The police get involved in our build

01:22, Feb 27 2013

It Never Rains But We Pour! It's been an eventful week on the Bridges site under the big water reservoir on Big King mountain in Auckland.

This week the police got involved in our build and it made the news headlines. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before this little hiccup we had some great progress involving concrete.

Concrete was first invented around the time of the dawn of civilisation. The oldest concrete that has been found is in what used to be called Yugoslavia in 5600 BC. It wasn't called Yugoslavia back then, and it isn't any more (I'm sorry I even brought up the name Yugoslavia at all).

5600 BC in Yugoslavia was pre-Bronze Age, so people had not yet begun to do metalwork. The downside of this was no metal, but the upside was no metalwork teachers. Have we really progressed?

Concrete is formed by the mixture of three things: aggregate, water and cement. Throughout history, though different things have been used to form both the aggregate and the cement, the recipe has been basically the same. The aggregate is the lumps, the cement is the powder that sets hard after being mixed with water. Concrete is the most used man-made product in the world. We make everything with it - from the greatest monuments of human architecture to Te Papa. The Romans got good at it early and their great concrete structures are still around - the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the aqueducts (which were so average at actually delivering water that people jokingly called them the "adequates").


This building was built 2000 years ago out of unreinforced concrete and it's still there. Photo Emilio Labrador (not an actual dog, that would be too cool)

During the Dark Ages, when religion stifled and even retarded the progress of our species, the use of concrete declined, but the Renaissance saw a renaissance in concrete.

New Zealand has a proud history using concrete in some early and pioneering structures. Grafton Bridge in central Auckland was, when it was new in 1907, the largest free-standing concrete arch span in the world, and is still a beautiful structure. If you want to know more about early New Zealand concrete achievements, check out this book:

And for a great history of concrete in the world and in New Zealand, I found this pdf on the Department of Conservation website.

Concrete has a bad name as far as its effects on the environment go. This is because it takes an incredible amount of energy to make cement - mainly heating the ground limestone and other ingredients to about 1500 degrees C. This means that the manufacture of concrete is the third-biggest contributor of greenhouse gases (after motor vehicles and Kim Dotcom's massive burps). On the upside, it lasts. A long time. You can have your country change names to Yugoslavia and back again, and it's still there. It also makes well-insulated buildings. An internet search reveals a lot of pages explaining why concrete is sustainable due to its durability. All of these are written by concrete companies, but this only removes most of the comfort. Also the fact is that the New Zealand building industry has not yet become comfortable with any alternatives - in other words it takes some effort, imagination and money to do things a different way.

So last Wednesday I turned up on site in time to see the concrete truck arriving. Here's a little video I made.

Okay, it isn't The Hobbit, but it won just as many Oscars.

I asked the guys who did the pouring to give me some concrete facts (turns out that's the only kind they know). Each truck holds 4.2 cubic metres of 30mpa concrete. Concrete strength is measured by the pressure (in millions of newtons per square metre) needed to crush it after a certain period of time for cooling is allowed. Thirty mpa is very strong for a residential job, and there is a lot of steel in there too, so it's super strong. Steel and concrete are the perfect match. One is strong under compression, the other in tension. Both expand and contract at the same rate as temperatures change. Concrete is made stronger by varying the ratio of aggregate to cement. I may be getting some of this wrong - there was a lot to take in.

The footings around the perimeter of our garage that take the concrete tilt panels required three truckloads of concrete. Each truckload was pumped onto site with a massive, loud pump mounted on a trailer. 

As the pumper pumped, Sam and Deek smoothed the concrete perfectly flat. The day before the concrete arrived I realised the Ancient and Holy Smint box which the digger had unearthed on the first day of our build had survived the excavation and was still on site. Ceremoniously I cast it into the pit and it will remain at the very foundations of our home until New Zealand is called Yugoslavia, and beyond.

