Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Frustrating my poor wife

It has been a little while.  As appears to be becoming the norm, we’ve been busy but progress feels very slow.
I discovered a pretty active Australian home building forum, HomeOne.  Like this blogging stuff, participating in a forum is all new to me but it has been reassuring to discover that other people are obsessing over the details of their dream homes as well.  It has also reinforced how different building is in the major markets and how much the big project builders dominate on the big island!
On the subject of blogging, I was surprised to see that I’ve hit 1000 page views.  Pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things but surprising that my boring ramblings have found any audience!  Perhaps many of you have discovered that elusive cure for insomnia!  It would be great if a few of you made some comments now and again, I have even enabled anonymous ones to make it easy for you!  Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so strange talking to myself!  SI, I still owe you a drink for making the only comment!
And while I’m rambling … here is the obligatory picture for this post.  We all know that blog posts with pictures are heaps more interesting (just like 21st speeches with presentations hey BE?).

This one is here for two reasons; firstly you can do a quick eye test.  If you can read the bottom line you are doing bloody well!  Secondly, the light fitting grabbed me.  You can pick one up for about $180 from Beacon lighting if you are keen (I think it is called “the Habitat”).
I’ve had some really encouraging talks with a potential builder and have made some progress on quotes for joinery, flooring and tiles.  In the process we’ve learnt a fair bit about options and firmed up our thoughts on lots of things.  Maybe progress hasn’t been as slow as it often feels!
I can’t say I didn’t expect to be shocked at how expensive things are but some of the joinery prices were really scary!  Custom vanities are starting to look a lot less likely!
Flooring wise, we are still struggling to find the shade of wood that we are comfortable with.  We’re looking for something in a greyish shade.  My better half isn’t keen on brown and how it will integrate with the colour pallet in the kitchen.
On the design front, I think I’ve probably been the client from hell and rather than stress my designer further I decided to part ways and firm up my plans. 
I have been starting to get more serious about looking at different construction methods and have been getting more excited about the potential of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).  From the little I know, they appear to be used pretty extensively in Europe and the Americas but are still considered radical in the Australian marketplace. 
A SIP is used to build the external (and often internal) walls of the building.  They include an outer panel (cladding), insulation and an inner lining (e.g. Plasterboard).  In effect SIP wall panels are Lego block walls which replace the frame, outer cladding and inner plasterboard.  SIP roof panels are similar, replacing the ceiling lining, insulation and roof cladding.  As one integrated unit, they are fast to construct and have superior sealing and insulation properties.
I have also started getting more serious about home automation research.  That’s a topic for another post, or possibly a whole separate blog!  I’m keen to at least automate the basic stuff that contributes to efficient energy usage.  Ideally that will include living room blinds, zone to zone heat exchange, external venting in the entry (central “cooling chimney”), heating / cooling.  All being well I’ll also include lighting but that might have to wait.  I love the idea of never having to tell the kids to turn their light off again, turning off everything as the garage door closes and all the rest!  It’s in the home automation space that I’ll really get geeky so I better stop!  ….
Oh I can’t stop …. Speaking of geek, I’ve managed to squeeze in the server cabinet and with an aligned a cable closet (study/family room).  I’m hoping that one of the wireless home automation standards will be good enough (Z-Wave, ZigBee anyone?) but I’ll still be putting at least two Cat 6 points into every room and more in key locations.  In our current place I pipe 720p video/audio/infrared from upstairs to downstairs via Cat 5.  It seems moving high def video around is still in its infancy so I’ll probably just end up with more of the same boxes in the new place.  I’m yet to decide if I’ll centrally locate things like PVR’s and Austar (will we bother … probably not) in the server cupboard or not but I’m leaning that way.  Ok ... I’m way over on the geek quotient, are you still with me JANET, I bet you aren’t unless someone gave you a heads up!  If any of you want more geek details you’ll have to comment or wait for a future geek post!
So, we are off to look at a few examples of the potential builders work on Thursday.  I have to call council tomorrow and clarify exactly how planning submissions work these days under PD4 to make sure my assumptions are right!  There, I said it.  I’ll have to do it now!
Oh, if you are left wondering what the relevance of the title of this post, "frustrating my poor wife", is .... you obviously have not pursued building.  I'm frustrating her at the moment through indecision and the constant changes.  To be honest, I frustrate myself regularly!  

