Building a house, Gangnam Style

00:39, Jul 12 2013

In which our lawn is filled with giant polystyrene, Sam and Deek call all hands on deck to prepare for the roof to arrive, and I present to you a sweet video, the start of a brand new Beebo book and a discussion of windows and glass.

Howdy. If you've just joined us on this bloggish adventure, Gemma and her husband (me) are halfway through building a house and living to tell the tale. We bought a section, designed a house, couldn't afford it, so did it anyway. Then the same week we started building we found out we were pregnant. Gemma is in the third trimester now, and we don't know which will be born first - the beautiful product of our love that will be with us for the rest of our lives, or the baby.

Our house gestates in the womb of Three Kings, Auckland.

A lot of Stuffish commensters have been wondering what our architectural philosophy is, so I'll outline it thus: we've watched so many Grand Designs programmes where the house is supposed to "blend into", "hunker into", "become part of", "disappear into", "grow out of" or "live harmoniously with", its surroundings that I have grown extremely ill. With careful design and a bit of luck our house will instead fight with nature, scream at its surroundings, clash violently with the earth, and stick out like a dog's lipstick penis. That will be a nice change, I think.



Build Progress

Last week I thought the roof would be on by about now, but now it looks like it will be the end of this week or early next week. Sam and Deek are still working on the things that need to be done before it arrives. To add to their rush, the windows are about to arrive as well and there are jobs that need to be done to ensure they get to the house on time.

In preparation for the roof, the internal gutters have been lined with a product called Epiclad. We've hidden the guttering on the front to be all fancy and architectural, and though it costs more, it's going to pay off in spades when people look at the front of our house and go "oh, that looks nice".

This Epiclad stuff looks like someone's just cut up a whole lot of inner tubes and glued them on. It does feel robust, but if I was making a waterproofing material I wouldn't call it "Epiclad" because that sounds like a prescription-only medicine. I'd call it "Duck's Back".


Sam and Deek have also taken the rolls of steel tape we saw in last week's blogging postulation, and stretched them in "X" shapes across the rafters in places the engineer and draughtsmen have determined they will brace the structure. They are attached to the rafters with a few nails.

Each one has a stretching attachment that has then been ratcheted up to load the bands up with force, bracing the whole house so that when you push, knock or bounce it, it is rock solid and won't move.

Sam told me he got up on the roof and jumped up and down Gangnam-style while Deek stood below him checking for movement and they were both pleasantly surprised that a) the house didn't budge and b) Sam didn't slip and nut himself on the rafter. Double bonus.


Sam and Deek haven't stopped there. They've nailed some thin ply on to the walls on each side of our bedroom.

Sam calls these "brace walls" as the plywood, 5mm thin though it might be, braces the structure. Even though there are only two walls here, they are extremely important, as Sam explained to me in a text:

"The kitchen/bedroom wall ties into the back block wall and the concrete floor then connects down into the steel flitch beam in the midfloor which then ties into the concrete block wall in the midfloor and on opposite side to timber staircase wall, which then connects down through the concrete floor into the double concrete ribs in the garage ceiling which then tie to the concrete footings."

To me this sounds ominously like the Death Star. If bloody Luke Skywalker can just get his X-wing blaster shot into our kitchen wall it'll go right to the heart of Big King Mountain and blow the whole place up. I won't be able to sleep.


On Wednesday there were five guys on site, and the pace was frenetic. James had two diggers on the go, putting enough fill into the hole where our patch of flat lawn will be to create a flat surface down there for the large blocks of polystyrene that will arrive soon. Meanwhile Sam and Deek were putting finishing rafters into the pergola over the deck in final preparation for the roof.

It was so exciting, I wanted to dance. Instead I made a little video.

There isn't enough Korean dance music in the New Zealand building industry. 



Since then the pace hasn't slowed. Thursday saw this crazy action (thanks to James for uploading these photos for me):

Some massive polystyrene blocks were brought to site and laid into the hole that will be our little flat lawn on the north side of our house.

How can it be that our garden is made of polystyrene? According to James, and he has no reason to lie, it is lighter than dirt so means the block walls don't have to be stronger and more expensive. It won't compact, deteriorate or leech over time, and when the price of polystyrene skyrockets we can sell our lawn to Rio Tinto, who will mine it for its lucrative seam of white gold.

