House Build: so close yet so far

03:03, Nov 25 2013

Ah there you are.

Before this post begins let me apologise for the tardiness of this blog. I had it all ready for posting last Friday but the blog machine chucked a cog and by the time they'd installed the new parts it was too late. So this week there will be Monday and Friday posts. 

Welcome to this 57th postrain of my blogathon about building our house in Three Kings, on the side of one of Auckland city's 50 volcanoes.

We started in January with this.

Then progressed through many stages,



Looking at the above photo sequence, if you blink your eyes rapidly while moving your head minutely you can create a video timelapse sequence with the above six photos. The effect is incredible. It's best to hum loudly as you do it. It might take a while to get the hang of it. Try humming louder. If it doesn't work, there is something wrong with you and you should see a doctor tomorrow morning. 

There are only ten days to go to end up with this:

Just eight days! I know we are nearly there because the milk in our fridge won't expire until after we move in and I won't need to put the recycling bin out again before we move. That's how close we are to finishing. Unless something goes wrong...

Up until now I've been enthusiastic, energetic and excited about this project. Those have been my only states. If things got me down I might slip to merely 'amped' but I never fell below 'revved up', and mostly remained somewhere between 'psyched',  'pumped' and 'high on crack'. Yes, I've been extremely, annoyingly excited. Why would I be otherwise - given how lucky we are?

We would have made a shit episode of Grand Designs, because on that show it's a requirement to reach the pits of despair. 'Gutted', 'Depressed' and 'Anxious' are normal and 'stoked' is reserved for the last five minutes of each show.

At exactly 66 minutes into the episode Kevin's divinity revealed itself when three holy angels flew in and roosted in his eyebrow. 

Now, as we approach just a week to go until we are supposed to move in, I have to admit things are getting a wee bit on top of me. I've probably slipped to about 'chipper' or even just 'pert'. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep with our new baby, or the fact that a big project like this is very hard to squeeze into life alongside a busy job. Or maybe it's the rigours of semi-professional blogging week in and week out - putting in minutes and minutes of "effort" at the keyboard and taking literally tens of photos a month has subdued me.

Perhaps it's the fact that in the last seven days we've added about $15,000 to the expected mortgage at the end of the build by discovering things we'd forgotten and by agreeing to new variations. In fact just after Gemma and I found out on Monday that we had to agree to almost $6000 of extra costs for retaining walls (due to unexpected rocks in the ground) we then got ourselves in for an extra $3800 for cedar cladding to the garage door instead of normal aluminium. I think partly we did it out of spite because at least it was a variation that we could control and choose (if not really afford).

Perhaps it's because we have struck a hiccup with the height of the house - with both the chimney and the skylights sticking up above the allowed height and neighbours above and beside us voicing understandable concern. We're meeting the neighbours and project manager James about it this weekend and I'm worried we're going to have to muck with the house, and it's going to cost us money. See next week's post for how this pans out.

Maybe it's that I realised on Saturday that I've made a mistake planning for the data and speaker wiring and didn't pass a cable behind the fireplace from where the tv and amplifier are going to where the left speaker and subwoofer are going.

I need to get the wires from Sandy (wearing green) to Missy (wearing pink).

Now I'm not sure how to fix it without expensive mucking around removing fireplaces or putting holes in walls or stone tiles...

Or maybe it's something as silly as the fact that Gemma told me she was standing on the front steps of the new house and a guy drove past, staring at her and shaking his head, as if to say 'That ugly monstrosity you built is f^%$ing with our shit'. Our house might not be Fallingwater, but surely it's not so bad that you would forsake safe driving practise to indicate your disapproval? Gemma said there was nobody in the passenger seat but a woman in the back seat. Unless you're a taxi driver, that's not normal - it's like walking around with your arms down inside your jumper instead of through your sleeves - so I don't care so much about this guy's architectural opinion (yes I do).

Or probably it's that I just can't imagine the house is going to be finished on time: the hundreds of details big and small still to be done are ganging up on us. How can it be finished by next weekend when the movers are booked and Gemma's parents are flying from Wellington to help?

