Monday, 30 September 2013

No progress - L - on the house at least - but while we have been waiting on the weather to stop raining and for our workmen to be ready to help us...we have been busy around the rest of the block - burying the leach drains, tiling the shed bathroom, getting more gutters up etc.

 Must admit, I loved the tiling - it was great fun J!

So - a lesson in patience with house progress - I guess it won't be the last...


Thursday, 19 September 2013

And here we are people – this is what you call a work of art – or a sand pad finished if you insist!
Isn’t she beautiful?


And this is the lovely Soul – Wally’s offsider – he’s been a fantastic friend for us and our kids, as has his mother, Ella J.


We have the engineer compaction certificate too – all 8’s; 9’s; 10’s; 11 and 12 – that is good apparently!  So Yay!!
There’s been a few rain delays to get this far (and today might be another one...) – but we should have the set out done by this weekend – ready for the concreter (he already has our plans – so he can plan;-) and plumber – and this certain sparky we know!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

When it rains, it ponds!

Wally is not happy with the pools of water that have formed from the overflow of our spoon drain to the north (uphill) – so tomorrow he will lengthen the spoon drain to get the flow around the outside of the house pad.
 One more day of earthworks and we should be all done J. 
Next steps – engineer compaction test and house plan set-out so we can – guess! – you’ll never guess!! – dig holes – (for footings, plumbing, electrics) – yay, more digging!!! 
Might even add another spoon drain or two - or some ag pipe along the north eh?


Friday, 13 September 2013

Day 2 of house pad – more digging...after a delayed start because the truck had a flat.
Day 3 – all go – lots more digging and lots(!!) of sand fill coming in – heaps more than I ever thought.  Our contractor struck some clay (which we knew was under there) – but he was just a bit worried – as is good, better to sort it out now than get a house pad that moves.  A quick call to the engineer to double check he was still happy with a 400mm sand pad – no problems because a strawbale home is lighter than traditional brick houses – yay.

Day 4 – more of the same – after plenty of digging (we’ve got a patch of heavy gravel too, now a huge pile of gravel!) – it’s now time to fill it back in!  There are already 22 truck loads of sand here – and plenty more to come!
 Plus we got one extra little surprise – there appears to be some subsurface water weeping through some rocks in one corner – so we are now the proud owners of some subsurface drainage so we don’t get waterlogging of the foundations!  All good J.
Interestingly the building schedule of a typical suburban house suggests that only one day would be required for earthworks – we are hoping 6 will see it sorted.  Now to see if that equates to 6 times the cost, eh?  We have chosen not to get firm quotes for lots of the work because we have faith in our contractors that they will do an exceptional job for a fair price.  They have mostly all worked with our building supervisor before so he knows their ball park figures compared to others.  Now we understand this *will* lead to some surprises – compared to the professional estimate that we got to cost out our house (great service from Dave Miller at Lakes Estimating) – but the jobs need to be done and we are happy to pay for quality at this end of the build.  We can economise somewhat at the other end and get some things  more ‘rustic’ ;-) but quality in the foundations is essential.
We did actually get a quote from our earthworking contractor for our shed pad and that was more than fair – so we really do not have any concerns.  And a nicer bloke than Wally Duma from Dunsborough Earthmoving would be very hard to meet!


Monday, 9 September 2013

Day 1 of house pad - hole dug and hole filling in.

Check รพ

There is no turning back now J!


We met with Richard, our building supervisor this week – and it has got me thinking!  That is always a good thing!!
Here’s what I am thinking - Things to remember!

·        The environment – choose wisely, it may cost more in the beginning, but it will pay for itself in the long run. 

·        The environment – build strongly – using materials is only ever going to be environmentally friendly if they last a long time and you avoid the ‘throw away’ mentality

·        The environment – quicker is not often better – have patience!  (so not my strong point so remind me again and again!)

·        The environment – refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle – in that order.  Keeping this in mind has guided our house planning – refusing to be seduced by gimmicks and gadgets and reducing our wants to our needs – but I need to remember it with choosing building materials too – it is proving too easy to just think (when you are tired) “Just go get what is available” and not remember these principles because they take a bit more thinking and doing.
Life is a long learning curve – I’m happy to oblige :-)

Saturday, 7 September 2013

BUILDING 101 – dig a hole (if in doubt dig it bigger and in the rain so it is muddy and fills with lots of water!), put something in it, then fill it back in!
That’s about how to build a shed so far!  I am assuming that is how we will be building a house too ;-)

Site works for our sunny strawbale house are due to start next week.  We have our Owner-Builder sign on the front fence, we have our insurances paid up and we are ready to dig!
Yep, there’s more digging to be done!!!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Waiting with bated breath for the shire to confirm they would approve our plans was a bit nerve racking – we don’t have a plan B!
One week later, I get a letter – oh, no not a happy letter - a letter with 5 items that need more information!  Thankfully, 3 items were just clarification from our plans, one item for the structural engineer to clarify, and one measurement required = all quite easy and sorted within a day J.

So we keep waiting and they call us after another week and ask if I can send dimensions of the setbacks of the buildings (we included the boundary set backs we need to keep within but being rural residential we also needed to keep all buildings within 2000m2).  I got the trusty long tape measure out and took some guesstimates – and it looked to me like it would take us to 3000m2 – not happy Jan L!  So I spent a worried night about what we would do – we would have to cut down 5 trees to get within 2000m2 L ... but all good (phew!) because when I gave the measurements to the building surveyor, he calculated it to all fit in 1800m2 (I think by not having to include the rainwater tank as I did) – so we were good to go again.
Another week of waiting and we then received an email to say we needed two septic applications as we are having two systems (one for the shed and one for the house) – so overnight I fill the second one in (identical to the first ;-) !) – add the two site plans with plenty of dimensions and deliver that!

