House Update


Tuesday 9 January 2001

It's been a while since I posted. It's not so much that nothing has been happening, but that they were only small and occasional things (the timber arrived, the drill bit arrived...) until today.

I was promised a loan of an angle grinder, but that failed to materialise, so I cut the 16mm threaded rod with a hacksaw. I was told that embedding the rod 150 mm into the concrete would be sufficient, so I decided to go in 200 mm. I have a friend, Franco, who went to Queensland to build houses. The builders there laughed at him for the way he tied roofs onto frames and frames onto foundation. Along comes a cyclone (hurricane) and  the houses Franco built kept their roofs. None of the "properly" built ones did.

My son Thomas helped me mark on the piers with a wax crayon where the steel posts would attach. Then I had him bore an 8 mm guide hole to make boring the 16 mm hole more accurate. It's far easier to keep a small diameter bit on track than a larger one.


Wednesday 10 January 2001

Last week Thomas and I used the water level to locate the relative heights of all the piers. So the first thing I have Tony do today is cut the pipe to length for each pier. Then he attaches the footplates he made. The shorter pipes he just balances on the footplate, but the taller ones need me to hold them as a breeze has sprung up.

While Tony is cutting, Thomas uses a piece of flexible plastic tubing to blow the concrete dust out of the holes I bored.

Thomas and I mix epoxy for gluing the rod into the holes I bored this morning before anyone else was awake. Well, they woke up when I started drilling; hammer drills are noisy! If you are only used to "domestic" epoxy, you are in for a surprise. This is very liquid stuff, not a stiff paste that's mainly inert filler. Mixing it is quick. The containers cannot be glass, waxed paper or foam. I chose clear disposable plastic drinking "glasses". I marked the height to 125 ml on the side and used a 10 ml plastic hypodermic syringe to measure the hardener. Various speeds of hardener are available dependant on the conditions you expect to encounter. We used slow because the weather is hot.

Working with poisonous materials requires attention to safety: goggles and gloves.

I guesstimated the amount to pour into each hole. Having a hypodermic syringe for each batch would have enabled me to be more economical, but we used only 625 ml of resin on 62 holes. Immediately after pouring, I drove the rod into the hole with a sledgehammer while Thomas held a billet of scrap timber to protect the rod from damage. The idea is to have enough resin in the hole that it oozes out at the top when the rod has been driven home. The setting of the resin is accelerated by the material in the hole so don't try pouring it in a lot of holes and going back to drive the rods. Dipping the rod in the resin also accelerates the setting of the resin.

After this, Thomas gets the job of first knocking the flux off the welds and then washing the footplates with detergent to remove the oil Tony used while boring the holes. After every pole is finished, Thomas's job is to paint the welds and plates with cold galvanising paint.

At almost $A20 per metre, the tubing we are using for poles is too expensive to throw away! I finalise the redesign of the carport by calculating the available material left. Welding the leftover pieces of pipe together, for the last three poles at the back end of the carport, we have less than half a metre left over.


Thursday 11 January 2001

Today we got the poles up and commenced putting the beams on. Here's what we started with, jealously guarded by Ricky the Wonderdog in case someone decides to run off with a piece.  The steel we started with, ably assisted by Ricky the Wonderdog
Tony welds pipe together.  Tony welds pipe together
And this is what's left over.  Scraps of leftover pipe
Thomas scrubs the oil from the bottom plates.  Thomas scrubs oil from the base plates
The pipes are in place.  The pipes are all in place
The pipes are only roughly aligned. Packing pieces made from scraps of masonite are wedged under the plates to bring them into complete verticality.  The pipes before final adjustments
The pipes are held down by studs made from threaded rod epoxied in place.  The studs that hold the pipes in place
The first beam being welded in place.  The first beam being welded in place
The second beam is in place.  The second beam is in place

And these are the welds.

Weld at top of pipe Beam join ground off smooth Pipe join ground off smooth
top of pipe beam join ground off smooth pipe join ground off smooth

Only the exposed beams at the front and back of the house will need the welds ground smooth.

After we have finished the steelwork, it will be time to deal with the floor joists and timber framing for the walls.  The timber awaits its turn

Thursday 18 January 2001

Monday and yesterday were too wet for welding. Not serious rain, but the flux on the welding rods becomes conductive when they are moist. A bit hard to weld straight when you get electric shocks!

