House Update


Thursday 1 March 2001

We discover more missing information from the drawings. Specifically, there is no detail of how to attach the steel purlins to the top plates of the walls. I telephone the engineer who tells me that two roofing screws will suffice, but to ensure that we strap the top and bottom plates to the studs. I tell him most of the walls are up and levering up the bottom plates for strapping will entail removing numerous screws. He says that in that case strapping the studs on the sides will suffice.

I ask the engineer for his opinion as to the competence of the architect given the amount of information missing from the drawings. He explains that builders "know" these things and refers to the Tasmanian Timber Framing Manual. Fran and I are not impressed. We have the manual and strapping of bottoms of studs is not mentioned, (we are using double the amount of nails specified!) nor are the attachment methods for steel purlins. Additionally, I specifically told the architect the drawings were to be detailed enough for owner-building.

Since the steel cladding will provide a positive connection between the steel support beams and the walls, we can see no necessity for strapping the studs to the bottom plates. We will only strap them if the building inspector insists.

In the afternoon, the marine plywood for the gutter arrives. We weren't expecting it until Friday and since I told Brewsters that, the box of screws for the decking that were to come with plywood delivery are missing. We mistook the delivery vehicle for Michael and James who arrive half an hour later to assist with the lifting of the last big wall. We are chattering so much we start the lift without checking for obstructions and have to abandon the effort to remove two ladders and a temporary brace. The wall then goes up without too much effort and we relax over several beers and yarns about building.

Things on my to-do list include setting the plywood on edge supports with a weight in the middle to create the curve we need in the gutter. Also we need to locate another long extension ladder for when we lift the roof purlins. Michael has offered to make the laminated beam and post that will support the gutter over the front deck and offers us the use of his floor cramps. Brewsters quoted me $A484 for a stepladder long enough to change the recessed downlights in the living area. The prospect of changing light globes nearly 5 metres above the floor at age sixty four is less than enchanting!

Fran and I checked the height of the scaffold we were lent and it's 700 mm short for rockwalling the living area. We will have to build a sub scaffold of that height from timber to sit the steel scaffold on.

There are only four small walls left to frame up, so God and weather permitting, next Wednesday should see the wall framing complete.


Friday 9 March 2001

Well, a week flies by and the wall framing isn't complete. Not quite. The nail gun has been acting up as it needs new seals. They finally arrived, but as there are some 30 of them, Fran left the job of replacing them for the weekend. Most of the noggins and blocking for the floor joists are cut and ready to nail in place. A lot of builders skimp on blocking the floor joists as it's not a strict requirement of the building code. Most of the tendency of the joists to twist is taken out by the flooring nailed to the top of the joists, but by no means all. Putting the blocking between the joist centres stiffens the joists up and so the floor is not so noisy when walked on.

Thomas was home Wednesday and helped us lift the last wall into place. Then it was on to the large steel beam over the French window. We made two rope loops over the top of the wall and pulled on each rope in turn as the beam was pushed from below. There was too much friction to just raise the beam by pulling on the rope, but this was an advantage. It meant that little pulling on the rope was needed to keep the beam in place. We worked until the beam was level with the box into which we wanted to push it sideways. Unfortunately, the weight of the beam on the rope distorted the top plate and hence the box! So we tied off the ropes and pushed on the edge of the top of the box with lengths of timber and managed to get one end of the beam in place. Then a combination of a prybar and pushing with the lengths of timber finally saw it where we wanted.

This took a little over half an hour and was somewhat more difficult than I anticipated, but not so hard that it caused any distress. It was definitely better than attempting to lift the wall with the beam in place.

I used to pick apples every autumn to supplement my income. At first, picking from the top of the ladder engendered feelings of vertigo, but familiarity breeds contempt and falling from a height of 8 - 10 feet became just one of the hazards of the job. Not completely trivial -- falling on your back, a bag with 20 kg of apples in it certainly knocks the wind out of you!

This week saw me working on The House of Steel at twice the height of apple tree ladders. A height from which a fall means broken bones or worse. So I was tying the top of the ladder to the house frame to prevent it slipping while I nailed the steel strapping that ties studs to the top plate. When I was nearing the top of one climb, the ladder started to slip, so I climbed back down as fast as I could. Now I'm digging a hole for the bottom of the ladder so it can't slip.

The chipboard flooring for the bathroom, laundry and kitchen part of what is now known as The Great Hall arrived, along with the shorter screws for the corrugated iron that will go on the walls and the decking screws.

Neither the tongue and groove hardwood flooring, nor the extra steel purlins for the front deck have arrived as yet! More phone calls to make!

Next week will see the commencement of the gutter for the roof, and hopefully all the purlins for the roof will be in place. And then it's time to call Garry Lorkin to come and inspect this stage of the building. On Fran's advice, we are leaving out a row of noggins needed for one of our high walls. This will give the building inspector something to order us to do, so he won't go looking for unnecessary things for us to do. Apparently building inspectors are most unhappy if they can't find something wrong!


