House Update

House Update

House Update

Thursday 2 August 2001

Today we start plastering up the ceiling and walls in Thomas’s room. There are small bits to do still in The Great Hall, Lesser Hall, Master bedroom, bathroom and laundry, but we have left them in order to optimise the use of the plaster board.

On Monday, Fran put in the gutter attachment to collect the water into the downpipe. This entailed cutting a rectangular hole and creating a ledge all around with the router to allow the top of the attachment to be below the surface of the gutter. This was bogged in with high quality marine silicone sealant as well as firmly screwed into place.

On Tuesday, Thomas and I made a pad of coarse gravel, covered by fine gravel to place the zincalume water tank on. It’s about 25 cm thick. This creates a level surface and helps prevent rusting out of the tank bottom. I had the manufacturer supply one with bituminous paint applied to the bottom, further inhibiting corrosion. Thomas and I rolled the tank down to the front of the house, then used a couple of pieces of timber to slide it onto the gravel pad.

Using a plumb bob, I located where the downpipe would pierce the deck and a jigsaw to cut through. Yesterday, I put the two halves of the downpipe together and we pop-riveted them and used one pop rivet to hold the top end. Where the downpipe penetrates the deck, some scraps of timber temporarily hold the downpipe vertical.

The tank came without a gate valve on the outlet, but this is a farm and it didn’t take too long to locate some fittings. Several showers have started to fill the tank, so it’s time to purchase a pump and float switch to automatically pump the water up to the supply tank each time the collection tank fills.

Friday 3 August 2001

Today we finished plaster boarding Thomas’s room and most of the spare bedroom/office. The interior spaces all look much different now that the pale grey plasterboard is replacing the sombre black of the polythene vapour barrier. Tuesday should see us taping the joins and stopping them with plaster. It’s time to start thinking of paint and colour schemes.

Sunday 5 August 2001

Marguerite wants to change the position of one of the corridor lights. Because the ceiling is the curved underside of the gutter, the lighting expert decided to light it from the side with three equidistant wall sconces. The ceiling is a continuous slope from front to the back of the house and to light it evenly, the sconces are the same distance from the ceiling. Marguerite has decided she wants them an equal distance from the floor instead. Of course this is made difficult as the plasterboard is already in place. I have no doubt that when the house is finished, she will want the lighting changed back again. Or more likely to have the sconces be equal distances from the floor and the ceiling!

We made a start on deciding colour schemes for the walls. Our lounge chairs and the Bosky cookstove are strongly coloured and this limits our options somewhat. The chairs are all recently upholstered, so changing the covers to suit the colour scheme isn’t really an option. My heart isn’t really in it after the conflict of opinion about the lighting.

Monday 6 August 2001

The curved ceiling of the corridor proved to be less of a hassle to plaster than we thought. Fran cut some battens and one edge of the corridor was battened with enough space to be a snug fit for the edge of the plasterboard. While Tony held a board down in the middle, Fran pushed the opposing edge up with a short batten and nailed it into place with the fit-out gun. The end of the day saw almost all the plasterboard in place, so tomorrow will see the beginning of stopping-up the gaps with tape and filler.

Stan the plumber arrived to finish the sewage pipes under the house and install the shower. Of course the shower has yet to be replaced with the correct type, so he couldn’t do that today.

Tuesday 7 August 2001

Finishing some of the plasterboard in the corridor took a while, especially the fiddly bits around the stair. Tony and Fran taped and stopped the spare bedroom and part of the corridor. When I came in from doing some essential gardening, we cleaned out all the scrap bits of plasterboard and made a pile in the carport. All the unused and large enough to use pieces we stacked neatly in Thomas’s room. Tomorrow is full on taping and stopping.

There are two sorts of tape used to strengthen the seams between plasterboard sheets. The most common is a synthetic mesh, but it’s weaker than paper tape. Paper tape is essential where a seam might come under stress, but it’s more difficult to apply. If paper tape isn’t wetted enough, it will bubble later. We have only two places where we think paper tape is justified, next to the front door. The door is so heavy that it moves the wall even though it’s double studded and the studs are hardwood. Horizontal seams are not a problem, so the back door is OK.

Many professional plasterers apply a single top coat, slightly overfilling the seam. This can then be quickly sanded off because it’s so soft. They make more money on the quote because they are quicker. A proper job requires a hard base coat and a finish with top coat that is softer. The base coat is best applied in two layers, both firmly trowelled so that the edges are feathered and when they shrink, leave a slight depression. That depression is finished with top coat and the skill is to just fill the seam so that only a light sanding is required for a smooth, seamless finish.

The best trowel to use is made of wood. It’s rigid, so it finishes the wet base coat flush with the surrounding plaster board (until it shrinks). A steel trowel is less arduous to use as there is less friction, but it tends to flex and leave the surface of the wet fill slightly lower than the surrounding board.

The tricks of the trade are to apply only as much fill as needed and to trowel it off with as few strokes as possible. Getting the texture of the mud right is important and if you don’t have time to experiment, needs to be learnt from an experienced plasterer. The top coat comes premixed, so that’s less of an issue. It’s also important to allow the mix to set properly between coats.

