November 2017

Time for another progress report. Time has moved on smartly since we last put keys to keyboard to document what we have been doing at the Living House.  We are therefore pleased to be able to report that the basement is all finished, except for a final concrete pour and then 'the basement roof'. 

We've talked previously and elsewhere about the troubles we have had with the basement roof. The options that were on the table were:

  • Rib and timber infill (structural engineers first choice)

  • Formwork and a solid slab (not pretty to put the formwork up on site!)

  • Precast perhaps

Somewhat surprisingly we have actually ended up going down none of those routes and have instead opted for the suspended timber floor to the basement (which is also the floor of the garage). We have done this for a large number of reasons but probably the two strongest are:

  • To reduce the amount of concrete that use in the Living house. To be clear we have nothing against concrete and we think it is a beautiful material plays a vital part in the construction industry. However apparently the world is starting to run out of sand  and we want to be good global citizens and play our part by only using resources that we have to use. And in this instance there ended up being an alternative to concrete that we could use – so we have.

  • Construction detailing. As you know we are building the Living House ourselves and since building is not actually our trade we were concerned about how we were going to manage the more complicated detailing and formwork that we would have had to use with all of the concrete options. The timber detailing is much more straightforward and we feel like we will be able to manage it ourselves onsite.


So we  joyfully placed an order for HYNEBeams from our wonderful IBuilt supporters as well as some 135 x 45mm topping timber from our other wonderful supporters ABODO. (I mention these two suppliers because as you can see being Red List compliant is very important to us, and both of these companies can provide Red List compliant timber products and there are not many companies out there that can do this! Most trip up at the timber treatment step tending to use the common CCA (Chromated copper arsenate) timber treatment. However Arsenic is on the Red List so that is a no-go for us.)


However the Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge keeps throwing up challenges! We thought we were all good as the HYNEbeams were Red List free and FSC. HOWEVER..... it turns out that the FSC certification for the HYNEBEAMs is only for the forest where the pine is harvested and that the chain of custody is broken when that pine goes to the mill and glulam plant as they hold PEFC certification (which the LBC doesn't recognise). 


What a disaster. And I only found this out when I was paying the invoice for the deposit for these timbers and noticed PEFC notated on the invoice. Cue immediate and frantic questions to Ibuilt and Hyne Timber as well as an official dialogue post to the Living Building Challenge by our wonderful sustainability consultants The Building Excellence Group


Now it is a waiting game to see if the Living Future Institute will accept the 17c for use on our project as we have already ruled out all other timber options. Salvaged timber can't be used in structural situations unless it comes with NZ test certificates - which are few and far between - and LVL beams use an adhesives that is on the Red List (but apparently there is an exemption for this). So Glulam is the only option and from the available LVLs and glulams only the HYNE 17C is strong enough to take our loads!. If we can't use the HYNEBEAM 17c glulam beams then we have a bit of a problem!

In other news we have also started to dig out the strip footings for the one bedroom MHU (minor household unit), which is the first part of the Living House that we will be constructing. This part is actually very important to us as we intend on moving into it and living on site while we are building the main part of the house. However with all of the piling problems and the wet wet winter, we are somewhat delayed on site. And this means that we are only now starting to work on this. Which doesn’t bode well since we need to be out of our rental by the end of January!


We are digging these footings by hand! And when I say we that is the royal we as it seems to be me (Rochelle) who is digging these footings by hand. Everyone who finds this out looks at me like I am crazy and asks why we aren’t using a digger. It turns out there are a lot of reasons:

(i) It is really hard to get hold of contractors these days. Everyone is so busy that I rather struggled to get our favourite digger driver to come and do the work

(ii) which is probably lucky as we still haven’t secured additional financing for the house and therefore don’t’ have any money to pay anyone at the moment until that comes through and

(iii) I am actually finding it really satisfying to be physically building the footings myself. It is giving me time to think through what needs to happen on site, the ordering of works and I’m actually finding myself solving a large number of problems before they occur while I dig.


I would never call myself an eco-warrior (although many of you may disagree based on the design of our house) instead I tend to view myself as pretty mainstream – however one area where I think  the ‘hippies’ have it right is that we all need to slow down a bit and get more involved with our own lives. It is such a shame that the majority of us tend to outsource so many things as it is actually really satisfying to do it yourself. It is pretty easy to wield a spade, and it is downright simple to build using earth. It is something that we all could do and therefore everyone could be involved in building their own homes. I’m a little bit hopeful that we might manage to inspire some other people to give it a go themselves.

We've also managed to get the reinforcing for the rammed earth walls partially installed (the lovely silver waving in the air in the image above). As well as the boxing in for the strip footings (what a drama that was! Nothing was square - including the piles - and every time we would measure the diagonals they would be out by 20cm!) Our old house was wonky everywhere and we were very keen on trying to build something straight and true this time. Not the least so our wonderful cabinet maker wouldn't start crying when he came to install our cabinets. 


Speaking of which he has done these fantastic designs for the kitchen of the MHU. I'm loving seeing what it might look like inside the MHU

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