Sunday 18 March 2001

Fran only managed three days this week as he was not feeling well. Nevertheless, we managed to finish the wall framing and the chipboard flooring in the kitchen area, bathroom and laundry. I helped Fran with the kitchen flooring and went on to do the laundry and bathroom myself. Fran scaled the heights to measure and cut the noggins for the walls before nailing them in place. And we placed the final five plywood braces in the western end of the house.

Front view of The House of Steel with the wall framing almost complete. That's the corrugated steel cladding in the foreground. frontframe.jpg (54922 bytes)
Looking into The Great Hall from the level of the front deck, but a little beyond the deck's extent. That's my son Thomas to the right. He's close to 1.8 m (6 ft) tall.

Above the opening for the French window you can see the box for holding the 4.5 m (almost 15 ft) steel lintel.

greathallfromdeck01.jpg (64398 bytes)
Looking into Thomas's bedroom from above. I took this picture of Fran while strapping studs to top plates. from-above.jpg (62461 bytes)
View from the "main" road. The highway is 2.4 km (1.5 miles) away. mainroad01.jpg (38850 bytes)
The view from our side road. nwview01.jpg (56390 bytes)

Tuesday 20 March 2001

Fran and I set to nailing studs across the corridor of The House of Steel and using more studs laid on them as a platform. Only at the front of the house we use a trestle resting on studs where the deck is to go. Then we commenced sorting the roof purlins and bridging (stiffeners that go between the purlin centres to stop them twisting). We discover that we are short 11 purlins and that 10 purlins are a metre shorter than they should be! Nearly all of the bridges are end bridges, rather than the sort that chain together. The labelling of the bridges bear no resemblance to the labels the Stramit salesperson put on my plan so we could easily assemble the roof.

I phone Stramit, and I receive a return phone call from the chap who worked all this out for us. He says he tried to get us to have an engineer work out what we needed. Neither Fran nor I remember this, but we have him coming tomorrow to sort things out. I don't want to blame anyone. Almost everything to do with building The House of Steel so far has not gone according to plan. (Now why does this remind me of the computer industry?) All I want is a solution.

I have read extensively on the subject of owner building and while it was interesting, there was nothing in what I read to prepare me for what has happened.  The only book I found that might have helped is available via the Internet, but only for delivery to US addresses! I emailed the seller, but have yet to receive a reply.


Wednesday 21 March 2001

The chap who munged the steel order didn't turn up "first thing" as promised, or phone. When I phoned him in the afternoon, he said he was too busy in an important meeting yada, yada, yada... Meanwhile Fran and I put up quite a few of the steel purlins for The House of Steel -- and it looks beautiful.


Friday 23 March 2001

Well, the Stramit person turned up, managed to admit his mistake, a mistake by the dispatcher and work out a compromise for fixing things up. He can supply us with all but one of the purlins we need from stock available in Tasmania and that we will have to wait for one of the purlins and the bridging as they need to come from the mainland. We agree to use the purlins that are one metre too short for the front bedroom, reducing the roof overhang and dock the spare bedroom/office purlins to match those over Thomas's bedroom. He takes some time to work out what we need and we add an extra roll of strapping to the order. The cost of this mistake comes to $A465! So much for the discount on the original order! I pay this extortion just to get rid of the bastard!

Stramit salesperson wants us to put the useless bridging that was delivered on the truck that delivers the materials. Fran suggests that we keep it in case we need something from it and we will return and pay for what we don't use. "Payment won't be necessary," avers the salesman. How kind since I had already paid for everything and what has just been ordered was what was missing from the original order!

The steel salesman said that as a salesman it's not his job to work out for clients what their needs are, it's the architects and engineers. And he didn't like wasting his time on piddly jobs like this when he usually spends it selling 40 tonne loads of steel to clients. I told him that the engineers had told me it was the builder's job, and since I'm the builder, I had asked him to do it as the architect had failed to indicate on the plans what was required. The architect had left me in a no-win loop.

Mr Stramit sales person said that we should have hired a competent architect. I didn't bother to tell him that someone in his company had recommended the architect we used, possibly even himself. He was far too busy giving us the benefit of his superior wisdom! He explained that most builders hire a specialist with computer software that automates the process and a typical building might take the specialist an hour or two at a cost of several hundred dollars. I don't mind telling you that it's not rocket science, doesn't require computer software and might take an absolute beginner half a day with a four function calculator checking every calculation four or five times.

