Would you let your husband choose tiles? Alone?

Note from wife sign.

Photo source: unknown.

Up until this week The Nice Wolf (a.k.a. husband) has been too busy to get involved in the minor details of House By The Water.  He’s left all the interior decisions to me and many of the other decisions too.  An ideal situation, as far as I’m concerned.  Well, The Nice Wolf is now on holidays and has been busying himself with thoughts of reticulation, hanging cray pots from the ceiling, cobblestones and many other future DIY projects.  He’s been popping past House By The Water to act as liaison between myself and our landscapers and to submit a daily report on the head count of tradespeople on site.

And yes, he had to bring a note from his wife in order to make a tile selection.

Pool tiles.

Pool tile samples were duly brought home for my approval.

More about that head count.  It has been exceptionally high this week.  Webb and Brown-Neaves and related contractors have been pulling out all stops in order to get the keys to us next week.  On top of that, our landscapers, Tim Davies Landscaping, have started work.

Here is just some of what has been happening:

The lights were installed:

The painters have been inside and Kitty Grey is looking very pretty:

The tiling and stonework is just about finished:

The robes were installed:

Sinks, tapware, shower screens and mirrors (not shown) were installed:

Work on the deck began:

Jarrah decking.

Deck in progress.

Behind the scenes we’ve been booking in the wood fire and floor installers, connecting the internet and phone and ordering the council-supplied bins.  In a very pleasant twist of events, we received a variation notice from the builders giving us an $11.5K credit for site works.  Yep, you read it correctly.  Credit.  Yippee!   (Skipping all the way to the cobblestone shop….)

Looks like I’d better start chilling that wine.

House progress

How did you choose your builder?

I’m back tracking a bit today, by about 2 and a half years. To that compulsive moment when we decided to buy a block of land and build a house on it. I admit that it was a fairly emotional decision, with very little comparison of alternatives, in terms of land or building versus buying a house. In our favour, we knew the area very well, having already lived nearby and we knew the location was not one we would regret. To our demise was our complete naivety about the cost of building.

I’m thinking of these things again now, because one of my sisters, let’s call her The Sensible One, is considering buying land with the plan to build her family home.

Choosing land:

Aside from the obvious fact that land should be somewhere you want or need to live, here are my thoughts based of the luxury of hindsight and from reading many a saga on the HomeOne Forum.

  • Siteworks, site works, site works!!! $$$$. Site works costs are not included in the sticker price of an “off-the-shelf” (volume builder’s) house. Site works vary greatly depending on the contour of the land and the geology. A “site survey” before you purchase can help builders to estimate some of the costs to prepare the land for building, but there is still the possibility of hitting unexpected problems (rock!) once site works start.
  • Location can limit your choice of builders.
  • Location can dictate some of your building choices, especially in a developer’s estate.  You’ll need to comply with their guidelines in addition to council regulations.
  • Orientation.  If you are aiming for a solar passive house, this factor might be critical, but let’s face it, not everyone in suburbia can choose the perfect North-facing block.  Volume builders will easily “flip” a house plan to improve a home’s thermal performance, while trees, screens and blinds (interior and exterior) are all simple solutions to reducing the impact of that pesky sun as it sets.

    Our land

    Don’t be fooled by a relatively innocent looking piece of land. The “provisional sum” for earth works on our 747 sqm block is $20 000, not including retaining walls.

Choosing a builder:

We chose our builders, Webb and Brown-Neaves, from a fairly limited pack.  The field was narrowed by our key requirements of the house, namely:

  • A footprint small enough to leave us with lots of outdoor space.
  • A house plan with rear living areas to make the most of a rear view.
  • Four bedrooms.

My shortlist of “off-the-shelf” (pre-designed) houses that fitted these requirements was very small. In the end, we were wooed by a floor plan with a void space above the living area.  It seemed to us to take a house from ordinary to amazing.  Although we didn’t know any one who had built with Webb and Brown-Neaves, they had a good reputation, having built houses on the Mandurah canals for a long time.  Of course, I looked for online reviews for WBN and found a mixed bag.   With only 22 reviews over 7 years, I didn’t really trust this source.  It seemed to me that the minority of customers that couldn’t resolve problems with their build had headed there to seek revenge.  And a few blissfully happy customers had been encouraged to submit a review to balance the ratings.  Every one had either rated Excellent or Bad/Terrible.  There was no in-between.

I’ve noticed that many of the mega building companies, particularly in the East of Australia, have many more reviews.  Take Metricon, for example.  They have 400+ reviews.  Perhaps you can give it some credence but I wouldn’t use these reviews alone.  In fact, one of Metricon’s competitors was accused of offering rewards for customers positive reviews.

