Sunday, 16 November 2008

18 - The Back Stairs

One of the main things required for a recently moved house that has landed on high stumps is a set of stairs. We needed them to travel from the back deck down to the ground in the direction of the future kitchen gardens. This is required for many reasons but the most important being to facilitate those last minute dashes in the dark to collect parsley, basil, coriander, thyme, curry tree leaves or some other crucial addition to an already cooking meal. In keeping with the style of the house we wanted these back stairs to be made from wood. With everything else going on we hadn’t given a high priority to stairs until we got a phone call from one of the carpenters we tried to entice out here to work on the roof and the front verandah all those months ago. He fixed up a moved house down the road and so we were keen to have him look in on our little adventure, but alas, he was way too busy. His phone call, expressing his sort of availability had us scrambling for something for him to do, as most things were done and mostly by us. Then it hit us - stairs. We can’t build wooden stairs. They need to be straight and square and safe, all the things that my style of work doesn’t do well.

So stairs it was. He came along and asked us what we wanted. We went with elaborate. Rather than having the stairs running straight down from a platform attached to the deck we preferred them coming down from the deck and then hitting an independent platform and doing a right angle down to the ground. A little pricier this way but who’s counting? Oh the side of this blog has a running budget so I guess this blog is counting. Anyway, figure of speeches aside, we thought it would look and feel and work better so that is what we went with. The carpenter squeezed the job in over a few weeks, I think it took about 4 days work in the end. We love the result. We will paint them in the next few days. I think the pictures say a lot so I’ll stop writing except for the cost, which came in at around $5500. For the joy they are bound to bring I consider this very worth it.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

17 - The Catch Up

Alright time for a catch up. I have been awfully slack with updating this blog. There are a few reasons for this the main one is of course that I have been up to my eyes in house related activities for the last few months. Every weekend is filled up by filling the gaps left by dwindling finances and busy trades people on other jobs. We have been doing all sorts of things we would have previously preferred other more seemingly skilled people to tackle. Here is an update post or two or three that will hopefully and adequately bring my very patient, yet no doubt dwindling, audience up to speed with the goings on of the last 2 months or so.

The Roof and Tie-Downs

Following close behind the verandah work was that done with the roof. We finally found someone local who said they would do the elusive ‘tie downs’. These two words had done their best at keeping any excitement on our parts over the whole ‘we have just moved a nice house onto a nice property’ well under control. For months this concept of tie downs and exactly what they meant for us and our house consumed our thoughts and made for confusing and awkward conversations with a collection of carpenters, handymen, relatives and friends. We finally found someone who first knew what needed to be done to improve the wind rating of the roof, second could fit in such a job over a few weekends and third was a really nice person. He and his colleague started work. They discovered that the roof needed more then they first thought. It was old and required more batons and other supporting bits and pieces. Then they discovered that the house movers had not done the best of jobs in placing the roofing iron back on. It was all crooked and the ridge capping did not fit well. The end result was that they stayed for a week and fixed everything roof wise up. They strengthened and straightened the roof, replaced the ridge capping, and patched up the gutters. We were happy with the result and noticed a big difference. The cost was $4400 -hefty but necessary.

Vermin Proofing

Following the roof work the house was left with a number of gaps between the top of the external walls and the roof. There was about a 2 inch gap running along the north side of the house. The rest of the gaps here and there were due to missing or damaged weatherboards from the rough and ready house move. Some of these I located around the house and nailed them back into place. With others I found that I had to buy some replacement weather boards whose profile was similar to those on the house already. Anyway when this job was finally done we could begin on replacing the ceiling and insulating.

The Ceiling and Insulation

Well it looks like we finally found a use for plasterboard – the ceiling. I know, I know, what about my strong feelings? Well a few factors worked in together to enhance plasterboard’s election campaign. Firstly, when painted, it looks like the fibro sheeting that was removed from the ceiling in the first place. I kept all the cover strips that covered the joins in the fibro and we wanted to recreate the exact look. Secondly the plasterboard it is so cheap it hurts not to consider it, considering the diminishing pile of funds we have. We got enough for the entire house, delivered on site, for just under $800. And thirdly it will be quick to put up. Time has become an increasingly important element in this whole house business. The longer it seems to take the less we feel we have to spare.

It is a lot easier to install ceiling insulation as the ceiling goes in. Because of this we had to up our decision making speed on what to use. This was quite a process. We were just going to go with fiberglass bats because of the cost and light weight etc. Then we were turned off fiberglass as we were suspicious of its long term health affects and it’s itchy. Then we thought we’d get wool. Then we noticed that the wool was expensive. Then we also noticed that it had to have a large amount of polyester in it to keep its spring. Then we thought why not cut out the wool and just go with the polyester. Then we did just that. The product we chose was Green Stuf .

Alright back to the ceiling. I employed the services of a local handyman and hired a wind up lifty thing from a building hire place and went to work one weekend. Between the three of us we got the lot up. I’m glad we hired the plasterboard lift we would not have been able to do it otherwise considering the height of the ceilings, the size of the rooms, and the limited number of our limbs. The thing that burnt up the time was that we wanted to cover the joins in the cover strips we kept in the same patterns that were there before. To do this we had to cut every piece of plasterboard that went up, length ways. Now we are left with very little plastering work so I guess it evens out. As this goes to two finger type, we have not yet attempted to attach the recycled cornices or cover strips. More on that as it happens.

