phones the supplier. They will call back! When I take the call, the supplier asks where we are located then asks me to wait while they get a pen to write it down! We will not be purchasing any more from Mitre 10 2.5 Huonville! They are far too expensive anyway.

In the evening the concrete supplier phones and apologises for not having managed a site visit yet. Everybody is flat to the boards. I ask if he works Saturdays and he says yes, but that won't help. He asks whether we need 20 or 24 something concrete and I say that the architect's documents haven't specified. He asks me to find out and let him know. I phone Michael who knows about such things and he tells me that the supplier is hinting to me that the cheaper 20 grade is good enough for the piers. Since the slab is for a carport, we can use it there as well. If it was for a house we would be required to use the stronger 24 grade even though it's more brittle and would be more likely to crack on our expansion clay.

The only reference to the type of concrete in the architect's documents is that it must have a maximum slump of 100 mm. Michael says it should have been minimum slump. My opinion of the architect goes down another few points. Last Friday, the engineer told me that the reason for the excessive quotes from the builders was because the house was designed by an architect. They automatically add a minimum of 100% to their quotes because architects make so many stupid mistakes and the cost of rectifying them is high. We have certainly found many that our architect has made and hope that we catch any more we find before we get to them. The engineer also said that since only wealthy people use architects, that's another factor in the builders padding their quotes. Michael has added that it's not unusual for the architect to take payment from the builder to inflate their already fat fee in return for recommending the builder. I already guessed that was happening when the architect quoted on the aluminium framed windows. They obviously have a similar arrangement with other suppliers!

Tomorrow we place the septic tank, dig the sullage and septic trenches, place arches and stone in the trenches, cut and place the mesh for the carport slab (when it arrives)... A lot of work! Oh, I forgot to give the building inspector his required 48 hours notice for inspecting the steel for the slab. I hope the artichokes from the garden I gave him help keep him sweet!

Thursday 30 November 2000

We start the day by slinging the polythene septic tank to the excavator. I curse that I forgot to remember how to tie a bowline knot last night. The bowline can take a very great strain but does not itself tighten and become impossible to untie. In the event, the tank is light enough that my reef knots take only a few moments to undo. When the tank is first placed on the sand I spread on the bottom of the hole it is not completely level, so we take it out and spread the sand to make it work. The second time the tank is level. The hole is backfilled with sand. The tank has a bulge that would make it difficult for the clay soil to properly fill. As well, if we ever need to remove the tank, the sand will make life simpler.

Malcolm the excavator driver is an artist! When the beginning of the trench is at what he estimates to be the correct depth he hops into it with tape measure and spirit level to confirm his estimate which is invariably correct. We set up the laser level atop my 600mm spirit level to give it sufficient height and use a stick with a pencil mark to keep the bottom of the trench exactly level from end to end. The sullage and septic effluent need to be distributed evenly, not pooling at either end or a low point.

Once a trench is dug I get Thomas to scatter gypsum (clay breaker) in the trenches at 1 kg/m2, Then I place the corrugated and perforated arches from end to end. Malcolm fills his truck with the 20mm crushed stone Stan ordered and brings the stone near the trench. Using the excavator bucket, he places a small amount of stone over the junction of the arches so they do not move when the large amount that is required is finally placed. 

The stone fills the trench to almost the tops of the arches and we we realise that 15 tonnes is not enough. Even though we only need another 10, I order 15 as there will be drainage trenches that need to be filled with stone. Any excess can be used for footpaths. Spreading the stone in the trenches is shovel work and very exhausting in the heat. Thomas's hay fever worsens; the drugs are not working and he quits for the day. Once the  stone is levelled out, I place cloth that prevents the soil topping from filling the air gaps between the stones. A few clods of earth hold the cloth in place.

I phone Stan the plumber and he arrives to inspect what we are doing. He approves and tells us to leave a couple of metres exposed at each end of the trenches and a gap 3 metres in from the end for him to connect the pipes later. He grins and  says, "I bet you appreciate not having to pay me $40 an hour to this." I agree, but the work is very hard for someone now only used to sedentary work. I had hoped for Thomas to be more help, but his hay fever is severe, mainly affecting his eyes, but also his nose and throat. The pain is preventing him from sleeping. At the end of the day, Margie brings home some new pharmaceuticals, eye drops and nasal spray. The eye drops work in less than a minute though the nasal spray is somewhat less effective.

The day ends with the stone placed, but no backfilling done yet. The steel and polythene film for the carport slab finally arrives in the afternoon! It was supposed to be Thursday! After Thomas stopped working, I went across the road to get my neighbour, Neville Walker. He is a retired policeman and he did most of the work on his own home. Unfortunately, he is at Lester Barnes' funeral which is where I would be were it not for the need to work while I have the excavator. I don't know how long it will be until I can get it back to finish the trenches for sullage and septic pipes form the house and backfilling the existing trenches.

Neville's wife Naomi tells me that Neville will be more than happy to help tomorrow. Peter has other commitments. There's actually a lot of work about at the moment and it seems that most of the reliable workers are busy.

The day was an interesting one as I had to continually think about where to place the spoil from the trenches. The shape of the landscape is changing dramatically as we go. I suspect that the garden will be one of great beauty a year or so down the track. Margie once asked me to get some huge rocks, stones in landscape gardening parlance. I refused! We now have a number of stones of varying size and I have the excavator place them. Much easier than carting them from elsewhere. One stone Malcolm tosses with the excavator lands pointy side down on another rock and sits in perfect balance. We laugh and I photograph it. Sadly, it needs to be moved again later as it is over the end of where the last sullage trench is to go. It would have been nice to have left it as a memorial to Malcolm's expertise.


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