The salesman continued his diatribe against the likes of Fran and myself for something like 30 minutes (despite our being "small beer" compared to his 40 tonne clients). I'm not exactly sure if he actually knew he was insulting us or not. His opinion is that only "qualified" people should be allowed to build houses. I pointed out that the reason I had asked Fran to help me was that he has a superb reputation among his clients, unlike many "qualified" tradesmen, and I was saving some $A150,000 into the bargain. He wasn't able to satisfactorily explain quite what benefits I would have gained by borrowing the extra $A150,000. So I will enumerate them:

  1. The walls would have been single studs, rather than doubles, so the walls on the weather side would have flexed in the wind.
  2. The roof purlins would have been 100 mm (4 in) deep instead of 150 mm (6 in). And there would have been no bridging. Likely the roof would have blown away in a gale.
  3. We would have needed to install a pump to move the effluent from the septic tank into the soakage trench.

Actually, it's more likely that these errors in the architect's drawings would have been picked up by a competent builder. But then that builder would be charging extra for these "necessary" changes to the design.

After the steel salesman had left, Fran reminded me of when we were at Stramit in Hobart and the oh-so-clever salesperson had muttered that he should be being paid $400/hr for what he was doing for us. That gave us a good laugh!

Fran regaled me with stories about what he had found "qualified" builders doing to decrease costs and maximise profits:

All these buildings were inspected and passed as satisfactory by "qualified" building inspectors.

It's my firm belief that certification is a method devised to enable incompetents to gain protection from corrupt officials. The truly competent are sought after based on the work they have done and need no professional body to get them more work.

All that aside, the higher quality and lower cost of The House of Steel is less important to me than the sheer pleasure of accomplishment I feel being an owner builder. And working with people who derive their pleasure from pride of workmanship rather than merely counting the dollars.


Tuesday 27 March 2001

The urgently needed steel arrived today. All we are waiting for now is the extra 4.3m purlin and the replacement bridging.


Wednesday 28 March 2001

First we moved yesterday's steel delivery from the side of the road up to the house. Then Fran and I finished putting the purlins over The Great Hall. We could only place the purlins adjacent to the central gutter after that, pending the arrival of the bridging and one additional purlin. We managed to place about half the curved gutter supports before our tired bodies declared beer o'clock. At times the lengthy process of building such a difficult house has led me to wish I had insisted on a more straightforward design, but seeing the roof purlins in place has changed all that. The soaring ceiling of The Great Hall is perfect for such a large space.

Tomorrow I will ask the building inspector if he can do a partial inspection of the framing so we can start the roofing of The Great Hall and putting the marine plywood on the gutter framing.


Thursday 29 March 2001

Both Fran and I have the dreaded lurgi and after three hours, finish for the day. The council building inspector said it was OK to go ahead putting the roof on without a framing inspection providing we have cyclone straps in place. When I ask Fran about cyclone straps he shows me one. They are for bonding wooden roof trusses to the top plate. I suspect we'd have trouble driving nails into high tensile steel, so I'll ignore the inspector's advice for the moment.


Friday 30 March 2001

A difficult day suffering the effects of cold/flu virus. To add insult to injury, a bumble bee stung me when I put my hand in my pocket. Over a period of years keeping bees, I became allergic to all hymenoptera stings, so I applied vinegar to the sting site and took homeopathic apis. While there are many excellent reasons why homeopathic doesn't work, I prefer the allergic reaction to be localised rather than involve the whole limb, which is what happens when I don't take it.

Despite the inauspicious start to the day, Tony welded up the purlins for the front deck and Fran and I worked at getting the curved beams for the gutter finished. This entailed installing the laminated wooden post and beam to support the front. I sanded the beams while Fran made ready and as usual, Fran devised a simple arrangement of timber to locate the post correctly.

Swinging around the structure 5 metres (16 ft) above the ground amplified the flu-induced vertigo. Nevertheless I managed to apply a thorough coating of epoxy waterproofing compound while Fran and Tony packed their stuff for the weekend.

Walking down the driveway, I stood and turned to look at the day's work. The house is stunningly beautiful -- like a great ocean wave! Part of the effect is caused by the repetitious elements of the roof purlins, the curved gutter beams and the way they catch the late afternoon sunshine.

Photographs are more than a week away I'm afraid. I'm shooting Fujichrome transparencies with my old Pentax SLR -- my budget doesn't stretch to a reasonable digital camera and I'm not about to buy a low end digital. The transparencies are scanned with my Canon FS2710 scanner, currently on loan to a friend. In return, I get a rack mount SCSI box filled with 10,000 rpm Seagate Barracudas. You know, the original ones that sound like a helicopter taking off. I guess that means I'll be building a server closet when I finish the new office.


Saturday 31 March 2001

What a day! There's been a flurry of visitors (6) to ogle The House of Steel and all were suitably impressed. The owner-builders agreed that owner-building resulted in a much better outcome than just paying someone to do the job, mainly on the grounds of quality workmanship. One of the visitors had Fran as worker over several years and regretted having once engaged someone else. Fran's wife was also a visitor, and she told us that Fran has had some fervent prayers to God over some of the issues we have faced. While Fran has absolute faith in his God, I have absolute faith in Fran's abilities to come up with the creative solutions we have needed.


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