Moving and Separating the Toilet and the Bathroom

Before this though, we decided to move the bathroom to where the laundry was on the back deck. We were going to do this in a few years time but with the news of another baby on the way we thought we’d do it now. This will free up a room inside the house for activities such as sewing, office work and things like that. In about 8 years that room will probably become a child’s bedroom.

The laundry was large enough to split into a separate toilet and bathroom. We prefer that in a house. One need not poo where one bathes. Jan built an internal wall and we cut a hole out of the external wall with a circular saw to match a nice narrow secondhand door we purchased for $40. So now we have a bathroom and a toilet opening out onto the deck. It seems rather nice to leave the house momentarily, cross a small part of the deck and enter the bathroom or toilet room. The laundry had been lined in asbestos sheeting that was removed before the move. This made things easier as far as building walls and cutting into other walls goes.

The wall builder

The wall

We decided to line the walls of the bathroom and toilet with VJ paneling. It is about 9mm thick and 1200mm by 2400mm and cost about 55 clams each. We needed nine. The walls were insulated before the paneling went on and the whole thing is being done at the moment on free weekends along with tens of other projects. For these few walls we used fibreglass batts.

Meanwhile I removed all the floor and wall tiles in the old bathroom, which, turns out, was always a bathroom. This was an awful, awful job. With a demolition mallet in one hand, a crowbar in the other, and asbestos proof mask and suit on, in case the sheeting under the tiles warranted such armoury, I methodically bashed and bashed and peeled and broke my way through. I could hardly move my arms for the next week and, for the first time in my 32 years, felt I was getting old.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

16 - The Putting Back Together of the Front Verandah

After too many months of looking across at the house from our shed and seeing the missing part of the front verandah we were more than ready to rectify things. We first thought we would need help in this potentially awkward job so tentatively searched for carpenters and the like to step up. We quickly discovered that it is almost impossible to organise someone to help out with such things. Everyone is so damn busy. After a substantial period of time, characterised by the silent lack of returned phone calls, we again took matters into our own, unskilled, bruised, reluctant yet thrifty, hands. We began to sort through the pile of debris that was once the missing part of the front verandah. Some of the pieces of wood that we now wanted to use were not thought of that way when they were disassembled. As a result they were cut incorrectly and in odd places ensuring that their patching up would provide quite the quandary.

As it turned out this fact was not the only challenge. In my haste to dismantle the verandah, I failed to number any pieces of decking, joist, bearer, roofing iron, fascia and the rest. This would have saved a lot of time in the putting back together stage – a lot of time. Over its lifetime the materials that went together to make the verandah and its associated roof had bonded to become a new single entity that transcended inconsequential sole considerations such as square-ness. Many of the individual pieces of wood were twisted, warped and/or bent. So they sort of had to go back in the same place from which they came. Matching up paint lines and nail holes shed a tiny amount of light on our slow stabs in the dark at working out where everything used to be.

These posts are very heavy

Another issue emerged early on when we found that the bearers did not quite fit as well as they should have on the fresh new stumps that stood there waiting for them. We had to bolt a strong bracket to the top of the stump which increased its footprint on the bearer. This seemed to work rather well at the time. Let’s hope it keeps on working.

Jan's dad and I

Jan’s parents came to stay in their caravan on the property. Her father helped us out with the verandah while her mother took on baby minding duties. The three of us took about five full days to fumble our way through the issue raised above plus many more. Parts of the finished product are not quite square, a fact delaying the reinstallation of the wooden louvres seen above on the title of this blog. We are still thinking things through there. Though, all in all we are thrilled to bits to have finished this rather unique part of the house. And, as suspected it looks wonderful here. One day soon it will provide a nice viewing platform to the kitchen gardens that will sprawl out from the house to the north.

Finally the house is back to the way it was pre move - at least from the outside and from a distance anyway

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

15 - The Other Progress

Over the last month or so we have been busy with house related things, well as busy as we can be while trying to entertain a 16 month old daughter.

Asbestosy Nail Removal
When the asbestos sheeting ceiling lining was removed by the slap dash asbestos removers they left behind most of the nails that held the stuff up many of which still sporting little chunks of asbestos. Nails were not included in the quote. We missed that upon perusal. So a few weeks ago we suited up in beanies, gloves, spray bottles and asbestos dust masks and removed every single nail. This was a somewhat satisfying 4 hour job, though regrettable considering its very existence was due to our oversight. Oh well. You learn from such things. The nails would have had to come out anyway for the new ceiling lining.

