Putting the 'folding' back into 'scaffolding'

02:10, May 24 2013

In which Auckland's scaffolding shortage stops our building dead, giving me time to choose which sort of insulation to use. Meanwhile the auction of our current house is days away, while build costs go up and up. 

It's Friday and You're Welcome.

Things are getting frenetically paced in all aspects of our build. All aspects except the actual work of building.

Turns out that Auckland is in the middle of a scaffolding shortage. Actually, it's more a 100-year scaffolding drought.

There's a perfect storm of factors: a lot of commercial and housing building is going on, a lot of scaffolding has been sent to Christchurch, and the rain we've had over the last few weeks has meant jobs using scaffolding have been delayed, so they don't return it, so the next job is delayed, and she tells two friends, and so on.

Our project manager, James told me this story to explain why there was nothing happening on site. Sam and Deek have done just about all they can do before the scaffolding arrives to make working on the top floor sensible and safe. Because of the rain, the scaff (that's what us building types call it for short. Sometimes I just called it 'sca' or 'sc'). Because of the rain the sc James booked for us is not back from other jobs, and there is no more to be had in this town.


I thought at first the clue to why there wasn't any s arriving might be in the name of the company supplying it - Little Scaffolding. I said to James, is it called that because at any one time that's all they have in stock? But then, right after he'd finished laughing his head off at my awesome joke, James told me it was because the company is owned by Walter Little!

 not to be confused with

Don't bother asking either of these dudes for scaffolding this week.

Seeing that picture of the legendary second five I realise that this is what our build has been missing all along - the participation and blessing of an All Black! If I could choose I'd probably choose an All Black who had more scaffolding, but you can't choose that sort of thing, so I'll settle for Little. Who remembers that ad in 1995 something about "Waltz a Little"? I can't find it on the internet except a mention that it won the Fair Go best ad award that year. Does anyone remember how it went?

So progress is slow. Sam and Deek have nailed up about 100 of these joist hangers, using an infinite number of nails.

The prefab framing has arrived for the top floor.

Sam and Deek have strapped the block walls on the midfloor, ready to take the gib lining.

And they've listed what else can be done without scaffolding.

To do list written on a "Builders' iPad".

(Does that 2nd item say "Handibra"??) Overall the place now looks like this.

Is it halfway done? I'm not sure.


Meanwhile, the decision of the week has been insulation. In previous blogs (remember this one? No? What about this one?) I discussed heating, and how we want the house warm without needing too much heating. Because New Zealand houses are traditionally warmer on the outside than they are inside, we wanted to make sure ours was cosy.

It is estimated that 700,000 New Zealand homes are under-insulated. Personally that's too many. We'll never get them all sorted. So what is completely free, and easier than insulating all those houses? Global warming. The solution is staring us in the face. However, despite rising global temperatures, since 1977 we have been legally required to insulate every new house in New Zealand. Before that, insulation in this country was just a nifty idea

This 1955 product name would never catch on now, but I love it.

Clause H1 of the Building Act specifies how cosy a new house must be. Each home design must pass an H1 test which looks at the construction and insulation of the whole envelope of the house including how many windows and how big, how many skylights there are, which direction everything faces and what part of the country the house is built in. Rough guidelines to what's required are found here. Our draughtsman Karl was required to specify enough insulation to ensure our place passed the H1 test. In the last couple of weeks I have been doing a bit of research into insulation and working out if Karl's specs satisfied us as well as the regulations.

Get Ready for Insulation Knowledge

Insulation is measured by R values. The higher the number, the less heat gets through and the warmer your house will be. To me an "R" value is stupid. It has no intuitive meaning to anyone. Imperial measurements were always the best. The distance one foot is about as long as one foot. Simple. A yard is the length of a yard (people used to have much smaller sections in those days). With metrics the world took a huge step backward about six inches, and only America remains enlightened in refusing to rashly convert to a stupid French system that the whole rest of the world (apart from those other famously enlightened countries Burma and Liberia) has incomprehensibly chosen.

So we need a measurement of insulation that we can all instinctively understand. I propose the "Duvet" which is the warmth of the average duvet (not a shitty Warehouse one, but a nice Briscoes one). Luckily one duvet approximately equals 1 on the R scale so just like shopping in Singapore you can convert one to one.

Because it's popular with architects and other characters with fashionable spectacles, Karl had specified for our place a Kiwi product called Greenstuf. I like the name straight away because it's the same New Zealand tradition of naming that gave rise to North Island and South Island. I was pretty keen to do some research and discover that I knew better about insulation. Here's what I found out: 

The Different Sorts

There are three major sorts of insulation available: wool, polyester and glass fibre. They all do the job, and all come in lots of different products for walls, rooves and underfloor, and different thicknesses and blanket sizes. Glass fibre and wool can be denser so you can get a higher R-value with less thickness, but that usually won't be too much of an issue. Wool is the most expensive, and glass fibre is the cheapest but also is a little bit nasty to work with - who hasn't had batt-rash?

Ironically the last thing this actor's costume is made of is glass fibre insulation.

To be honest I'm not keen to use anything pink because we don't know if the house is a boy or a girl yet. We've decided not to find out til it's born.

The industry here is heavily regulated and products must be able to prove their performance, so there's not much chance of get ripped off or getting something that doesn't work. (The opposite of homeopathy). There's plenty of good advice about insulation at webbyplaces like Energywise, Consumer magazine, and the gub-mint.

What I Chose

I began my research the way I choose most things: I purchase stuff by how happy the people look in the brochures on the websites. This stands to reason, because I would also like to be happy when I purchase a product.

First a wool-based product.

Sure, he's happy, but he's paid a high price in fashion. 