The worst part of plastering will come later — sanding. The dust gets everywhere and dehydrates what it touches, like mucous membranes.

Wednesday 8 August 2001

I started the day by reading a couple of websites that described how to apply plasterboard. Neither mentioned the necessity of a thorough wash-up of tools and containers between mud mixes. Any contamination of the fresh mud with old accelerates the setting and that can render your mud quickly unusable. We are working with about 30 minutes worth at a time. Likely we could mix up more than that, but as the mud starts to go off, it becomes weaker.

Today, I commenced learning to apply the mud myself. It didn’t take too long to learn to produce an acceptable amount of fill, but I am much slower than Fran and Tony. Mostly I am the gopher, washer upper, floor sweeper, etc.

Thursday 9 August 2001

House Update

With painting the walls and ceiling rapidly approaching, I started shopping for paint. Local manufacturer, Tas Paints eliminated itself as a contender for my money several months ago when I tried to purchase some Styrene-butadiene Latex paint from them. I was told that it didn’t exist. Several years ago, I had problems with a paint from the British Paints consortium. I complained and to their credit, a representative called by. Sadly, he blamed me for using the wrong paint for the job. When I pointed out that the can of paint said it was the correct sort, he said that it was common knowledge that the particular paint wasn’t really up to what I was expecting from it.

So, what do I want from the paint system I choose? First, I want a decent pigment content. Low pigment content means more coats needed to produce a uniform finish. A common reason for one paint being cheaper than another is differing pigment contents. It’s not necessarily more economical to apply an extra coat of cheaper paint when labour is taken into account. A second aspect of paint quality is the binder. While most paints used on walls and ceilings are water based acrylics, there’s a wide variety of polymers that qualify as acrylic with a wide range of wear resistance.

The company I chose is Wattyl. Well, that’s pretty much all that was left to choose without purchasing overseas! While there are many brand names of paint, most are manufactured by the one large company. Luckily, Wattyl’s local representative, Barry, was helpful, informative and friendly. I had been told that professional painters prime plasterboard with the cheapest paint they can find as the material specifically manufactured as primer costs too much. Barry informed me that this was not the case and the primer cost turns out to be only 20% of the total paint cost (circa $A1,000). I chose second from the top of the trade range of scrubbable for The Great Hall, corridor walls and the bathroom and laundry. For the rest I chose the top of the trade range of washable.

By choosing only three colours, I can purchase 20 and 10 litre units and that’s a way to save significant amounts of money. We will be using an accent of a fourth colour on the ceiling cornice, but we only need 2 litres of that and it also needs a litre of grey primer because of its pigment type. Before anyone comments that we have one colour too many, each room will have only one colour on the walls and another on the ceiling. They are all shades of green and except for the accent, pastel shades.

The itty bitty colour chips in the selection brochure don’t tell the full story, so I will purchase a small sample can of each and we will paint some scraps of plasterboard prior to a final decision on the exact colours we will use. While Barry said that they can match any colour from a rival paint company, the 800 or so colours on offer from Wattyl should suffice.

Saturday 11 August 2001

Marguerite and I went shopping today. The first priority was a pump. The collection tank is full and that water belongs in the storage tank. My favourite place for that sort of thing, Stephenson’s, was closed, so I went to Webster’s. An appropriately sized Davey water pump was duly purchased, along with some adapters for the pipes. It wasn’t until I opened the operator’s manual later that I discovered we need a check valve in the line from the pump to the storage tank. This is to prevent the water in the line running back into the pump when it’s not operating.

Then it was on to purchase some samples of paint to make some test panels. These are not cheap and the five samples came to some $A35+. However, they have the potential to save us from disaster if the colours do not suit when laid on later. While at the hardware store, I purchased a palm sander. Since it’s not needed beyond the job of sanding plasterboard, I bought the cheapest available. I expected to pay $A50, but there was one on special for $A40.

I discovered that there was an environmental home exhibition on in the City Hall, so we hied off there, having a coffee at the museum nearby beforehand. We saw several friends there and chatted a while. One useful and interesting discovery was a special method of creating building footings by driving a galvanised steel pipe into the ground. The foot of the pipe is a cluster of three short pipes at an angle to the main pipe. They would certainly make for cheap footings, but corrosion might be a long-term problem. The dolerite rocks in our soil would also have made for some fun.

Currently, straw bales covered in a cement render is the rage for alternative house construction. I asked Nigel Jones whether he had thought about my concern: the ingress of rodents if the layer of cement cracked. He said that they put a steel mesh in the lower layer to keep rats and mice from discovering rodent heaven. Nigel remarked that a lot of people are disappointed when the cost and skills required turn out to be much the same as for a conventional construction method. The same was true of previous fads like mud brick. Inexpensive ingredients do not necessarily translate into an economical house.

As is usual at such events, there were lots of earnest young people who know more than us oldies. Happily, most were at parliament house saving another forest.

Here are the latest pictures:

The house in the early morning winter sun.


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