Friday, 13 January 2012


The entry and stairs have been an ongoing dilemma.  Lots of competing objectives, such as making it look great and open, but providing an air lock.

My current thinking is to try and avoid all those competing objectives and focus on the top three, namely:

·    Do something reasonably economical while still achieving a high end look, if anything we propose sounds expensive and there is a better way, tell us!

·    Make the entry feel as open as possible

·    Give us some storage near the entry

Given those three objectives, some of the conflicts get resolved. 

1) The stairs will be closed in, we will have storage under them.  I know it makes the area feel less open but I'm pretty confident a closed stair will be cheaper to build and we want the storage.  I am particularly excited about what we might be able to achieve storage wise under the landing.  A great place to hang keys and the like right near the front door.

2) We will have glass ballustrades and a square profile stainless steel handrail.  The glass will help to make it feel more open and add to the look.

So, a couple of pics to illustrate our thoughts.  We're basically taking little bits from each stair design and putting together our own.

We like the clean glass connection with the stringer here (i.e. sitting in a grove in the stringer with no visible hardware), but in ours the stringer would sit on top of the plaster wall (or whatever material we decide to finish that feature wall with) and the risers would be closed as below.  We would prefer a square profile brushed stainless steel handrail.

We like the riser and tread effect of these (as in the approx. 2/3 tread material / 1/3 alternate material riser), with the wood bit in a darker stain and the white in whatever finish we choose for the stringer as illustrated above.
I am imagining we might put some very low wattage led light strips (given how much length there will be overall) under the upper riser lips.
We are imagining the first two stairs, or landings being platforms, no stringer or balustrade (they are under the 1m BCA requirement).  The double height exposed portion of the front of the second landing would be finished in the same material as the lower third of the risers (indicated in red).
Black area is stud wall to stringer height.
I imagine the stringer and glass balustrade would continue over the upper landing.
Under the end of the stairs we would like a small storage nook and access to the under stair storage area.  The blue box indicates a shallow storage unit, something like 600 high cupboard, a shallow draw or two with key hanging and shelves above (detailed design to follow).
Thee grey box indicate a door providing access to the under stair storage.
The door to the left is through to the family room.  The first set of sliding glass doors on the right are to the outdoor paved area, the second cavity door is into the living area.  Upstairs is the parents zone!  See the design page for more details

Saturday, 7 January 2012

An afternoon pulling weeds

I spent yesterday afternoon pottering around the block pulling out the worst of the weeds.  With the dandelions now over a metre high I figured it was time!

Despite my regular visits, this is probably the longest time I’ve spent at the block in one session.  Although pulling weeds is one of my least favourite pass times, it felt nice, the outlook is amazing.  I think I fall in love with it a bit more every time. 

The water was almost glass.  The two boats mid river looked pretty sad drifting backwards with their spinnakers sagging.  It was so quiet and it seemed my company consisted of a few cows in neighbouring paddocks and bees who always appeared to decide to target the weed I was about to attack.  Later, some young kids started playing on scooters down the street.  It took me back to my skateboard and billy cart days in Melbourne.  It would be a great street for billy carts, maybe a modern equivalent will return to fashion in time for grandkids (but in this day and age they would have brakes and that takes all the fun out of it).  I can just see the kids slowly progressing up the street and the daring ones mastering starting at the top of the court.

I met the new neighbours from across the street.  They moved in two days before Christmas and had both their families descend from interstate to celebrate with them.  I hope we manage to get in with a bit more breathing room before next Christmas!!  They have a young bub and a 4 year old boy.  From what I saw their house went up in record time.  I’ll have to ask but my guess was about 10 weeks from start to handover.  He did mention that it took him 3 months to get it through council; I’ll have to ask if that was planning and development or just development.  Their place is all weatherboard, which is interesting given they had the same covenant as us in respect to the external finish being 70% masonry or textured.  Apparently the developer is reasonably flexible.  In their case, the builder had built a very similar place in Brighton and the developer was happy with photos of that. 