Composting Toilet
Finally after years and years of longing we bought a waterless composting toilet. We decided to go with Nature-Loo because I had heard good things about them. I loved the idea of not using valuable water to flush a toilet, especially when that water is from a tank or dam. I still love the water saving characteristic of composting toilets, however, with the flush toilet in the shed we use dam water from a permanently overflowing spring fed dam. This fact somewhat removed the potency from my toilet water saving needs. Though, of course, it still feels great saving water – no matter what that water’s perceived quality or quantity. In addition to this reasoning there has emerged another. Our current septic system attached to the shed is an older style tank and trench system. It has worked fine for the three years or so we have been here permanently. When discussing waste treatment systems with the relevant consultant designing our new system for the house, we decided to go with a similar system by the house to deal with grey water. Because we were including a composting toilet, we found out that we can minimise our trench space significantly by not using it for black (poo) water. This was good news, especially after discovering that the suggested trench site had a spring under it and would not have worked as a trench site for very long at all. The solution to this was to pump the grey water from tanks attached to the house over to the existing shed trench some 120 meters away. Considering the water is only grey, this existing trench would not even need to be extended. Less money all round. No need for more trenches just a tank or two, 120 metres worth of 1-2 inch polypipe and a sump pump. Oh and a composting toilet.

We were always going to incorporate a composting toilet into whatever waste treatment system we decided upon for the house. In many ways this early decision strongly dictated what we should do for the rest of the waste water system. Deciding to take responsibility for one’s own poo is very liberating. It means that you do not have to pay ongoing costs for some other process to do the job for you. It is crazy when you think about it. Those other processes are things like the Biolytix system which recycles waste water so it can be used again in certain household applications. Sounds like a great idea and of course it is in the dry times many people face now. The problem for me with these is the ongoing regular maintenance costs involved. I won’t wear this. And don’t have to because we will only have grey water to deal with.

For those without town sewage connection and a strong aversion to the idea of a waterless toilet, I guess you need to ask yourself how much this aversion is going to cost me. Maybe try and get over it. Your pocket would surely appreciate it.

Anyway, we bought the Nature Loo ‘Classic 1000’ with two chambers. I will probably install it myself in the coming weeks. Watch this blog for the fun and games that is bound to bring. I will also discuss the grey water system more when it arrives.

Water Tank
As you are well aware by now dear reader, we rely on tank and dam water here on the property. We currently have a 23700 Litre (5000Gal) tank at the moment attached to the shed. It has been great. We decided we would leave this attached and purchase another bigger tank for the house. This is what we did. It is a 34000 Litre (7500Gal) tank and after being delivered and resting on its side for a couple of weeks was moved into place by my neighbour with the diggers.

Tank, baby and I

We placed this monster of a tank on the south east of the house. It is only a metre away and dug into the slope enough so that its inlet is low enough to have down pipes from the gutters run down the house under the floor and across into the tank. Currently we have underground pipes going from the shed and back up into the tank some 15 metres away. I don’t really like this method as the water sits in the pipes underground in between rain and I can never be bothered ‘bleeding’ these pipes as often as I should.

Tank in final resting place

This was pretty straight forward and probably does not require a paragraph but seeing as I am in the business of providing paragraphs, here it is. We first thought we would have to run electrical wires overhead from the shed to the house as there is a wet gully between them. Before getting a quote for this, I talked to my neighbour who assured me that it was easier and cheaper to go under the gully. I didn’t think such a thing would be allowed. It is and so that is what we did. The metre box remained on the shed and 130 metres of conduit covered cable was dug some 60 cm underground. Where it crossed the gully floor we had a small spring fed pond dug and crossing made for a nice leisurely path from house to shed. So the electricity is now hooked up. We will wait until the ceiling is in to have lights. This means we can have a crack at putting the missing half of the front deck and its associated roof together.

Friday, 4 July 2008

14 - The Crookedness

Well it has now been a little over three months since the house arrival. The movers had officially finished with the house about four weeks ago. They managed to stretch 5-6 days worth of work over two months. This is not because they work incredibly slow but rather that they are very busy and got tied up with other jobs after the stumpers had finished off here. At the moment the house looks very worse for wear, no make that worse for move. It looked great for wear. Built in 1926 and still looking wonderful, then we came along and roughed it all up by moving it. Sigh. I do remember someone telling us early on that the appearance of a freshly moved house conjures a little nervous shock in the new owners. This has happened with us. The house looks like it was thrown by a tornado. I half expected to see striped stockinged witch legs sticking out from under it, only the whole thing is off the ground on stumps of varying heights and thus the witch would be safe, you get what I mean though.

After the official “we have finished” cry following the day’s work they returned for after the stumpers pulled stumps as it were, the movers left. We thought “great we can start fixing things up”. To our dismay we noticed that the front of the house looked a bit crooked. The two posts holding up the roof of the front verandah, seen under the title atop of this blog, both went left, rhombus style. Jan, my partner now has a name, took photos of the offending crookedness and sent them to the wife of, and admin arm for, the house mover. About a week and half later he came out to have a look. He wasn’t around when his workers ‘finished off’. To our relief he was agreed that it wasn’t acceptable. We were half expecting an answer similar to “Well these things happen when you move a house, luck of the draw really,… good luck with it and good day sir”.

The crooked front end and baby.

He returned the next day and had discovered that the front of the house was twisted slightly in the opposite direction to that of the back. This needed work. Also there were some significant support pieces missing from the roof trusses. He worked on things for a day and now the house looks finished, as far as our contract with him goes. We are happy with the result though a little peeved at the time it took to achieve it. So all up we have waited quite while for the house to be at the stage it is now, which is not as far as I had envisioned before the process started. Nevertheless we have made some progress in other areas which I shall outline very soon.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

13 - Stumped

I think it is high time that this blog revealed its title track. Here it is.

