Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Crate Escape

After almost exactly nine months to the day, we are moving out of our Shipping container and into a real house again.
It doesn't look like much now, but this patch of ground marks our home for the past 9 months

With so much to do in the coming week, it feels as if there’s very little time to reflect on what it feels like to no longer be living in our tin box, or indeed rejoice to be finally living in a brand new house which we’ve designed and helped build ourselves.

Our version of marking off days in confinement -
Rose removes the final sheep label from above our bed.
I’d love to report that there was a ribbon cutting ceremony, and we moved into a fully functioning home. But in reality, we are crammed into two bedrooms, one of them set up as a very temporary kitchen/dining room. Our actual kitchen won’t be installed until mid-January, as we made the decision to sand the floors first – and this certainly takes a lot of pressure off the cabinet-makers. Our beautiful gas oven is in place and working perfectly, but what we don’t have is a sink – and we’ve both quickly realised that this humble and overlooked convenience is what truly separates us from the beasts. Being able to turn a tap, fill a basin with water and then pull out a plug afterwards is something I’ll never take for granted again, Plumbing truly was an enormous leap forward in the development of human civilisation.

I unplug our generator from the container for the final time...
In the meantime, we fill a dishwashing bowl with the water which Roger still graciously supplies to us, and at least have a tap installed in a length of house thanks to Mich our Plumber. More good news is that he will be returning in mid January – much earlier than we expected.
We’re aching to truly move in, but our builder, electricians and plasters will be working up until the last minute before Christmas, so for now we remain in our bedroom limbo – less moved in than feeling as if we are infesting our own home.

... and our patented cat ramp is taken down.
But the fortitude which got us through the last nine months will see us through this week, and the feeling when we can finally start living in the other rooms of our beautiful house will be a festive one indeed. Christmas is almost here, and with it comes a chance to relax and enjoy some peace and goodwill.

After a hard days carrying and cleaning, it's as if we'd never been here.

Our first meal in our new, umm... guest bedroom.
 There is possibly another couple of months work to be done on our home, and although the crate has been taken away, this blog will continue until our home is completely finished – after a short Christmas break.
And so - all the very best for a safe and happy Christmas to everyone who has kindly looked-in on our adventure this year – see you in the prosperous New Year!

Rose and Al

Snoopy and the Red Baron, photographed above our new home.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Array of sunshine

We’ve got the power!  Or will, once these beautiful panels are connected to our batteries.

Eight is enough - or we hope so, anyway.
 It’s been a funny sort of time at Little Bush.  On the one hand it’s almost Christmas and the happy traditions and expectation involved make this my favourite time of the year.
It’s a time for catching up with friends and sharing seasonal cheer, and congratulating each other on getting to the end of another trying year intact.  As well as the enormous project which this blog chronicles, we have both survived yet another major restructure at work, so there is plenty to celebrate.  At the time of writing we are due to move in tomorrow, so excitement is high.

The other hand offers all those things we knew would happen, but preferred not to think about: Hidden costs, overspends, a rise in bank interest rates and Christmas holidays preventing certain important services from being installed before our move.  These seem to have all surfaced at once, threatening to put a dent in Snoopy’s festive propeller.
I say we’d preferred not to think about these gremlins, but they are hardly unexpected, probably inevitable, in fact. And thanks for another vet bill because some other cat has handed your bottom to you yet again, Ed! 

It might just be that despite never falling out of love with our temporary home, we are tired of living in a box, showering under a tree and never having quite enough light to find anything easily.  As we’ve frequently written: it’s not so bad, but nine months is a long time.  A week of cloud and rain hasn’t really helped, although now we have good reason to alter our attitude to precipitation – one of our water tanks is almost a third full – surely a record for December!
It seems unbelievable to write these words, but the shipping container is going back to whence it came in two days time.  Royal Wolf generously allowed us to extend our tenancy so that we could move out this weekend, and soon there will only be a large rectangular patch on the ground where our crate outdoors once stood.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of our photovoltaic panels being installed.  These eight ‘power panes’ will provide us with all of our electricity in years to come (I admit I couldn’t help but smirk when the Huntly power station had it’s small issue recently) and the goods news is that apparently we will be all connected before Christmas.  The sun will be powering our Christmas tree lights and playing my Christmas CDs –it really is the season to be jolly!

Not Christmas wrapped, but still very exciting to open
The aluminium tracks supporting the panels are set at 40 degrees
for maximum solar gain throughout the year.
The panels will be connected to our batteries next week - then bring on the sun!
(it is coming, apparently)

Waste away

Our biopod is now installed, quietly awaiting it’s population of worms, and something for them to be getting on with.