The real estate cruisers where out in force.  Mostly couples, they cruise by pretty regularly, probably at least one every 10 minutes.  I’m sure we will probably come to resent them over time but it wasn’t that long ago that we were one of them.  So for now, I look at them and smile, and in my mind I wish them success in realising their dream.  The self-interested part of me thinks, “go on - buy that block next door, keep the demand up and push values up”.  On that front, there is a place going up about 4 blocks up that looks pretty nice.  It is on the block next to the one we originally looked at (but was sold a few days before we decided to commit).  It looks massive with lots of glass.  It is mostly constructed out of superblock, basically a double size brick specifically designed to be rendered.  They look to be getting pretty close to rendering and the interior is well progressed.  I imagine they will be joining the neighbourhood pretty soon.

I spent a fair bit of time staring at the block below us, trying to imagine what someone might build there and how it will affect us.  I’m confident we will be twisted around enough to be looking mainly down the street and whatever they do will have very little impact.  With a fall of 1m in about every 4.6m anything they build will be at least 4m below our lower floor level, probably significantly more if they want to use the depth of their block.

This picture is taken from close to the top NE corner of the block and is close to the angle the house will be on.  You can see the driveway for the block below us and the green electricity box (and if you look closely a couple of stakes) which mark the border with our block.  The developer has recently started developing the next stage, which includes the hill to the left which you can see the brown line across.  The front blocks along there will be amazing.  I noticed the first of them sold the other day for $280k.  Ouch!  It looks like it will be a while before those titles are issued, they have only just started carving out the road and putting in the initial survey pegs.  When complete, that stage will include about 23 blocks.  Our stage included 18 blocks, of which only about 7 have sold. 

Another developer is also developing some more blocks just down the road, that looks like at least two reasonably long cul-de-sacs with the beginnings of joining up the two parts of Oceana Drive across the top.  It will be great when that gets joined up, it is only about 680 metres of road.  I suspect the current development will probably take care of about 200 of that!  I hope it isn’t another 10 years before they close the gap!  There are encouraging signs of fill being dumped in the gully at the Howrah end which is the only really challenging bit, maybe moves are already underway! 

The picture above shows where I’m talking about.  The current gap in Oceana Drive is represented by the black and red line.  The black lines are an approximation of the subdivision that has started. The orange ring is approximately where someone has started to place fill in the gully.  If you are interested in where Clarence Council are looking at taking the area and you suffer from insomnia, you might what to have a look at their strategic plan.  The main item of note is their goal to eventually link Oceana Drive with South arm highway (I suspect via Tollard drive).  With the North Point development continuing along Tollard Drive around the other side of the peninsula, it is inevitable that these area’s will eventually link up.  It makes sense to me that that will happen in the undeveloped valley.
Anyway, I managed to clear about half the block of the worst of the weeds before it got too much for me, next time I’ll bring a spade!  I took my first load of garden rubbish from the block to the tip.  That’s a place I’m going to get even more familiar with over the next few months as I clear out all the stuff from the old place.  I came home to mow our existing lawn.  It feels like a chore and our current block is only about 700sqm, I’m going to have to cover as much of our new 1150sqm with things other than grass as I can!  I dread mowing those slopes!  The amount of garden, and how to establish some privacy on a corner block is going to be “fun”.  I think it is time to price some rock!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The En Suite

We are progressing pretty well in respect to planning the en-suite.

We have fallen in love with a concept, it remains to be seen if we will be able to achieve anything like it! 

En Suite concept (Click to enlarge)

This rough diagram represents how our wall will be laid out.  Ignore the awful colours! 