After a week or so of the house arriving we hadn’t heard anything from the stumpers who were due to work on the stumps. We started to question the assertion from the house movers that they would let the stumpers know of the house’s new found need for permanent stumps. We contacted the stumpers. They didn’t know of the house’s arrival and made arrangements to come out.

We used the time alone with the house to tie ourselves in knots over all sorts of things which we lacked the practical know how of. One of these was a timing issue with the tie downs. These securely attach the roof to the walls and the walls to the floor and the floor to the stumps. On an old house like ours the tie downs were not done and need to be retrofitted before we can receive final approval. We heard that the roof needed to be removed to do the tie down work so the ideal time would be between the roof being temporarily attached and permanently attached. We took this information under our wing and flew off trying to organise someone to do the work. We found this hard. Carpenters and other home improvements people gave us a range of differing impressions into the extent they understood what tie downs were or if we needed to remove all the weatherboards to have them done. We started to melt down a little. Hearing of our growing anguish a friend’s son said he would look at it. We gave him the engineers report only to have him return it to us a few days later suggesting that he would need to drill rods the height of the house down through the struts in the walls all the way around the house at about fifty centimetre intervals. This couldn’t be right. The engineers had told us that it wouldn’t be too hard. In the end our friend’s son politely turned down the job stating it would take too long and be too expensive. Back to square one.

The head stumper was quite a character. When referring to the house’s pending fate, he exclaimed that he’d “get this bitch up on legs”. Strangely from this we knew we were in good hands. We asked him about tie downs, as we knew he was also an engineer. He was great about it all and immediately allayed our fears. He explained that only the top and bottom two weatherboards will have to be removed and a few extra screws and maybe a little bracing be used to fix the internal studs to various things. He also said he would show anyone we got to do the work exactly what was required and he would sign off on the work done ready for approval. This was great news. Now all we had to do was find someone.

The actual stumping didn’t take very long. All the holes were drilled into the ground on the first day. On the second day the concrete was poured and the stumps hung from the house while the concrete dried around them. The next day the stumps were detached from the house and stood strong in their concrete shoes about 50 cm below the house which was still floating above on the temporary stumps. The house movers returned a few days later and lowered the house down onto the steel stumps and joined the house back together again. About a week or so later the stumpers returned and attached some bracing and securely attached each stump to the house. The house movers still have to come back and finish attaching the roof, tidy up the guttering and eaves and remove the makeshift form work propping up the internal ceiling supports.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

12 - The Move - Day 3

The real day 3 was rained out. On the next day, the mover men returned to put the roof up and temporarily tack the tin sheets on. They put them on properly after the house has been lowered down on to the permanent stumps because there is usually a bit of movement in that process.

Just after the roof was finished it poured rain. Here is a picture of the finished for now product taken the next morning.

The house is very high at the moment as there needs to be room underneath for the stumpers to get their hole digger things in. We would like the house to end up nearly a metre lower than it is in this picture. The stumpers are due to come in the next week or so.

11 - The Move - Day 2

On the start of Day 2 the first half waited patiently for its opposite.

The larger second half arrived about 830 am.

Obviously this second piece's placement is a lock trickier than the first. If they go too far down the slope and past the first piece then lots is lost. The truck is way too heavy to move back up the hill at all while the house is still on the back. Fortunately the trailer is amazing. It moves every which way as it lines the pieces up together. This whole process really impressed me. I watched on both days in awe of the speed, skill and ease with which 5 guys worked on the house. I had never seen a house being delivered before and I couldn't believe they got the thing exactly where we wanted it. Unbelievable. .

10 - The Move - Day 1

The movers started to prepare the house on Thursday the 3rd of April. By the Friday afternoon it was cut in half, roof collapsed, on trailers and ready to travel. It then stayed put like this for the weekend. We traveled up to visit friends and check it out.

Just before 8am the next Monday the first half of the house arrived.

The truck had some difffculty getting back out again. My neighbour had to help with both his tractor and digger. It only just worked.

We got to know the first half overnight.

Friday, 11 April 2008

9 - The Hold Up

Before too long it dawned upon us that April would be arriving soon ready to move a house and we still had not received the go ahead from the council. We had a call from them enquiring about the waste treatment report accompanying our application. In the report we had stated that we would like a waterless composting toilet and a grey water system similar to a normal septic system. This was fine. They just wanted to see the spot where the septic application area (trenches) was going. Since the report was prepared we have had over 820mm of rain falling in just 2 months. All of sudden we discovered a spring right where the application areas was to be. The council man noticed this swallowing his boots as I pointed out the area in question. He said we would need to choose another area. The report would need an amendment done by the mob who prepared it. Fine. I rang the guy and he came back out to choose another spot.

We decided we would pump the grey water over to the existing application area we use now for the shed. We were happy with this because it will be cheaper and not close to the house. He went back to write the report and send it on both to the council and us at the same time. We politely stressed the need for a little haste with all this. We should have dropped the politely because he didn’t apply the haste. He sat on the report for two weeks despite two reminders. This made it impossible for us to receive a formal approval from the council before our deadline. We were starting to worry. The planning consultant we commissioned to smooth this kind of thing over was no help. Not sure what we paid him for now, perhaps the ink in his pen as he filled out our application.