For the second time in as many weeks, large trucks and a digger sink a huge tank into the ground on our property.  This time it was allegedly Wairarapa’s first Biolytix biopod, a system which uses worms and micro-organisms to organically convert waste water and sewage into garden irrigation water.
It’s negligible use of power made it the best possible choice for our off-grid situation, but the moment of truth will come when it’s connected to our electricity supply (when we have one) and we start using it.

The Pod is buried, cemented in place and connected to our plumbing. 
The wiring for the pump will be connected later.
The digger then excavates the tracks for the feedlines...
...which will irrigate the soil below ground with the clean, processed water
from the Biopod.  Sounds good, doesn't it?

Friday, 9 December 2011

A to Shed

Blokes might like to spend time in sheds, but I’m married to a woman who’s just built one.

As we try to pull various different elements together in the hope of moving into a house with power and water, it was time to address the need for shed.  To meet safety regulations, the batteries holding the electricity generated by our photovoltaic panels need to be stored away from the house.  The risk of fire associated with any electrical equipment and the possibility of sulphuric gas emission from the batteries makes this mandatory, so a shed was urgently needed, otherwise no batteries – and no power.
Also housed in this structure will be associated monitoring equipment, an inverter for converting the DC current from our panels to AC for home usage, and our trusty generator for back-up.

Digging pile holes: The toolbelt and hat look the part, but the pink gardening
gloves spoil the image, somewhat
 Rose is an extremely capable woman, possessing the kind of mind and skills to create what she sees in her head quickly and efficiently.  I could draw you an amazing shed, but for this time critical task, she was the best man for the job. And even if she wasn’t, I knew it was her idea of heaven to tackle this project, so I embraced the role-change and did the shopping and laundry while she got started.

Rose's saw point
 Dean got the list of material she needed, and also gave us a huge amount of help with digging the pile holes and setting them in place.  The shed will be right in the path of the same gales which caused one of our walls to need extra reinforcing, so it needed to be as sturdy as possible, and Dean helped us make sure that it will stay firmly anchored to the ground.

A nail gun! Someone looks happy...

The structure begins to take shape

all it needs now is the outside cladding and a door
But its complete enough to house our 12 two volt industrial deep cycle batteries

Plus inverter and various monitoring equipment

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Weapons of grass destruction

Serious grass-mowing hardware.
While the house has swarmed with activity, our property hasn’t exactly been resting in pastoral serenity, either. Before Mich could begin the excavation work mentioned in the last post, a firm request was put in that we do something about our rampant grass. The warm, wet spring had created perfect conditions for jungle-like growth around the house, while Roger’s stock grazing in the lower part of our property has kept that section beautifully presented all year.

Apart from appearance and convenience for the diggers, untended grass can quickly become a fire hazard when it dries out in the summer sun.
Rose somehow managed to convince a baleage company to come all the way out to cut an area which all the others had pronounced too small to be worth their trouble, so we now have an enormous lawn, and 18 bales of stock feed already going to good homes.

The mowing begins, leaving a deep layer of horizontal grass.

After being left to dry out, this is then ‘whisked’ into rows,
which are drawn into another machine and deposited as bales.

Which are then wrapped and stacked
(just as well, Rose and I almost suffered hernias trying to shift one ourselves)
For more on our deep and sometimes mixed relationship with rural grass, follow this link: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/capital-life/home-garden/6080153/A-personal-war-on-the-lawn

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Pipe down!

The Earth has moved, and then moved back again, leaving us with drainage, pipes and water tanks.

Could we possibly have a larger truck, please?
Over a three day period our Plumber, Mich, worked with a digger driver to install our drainage and water systems.  During this time our property was visited by an impressive amount of vehicles including trucks, diggers of two different sizes and finally a crane, complete with flashing pilot vehicle.  When our concrete water tanks were finally lifted into place I remember watching all this impressive hardware and marvelling that it must be costing someone a fortune – until I remembered that it was me!

Flashing lights and everything.  Oo - it'll cost ya!
 But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First of all, a trench was dug out from our bathroom to our next paddock, which will eventually be used to connect our revolutionary biolytic sewerage system (see Worms of Endearment) – due to be installed next Monday (!)