I just hope there is no chance that Smint box is haunted, or that the dead Smints are unwilling yet to leave this world and take up residence in our house like tiny white, triangular poltergoosts. "Noooo Smint, Nooooo Kissssss!" they howl in the night, cursing us as we shiver in our bed, with our eyes wide, not kissing ... ever. I don't fancy calling our local Tohunga to lift our house's Smint tapu. I don't think a Smint tapu would even be considered a thing. Let's hope our Smints are benevolent.

Burying the Smint box has made me wonder if we should bury something proper (sensible, significant) under the house in a ceremonious fashion at some stage. I'm certainly not one for mysticism but it might be fun and good to know our house is built on something other than concrete. Anyone buried anything ceremoniously in the foundations of a house?

By the end of the day, the concrete footings for all the tilt panels were laid and you could see our house outlined in concrete on the ground.

The parts where steel reinforcing rods stick out will have concrete block wall. The rest will support tilt panels. 

The concrete was down and cured. The weather was good. The site was ready for the tilt panels to be craned into place, making the walls of the garage.

That's when the police and 3 News got involved.

Believe it or not, on Friday night, the truck carrying the tilt panels to site experienced what they call, in the building trade, a "crash".

It was like on Grand Designs when the glass doesn't turn up on site. Gemma was there on Saturday morning waiting and there were just birds singing and loneliness. The glass in Grand Designs is normally on the way from Germany - our concrete panels were on the way from Kumeu. Not quite as far, but in the Wild West anything can happen.

Here's the official police report as it appears on their website.

That's right. The truck, carrying our panels, crashed into a rail bridge, smashing our basement walls all over New Lynn. At first we didn't believe them. We thought it was an excuse. How many times have I told the fearsome Stuff blogmaster that my blog was late because I'd driven into a rail bridge and smashed it to pieces? But a police report is hard to falsify and apparently there are photos, taken for insurance purposes, that we will see (and I will post) soon.

Only two other incidents were reported on the police website for the whole country on Friday - one was that a missing woman called Dorothy was found in Freeman's Bay (It doesn't say if she was missing from Kansas) and the other was the police asking if anyone had seen a fight that happened between a man and a woman outside the Briscoes in Christchurch about 18 months ago. In other words, if not for our truck crash there would have been no news in New Zealand last Friday.

So far we have no idea how the accident happened, but looking on Google Earth, here is the scene of the crime:

Men in hi-vis vests try to identify where a truck will one day smash into the bridge.

The biggest question I have is, why was the truck driving around on Friday evening when it wasn't due on site until the next day? Did the driver promise his mate he'd bring round a couple of slabs? Or is there a certain section of West Auckland society where it is the height of cool to pick up a date in a massive truck with some precast tilt panels on the back? 

My theory is that the driver in question had not long before picked up his lovely lady. She was so excited to be driving in a real tilt-panel truck that she was lavishing her attention upon him. Unable to receive attention and drive at the same time, our hero swerved off the road at the climax of our story, and destroyed our garage walls. Or the tilt-panels were too high for the low bridge. Either way it was big news.

Coincidentally on that 3 News page, you can see the report of another truck crash just below it.

(Nah, just jokes, they are busy preparing X Factor all around us here at 7 Days and it is actually looking like being really entertaining.)


So now we are busy waiting again. The concrete company, who don't want to be named, repoured the panels in their factory on Monday and the trucking company, who don't want to be named, are bringing them to site tomorrow. There is some debate about just how the slabs are going to be craned on to site given the prominent powerlines that go up our side of the street.

As an astute reader pointed out last week, the bathroom has already been installed.

In other news, our project manager James has finished the schedule for our build and has told us to "send out the housewarming invitations" for mid-October. Finally we have an end date to work toward. It's an amazing feeling - but it does seem a very long way away.

And that's if nothing major goes wrong - cross your fingers that our truck driver doesn't get lucky again tonight and drive into the sea.


Purchase Man.

As usual, please feel free to "Like" this blog's page on Faceingbook, which will bring you all the joy of an alert when a new posting is blogged. And email me whenever you feel like it for no reason at all. Finally, here is another fine page of The House that Beebo Built for your childlike pleasure. In fact this page of the Beebo book is just about my very favourite.

Beebo and Mop are miles ahead of us in their build.