The House of Steel is more fun now that it's taking shape. But there are also logistical problems that I didn't anticipate. Like, the steel beams aren't exactly straight. And welding angle iron on a beam warps both the angle iron and the beam while they're being welded together. Heat expands metal. I was very pleased with myself when I laid out where the piers go that the building was within 1% of square. Now it's shimming here and tugging there to pull everything into shape. All interacting so that the end result is an approximation of the original concept. But it's a house, not a piano. It doesn't need to be accurate within a millimetre.

Building a real house sure is different to building one with toy blocks.

We should have the welding of the beams to the pier poles finished today and I will commence cutting the floor joists. I desperately want to order the steel roof purlins and the steel for cladding. But there's a fly in the ointment. Two of the plans have the roof purlins as C100 (100 mm depth) and two have them as C150 (150 mm depth). Neither specify the width! And despite several phone calls, the engineers do not return my phone calls!

Probably the most frustrating aspect of building is this persistent not returning phone calls by most businesses I contact! Perhaps they are all making far too much money to be bothered with a humble owner-builder like me.


Friday 19 January 2001

The engineer phoned and I now know that my roof purlins need to be C150 19. The 19 he told me refers not to the width as I thought, but the gauge of the steel. In this instance 1.9 mm. He also told me that I need bridging on the the purlins. This is not indicated in the architect's drawings! On a long span, the purlin can twist. The roofing iron stabilises one edge and the bridging is used to stabilise the lower edge. Glad I discovered that. I need a stable roof; this is a high wind prone area. Mariners don't refer to our latitude as the Roaring Forties for no reason.

Yesterday, I forgot to mention that Thomas suffered an accident that could have been far worse. We placed a beam on the poles and I had to return to the cottage for something before it could be welded in place. A gust of wind blew the beam from the pole onto Thomas's foot. One tends to think that the weight of the beam was such that this couldn't happen. Important house building rule: Never stand where things can fall on you.

Today I ordered the steel, discussed with Fran how to attach the floor joists and I put Cold Galv on the welds after Thomas washed the beams with detergent. Tomorrow we buy paint for the steel. Fran is to start the wall framing Wednesday.


Monday 22 January 2001

Yesterday, Margie and Thomas painted the steel with primer. Today, Thomas and I put on the oil-based enamel. It's a shade of blue close to cerulean.

Stramit quoted $A7,873 for the purlins, corrugated zincalume, strapping, bridging and screws. My original estimate, before I knew about the need for bridging was around $A12,000. Lisa from Stramit is going to visit the site before they deliver. She offered us an excellent discount for the size of the order. What an excellent person!


Wednesday 24 January 2001

Today, Fran, Thomas and I started the floor joist install. This started slowly with the setting of stringlines and checking of squareness and levelness. Fran complimented me on how close to true it all is; much more accurate than a professional builder would have bothered to achieve.

Once we are sure where everything has to go we commence. Fran cut the joists to length and notched the ends. The offcut was used to make packing pieces to lift the top of the joists clear of the top of the Tek screws holding the joists in place.

Joist fixing method (not to scale)

Thomas and I drilled the holes in the steel where Fran had used a centre-punch to get the drill started. We drilled a small pilot hole first before finishing off the hole at the correct diameter for the Tek screws. Tek screws are the self-drilling sort with a washer designed to hold zincalume sheet in place. I placed them with my new power screwdriver, taking the opportunity to test its ability to apply the correct amount of torque. This will be essential when we are putting in the screws on the roofing and walling. There, if the washer is not compressed, water will be able to penetrate and if it's over compressed will tear, again allowing water to penetrate.

Drilling holes in high tensile steel takes some effort. Both Thomas and I managed to break a drill bit each. Between Fran and myself we had enough bits for the day, but Fran will buy more for tomorrow on the way here.

The weather was decidedly threatening to rain, so Fran rigged a tarpaulin on the carport frame. We kept our tools in a wheelbarrow while not in use, ready to move them quickly under cover. We ended up having a modest shower that lasted about 15-20 minutes. It's important not to use electrically powered tools in the rain. Apart from the risk of receiving a potentially fatal electric shock, modern electronically controlled tools are vulnerable to damage from quite modest leakage of current where it's not welcome.

Seeing the floor joists in place starts to create a feeling for the space in the house. It's about 40% larger than the cottage. The feelings are an equal mixture of tired and exhilaration.


