July 2017

Ever since I got the phone call from the structural engineers telling us that we need piles it has just been one semi-major issue after another. Piles, geo tech investigation, CAD files exploding requiring a complete redraw of the entire house from scratch. The latest yesterday was me ringing up Auckland Council to talk to the guy, who last week who told me that all I needed to do was email the pile design in and he would get it processed within a couple of days (as a massive favour to our project), who then said yesterday that he couldn't possibly process it by Friday this week, that they were far too busy and that I'd have to wait my turn with everybody else (which is fair enough). However I had just spent the day begging and pleading with everyone and managed to arrange to get a piling rig to site on Monday, concrete and pile cages - which is unheard of at the moment. So I was guttered to hear this from him as all of that is useless without a building consent! And the piling rig is only free next week!


I have to say that we are at a bit of a low point in the project. Its the middle of winter, we still haven't started any work on site, don't have a building consent and we are living in a cold, dark little bach (which I've nick named the fridge).


Spirits are a little low right now. It's almost tempting to pull the pin on the rammed earth and just build out of something normal and easy to try and get rid of the piles and make design and consenting easier.


But I suppose we are nearly there now. If we can start next Monday then perhaps it will be all worthwhile!


So we started piling on site on July 20th. The weather held out for us and we managed to get the first 5 (out of 25) piles in the ground. Apparently we will be finished piling by Tuesday next week.

It's certainly been a rough few weeks at the Living House. It feels like everything is against us at the moment, including the weather. We have finally started piling on site, but it has been a hard road getting to that point. And the road has been so hard that it has been difficult to celebrate the wins that have come our way. It was pretty amazing being granted a Discharge Consent for a greywater system by Auckland Council. As far as I am aware we would be the first one of these granted in a dense urban area that has a sewer connection. So that is pretty big. And it was really hard getting that issued. But unfortunately that got granted right at the time that we had the big pile debacle, which stopped us being able to start basement construction on the Monday after the ground breaking party. We were so depressed about the fact that we needed $60k worth of piles that we had no consent or design (or money) for that the actual issue of the discharge consent ended up passing us by somewhat. 


I only realised this after the fact and thus thought that perhaps we would celebrate the actual breaking of the ground with the piles instead. That was scheduled for Monday last week at 1pm. I thought we would have a cheeky bottle of bubbles and chocolate cake to celebrate getting the revised Building Consent issued (as that was quite a drama in itself in the end). However the piling guys rang me up at the end of the previous week to tell me that the weather was delaying them and that they couldn't start work on our site until Wednesday (with site establishment on Tuesday). However that got pushed out to Thursday and by that time I had given up and we ended up celebrating nothing. In fact on Wednesday (after another night of zero sleep due to a sick child and a husband who was in Canada) when I got yet another bad news email I put my head in my hands and just sobbed for a good 1/2 hour.


And of course while Joel was in Canada at the Sirewall course they told him that they thought that we had the design of the house all wrong. They think that we should have designed the structure as it the house were made from concrete (ie rammed earth with strengths that consistency that meet the requirements of concrete.) That would get rid of the need for concrete bond beams at the mid floor and the roof. However when I broached that idea last week with our wonderful engineers at Markplan I think Sylvie practically put her head in her hands for a cry as it would mean starting from scratch and redesigning the house again from scratch, and we had already started piling. So we've decided to stick with the design that we have as we can't really afford another 6 month delay and probably an additional $100k in cost for a new design and consents. 


So I am rather hoping that the last few weeks and last week in particular was the lowest point for the Living House and that everything from now on in will be on the up! (except of course for the fact that we are digging down for piles and the basement :))

Thus far the basement has not gone quite to plan. I had hoped that the basement could be dug out in a single day using our local, most amazing, drainlayer and his little yellow digger (our children love the little yellow digger books!) However that was not to be and 3 days later we were still digging out the hole for the basement. And what a large hole that was. The problem with the Living Building Challenge is that we are not allowed to send any of our construction waste to landfill. So it meant that we were not able to do what would normally be done and truck the excavated material (as well as all the piling spoil) to landfill. Luckily Joel’s factory landlord actually had an entire area that he required filled in, so we trucked all of our waste material to that site and used it to fill and level that area. It actually ended up saving us quite a bit of money as it costs $150 each time you tip at the landfill. Although we may have lost that in extra trucking to Clevedon. So we lost 3 days in the excavation of the basement. And then once we had excavated the basement we discovered that the 100mm overpour that the pilers told us that they would do on each pile for safety actually turned out to be 1.5m in some instances! That set us back another 2 days as we had to chip and lug away all the extra concrete. I was the person who had to do the lugging. I actually felt like I was Jean Valjean in Les Miserable working on the chain gang. Down a deep hole. Picking up and moving hunks of rock (concrete). It didn’t help that I ended up with gumboot rash after I fell in a muddy hole and had the wet gumboot rubbing against my shin

So as of right now we are up to the point where we are furiously racing against the weather clock. It is meant to rain on Wednesday / Thursday and we want to have the basement slab poured before then (Tuesday 1 August) so we can get the block layer in to start building some of the basement walls to help hold up some of the excavation, particularly under the sewer line which is starting to collapse a little bit. The tanking membrane was delivered to site on Saturday and Phillipe from Equus took some photos and sent them to the waterproofing contractor, who freaked out and rang on Sunday to try and pull out of the job. We managed to talk him off the ledge and convinced him that we did know what we were doing and that we had just been put behind schedule and that is why the site looked like a bomb shell, but that everything would be spick and span and ready for the membrane to go down on the afternoon of Monday 31 July.  And as at 8am on Monday 31 July my fingers are crossed that we can do it. We have helpers lined up to help us this morning, but we still have a bit to do. We still need to break the piles down to the right height, smooth them off and dry them out so they can have the membrane stuck to them. We also need to get sand in the hole to try and soak up the moisture so there aren’t puddles of water about the place.

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