We were concerned for a few reasons. Firstly the movers were booked in for the second week of April. They are very busy people. If we did not take this booking we would have to wait about another month. They required council approval to start work on the house a few days before the move. Secondly we thought the house had to be moved from the block by early April or, as you may remember dear reader, we would be hit with a further $10 000.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. We had layers of cushioning step up under pressure. Firstly the house now did not have to be off the block until the end of the year. Developers are slow like that. We rang the council and discovered that they had the required amended report and everything was set to go. It would take a few weeks to be formally approved but they pretty much gave us verbal approval. We passed this on to the movers. That was good enough for them. Full steam ahead, no…full noxious carbon monoxide ahead, no…behind. Either way, let’s go.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

8 - The Preparation

Once the development application was done and the major contracts with the removers and the stumpers sewn up, we had about two months to wait and prepare. The house was vacated a lot sooner than we were told it would be. We were under the impression it wouldn’t be until a few weeks before the move in April. It wasn’t. The house had been emptied of people and things just before Christmas, which means we could do things there, like take the photos you see around these words.

Asbestos Removal
The first thing to do was to have the asbestos fibre sheeted ceilings throughout the house removed. The Tweed Shire Council will not allow any asbestos product to enter its boundaries. Fair enough. We got a couple of quotes. They were between $2500 and $3000 - licensed asbestos people charge big money. We went with the cheapest. Because the asbestos sheets were mostly on the inside of the house, their removal would hopefully not leave the impression that the place was being taken apart or something. We were a little concerned about leaving the house unattended for 4-5 months in the city. We feared looters or squatters or arsonists or historians or wood fanciers or claw foot bath fanciers or nice deck fanciers or pretty much everyone else in the world would somehow notice the house was empty and strike.

The ceilings have a lot of decorative wood attached to them in different patterns for each room. We asked for this to be kept if possible as some of it may be able to be used for the same purpose afterwards.

The job was done. However, in our desire to go with the cheapest quote, we failed to notice that ‘nail removal’ was not mentioned. As a result they weren’t. The other company had stated they would remove them, but the one we went with did not. So in many areas there is a ten cent shape worth of asbestos sheeting surrounding the nails. We will have to bear this in mind when working on the house later. The total cost was $2750. Substantial - though not too bad.

All the wood was left in piles in the room it was removed from. There was a lot of it and some of it had split. If we do not use it for the ceilings then I’m sure it will be used for something else one day.

The Removal of Part of the Front Verandah
In New South Wales they have a rule which stipulates that houses traveling on trucks can be no wider than five and half metres. In Queensland it’s eight metres. Damn. The cut for our house will look the best if it is done under the skirting board along the edge of the lounge/dining room. This leaves about one and half metres of left hand side front verandah sticking out over the NSW width limit. Damn. We thought that perhaps the removers could dog leg the cut a bit to incorporate the verandah better. They weren’t prepared to. Damn. In the contract with them it states that the one and half metres would be cut off and left behind. Hoover Dam.

The verandah section in question here is a little tricky. It has its own piece of peeked roofing perpendicular to the main entrance peek.

We first thought we would need to hire someone to take the section apart and then travel two hours down here later on to put it back together. Finding someone to do this in the current busy building climate would turn out to be near impossible. After ringing a few people, we decided the person taking it apart does not have to be the same person who puts it back together again. It is not that complicated. We could take it apart, hire a truck, move it in bits, store it until after the house is all put back together and then get someone to work on it, or maybe I'll give it a crack.

A friend of mine in Brisbane, who does a bit of cabinet making and has a lot of tools and things, agreed to help pull the section apart. He would charge me for his time but at a very cheap rate. So I took a few days off work and went to work.

We had to remove a lot more than just one and half metres because we did not want to cut the nice balustrades, or the great silky oak fixed shade louvres, in half. The dismantling was not too bad. The two 200mm by 200mm hard wood posts were very heavy and tested our sheer strength and endurance. We passed but only just. The process introduced me to a new favourite tool, the single handed demolition hammer (insert growl sound here).

In the end the cost for the verandah removal was about $695. Twelve hours of my friend’s help was $300. It was $250 to hire the truck and the rest was eaten up in extra tools and things.


One of the largest issues leading up to the move for us was where exactly to move the house to. Our 15 acre block has lots of undulating hills. Together they sort of make up a basic bowl shape with a dam at the bottom resembling the few spoonfuls of milk left after cereal. The shed we live in now sits on top of the hill that mostly faces south. There is a small part of it that travels down the north from the shed to the boundary. This is where we grow food at the moment. The hill we chose for the house mainly faces east. It runs down from the road and west boundary. This hill was chosen because it feels like the middle of the property, it has great views of Wollumbin (Mt Warning) and it has gullies on either side that add both north and south aspects for growing various things. The hill choice was easy. We would face the back deck towards the east to soak up both the thawing morning sun and the great view. This leaves the living areas of the house facing the north, which is ideal.

We want to surround the house with veggie gardens, fruit trees, chooks and some ornamental trees and shrubs. Because of this we decided to place the house more to the south side of the hill as it opens up the north side to grow more things on.