Can you believe that bits of polystyrene this big even exist?

The polystyrene was laid up to about 600mm below the top of the lawn.

At this point it's crucial to cover the poly quickly with dirt as the white surface will attract penguins.

And finally Sam and Deek erect a temporary safety fence before the digger compacts the topsoil - leaving us with our precious patch of flat.

Looking north from the kitchen across where the deck will be to the lawn. Mint!



As an appendix to this blog today I have included a discussion of the choices of types of windows and glass that we New Zealanders have, and what we are thinking of going with. I've appended it because it's pretty hard-out tech stuff that I love but might be a bit ... boring is a strong word. If you're keen, knock yourself out.


Next week we should see the roof appear and finally keep the rain off our house. With luck we'll also hear back from Auckland Council (Thou art as mysterious as a lady, and as beautiful as another lady). Last week draughtsman Karl finalised the drawings of the problematic driveway and footpath crossing to the satisfaction of the transport people so hopefully they will rubber-stamp the amendment to our resource consent and we can then pour the concrete in the garage, driveway and footpath.

Also next week I'll announce the last new prizes in the "Guess our move-in date and Win" competition, and give everyone a FINAL chance to enter.


Everyone that is except "people" who have joined the Pakeha Party.


Thanks for reading,

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. I am proud now to present the first pages of the next book in the Beebo series. Enjoy!


Appendix 1: Glass Musings

The windows for our house are imminent, so Sam and Deek have also been busy measuring all the 30 holes where the windows and sliding doors are going, as well as the places where flashing is needed.

The windows are all coming from the crowd at Rylock and it took Sam, Deek, James, and a technician from Rylock two days as a team to accurately measure every single aperture and flashing so that when the windows come they fit like a glove. In fact they are going to make gloves look positively ill-fitting and baggy.

On Tuesday night Gemma and I went through the window schedule that James sent to us about five months ago - and we found five things we think are wrong. Hopefully there is time to fix them before the windows are ordered. This is the part of the house that always screws things up in Grand Designs. In all the episodes ever made, every single house has been delayed because the glass was coming from Germany, arrived late, didn't fit and had to be reordered.

The main question Gemma and I have suddenly become uncertain of is what sort of glass is going inside the aluminium frames. Double glazing is a given, as the benefits are enormous. After that there are other options you can add. Low-E glass has a coating on it that reduces heat transfer - so the glass is even more insulative. Argon-filled glass again reduces heat transfer - but not by as much as Low-E. And making one of the glass panes in the double glazing unit 'Laminated' means the UV rays are nearly eliminated so furnishings don't fade. In the below table the R value is our familiar insulation value and the mm measurement is the gap between the glass.

Single Glazed 6mm: UV 37% R.17

Double Glazed 12mm UV 53% R.37 

Double Glazed Laminate 12mm: UV 99% R.37

Double Glazed Low-E 12mm: UV 63% R.53

Doube Glazed Laminated Low-E: UV 99% R.53

Double Glazed Argon filled 12mm: UV 53% R.39

Double Glazed Low E and Argon 12mm: UV 63% R.62

Double Glazed Low E, Argon, Laminated: UV 99% R.62

And here are the costs we believe would be added to our whole house by adding each: Laminated +$1900, Low E +$5600, Argon +$1500.

Other considerations are: we've been told that Low E glass can a) be hazy and b) add a slight tint to the glass - We don't want that! Furthermore Low E glass will reduce the warming effect of the sun in winter. And we've been told that argon-filled units lose their argon over time and aren't worth it.

And there are other options too that we have ruled out. PVC or wooden joinery considerably reduces heat loss, but wooden is expensive and PVC is very very ugly. "Thermally broken" aluminium joinery adds a rubber bridge between the aluminium that faces out and that which faces in - making good gains in R value of the frames. But it would cost about $17,000 more for the whole house, so ... No.

Overall, it's bloody hard to figure out which glass is best. How much difference will we notice? How much money will each option save us over time? We are leaning towards just going with the laminated double glazed.

I'll tell you next week what we go for. Any thoughts much appreciated!