Pipe dream-team: Mich sights, and Colin digs
 Then more trenches were dug around the house, which serve a dual purpose.  Firstly, they hold the pipes which will finally give our roof water something to flow into (the mud created at the bottom of our unconnected gutter down-pipes always vexed me greatly), and carry this precious liquid to our water tanks. The trenches also hold nova–flow coil, collecting our excess ground water and channelling it to a soak pit, which will also accommodate any over-flow from our water tanks.  Regulations additionally specify that the soak pit needs a line of coil feeding into our stream, in the unlikely event that it also needs an overflow.

The pipes and nova-flow coil ready to be installed
 Finally, an enormous pit was dug, looking for all the world as if we were having a swimming pool installed.  This was to accommodate our water tanks which would be sunk 800mm into the ground, just above the current level of our water table.  All of this excavating was done with Pope and Gray’s usual precision (these men are artists with their enormous diggers, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) and Mich’s careful laser sighting, ensuring that the water pipes have the correct descending gradient and that the tanks will be completely level.

Not a swimming pool, this pit will hold our tanks
 Despite this, a near disaster was averted when I made up for my ‘hole in the roof’ transgression in the last post.  After the second tank had been lowered into place and the enormous crane was preparing to drive off, I noticed that the tank was actually sitting about 10 degrees out of true.  Asking Mich if this was an ‘optical illusion’, he got the crane back in record time and the problem was resolved.  Apparently the fact that the tanks themselves don’t have completely straight sides had contributed to the alarming lean.

The first tank is lifted into place
 Although all this work left the ground around our house looking like a First World War battlefield, once everything was correctly in place the diggers replaced and leveled the soil. With the wonderfully hot and dry weather we’ve had this week; it’s hard to believe that the pits and trenches ever existed.  We find ourselves now looking forward to some rain so that we can start filling our water tanks!

Dawn breaks over our newly installed tanks, and replaced ground
 A very satisfying few days work, but now we need to have our kitchen installed and bathroom tiled before Mich can finally connect our water to taps.  If this doesn’t all magically come together before he leaves December 16, we will continue our ‘longest-ever camping experience’ for another couple of months – but in our new house rather than a shipping container.  The ‘crate’ will be returning to Royal Wolf in the middle of this month (they generously extended our tenancy by several days) and we will suddenly have living space for the first time in nine months.  We can only hope we’ll have connected power and water as well, but it won’t be the end of the world, if not.  After all, we’re used to it!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Funky Gibbing

Interior walls are something I’d always taken for granted, until I spent a few days packing glue and screw guns to put them up myself.

Gratuitous, but soothing sunset image
It’s been a while since I wrote. In fact, the spaces between my blog entries have been getting steadily longer. It isn’t because I don’t have anything to write about – or don’t want to - it’s actually the exact opposite.
We’ve always suspected that the process of building our home would always end in a mad scramble, particularly with the universal deadline of Christmas looming. Added to this, we are losing our builder on December the 15, as he leaves to start a new life in Tauranga, and our Plumber the day after.
I’m writing this on December 1, known and feared as ‘Snoopy day’ in our household. This is the all-important date when I traditionally dust off the Christmas C-Ds and give them their 25 day thrashing - with emphasis on my own favourites (one of them featuring a Baron and a Beagle).
But I’m digressing; the point is that we have two weeks left to make the most of our Builder and Plumber. Both will return if they have to – but who knows when? (This will occur during Christmastime in New Zealand, for heavens sake. I almost died once because everyone, the Medical profession included, was on a well-earned Christmas holiday).

Brad and Dean show how it's done.
To get to the point – the build is really busy. Dean has enlisted the help of Brad to help him in these last few weeks, and even I’ve been press-ganged – gluing and screwing gib panels to our many walls.
Taking a week off work over Election-time wasn’t easy, but those days I spent away from work were no holiday. Hours spent inside wardrobes and cupboards with only the pungent reek of industrial adhesive, and the screech of the drill head burring another screw for company, became my life.

I’m sticking with you, ‘cause I’m made out of glue...
I’m not complaining, but Rose certainly did when she came home and found that something had been installed on our roof without me even being aware of it. My excuse that I was stuck in a cupboard really didn’t cut it, as you might imagine.
Not only did my duties include the afore-mentioned Gib-ing, but I also had to be able to monitor and answer a plethora of questions from the builder and the team of electricians we had finishing the wiring. The fact that one limber little sparky got on our roof, put a hole in it while I was there and this escaped my notice was considered an issue – but when the roof addition was revealed to be the aerial connection I was off the hook.