My big-sisterly suggestions for selecting a “volume builder” are:

  • Stalk the area you plan to build in for new homes recently built by the companies that interest you.  (Or you could try asking the companies for references.)  Talk to the home owners and ask how they found the process and how satisfied they are with their home.
  • Stalk the area you plan to build in to see home building in progress.  If you go on weekends, you might get to chat with some customers.
  • Get acquainted with the HomeOne Forum.   Lots of Australians thinking about building, going through the process, recently built and even repeat-building customers hang out there.  There are some building professionals there too, adding their two-bobs worth from time to time.  Follow some threads from your area.  You’ll soon discover that very few builds are stress free and problems arise.  Most customers quickly forget the problems when they move into a new house that they are happy with, others stay unhappy.  For the larger building companies, in the low to medium price spectrum, there are enough people on the Forum to form a balanced idea about how the companies generally perform.   You can get an idea of pre-construction issues, build times, the range of costs that are added on to sticker prices, customer service and how companies deal with problems.
  • Last, but definitely not least, read some independent blogs written by builder’s customers.   (Duh!!!)  There are plenty out there.  Some are tricky to find, but once you find one addressing a particular company, it will often lead you to many more.  Ask the blogger questions.  Bloggers are friendly people!

So, readers, since I’m no expert here;

What advice would you give my sister for selecting land and a builder?

The Sensible One, all the answers are just for you.  Feel free to pipe in with questions. xxx

Construction site visit

I’d mentally prepared myself to expect some disappointment.  Maybe the house would seem small.  Maybe the retaining wall – house relationship was not right.  Perhaps I’d added a big window where there was nothing to see but brick wall, or the building neighbours might have blocked out all the morning sun.

But my first (and probably only) visit to our house whilst under construction revealed nothing but excitement.  Naturally I took a zillion photos, but I’ve narrowed it down to just 10 for you.

1.  The first floor brick work is complete.  The scaffolding and planks are installed in preparation for pouring the second floor slab at the end of this month.

House front

Bottom half of front facade. L to R: garage, entrance, bedroom.

2.  Our fireplace in the living room.  The First Little Pig was a bit worried that Santa won’t fit down the chimney.

Fireplace.

Living room fire place.

3.  From the canal side, looking through the dining room to the kitchen (marked by pipes for the sink).  The three openings at the back of the kitchen are for the hallway, cellar and scullery (L to R).  I was relieved to feel that the ceiling not too close.  The dining room is 31 courses high.

Dining room.

Dining room through to kitchen.

4.  View from the future couch location.  Looking from the living room, through the alfresco area to the canals.  Both traditional paddlers and stand-up paddlers passed by while I was there.

Couch view.

Testing out the couch view.

5.  Stairwell.  And a bit of blatant evidence that I missed an opportunity in the planning stage to incorporate access to the under stairs space.  Never mind, my lovely old Tasmanian buffet table is going to look perfect right there.

Stairs

Pre stairs.

6.  The alfresco area seemed huge.  Probably large enough for sofa and dining set.

Alfresco

The alfresco area as seen from the canal front.

7.  Checking out the deck width from the dining room to the planter boxes.  Could be a bit squeezy for outdoor dining. (2.2 metres across.)

Deck.

Measuring up the deck.

8.  Kitchen sink view test.

Kitchen sink view test passes.

Pass!

9.  The First Little Pig made a movie starring brick walls, scaffolding and herself.

First little pig.

Tools of the visit: camera, measuring tape, chalk.  Looking through the living room to the hallway.

10.  This week’s work.  Steel reinforcements for the second floor slab.  I had no idea so much steel would be involved.  I find it very reassuring.  I met the fellow who is singlehandedly going to lay the steel this week.  He said he’d been doing this job for 25 years.  He looked tough!

Steel.

Steel reinforcements for second floor slab.

I met our site supervisor from Webb and Brown-Neaves, really just to be acquainted.  We discussed a few minor details and he explained the process for the next few weeks.

There wasn’t a lot of time for soaking up the atmosphere but I had my fix of all-things-house for a while and now have a better picture in my head of the scale of things.

Next week I’ll post about my other activities and discoveries during my visit to Mandurah and Perth.

 

5 fascinating facts about brick walls.

Brick work started

The second little Pig would approve.

Don’t you find brick walls fascinating?  I’ve been staring at this brick wall for hours.

 Did you know?

  1. There are 391 bricks used for just one bedroom wall.
  2. That weighs more than 2 tonne!  Or about 3 adult cows!  Let’s say, accounting for a doorway and windows, 10 adult cows are responsible for holding up the slab of the second floor above the bedroom.  I reckon they can do it.  (Can you tell I’m a country girl?)
  3. Typically, the height of a brick plus one layer of mortar equates to 86 mm, and is known as “one course of bricks”.  Our bricks are 2 courses high.
  4. In Western Australia, we love to build double brick walls.  Two layers of bricks, with insulation in between.  It keeps the Big, Bad Wolf out.
  5. You can just about have any colour brick you like these days.  Our bricks are red (probably due to the iron ore content in local clay).  They are not very pretty.  They’ll be covered up on the outside by render and on the inside by plaster.