Whatever the cause of my being merely 'upbeat' I am certainly worried that James the project manager is going to call any minute to say "I've got bad news guys, you know how I said 'November 30th'...".

What's Left To Do

With two weeks to go, this is what the house looked like. Have a look at the below and see if you think this looks like a house that will be finished, ready to move in, in just ten days.

If you wink alternate eyes rapidly while singing "Royals" this sequence of photos will resolve into the entire Hobbit trilogy including the unreleased movies. 

Jobs remaining to finish in the next week to hit our promised move-in date of November 30 include: a digger landscaping the outdoor area, constructing remaining blockwork retaining walls, pouring concrete on driveway, crossing and footpath, garage door manufacture and fitting, carpeting, polishing and polyurethaning wooden floors, building wooden stairs from garage to midfloor, then gibbing them in, fitting remaining lights and other electrics, fitting final plumbing, installing all joinery items, fitting off low voltage data and tv wiring, fitting wrought iron railing on deck and lawn, rebuilding wall on street front, final tiling, and installing appliances. 

But the biggest job remaining is the installation of the stairs from the midfloor to the upper floor - a beautiful feature of the house that is costing us an arm and a leg, and most of a kidney. Ten days out, they still look like this, and James our project manager admitted the other day they are the one element out of his control. Here's how they look now,

And here's how they are supposed to look,

As I said in a previous post, we failed to come up with a cheaper way to make them, or even a new design to save costs. Now we're just hoping that at full price of over $40,000 they are actually in on time. We're relying on you, Continental Stairs! If you are reading this Continental Stairs, then what are you doing reading this? You  should be making our stairs!  Things will go very well for you if you finish them on time: I will heap praise on you, and tens of readers will be impressed with your industry and your dedication!

And not only are the stairs the biggest job, but plenty of other things can't be finished until they are done, e.g. gibbing and painting the wall behind them, carrying things up the stairs and moving in.

Of course what does it really matter if the house isn't finished at the end of next week? Well not much apart from are there really any days between Dec 1st and Christmas? And Christmas is when we've got 22 adults and 7 kids coming over to eat, and people staying in every room. No pressure!

Luckily we all know from The Block NZ that with enough Wild Bean coffees, and a few trips to ITM building place or wherever, the house could be finished OVERNIGHT! Forget two weeks - who needs two weeks?? And of course it would definitely be a professional job and not fall apart in six months. If only we could get Caleb and Abel or Hamish and Andy to come and help us!


Why Never To Project Manage Your Own Build

Over the last few weeks Gemma and I have had a taste of what it would be like to project manage a build. Let me just explain what that means. The project manager is in charge of organising the build. They hire and manage all the tradies and subbies from the engineer to the concrete layers, blockies, plumbers, sparkies, insulation installers, waterproofers, roofers, Winton Rufers - everyone. James, our project manager from our contractor Design Construction Home has about 30 subcontractors he manages on our build. On top of that the project manager organises the supply of all materials that aren't supplied by the subbies - and for James that means around 27 suppliers. And of course he has to organise it so that everything happens in the right order and everything happens on time, every subbie does everything to plan, every item that arrives on site is as specced by the architect. They have to deliver a building that matches the plans, complies with the building regulations and do it on time and to budget. Finally they have to deal with the client who always asks stupid questions, changes things, and wants everything perfect for no money and to move in last Wednesday.

Did that put you off managing your own project? And the advantage James has is that over the course of a few years he will build many many houses so his suppliers and subcontractors will work very hard to keep him happy. If you are a project manager doing a one-off job, they'll never see you again so there's no incentive to give you their best price or service, and if they get busy there's nothing to stop them deserting you for a couple of weeks, completely disrupting your schedule.


Only manage your own build if you a) can do it full time AND b) have done it before OR c) want to age quickly, lose money, get divorced and die young. And the only substitute I'd recommend for b) is if you are a builder or work in the trades and know exactly how it all works, how to communicate well with people in the industry and have a lot of contacts already.