En Suite Wall Layout (Click to enlarge)

The left hand side is the shower, with the black line representing the glass shower wall.  Our dream double shower!  About 1900 x 1100 ... Ahh ... I can hardly wait!   I've discovered a handy unit for the hot water line that will allow us to deal with the distance from the hot water unit without wasting lots of cold water, or waiting.  It doesn't even need a return line!  Very handy!  I just have to find a source now, but at least it is an Aussie innovation so it shouldn't be too hard to find (he says hopefully).  Anyway, I digress ...

The white box at the top is the window, with the mirror under (I know, I need to make it wider!).  The two mirror image vanity units sit under that.

On the back wall we will have a storage unit with drawers at the bottom, a cupboard on the left and open shelves on the right. 

En Suite Wall Unit (Click to enlarge)

You can see how it is all laid out here

En Suite Layout (Click to enlarge)

The end wall on the right will be extra thick to allow a few cutout shelves in the shower

Holidays are nearly over

It is depressing to think I only have 4 more sleeps before Im back to work!

Looking back over the holidays, weve made pretty reasonable progress towards realising the dream.  Were feeling much more settled on the design and have progressed to starting to decide on PC items (builder speak, Personal Choice items).  Weve started to get pretty hooked on a particular design for the en-suite which Ill talk about in a future post and have been cruising the tile shops.  We have also settled on a kitchen design and Ive been talking to a couple of kitchen people.  We are also pretty close to buying the toilets and bidet.  What do you think of these?

I was going to go the in-wall hidden cistern option but got hesitant about future problems and access so I have decided against it.

Bench tops, cabinets and vanity units
I think I now know more than I care to know about laminate, acrylic and stone bench tops and melamine, laminate and two pack cupboards.  I suspect however that Ill learn more about the pros and cons of all the options as we continue through the process of selecting materials, colours et all for the kitchen, scullery, laundry and vanity units.  Were also looking at getting an entertainment unit built in a similar style to the waterfall island bench.
I think Im leaning towards acrylic bench tops, probably something like Infinity from Hafele.  I like the invisible joins and the look and feel of them.  They are repairable, non-porous and pretty flexible in how you can use them (wider profiles etc.).  They come in a manufactured 38 mm wide product and sheets for custom manufacture.  Well probably use standard 38 mm across the back and in the scullery/laundry and wider custom manufacture for the island bench.

The Kitchen

Ignoring the colours, this is the sort of look we are going for.

The island bench will be about 2700 long and 900 wide.  It will have one solid end at the scullery end.  Similar to the one illustrated here.
The lounge side will have a 300mm clear overhang, as will the view end, to create a breakfast bar.  This will give us a smidge over 2200 of cabinetry under the island.  That will include 600 dishwasher, 400 double bin (with a small drawer within), 600 cupboards under sink and 600 drawers.

The back wall will consist of about 1800 of bench, 900 of freestanding oven, another 1800 of bench followed by the fridge.  They will be mainly drawers.

The Scullery
Really, it is a pantry with a sink in it.  The idea is to keep the mess out of the kitchen.  On the front wall we will have drawers, then sink, then more drawers with a couple of overheads and the window in between.  Well make sure the door into the scullery allows the fridge door to open right back!  Our new fridge, like most, requires the door to swing right back to get the drawers out for cleaning.
On the back wall we will have the full height pantry, followed by a full height appliance cupboard, followed by bench with drawers under and an overhead.  The theory being that appliances will be right next to the bench where they will be used.

The Laundry
The front wall will have two huge deep drawer units which will effectively be laundry hampers.  They will have small shallow drawers inside them at the top for delicates bags etc. in one and shoe cleaning in the other.   This is followed by the sink unit and the bench top over the front loading washing machine.  The dryer will hang on the wall above it.
The back wall will be one full height for vacuum cleaner, brooms etc. and one drawer unit with overhead.   The iron will sit on that bench top and the board will hang next to it.

Overall, the aim of having lots of storage space has been achieved.  We've got the clean look we wanted and great view throughout it.  It will all get plenty of Northern light and the breakfast bar provides great space.

I worry a little about the amount of full height pantry space and wonder if we should have a bit more.  Ideally, I would have liked to make the laundry a little bigger too but I'm sitting on the boundary offset.