And...that afternoon.....we get a phone call to say the building approval will be in the mail on Monday!!! 
Yay us!!!

It is only the building approval – not the septics – they need to come and do a soil/site inspection for that – so hopefully next week we will be good to go, go, Gomez!!!  Hopefully, they haven’t put too many conditions on the building approval too...but...
Biggest Yay!!!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

So we finally had a house design that fit our list as best I could and that our strawbale builder supervisor was happy would be achievable for us to owner-build.  Now to get the plans to council – well, drawn up first - so here comes the draughtsman and structural engineer.
We worked with Geoff Brierely – a local, very experienced draughtsman who had already done some strawbale drawings with our building surpervisor so we had a great process.  We really appreciated how Geoff checked our room sizes and made sure this plan really was what we wanted (maybe he had heard about my 100+ drafts ;-).  A few weeks later, we had plans ready to go to the structural engineers, then they would be ready to go to council (with the other paperwork they require of course).

Now we had a little hiccough here, with missed emails (internet down), so our engineering took a few weeks longer than it would have otherwise – lesson learned – check your communication has got through!!!  After that was sorted, Roger Pateman at Margaret River Structural Engineering got them done (again, he had already done plenty of local strawbale houses) and we were ready to go!!! 

So we had done our bit and got the bushfire rating, septic application and electrical plans done – and we put them into the local shire on 18/7/2013 – and sent out our request for prayers and good wishes that they get through!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

We found it impossible to get anyone to ‘do’ our house design for us.  We had approached that architect who didn’t follow through on our meeting and we had actually worked with a greensmart house designer for several weeks – who in the end admitted they didn’t like strawbale at all so we parted ways (interestingly they had previously designed a strawbale home...). 
The Your Home Technical Manual published by the Australian government is actually a very good guide for building green (read this too!) and guided a lot of our materials selection – but it was Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language that really showed me how to incorporate our needs and wants into a passive solar home that will ‘feel’ right too – that and running my 100’s of versions past our permaculture designer and strawbale builder supervisor – they set me on the straight and narrow when I was getting way off course – thankfully!!

We actually had what I thought was a pretty straight forward list of requirements for our ideal house:

©      Rectangle shape and simple roof for bushfire safety and ease of building
©      Distinct front door
©      Kitchen with morning sunlight
©      Pantry on the south
©      ‘Water’ rooms grouped
©      Private parents’ area
©      Symmetry (it’s just the way my brain works!)
©      Reading nooks
©      Solar pergola
It really did seem simple enough to me – why couldn’t someone help us with it?  But it didn’t happen, and when we left to move down here and were still nowhere near having any plans to get drawn up, I just had to accept that it would happen in its own time.  We had already worked out (we might have been a bit slow on the uptake here I think ;-) that it we really needed to be down south, to be part of the community, meet people and find people to work with - so this was just part of it.
And being part of the community, meeting people and finding people to work with us, has been really easy now we are down here!  Go figure!!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Getting over owner-builder phobia when you really don’t want to build was a two-fold method for me. 
Firstly I have educated myself to remove some of the fear – the Owner-Builder course at Home Base Expo was perfect for this and invaluable for understanding so much more (we actually had already attended the ‘building with a builder’ one – fantastic and highly recommended too – even for owner-builders we reckon), plus of course plenty of reading online (Andrew Morrison’s again – great DVD series!), books from the library and talking to people who have built before.

Second – we just didn’t have a choice, if I wanted strawbale in our location, it would have to be owner-built – so big girl knickers and get on with it!

And that was that. 
Plus I had plenty of other things that needed doing anyway – like working through that house designing process for 18 months when what I really wanted was for the house to be completely built before we left town – yeah right!

Monday, 2 September 2013

So how did we come to want to build a strawbale house?  It was always my ideal, I just liked the idea of using a natural waste product to super-insulate a house, but my hubby was in no way convinced.
Until we met with the local permaculture designer down here that is – who, surprise surprise, happens to live in a strawbale house and has done for over 20 years.  Their current strawbale house is definitely ‘modern’ and very well finished – from the outside it looks like any other (better than others actually).  It is 'normal' looking (nothing way out or hippy) – so you really don’t know you are looking at a strawbale house until you are inside and told – shown the truth windows in the wall and the roof – yes the roof is strawbale too!

I was onto a winner here finding Warwick and Gillian Rowell.  We visited and talked designing our house and garden – Warwick put me onto Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language (the best book ever for understanding our built environment and why it makes us feel good or bad – borrow it from your library and read it!) – and while we were talking, my hubby kept looking around and saying “I can’t believe this is a strawbale house”.  He was expecting a three little pigs and big bad wolf makeup I think!
So he was sold on the idea – yay for me!  Every other eco-building idea is not too far off the beaten track so they were no problem – plus we came to the conclusion that the house was mine to design, the shed was his! 

Meeting Warwick and Gillian was a double win though, because their son, Richard Rowell, just happens to run “Your Building Company” – working specifically to help strawbale owner-builders get the house of their dreams.  Plus they all lived locally so had the perfect local knowledge.  It looked like it was all going to come together nicely – but I still wasn’t comfortable with building (I wanted to go with a builder who would do ‘the lot’ remember) – so the idea of being an owner-builder just wasn’t on my radar!
And it has taken me a good while to get over it!!