There are parts of the build outside our contract with DCH that Gemma and I are responsible for. And this is how we've come to appreciate James a bit more. We have organised and paid for some of the materials and installation outside the contract (insulation, appliances, lighting supply, home automation, data and tv wiring, flooring...) and we are responsible for dealing with those suppliers to make sure it all arrives correct and on time. But it doesn't. No matter how good the supplier, it doesn't, and so then life is filled with tiny details: X is the wrong colour, not enough W arrived, Y is not on site yet, when is it arriving? Z has been delivered to the wrong address, why are you ordering so many letters of the alphabet?

Just as one example, today Sam and Deek texted James asking when the crane was coming because some cowboy of a truck driver contracting to one of our suppliers had delivered this box and left it...

On the road! Poor old Sam and Deek had to enlist some of the subbies at the house to help them shift it to where it should have been delivered.

Causes for Hope

But we can't remain less than "fizzing at the bung" for very long because amazing things are afoot as the subbies work up a storm. Every time we visit the house my excitement levels rebound. Wonderful packages are arriving on site.

Fisher and Paykel gear is exported to France so they have to put the "No Step" warning on the cartons because parcours (the graffiti of sports) is rife there. And nothing is more annoying on your brand new washing machine than a dirty mark from one of those running shoes where the toes are all separated.

The electrical fitoff is racing along and the walls and ceiling are sprouting new growth. Luke and his offsider Tom have been brilliant. Lukebo has turned the store room fusebox from this,

To this,

That's what I call a haircut. He's installed our lovely DC Short towel rails in the ensuite.

I never thought I'd say this about a towel rail, but 'yummy!'

And the ladder towel rail, also from DC Short, in the downstairs bathroom.

I call it the 'jungle gym' and predict Zeno's Hilary-like attempt on its notorious western face by 2017.

Gemma and I are working well with our lighting supplier Coombes and Gabbie (highly recommended by the way) to make sure the final lights are ordered and arrive on time. We're stoked with our smart, dimmable 'S50' single LED recessed lights.

Here I test a pendant light design of my own I call the "Ball of Greenstuf wrapped in Joist Tape" light.

Shrek picked his nose and all I got was this giant booger.

I think Coombes and Gabbie will be stocking "Ball of Greenstuf wrapped in Joist Tape" in their spring 2014 collection.


The garage concrete has been poured, it's dried and Deek has already started lining the ceiling.

And somehow there is even water connected to the shower. I had to try it.

At least I hope it was water.


And most impressively the joinery contractor has been delivering presents all over the house. I've learned that the inside skeleton of any joinery unit is called the carcass, and that's what we've got so far. There's a carcass in the ensuite,

You can see the Blum hardware inside because the drawer fronts have not been put on yet. The toilet backs up against the part in the foreground. 

And another one in the bathroom.

And a couple of fresh ones in the laundry,

It's like a bloody episode of Dexter. But the most impressive carcasses are the ones in the kitchen. Last Sunday the kitchen looked like this

Then on Monday this started to happen

Then on Wednesday when we popped in, we could see the whole insides of our kitchen with the fabulous high-tech soft-close hardware that we ordered installed inside the drawers and cupboards. A year ago if you'd asked me what 'kitchen hardware' is, I would have said a screwdriver in the fourth drawer down. Turns out it's a whole major choice to be made about how the kitchen cupboards and drawers etc work and look. We've gone for a brand called Blum.

Those are the soft-close mechanisms.

That opens a cupboard door upwards. 

And all of this kitchen progress caused this,

If you need any joinery, I would recommend our joiner, but please don't ask them to do anything before we've moved in. They need to keep their focus.

We are just so close to what we've been working for. It's exciting, it's nail-biting. If this was some kind of sports competition we'd be 8-1 up in a first to nine competition. We can't lose from here.

Thank you for your skilful reading. Until next week I remain very much your,

Purchase Man.

If you have an ounce of mercy in you, please take 30 seconds and go to this page and vote this as the best blog in the nation. Even if you think this is New Zealand's worst blog, you can still vote for it - in fact I'm counting on it because I derive my entire happiness not from the satisfaction of a job well done but from the approval of others. If enough people vote and this blog becomes a finalist I will announce an open home for all blog readers to visit once the house is finished.

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