We figure that one day we may want to build a room under the house. Thinking ahead is rather handy for this because houses are heavy. Before the house arrives we thought we would get my neighbour, who owns diggers and things, to cut into the hill a tad. It would just be enough to open up the space under the back deck and maybe one day we could build in a room there. I wasn’t keen on the house looking really high from the ground.

All these considerations proved a little hard to make room for. We got back in the site surveyors so they could peg out ‘solar north’ (about 12 degrees off magnetic) for one side of the house. This gave us a starting point. The pegs suited the sun but not quite the view. We compromised by swinging the house site slightly back towards the south. I read on the home technical manual site (link to the left) that variations in site orientation were alright for passive solar orientation as long these fell within a 15 degree difference. We made sure of this, swinging the house pegs about 10 degrees back.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

7 - The Process Begun

Where do I begin in unpacking this mixed bag of fun and adventure? Well the first thing we had to do before paying the rest of the deposit on the house was to get a building inspection done. This involves an ex builder, now inspector, walking around the house and kicking its tyres - so to speak. For this we paid 260 clams. He said the place looks fine now but who knows what it may be like after being cut in half and moved? Cheers for that. Along with this we also had a pest inspection done by the same company, it cost $240 and revealed no unwanted guests or things that eat houses.

The house has to be moved from its current site by early April 2008. If it isn’t we will be slogged with a further $10 000 to have it first moved to a yard and then on to our place. This cost is probably represented in the ticket price of the houses you see for sale in removal house lots around South East Queensland. It may be cheaper to have it moved just once from its original site. This was never confirmed but does make sense. Drake have a policy guaranteeing the cost of the house be returned in the event that one’s council application does not get approved. Such a policy offers some comfort because they demand the money for the house pretty much upfront. This process doesn’t wash with many lenders who demand a house on land before committing any of their money. As I have said early, we had to change financial institutions for this project and nab’s late settlement date forced us to temporarily borrow the money for the house from generous parents. All up it took nearly two months to acquire the loan. If readers considering buying a house for relocation take one thing from my words, take sorting out the finance way before you get excited about available houses oh and maybe to use the greeting “What-Ho” more in social situations.

After paying for the house we started gathering all the necessary reports required to accompany our Council Development Application. Because we had a deadline of April we felt a slight sense of urgency around this back in November. We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that we would need the help of a planning consultant to put the application together and sort out any issues with it throughout the approval process. We were a little nervous about the whole deal, and felt like we had to get it right from the start to minimise delays. So we hooked up with a consultant and started gathering the reports he advised were required to accompany our application. In hindsight we probably could have put the application together ourselves and saved about $1000 in consultancy fees, but as I say, back then we were a little anxious.

The reports we required were a soil test, a structural engineer’s report of the house, a contour survey of the house site, an on site waste treatment design report and a floor plan and elevation drawing of the house. We set about setting these up. They all got done but they took a bit longer than I would have liked, falling over into the new year. The cost of each is listed in the “Money Spent” section. We saved on the floor plan because my partner drew it up herself and the elevation drawings could be substituted for photos of the house.

The application was lodged in early January. Part of the cost was a $1400 bond for moving the house via the council’s roads. This will be returned if no road signs and things are damaged by the trucks on the way.

Apparently, the house will be sawn in half by the house movers, taken down in the middle of the night and placed on temporary stumps exactly on its proposed site. The stumps will be quite a lot higher than the permanent ones will be. The house movers then depart as the stumpers come in and match up the new steel stumps to the house and put them all in place. Then the house movers return and lower the house down to rest on the new stumps. At some point in all this they also join the house back together again.

The House Movers
Following the purchase of the house, Drake referred us to a separate house moving company. The first step in making things happen was to find out if the house could be moved to our block. This simply involved a quick reconnaissance mission to ensure the route was acceptable for moving half a house - twice. It was. We were relieved, remembering we only got the house in the first place because walk in deposit man owned a hard to get to block of land.

We booked the house move in for the end of March or early April 2008. This was really the only time they could fit us in, and it happened to suit our deadline, but only just. All we had to do before then was to sign the contract they sent us. Easier said then done. It contained the odd strange clause, some of which we were not prepared to swallow. We just took to it with a pen and made a few changes, such as completely deleting the clause stating that we were responsible for removing and reinstating overhead wires along the truck’s journey. We nervously sent the contract, laden with scribbles and ruled lines, back to them and were pleasantly surprised that they accepted all of the changes. It was as if the contract was the same standard document that they have been pulling out and dusting off for years. They seemed to recognise this fact and were quite prepared to update things. This was a wonderful relief because since receiving the first contract we grew a bit dubious about the house movers. After the contract changes were made, and many silly questions patiently answered, our faith was completely returned, with interest.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A Picture Break

The site for the house, looking to the east.

Looking at the house site hill from the north

Looking to the north from the house site back over to the shed we live in now

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

6 - The Blog

Reading back over the story so far it becomes slightly apparent to my occasionally self deprecating slant that it is a tad opinionated. There are a few almost pompous assertions regarding, say, the wonders of wood, the gloriousness of separate kitchens, the difficultness of kit home company employees, and just how shit hot we must be for scoring a house that matches everything we wanted. With this in mind I feel a qualifier or two needs to be thrown in here.