The aerial connection which caused so much strife
Added to this, I’ve tried my best, but have had to suffer the humiliating and somewhat confusing experience of being told off by my own builder for what he considered some substandard work on my own house. I feel the tug of mental vertigo even reading that sentence…
I can’t fault Dean for being a perfectionist, his attention to detail and dedication to the task at hand has been hugely reassuring.
The Spring equinoxial gales arrived late, but made up for lost time very quickly. During a particularly ferocious gust, Dean noticed that a section of our west-facing wall was moving slightly, despite having been built to the specifications for extreme weather conditions. He told me straight away, bluntly made our draughtsman aware, and then ordered some more timber to reinforce the wall. Before this could be done the gales returned the following night, so he drove all the way out at 10.30pm to install a prop against the structure for all-round peace of mind till morning.

Could this strut have saved our wall?
The Plasterer began work today (an aspect of our project which we are looking forward to being done properly, for once. We’ve had problems in the past, but that’s another story).

A rising platform apparatus has been used to raise the gib panels up to make create our higher ceilings, so I’m looking forward to seeing progress and I’ll post again very soon – there’s too much to write about!

Rose takes over nail punching duties...

...and turns her hand to Gib-boarding, as well

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Batts in the Belfry

 As we insulate our house with a certain pink kiwi icon, it seems an apt time to re-examine our ‘mission statement’.
Mich, our Plumber, steps into the 'pink palace'
 The project management triangle is often raised when planning an endeavour, or excusing a result which doesn’t meet with universal satisfaction.  The three points of this triangle are cost, schedule and scope and they constantly maintain pressure against one another throughout any project.
In building our home, this model naturally applies, but could also be interpreted as cost, schedule and environmental responsibility.  Our commitment to sustainable living has tugged constantly against our timeframe and particularly our budget, threatening to turn our triangle into a point of singularity and become our own time and matter-engulfing black hole. 
Rose and Ed examine the Gib board waiting to become our interior walls
 Another pressure is the well-intended expectations of others, whose encouragement has been more sustaining to us than they realise, but whose sense of scope isn’t constrained by the practical factors which our vision must meet.  For example: so that we stand a chance of moving into a mostly-completed house by Christmas (THIS year), without financially crippling ourselves, we’ve chosen to insulate our home with fibreglass Batts.
Other, more exotic and arguably more environmentally-friendly options exist (including natural wool) but Batts isn’t the pink peril it’s sometimes claimed to be, either.
Firstly, it’s made from up to 80% recycled glass, utilising huge quantities of a waste product to actually benefit sustainable living. Batts has earned an accreditation from Environmental Choice New Zealand which assesses every aspect of the manufacturing process and end product in relation to our environment.  But most importantly, it has a proven track record since 1961, guaranteed to keep our home warm and dry by preventing airflow through interior and exterior walls, therefore conserving our preciously earned energy for the next 50 years.

Dean cuts and places the gib board (seen here in our study),
ready for us to ‘glue and screw’
 The next few weeks are going to be a flurry of activity, with electricians, our builder, plumber and waste system installer all scrambling over one another to fit out our almost completed home with the services it needs.  By the time we move out of our container and into our new house this adventure will have lasted almost exactly nine months – a full gestation period!

While all this has gone on I’ve been responsible for hammering
in 20kg of nails to keep our new floor in place.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Down to the Wires

Our floor is now covered in matai boards, and the walls sprout electrical cables like multi-coloured jungle vines. This is apparently called ‘first fix’.

We no longer have to pick our way carefully across the exposed floor joists, risking life,
limb and under floor pipes. Now we could waltz across this flawless floor if we wanted to.

The spring weather continues to be somewhat indifferent, but with the focus now on the inside of the house this hasn’t affected progress at all.
Dean somehow managed to lay our floorboards in record time, so now it just remains for me to nail them all down. It will be a long, tedious and uncomfortable process – time to reach for the iPod...

Our under-floor black polythene sea begins to disappear as the ‘Planks from Palmy’
start to line up.
Meanwhile the housing for our solar tubes is mounted on the roof. We altered the angle
and position slightly (from 40 to 35 degrees) so it won’t interfere with our roof line too much.
The wiring is installed in the areas we indicated with our ‘symbols of power’
a couple of weeks ago.  Don't ask me what goes where...
As the weather warms up Rose discovers that the ‘solar heated shower’
she bought at the beginning of the year does actually work.
(Basically a big rubber bladder with a nozzle attached, it gets filled with water,
left out in the sun all day and is apparently very refreshing.)