Here’s what’s been going on since the slab was poured 5 weeks ago:

Slab – looking neat and tidy:Slab

All dug up for drains for the sewerage and storm water:Digging drains.

Bricks and windows were delivered:

Down pipes

Flag poles? masts? – nope.  Downpipes.

The brickies got started:

I’m thrilled with the progress.  When I pop by Western Australia in January, I’ll be able to walk through the ground floor rooms.  I must go and put my measuring tape and a piece of chalk in my suitcase.

 

Slab!

Slab

My friend, who was wishing for a concrete pool lining for her birthday this week, tells me that concrete is the new diamonds. Cut, clarity, colour and carat (weight) are all looking good.

 Happy Birthday to me!

Our building inspector, visited our block prior to the slab pour and gave everything the thumbs up.  He very kindly sent me some extra photos.

Under the slab.

Just prior to slab pour.

Pre-slab pour.

Retaining walls

Our fancy (read expensive!) retaining walls.  Later they’ll be rendered.

There will be celebrations here tonight.  We will be trialling the first contender for House By The Water’s signature drink, a Blueberry Mojito.

Blueberry Mojito

Source: Inspired Taste. Thanks for the suggestion, Miranda!

Cheers!

 

 

Earthworks and slab preparation.

My blogging fingers are poised above the letters “S, L, A and B”.  My local sources are at the ready to snap photographic evidence.  The invoice has been received!  The sun is shining on Mandurah.  And, ingredients for trial #1 of House By The Water’s signature cocktail have been purchased.  Any moment now…

Last week, Nearmap‘s plane flew over our block and captured pictures of a big yellow machine back filling and levelling our land.

Earthworks.

Pool scaffolded over, backfilling earth up to the retaining walls, levelling the block. Could that be piles of bricks already?

Yesterday the block looked like a hive of activity.  It’s quite incredible the amount of work that will soon be hidden under the slab.

Front entrance.  Downpipes will be hidden in the exterior walls.

Front entrance. Downpipes will be hidden in the exterior walls.

Looking from the laundry across to the living areas.

Looking from the laundry across to the living areas.

Concrete pour for footings.

Concrete funnel?

Slab preparation.

Concrete footings going in? Garage area yet to be prepared.

I hope I’m not leading any one up the wrong tree with my captions.  I’m only guessing what is going on.

Thanks to Progress Realty Photo Services for the photos.  Apologies for the not quite perfect photo quality – I think their camera was hidden in a shoe.  Stay tuned for the next post!

 

Site progress is going swimmingly!

The landscapers took charge of our block for a week.  The only evidence of their presence from my far away vantage point was a hefty invoice.  So I sent out an S.O.S. to my Mandurah friends:  “Do we really have a pool?”

The resounding reply was “Yes!”

And what a beautiful chunk of concrete it is.HBTW pool

Let me draw attention to the features:

  • Steps
  • Things sticking out of the wall (for lights, we hope)
  • Built-in ice bucket!

I don’t think it’s too early to “bags my spot”.  I’ve never been good at art, but just so it is on record, my spot is marked by the green arrow:

Wooden bench seat going here.  Throw on a couple of outdoor cushions and I'll be set for the afternoon.  ...Should have had that ice bucket installed up this end.

A wooden bench seat is going here. Throw on a couple of outdoor cushions and I’ll be set for the afternoon. …I should have had that ice bucket installed up this end.

Thanks to my lovely friends and Brian, site-supervisor extraordinaire, for the photos:

The pool was whipped up in a matter of days and the site was handed back to the builders.

Next steps:

  1. Set up scaffold over the pool (for safety) and along the retaining wall.
  2. Fill the retaining wall cavities.
  3. While the concrete is curing, waterproof the back of the walls.
  4. Backfill the site.
  5. Prepare the house pad for the slab.

I am eagerly waiting for the site supervisor’s next report, any day now, confirming that these tasks have been done.

In other minor news, I have subscribed to Nearmap for one year.  Nearmap is a provider of aerial photographs.  Initially I was put off by the high price of $200 per year, when the Mandurah area was only scheduled for 4 updates in the next 12 months.  So I let it go.  My hesitation paid off and a half-price offer appeared in my inbox.  $100 for one year.   Still expensive photos at $25 a pop, but you know how I like my photos…..

The most recent photo was taken on July 18th when work on our retaining wall footings had just begun:

Nearmap shot of our block.

It has been fun to check out the block over time (Nearmap pictures for our area date back to 2009) and to see some of our previous homes.

Are pictures of piles of sand and curing concrete not your thing?  Don’t worry, I’ll be philosophising about home cellars, libraries, rugs and spaceship lighting again soon.  Maybe one of those topics is up your alley?