Next another wool-based product sported these two on their website.

These poor people are so warm they have died. Not what I'm after.

Here's one of the Polyester products.

She seems happy enough, but according to the caption, one of the two things in this picture must be 100% polyester. You be the judge.

And finally, confusingly, a polyester product made by a wool insulation manufacturer:

That night no-one was really sure exactly who wet the bed.

Preferring to sleep with only my own species, I discarded this option. In the end I decided to go for this one, which most seemed like a lifestyle I could get involved with:

Who wouldn't love an Italian guy squeezing lemons into their mouth?

Ok, that image wasn't for insulation, it was for a sort of benchtop we might get called Silestone, but I didn't care - I had found my insulation. I'm going to put benchtops in the walls, benchtops in the ceilings and benchtops under the floor, and we're all getting involved in citris-based lovemaking. I can't wait to try this lemon-squeezing seduction trick on Gemma. One part of me thinks it'll earn me a swift smack in the chops, but the woman in the picture seems extremely keen on it, so who knows? But why is this lemon-douche looking at US though? I just want to call out to him "fella, watch what you're doing! Pay attention for f*&%'s sake, you're wasting lemons".

But in the end I am very happy with the Greenstuf the architect had specified in the first place, and I went to have a meeting with them today to find out what we should put where in the house. I'm proud to say they're going to do us a good deal on the insulation, so never say it doesn't pay to be a second-rate semi professional blogster.

What it is and How Much we're putting Where:

Briefly it's made of polyester, like the inside of polyester duvets. It's at least 45 per cent recycled PET bottles, and contains only polyester, so it doesn't have binders or any resins that might contain and release volatile compounds. It won't burn, and doesn't settle or change with changes in temperature or humidity. It is, however, made in Avondale which has to be counted as a black mark against its name.

In manufacturing, more and more emphasis is being placed on making products so that at the end of their life they can be completely recycled, so that nothing ever ends up in a landfill. You can't recycle the glass fibre insulation products, and a lot of the wool ones are blended with polyester, making them landfill at the end of their life too. The Greenstuf people are proud that their product can be 100 per cent recycled into new product at the end of its life. I'm not too keen on this, it's disturbing because to get the insulation out they'll have to take our house apart, which means I'll be dead. The whole idea of recycling something that has a 50 year warranty is ghoulish. Who's recycling this? Our unborn children, that's who. Haven't they got better things to do in their flying cars?

We're doing their R3.4 (3.4 Duvet's worth) in the skillion roof, R2.5 Greenstuf in the exterior timber walls, Quietstuf acoustic insulation in the interior walls, and two layers of R1.8 Greenstuf Underfloor in the midfloor. This isn't really needed for thermal insulation because both above and below are living spaces, but it will go with my joist tape in providing good acoustic insulation. In the bedroom and office internal walls we are going hard out with R2.0 Greenstuf which will be even quieter than the Quietstuf.

Where a room in our place has a block wall, it is strapped (has 20mm thick battens nailed to it) and lined (has gib screwed or glued to the battens).

These walls have already got the strap.

This calls for the final sort of insulation we need - a thin blanket of insulation to be put between the gib and the masonry between the strapping battens. Greenstuf's 20mm thick masonry wall blanket is only R0.5, but batts is the same and polystyrene board made for this very job only provides R0.63 at that thickness so the difference might not be worthwhile - and with polystyrene you have to be careful to keep wiring from touching it. To be honest I'm sceptical that any insulation in here will make much difference given that it's so thin, and the battens take up quite a bit of the space and probably make very good "Thermal Bridges" (my cousin). But I won't get another chance to put insulation in there so I might as well do it now.


We are approaching the auction of our current house - the last open home is this weekend and the auction is next week. Get involved! The price we get will determine how poor we'll be after the build is finished, but meanwhile we are trying to keep a lid on the extra costs that keep popping up.

Every week there are more and more decisions requiring time, thought, meetings, drawings and costings. We have to be really careful with the costs of the extras we ask for. Even over a build that totals $800,000+ we've had to wrap our heads around the fact that the difference between affordability and the opposite is a hundred decisions over seemingly small amounts of money. Wood-veneer doors? No. Solid-core doors? Only some. Argon-filled glass? No. Plaster on the exterior blockwork? No. That German sink? No. At first we thought if we vetoed the big ticket items - no pool, no pressed-steel in the ceilings, no gold-plated Jacuzzi turret, then the small items would take care of themselves. No. The trick is to say no to something small every day. That's what actually keeps the doctor away.

Here's the variation spreadsheet James keeps us updated with.

Note that the lion's share of this - $18,777 - was the excavation which we excluded from the original contract only because it was an unknown so it doesn't count as a frivolous add-in.

Right now we are debating whether or not we will install a rainwater tank to collect rain and use it for laundry, toilets, outdoor taps and dishwasher. It looks like it will cost us $4548 to install and plumb in and about $2000 for the tank itself which looks like this:

Is that too much? Will the savings on our water bill make up for the extra mortgage repayments we'll be making? Has anyone tried this and done the maths?

The other big question is the data wiring I got so excited about in bloggy posts gone by. You can see from the variations that I've been quoted $8618 for all the data, TV wiring, speaker wires in ceilings and the home hub they connect to. That seems a lot so I'm investigating doing it all myself. I've got the shorts, what could go wrong?

Or maybe I'll get the sparky alone with a lemon and see if we can't come to some sort of arrangement. 

Thanks for reading. I remain as always,

Your servant,

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. And now I'm proud to present another page of The House that Beebo Built.

Please note in the foreground, as if to taunt us, some beautiful scaff. Screw you smug children's book builders.