Before I started writing this blog I knew that we had decided upon the house, it is to be moved in another month from today. This fact may have unconsciously played a heavy hand in editing the telling of the tale. When given the opportunity I think we all have a tendency to become happier with our current lot. Certain aspects of it tend to be held in higher and higher regard as time goes by. We get used to things. For us in the beginning, we really did not know exactly what we wanted in a house. I remember us wanting all sorts of things such as half the house buried in a hill with grass and meadow flowers growing on the roof, walls of glass taking in every view, a completely outdoor kitchen, a tree or two growing up through the middle of the house, and a series of separate buildings for each room with a courtyard linking them. There were so many things that we wanted to incorporate into one house that in many ways we were paralysed. It was kind of like the hundreds of salivating shoppers pushing through the door of a Boxing Day Myer stocktake sale and all getting stuck.

Deciding to relocate a house provided much needed relief. We could focus our interest on one style of house and make it work, intellectually, for our purposes. All the other ‘dream’ houses would remain as such. Our limited budget and circumstances have dictated a housing direction that we have fortunately become very accustomed to and that accustomedness provides the optimistic thread holding this blog together.

So all the elements that I have passed critical judgment over such as plasterboard, aluminium framed windows, carpet and the rest are not really to my taste but if pushed, I could make them work for me. The most important thing is achieving the correct house orientation and including other power saving devices and features. Air conditioning is a big hate of mine and I make no apologies for that. It is unnecessary, when accompanied by good house design, especially for the climate we enjoy here. If I was in the tropical north things would be different, but we chose to be in this climate so our heating and cooling requirements would be minimal.

Monday, 3 March 2008

5 - The House

As I have already mentioned, the house is in great condition. It has housed only two owners since it was built in 1926 by a man for his wife. Fifteen years ago it had enjoyed some restoration and renovation work. One of the results of this was the bathroom being relocated from its original position on the back deck to one of the three bedrooms. This gave the house only two bedrooms and a large but lovely bathroom. The old deck bathroom became a large laundry and storage area.

The Kitchen
When seeing the above layout, some friends of ours suggested knocking out the wall between the kitchen and lounge or at least cutting a large opening in it. This got me thinking. I like the idea of the separate kitchen. There has been quite a push lately in house design circles to open everything up. The dining area is merged with lounge, media, entertainment and what not and over to one side, as if on stage, is the kitchen ensconced in island bench. Perhaps the thinking is that the cook or dish washer can stay part of the party as they quietly toil away piping up occasionally with witty observations in tune with the topics at hand. For all other times those in the kitchen can talk with family as they watch TV in the other corner or watch it themselves or simply discuss various matters of everyone’s busy day as the evening meal is prepared. I guess all this is a nice idea. Here comes the ‘however’ subtly signposted by the ‘I guess’. However, I kind of think you lose the purpose and function of rooms this way. A separate kitchen complete with an area for dining is a very nice thing. It is the kitchen – the place for creating meals, storing food, sprouting sprouts, rising bread, learning about flavours, imparting a sense of interest and passion within children and lots of messy experimentation. To be able to sit right there and eat in the place that the food was prepared, with the leftovers bubbling away on the stove at arms reach, the smells of dozens of herbs and spices wafting around and the sights of jars and jars of dried beans and the like, gives a nice understanding of the origin of the meal and contributes to the richness of its eating.

So the fact that the small kitchen in this house has a little dining nook, with a view to the prospective veggie gardens, is perfect for us.The walls will act as vertical storage, like a library of culinary delights. The kitchen benches will need some work as they are fairly minimal. The previous owners had a large rustic looking stand alone bench in the middle and a cupboard on the back wall. We are hoping to simply have a bench and cook top on that wall and no bench in the middle, the room is too small.

The Living Room
Having a separate small living room works for us too. It will become the centre of the house and a place for relaxing, talking, reading, playing and creating. The name ‘living’ sums these activities up nicely as there is an active element to them. We will have to place the computer somewhere in this room though there will be no television. I have recently welcomed a new TV free chapter in my life. Not that it made up a large part before but it was there and it didn’t feel right. Its absence is producing things during a time usually devoted to passive consumption. This blog is an example, so to the collection of hand made clothes worn daily by my daughter at the hands of my partner’s busy hands.

The Bedrooms
There are two and this is fine for now. Should the need arise to fill a third we will move the bathroom back to its original location and convert the space it was in back in to a bedroom. The one issue with bedrooms in an old house is the lack of inbuilt cupboards. We will have to come up with solutions to this. For us it will probably be a combination of old stand-alone wardrobes and maybe some clothes racks hanging from the roof at eye level.

The Bathroom
This will be half in the laundry, marked 'toilet', and half in the house as in the design. The claw foot bath that comes with the house will stay where it is for the time being. However, we are going to install a composting toilet in the laundry which will probably become a bathroom in the future. Having the composting toilet out there will make it easier to get in under it to replace the full chambers. Also it seems nicer to get down to that sort of business away from the more delicate living areas of the house. Flushing toilets have brought the whole affair closer and even into people’s bedrooms. When you think about it, this is a bit weird. It has not been decided at this stage but we will probably get the toilet from Nature-Loo. There will be more on that later when I write of our on-site waste treatment systems.


