Sunday, 28 June 2009

Plans and progress


I've just realised that the only plans we've posted on the blog are the first set we had drawn up, which were designed by an architect. As you may already know, we had to abandon the original design because it would have been too expensive to pay someone to build it for us, and too difficult for us to attempt ourselves as first-time builders.

So here, at last, are the plans of the house we're actually building! Iain and I decided on the layout together, and I produced detailed sketches which Phil (our tame architect) then transformed into proper plans that would cut it with the planning department. Not so much Grand Designs, more like The Playschool School of Architecture ('Which window will it be today?'- the square window!)

The floor plan

After my friend Melissa and her son Nikko came to visit us on site, Nikko expressed concern that the bedroom might be too small for our bed. I can assure Nikko (and anyone else who's wondering the same thing) that the bedroom is big enough for the bed, but that fitting anything else in the room once the bed is in (such as a person, for instance) might be a bit of a tall order. There's a reason why the bedroom door slides into the wall rather than opening inwards like a normal door.

The sitting room's not a bad size; in fact, it's bigger than the sitting room in any of the houses we've lived in since we got married. The kitchen is compact, but no smaller than the kitchen of the rental we're in at the moment, and that's plenty big enough for us.

We're not bothered about the size of the rooms, but there are a couple of things we think will take a bit of getting used to. Firstly, the lack of storage (there's just one small cupboard in the entire house) and secondly the fact that we've effectively only got one usable room, so we can't get away from each other very easily. Still, there's a whole lot of outdoors to escape to!

A view of the cabin from the front

Here's a view of the front of the cabin. At the moment we're thinking of painting the cladding red and having a green roof. There are lots of north-facing windows (the equivalent of south-facing windows for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere) so the interior should get plenty of light, but the veranda will keep out direct sun, which should keep the house nice and cool in summer. Both rooms have sliding doors out onto the veranda. We're planning on extending part of the deck a couple of metres past the veranda, so we've got a nice outdoor living and entertaining area.


At long last, we've completed the wall framing, which is quite a milestone! It's taken us six weeks to do what a team of builders could have accomplished in a couple of days, but we're chuffed to bits about what we've achieved so far. It will take us as long as it takes us, and fretting about how slow we are won't help us to finish any faster.

The two photos below show us both in action, nailing the ribbon plate onto the top of the external walls. We're using clamps to make sure the ribbon plate is flush with the outside of the top plate.

Iain shows off not only his hammering skills but also his double chin

I prove that hammers and double chins are not just for blokes

After we'd nailed the ribbon plate down we had to secure it to each stud with a wire dog. The wire dogs require a lot of force to drive in, and I wasn't getting anywhere with an ordinary hammer, so I used a lump hammer instead. Every ten minutes or so I had to take a 'pathetic girly' break because my arm was aching so much.

View of the frame - looking towards the kitchen from the bedroom door

Next weekend we move onto a new and exciting job - putting up the roof trusses. I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

And now for something completely different

As I've got a bit of spare time this week, I thought I'd spend some of it posting to the blog about a few of the other things we've been doing lately, apart from building our house.

Iain's role at work this year has changed a bit. He's no longer tutoring on the full time teacher aide course. Instead he's in charge of the 'mixed mode' version of the course (partly correspondence, partly taught). This consists of regular workshops and tutorials, as well as visiting students in school placements, but it's not a full-time tutoring commitment. The rest of the time Iain's been putting together the company's e-learning website.

The first course to go online is the certificate in adult literacy, and eventually all the company's courses will be available online, including the teacher aide course. Creating an online learning site from scratch is proving a steep learning curve, even for someone as techno-savvy as Iain. It involves programming, design (of the online activities as well as the overall look of the site), video production and editing, and learning to use a whole range of unfamiliar computer programs. Here's the link for anyone who's interested:

Shot from the local newspaper of Iain, his colleague Jason and the e-learning site they've created

As well as putting in lots of time creating the website, both during and after work, Iain's also studying for a postgraduate diploma in e-learning, which takes up most of his remaining free time in the evenings. As for the weekends, I think you already know what he spends them doing!

As for me, after an intense couple of weeks in order to meet a consultancy deadline, I've now got a whole week off. Work often pans out like that for me; I'll have weeks or even months of working ridiculously long hours, and then I'll have other times when I have no work at all. For someone like me, who loves routine and tires easily, it's the only real downside of my job.

My latest big project -- a series of six library books about space for Macmillan Australia -- is now in the design and production phase. The series is going to be called 'Space Frontiers' (not my choice of title!) and is aimed at 8 to 12 year-olds. I'm looking forward to seeing the first set of proofs in the next couple of months, with publication being scheduled for early next year.

I've got a new big project on the horizon, too. On the back of my work on 'One Africa Maths' I've been offered the opportunity to write a science scheme in a similar vein. Initially the scheme will be produced for the Nigerian market, but the plan is to adapt it for other African countries at a later date, so it could end up being a long-term commitment.

