Friday, 28 October 2011

Symbols of Power

It’s difficult to get our heads around, but the outside of the house is all but complete!
As our attention now turns inward, we found ourselves back in more familiar territory.

Putting up Gib board, choosing paint colours, deciding positions for taps, drains, power sockets, switches, even putting down sections of floor – we’ve been here many times before. As with all our previous homes, the scale of the endeavour has once more increased – but then so has our own level of experience.
While we continue to wrestle with a look for our new bathroom – the one room whose wall and floor coverings generally aren’t painted or carpeted afterwards; requiring a colour scheme decision straight away – the electrician needs our attention first.

Lights (pendant, wall mounted and the down-light variety), switches (single and double) and power sockets of every configuration need to be quantified, argued about, indicated, moved and possibly regretted afterwards. A fuse box needs to be housed, cables have to be run, extractor fans installed and monitoring units for our off-grid energy production positioned. I haven’t even mentioned phone jacks, coaxial cable sockets or the special requirements of our photovoltaic panels and batteries.
When we drew our own wildly inaccurate floor plan at the beginning of the year, we also supplied a ‘lighting plan’; peppering our home with various exotic symbols indicating placement of the myriad of electrical points mentioned above. This seemed to serve the purpose of making an initial quote possible, but as an unbelievably quick seven month mark in our container loomed, we suddenly found ourselves with a couple of days before the electrician arrived for his pre- wiring meeting.

We had to be ready, but fortunately, he had recommended that we literally marked positions inside our house with bits of note paper. Having already created our own hieroglyphs at the beginning of the year, we could go one better than that, so the day before the meeting saw Rose and I placing carefully printed and cut-out symbols on our house’s interior framework with double-sided tape. This took much longer than expected, because we both became acutely aware of how important each of these little sticky-backed decisions were. The process began to take on a surreal Marcel Marceau quality, as we took turns carefully miming the putting in of plugs and switching on of lights, along with the opening and closing of non-existing doors before leaving our mark. When this house is finished, we really will need to see about getting out more!

Absurd and pedantic as it all was, our care paid off the next day when the meeting took a mere hour and a half. Our electrician told us horror stories of five and a half hour endurance tests with indecisive or bickering couples, some partners even storming off and leaving him with no choice but to return for round two later. In our case, however, a few adjustments were suggested for logistical reasons and a date was set.
As of next week, we’ll be wired, socketed and switched – and the next challenge will be for us to actually generate enough power to be able to use them.

At the end of a series of long discussions, here I am - doing as I'm told.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Glazing into Space

We now have the most wonderful doors and windows in place, and the house looks just as it's supposed to! Rose got the day off to help so talks us through it...
Five of us were on hand on Friday afternoon to install all the components, some of which, like the six panel sliding doors for the living room would be quite heavy!

Mind those bumps in the driveway!

The whole lot arrived on the trailer at 12.30 - earlier than expected as rain threatened, and Fairview (the manufaturers) didn't want the new Cedar front door to get wet.

The front door is lifted into place - safe and dry.

Carl (from Fairview) drove around the house so we could deposit the right components in the right places. The process was very smooth, the lifters would get the item off the trailer and in position below the correct space, Dean and Carl lifted the frames into position, we'd all hold it upright and in the gap and Dean drilled and nailed the window frame into the framing of the house. 

The kitchen window is lifted into position

Dean nails our bedroom doors in place

The living room doors were reduced to just the end panels and lifting it into position last was a fairly easy task before putting the panels back into place and ensuring it all behaved as it should.

The clerestories were slightly more complicated and required Dean and Jacob on the roof and the rest of the team inside precariously balanced on floor joists handing the frames up to them. Tricky, heavy but we managed.

The installation of the clerestory windows required some Kiwi ingenuity.

It only took us a couple of hours to complete the job and the sun shone the whole time.  
When Al arrived home with the usual Friday night fish and chips - I had set up an outdoor table in our bedroom,  with candles and a bottle of champagne to celebrate our joinery.  Another important phase of our build seems to have gone without a hitch.

Completely weather-tight at last!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Boarding Time

Despite a great start it’s been a mainly damp spring, so far. A good time then, for our house to finally get dressed.

Nice lines! This detail makes the house look as if it was designed
by someone who knew what they were doing, rather than us.

At the earliest stages of planning our home, we fearlessly proclaimed that it would be clad in locally-grown macrocarpa, and be allowed to silver over time to resemble the nearby barns which we took our inspiration from. We liked the idea of using locally sourced and sustainable timber rather than an air-mile eating imported variety.

Rose unveils our recently delivered Cedar – it smells nice, too.
Sometimes the best laid plans can be defeated by practicality, and this was the case here. Macrocarpa has a tendency to warp, meaning that we would be constrained to using heart wood only. Even so, the potential for the timber to alter its shape clearly made our builder Dean, a little uneasy. He takes his responsibilities very seriously - his priority being ensuring that nothing is going to go wrong with this build in the future. Neither party ever wants him to have to come back to fix something.
The final nail in the macrocarpa coffin was the discovery that Dean was unable to source it in the lengths he needed – which would mean far more joins along the exterior walls, further compromising their weather-tightness.
Reluctantly we elected go with the only other option – imported Western Red Cedar.
To quote the product description: it is sustainably sourced from the natural forests of coastal British Columbia, it is noted for it’s stability, durability and fragrance – and has proved itself in New Zealand conditions since early last century.
With those credentials, and the increasingly impracticality of our first choice, we felt better about going with an imported timber.