Thursday 25 January 2001

Fran cuts and places joists. We both carry them from the bank where they were put when delivered. I drill holes. By 4:30 we are both feeling tired, so we call it a day and survey the day's handiwork. Around 70% of the joists are in place and we are happy. Fran won't be back tomorrow as it's a public holiday and his wife asked him to not work. There are plenty of holes for me to bore and fill with screws before the next stage: framing the walls. 

It's 19 years to the day since we moved here. I forgot about that until I wrote these notes.


Saturday 27 January 2001

Some pictures:

The carport is taking shape. Rigidity will be provided by the steel purlins to support the roof, the corrugated steel sheeting that will cover the rear and right hand end, and diagonal bracing on the rear and right hand end. carport.jpg (54172 bytes)
The joists are local hardwood and 160 mm by 45 mm on 450 mm spacing. joists.jpg (61055 bytes)
Here's a detail showing the lower packing piece that holds the joist at the correct height. joist_detail.jpg (40027 bytes)
And this is the writer drilling holes in the underside of a beam.  drilling.jpg (57656 bytes)

Monday 29 January 2001

Stramit phoned to ask about details of the bridging we ordered. "What details?" I ask. "Oh there are ends and intermediate pieces, individual lengths, where do we need the holes punched etc." Gulp! We are off to visit them tomorrow.


Tuesday 30 January 2001

Fran and I went to visit Stramit and we were given an informative lesson on how the bits and pieces of bridging work. There's a beginning that bolts onto a purlin in prepunched holes and then the intermediate bridges just snap onto each other as each purlin is added to the row. Like a giant Meccano set in a way (if you are old enough to remember what Meccano was). Then the salesperson grabs the copy of the plans we brought and proceeds to demonstrate how the length of the individual bridges is worked out. It's not complicated. You just work out where the centres of the purlins at each end of a roof fall, then divide the distance between them to get as near as to the nominal spacing required by the engineers, building inspector et alia. Despite the simplicity of this, the salesperson mutters under his breath that he should be being paid $400/hr for doing this. Fran and I can barely suppress our mirth!

I ask if what I already paid is enough and the salesman says yes. I ordered the correct quantity and the cutting to length and punching of holes is included in the price.

We are really looking forward to implementing this excellent method of building roofs -- it seems very straightforward. Only problem is, we were told the bridging and purlins are made up on the mainland and it's some weeks until the materials will arrive. Ah well! There's plenty for us to do in the meantime.


Wednesday 31 January 2001

Yesterday we finished the floor joists and today was time for the complicated bit: wall framing. Six of the load bearing wall frames are to have curved tops that are an arc of a circle 30 m (100') radius. After poring over the drawings for half an hour we finally had a plan of attack. Along the way we discovered a 150 mm (6") error in wall height on a drawing and that in calculating the height of the back row of poles I had made an error! They are 750 mm too high! Aaargh! I phoned Tony who kindly said that, "Every one's entitled to a mistake". But this is my third! Of course the mistake in the drawing is at least the 15th made by the architect, so that makes me feel better.

We placed some sheets of plywood on the floor joists, so we have something to both lay the wall timber on while we nail it and also to draw lines. We set out two lines at right angles then I put a steel star post in the ground 30 m away from where the top of the wall would fall. Fran tried to draw an arc with the fibreglass measuring tape, but the breeze kept changing the tension and hence the length. Substituting the tape with a length of electric fence line worked much better. It's nylon with interwoven stainless steel wire strands.

Both the top and bottom of this, the longest and tallest wall, require us to make the top and bottom plates from two pieces of timber end to end. This affects the curve in the top plate by flattening it where the join is made by battening to a short length of timber. We measure the departure from the curve where the steel roof purlins fall so we can put a packing piece atop the plate.

We work slowly and carefully as this wall will act as a template for the other walls. Even if the top plate is not a perfect arc of a 30 m radius circle, each of the other walls will be identical curves so it won't matter. Snapping the top plate onto the studs is easy for all but the last stud. We will use a pull-along for that one. The top plates will be strapped to the studs with steel tape to ensure they do not come adrift.

I am grateful for the nail gun that is driven by compressed air. When I worked as a builders' labourer in the 1960s we used hammers. Framing up with green timber, that's not too bad. This is the now mandatory kiln-dried hardwood and driving nails into it with a hammer is almost impossible without drilling. Even some of the nails driven by the gun wander to the side through the grain of the timber.


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