And what about the rest of the family? Not having any children to boast about, I'll have to regale you with a story about the cat.

Pookie, our retarded 22-toed excuse for a feline, will never make it into the 'heartwarming animal story' slot at the end of the TV news. She can't skateboard, she doesn't steal stuffed toys, and she never takes a ride in the postman's mailbag. However, she has exhibited her fair share of bizarre and neurotic behaviour over the last three and a half years, including bringing home litter, digging bowling ball-sized holes in the lawn and biting chunks out of Iain's ankles. Her latest habit is piddling in the bath. She can get out of the cat flap during the day and she's got a litter tray to use at night, but she's obviously decided that pristine white porcelain is more the cut of her jib than garden dirt or kitty litter. At the moment the worst marital misdemeanour Iain and I can accuse each other of is leaving the bathroom door open.

Pookie engaging in another of her hobbies, climbing in the cupboards

Sunday, 14 June 2009

A frustrating fortnight

Progress on the house build has been frustratingly slow over the past couple of weeks. We had hoped to have got the roof trusses up by now, but things won't allow themselves to be hurried, no matter how impatient we get, so we're doing our best to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

Last weekend we finished attaching the hardware, which was cause for a minor celebration. Every window needed a strap on either end of the lintel and every stud above the lintel had to have a strap attaching it to the lintel and going all the way over the top of the frame. Like the wire dogs the week before, everything had to be routered in. Regulations call for six nails in every side, which came to a total of around 240 nails -- that's a lot of hammering! My hammer, a cheap one that came as part of a tool kit, started to fall apart, so I had to buy a new one.

The finished strapping on one of the kitchen windows

We've spent most of this weekend trying to square up the frame. There were still two corners to plumb up, which proved to be a real headache. We had to rebuild part of the frame, taking out a couple of nogs (the horizontal pieces) and replacing them with shorter ones so we could bring the end of the wall in a bit. I'm sure that if we'd known what we were doing we could have straightened everything up more easily, but we haven't got a clue about what you're supposed to do. When our first method (whacking the thing with a sledgehammer) didn't work, taking the frame apart was the only alternative we could think of.

Once the corners were plumb we made a start on getting the top of the walls straight. They tend to bow in in some places and out in others, so you have to use a string line to work out where they ought to be, and then use bracing to keep them there. We've now finished the bracing along one of the long walls.

We've borrowed the neighbour's lawnmower -- Mike's bullocks grazing our hill

The completed bracing along the front wall

Once the bracing is complete, it has to stay in place until after the cladding is on, otherwise the walls might bow out under the weight of the roof.

Next weekend Iain's taking both Friday and Monday off work, so we'll have four days to spend on site. The next steps are: 1. Brace the other three walls, 2. Attach the top plate (more wire dogs - ugh!) 3. Put up the roof trusses. This week I'm letting go of expectations, so I'm not going to predict how far we'll get. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Going to the dogs

No, that's not a river -- the lower part of our track is flooded.

Iain took Friday off work, and today was a bank holiday, so we had a four-day weekend to work on the house. Winter has arrived in earnest now, and it’s been a struggle to motivate ourselves in the mornings, but once we’ve arrived on site, we’ve been too busy to pay much attention to the cold.

Me (AKA Antifreeze Woman) not noticing the cold

Our first job was to straighten up all four corners of the frame so that they were vertically plumb. We reckoned this would take us about half a day, but it ended up taking us all of Friday and Saturday. This was because we had to partially rebuild one of the end walls, which was seriously wonky. It wasn’t right when it was delivered, but dropping it when we were trying to put it up the other week probably didn’t help to straighten it!

Our next job was to attach the wire dogs: enormous hammer-in staples, which will prevent the roof lifting off the frame in high winds. The wire dogs go on all the exterior walls, joining every stud to the top plate, both inside and out. They need to be flush, and our friendly builder, Denis, said we should ‘just bruise them in’. Evidently neither of us is much of a bruiser, because we couldn’t get them anything like flush using the brute force approach, so we had to cut out channels. For all 170 of them. Iain used a router for the studs in the middle of the walls, and where the router wouldn’t fit (in the corners and at junctions with internal walls) I cut out the channels by hand with a chisel. It took us all of Sunday and Monday. From now on, we’ll be using ‘wire dog’ as an expletive.

Iain, a ladder, a router and lots of wire dogs

And finally, something not related to the house build. In typical laid-back Kiwi fashion, the photographer who took photos of the citizenship ceremony took almost three weeks to post the proofs up on his website. Here, at last, is the promised snap. We reckon it’s not a bad one of the two of us, although my hair looks inexplicably ginger. Either the photographer didn’t have the white balance adjusted correctly for the lighting conditions, or else he was using a special gingerfication filter. I prefer the second explanation.

We don't scrub up too badly, do we?