The house is nearly perfectly orientated to suit the need for passive solar design for our site. The house has a longer east west axis and is narrow enough to benefit from cross flow breezes. The verandas at each end of the house will act as a buffer keeping the sun from hitting the house. Of course, bedroom 1 will cop it from the west in the afternoon, however we plan to plant some trees over that side of the house and perhaps insulate the wall. The large windows in the living room will benefit from northern sun and the area just outside these will work as a sun trap in the cooler months where we can grow things that aren't keen on getting cold.

Friday, 29 February 2008

4 - The Decision

For the next few months we kept an eye out for removal houses via a number of companies. A list of some of these can be seen to the left of these words and, as time goes by, above left. All the while we became quite used to the idea of moving a house. It seemed like the ultimate gesture in recycling. The fact that no more new materials would be extracted from an already depleted planet just to house me and mine, sits well on the mind. Of course, there would be resources used, such as petrol to move the house, but these would have been needed no matter what we built. It also feels nice knowing that someone’s unwanted house would be given a new life here with us. We just needed to find one that fit in the budget, suited our site’s orientation for passive solar considerations and wasn’t too rough on the eye. While we were looking we kept on crunching the numbers for the SALA Smart house option. Despite our best efforts at belt tightening we could not squeeze the SALA costs below $170 000 and that was only allowing $20 000 for building and no waste treatment set up, kitchen or carport. We also kept on entertaining the idea of other kits, despite our growing displeasure with their company.

And then it happened. A newly acquired house notification email popped up from Drake Homes. At first we did not give the “ATTO” much more than a passing glance. I’m not sure why. That night though I studied it closer discovering that it was designed perfectly for our chosen house site. Our view of Wollumbin (Mt Warning) is to the east. This house had a great back covered verandah facing that very direction. We wanted the living areas with their larger windows facing the north, for our cool winter mornings. They did. We wanted bedrooms on the South. Check. We wanted a house with a longer east west axis then north south. Mate.

As an added bonus the house looked like it was in great shape. It had some very nice features including everything we wanted from the beginning. The cost of the house was posted as being between 75-100K delivered and stumped. That seemed reasonable considering its apparent good condition. We were getting excited. We contacted Drake stating our interest. The next step was to see inside it. The house still contained its current owners in its original location in the Brisbane suburb of Nundah. The land that it stood on had been sold to developers. So too had that of the two houses next door. In keeping with the unfortunate nature of modern life, a large block of units was being built with the hope of devouring large numbers of young upwardly mobiles.

Organising an inspection proved quite a feat. The owners were busy people and insisted on being there when Drake showed anyone through. We called Drake nearly everyday for the next week. No joy. They could not get in contact with the owners. The last call we made to Drake about an inspection delivered the news that the house had been sold un-inspected by a man who walked in that afternoon with a deposit. It had only been for sale less than a week and no one had seen in it. We were gutted.

We learnt from Drake afterwards that this kind of thing happened in the world of removal houses. People know what they want, they have the money ready, and they pounce. Bugger. We weren’t any of those things. We weren't really sure what we wanted, we didn’t know if we had the money or if it was ready, and we aren’t ones who pouncing comes naturally to. Apparently it was a cut throat industry. We decided to sharpen our cut throat’n knives.

We started preparing ourselves for the next ‘perfect house’, not that anything could replace the ATTO. I enquired about the likelihood of my current bank, nab, loaning us money for a removal house. They wouldn’t. It’s too risky. We discovered that a lot of banks will only lend money after the house has arrived. The salesman at Drake gave me the number of a mortgage broker who he knew had helped people in the past. I rang Otto Dargan from
Transportable Home Finance in Sydney and a beautiful working relationship was forged. He understood the situation, and considering the equity in the land would cover everything anyway, said it would be a snap. He suggested a GE loan would be best for us and went ahead with preparing the paperwork.

For the next ten days we forlornly dragged our feet on our way back to the ol’ drawing board. Just as we got there and tried picking up the house search again, I received a phone call. It was the Drake salesman informing me that the man with the walk in deposit had discovered that the house could not physically be moved to his block and as a result it was back on the books and available for us if we were still interested. We were. He had a lot more people waiting in the wings but thought he’d offer it to us first. I hung up the phone and looked across at my partner with the wonderful realisation that I possessed the one piece of news that would bring back the sheer joy and happiness she had when we first realised we wanted that house. I wasted no time in delivering the news. What a wonderful moment. We traveled straight up to the Drake office and paid a deposit for a house we had not seen. The understanding was that we would try and have an inspection that weekend and if the house was not to our liking we could withdraw our interest and deposit.
That weekend we went to Brisbane to look through the house with the Drake salesman. We were greeted by one of the owners, a friendly man who went about his business after showing us in. My partner and I gingerly entered the house and followed the Drake salesman around. He hadn’t seen in it either, only his colleague had. After seeing one of the bedrooms and the bathroom we had a moment to ourselves in the kitchen. I’ll never forget my partner’s face. We looked across at each other mouthing profanities as a way of conveying our excitement at what we were seeing. We couldn’t believe it. The Drake salesman had seen a lot of houses and was amazed at the great condition this one was in. An overwhelming sense of good fortune had fallen upon us. Even though we were buying this house, and it would cost a substantial amount of money, it felt like we had won it.