Our first board - and a plank.

To keep ahead of the weather, Dean completes the most-exposed west side first.
He then moves to the long north side, which involves a huge amount of
patient measuring and cutting because of our numerous windows and doors.

After the ensuing week of rain the weather begins to lift, and the sun shines on
the completed east side. The south side is still awaiting its Titan Panel cladding.
The cladding for the south side of the house was always going to be something quite different. Rose explains:

"Sensible eco design calls for minimal options for cold air to enter a house on the southern side (in this hemisphere, at least). The south-facing wall of our new home has just one long thin window, three skylights and the front door in it for just this reason.
While researching front door options I came across an image of a beautiful cedar door in a long expanse of grey zinc cladding and fell in love with the clean lines and contrasting look. Costing the zinc was a $20K reality check - so we clearly needed to find an alternative.
One of my favourite New Zealand architects is Parsonson Architects, who use a James Hardie fibre-cement product called Titan panel in their designs. The large, smooth surfaces with sharp negative detail between them create a very similar aspect to the zinc, so we thought that this might be a viable alternative."

'Class of the Titan' - and here it is; presenting an 'impassive' face to the world
It’s mainly a commercial property product, and our decision to use it still raises some eyebrows. But now that we can see it in position, it’s yet another component of this build which has utterly exceeded our expectations – we’re thrilled with it.
Presenting such an initially impassive and practical face to visitors perhaps says more about us than we would like, but the twin requirements of acting as an effective shield against the southerly chill and having minimal visual impact on our surroundings have been well met. We’re glad to be clad!

Juno dreams about living in a house again.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Another Crate Read

Our second newspaper article appeared in the Dominion Post Your Weekend magazine, Yesterday.

Rose caught in a domestic chore moment - probably collecting water to
help clean the liquid mud off me. (all images courtesy of The Dominion Post)
Due to the vagaries of page counts and advertising space, being a double page spread meant that the article has waited two months for space to become available – but better late than never.
The photographs illustrating the piece were taken at the beginning of August, and show the house in a far less advanced state of completion than it is now, but Loren the photographer’s main brief was to depict life inside our container.
One of the biggest problems was getting enough brightness into our living space, so we turned on the generator for the lights and opened both doors, giving just enough illumination for Loren to work with.  Spotting Ed, (the only one of our cats unfazed by visitors), he was immediately contracted for a number of shots.  It seems to be one of those unwritten laws that cats must appear in interior living shots – and Ed displayed a hitherto unsuspected penchant for modelling; working the lens like a professional.
The best of Loren’s photographs can be seen in the article, but I’ve included a few others, including this exclusive behind-the-scenes catwalk shot.

Loren snaps Ed as he works the runway
Although the weather was a vast improvement on the first Dominion Post photoshoot, back in July, not everything went smoothly. While moving Loren’s car so that our builder get past, I managed to get bogged down in mud, which then sprayed me from head to foot when I helped push the vehicle out again. ( I am so cool).

The Your Weekend Editor mentioned last week that apparently Rose and I could have made the cover (we still get a mention) if her Plan A hadn’t worked.  Maybe next time – and I bet Ed will get into the shot.

Can my human be in this one?
Postscript: A very special thanks to Marie for her lovely and encouraging card.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Sunshine on my solar makes me happy

Solar water heating has been around for so long that we all think we understand how
it works – but the technology has moved a long way from running a hose pipe across
your roof.

Sunlight will be providing us with power (more on this soon) and water heating during the summer months. Both systems use what are collectively known as solar collectors (usually panels) but quite different methods.
In our previous home we used a standard roof-mounted flat solar panel and water tank.
This was very effective during the warmer months, and provided the satisfaction of using free solar energy instead of mains electricity – but we were back to flicking a power switch for the booster throughout the darker months.

This time we are using the wonders of evacuated tube technology. Instead of a flat panel our roof will sport a bank of 24 glass tubes. Each of these is actually a double glass tube, one inside the other, with a vacuum in between them. Sunlight passes through these tubes to warm a copper pipe at their centre, and because the resulting heat cannot escape out through a vacuum, 97% of this energy is retained.
(This heat loss is one of the biggest drawbacks of the flat panelled system, and retaining it allows the evacuated tube system to continue operating even on cloudy days. Apparently the heat output is 25-40% greater than flat-panelled systems when averaged over a year).

A bulb at the end of the copper pipes transfers the heat to a water/glycol solution which is carried down to the exchanger coil inside our water tank, heating the surrounding house-hold water. A pump utilising less power than a light bulb then carries the solution back up to the roof for continuous heating. The pump is automatically controlled to keep the solution moving when it’s most needed, including at the onset of a frost to avoid freezing.

Our water tank will contain a second coil which is connected to our wetback system, generating heat when we light our fire in the winter months. This coil is connected to three radiators throughout the house, carrying heat where it will be most needed.
Having never lived in a modern, fully-insulated home before (our last house was a villa, with sash windows which seemed to transfer heat outside more effectively than any air pump) our only concern now is whether or not our house will be too warm.
Bring on the snow, 2012!

An impression of how the evacuated tube array will look in position.
Another advantage of this system is it’s ability to blend in with the roof profile.