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U3A Writing: The House

Jim Moore tells of the trials and tribulations of building a new home.

At first it was just an idea, but the more we thought about it, the better it seemed.

The old house was good and solid, and had served us well, but it faced away from the sun. Our builder friend said, "If you spend money on this old place, you'll never get your money back."

That settled it, a new house it had to be. We liked the idea of old-fashioned windows and doors, but they are not built these days, so we started buying windows and doors from auctions and sales around the place, and built up quite a collection.

Then a trip to Geelong to consult with the architect brother, Bob. He was a very down-to-earth fellow, and suggested mud brick. We sketched plans on paper on the kitchen table, and at the third attempt, came up with something reasonable. Then down to Deakin University to consult with his mate Graham, the engineer, about the strength of the mud, and samples to be required. Graham did not want to supervise. "It's too far away," he said.

Samples were sent down, and a glowing report came back. Ideal!
A lot of second hand wood had been collected. The rules require all of this to be denailed, dressed and inspected. All done, duly inspected and passed.

"What will you use it for?" asked Warren.

"Ceiling joists."

"Good."

How to dig several cubic metres of hard ground to make 2500 bricks? A front end loader, of course! This was duly obtained after much searching, and the real job started.

I wanted to install a composting toilet instead of sewerage, but the Water Board said, "You are in the sewerage area, you must pay for the installation of sewerage."

I took them to the Tribunal, and they told the Member that all they needed was a two-metre lease along the fence line and me to install a six- inch main along the fence to the main at the front.

"How long is the line?"

"70 meters."

No argument, they won!

As soon as I got home I got a letter saying that the slab must not be lower than 152.20 above sea level.

And at that point I made a mistake! I should have gone straight back to the Tribunal and told them that I didn't only have to put in a drain, and I might have won. But I didn't, I hired a surveyor, and after some trouble he told me that I would have to lift the slab 32 cm. You wouldn't believe how much dirt it takes to lift a slab that much.

Eventually we got it up, and then had a contractor to pour the concrete.
Of course by now there was a considerable rise around the slab, so that the trucks couldn't get in close enough, and a pumper truck was required. The slab was poured, but the trucks would not come fast enough for Max. He was on the phone stirring them up half the day. The next day he came back and ran the helicopter (leveller) over it to make it nice and even.

The next job was to make bricks. One of my bushwalking mates, Phillip, who had resigned from the Commonwealth Bank, came out to help, and we set up a press on the lift of the front end loader. The front wall facing the sun would require about 300 bricks if we were to incorporate two bottles of water in each brick to increase the thermal capacity.

How to get hold of 600 old wine bottles was easy. See your friendly scrap dealer. A crate of bottles was delivered, and away we went. It took weeks to make enough bricks. They were stacked on the slab and covered with plastic in case it rained.

A friend told us about a firm in Melbourne which sells cheap building materials. Ross had built his house at Churchill buying goods in Melbourne and having them trucked in. Much cheaper.

We started watching Tuesday's Age for the advertisements from Fowles. When we saw redgum posts and hardwood, we jumped in the car and went down.

What a sight! A large barn full of goodies. Great stacks of redgum of various lengths, tied in bundles of 16. I would need some long ones, so I crawled over the stacks and noted the numbers of some suitable bundles. When the bidding came on and I was the last, I nominated the bundles which I would like, and then the auctioneer went back and asked for any other bidders at my price.

The bundles of hardwood were the same system. I got two of these.
I couldn't find any six-inch flooring boards, so I had to settle for four-inch lining boards. I bought one bundle of this. Then the little trouble started. They wouldn't take my personal cheque.

We had to go into town and get a bank cheque. Just a nuisance.
I organised the goods to be delivered to Kelly and Young, and next week they landed in my yard.

Then the fun started. Put a frame together. It's not hard if you are a builder. Two walls. Stand them up and tie them together. Not with nails though. Tek screws. Much stronger Gradually the house grew up.

I arranged with an engineering mate to make me a crane to lift the roof trusses. This was successful. Phillip was not very keen on walking around on the top of the walls or the trusses; he was quite content to work off the ladder.

Brother Bob came up from Geelong to have a look, and nearly had a fit because the walls were not braced nearly enough for his liking. Extra cross ties went in everywhere.

Next came laying the bricks. I was working right around the walls, so that the wall was rising one brick at a time.

Before I got to the top, I decided to put in the linings. Vertical boards in all the rooms, except the bathroom, in which the boards are angled at 45 degrees.

By now our friendly building inspector had been sacked. A result of Mr Kennett's move to replace councils with commissioners. The new inspector walked into the drive and said, "I don't like mud bricks much."

"Where does that leave me"? I asked.

I was to find out only too soon. When I finished the walls, he insisted that they be rendered!

"But that takes away the character of the mud brick wall."

"Too bad, that's the only way I will pass it."

Then he climbed up into the ceiling with a ruler in one hand and his rule book in the other, and declared that the ceiling joists were not heavy enough.

I protested that his book was talking about green hardwood, and my joists were air dried. No way. Heavy hanging beams had to be fitted across the ceilings. The new beams had to be 45 cm by four cm and five metres long. They were so heavy that I had to put them in the roof with the front end loader. As this was now green hardwood, I remembered to jack it up at each end so that when it sank, it didn't push my ceiling down. One of these days when I feel very poor, I might take them out and sell them. They cost me $40 each green, so they will be worth something when they are dry.

Inside the house he decided that I was not allowed to have trusses showing through the windows of the clerestory. "You will never sell the house with that showing."

"I am not interested in selling the house, I want to live in it!"

In the bedroom I had installed a narrow door beside the bed, close to the car port entry. "You can't have that door; it's not wide enough."

"Look at it like this, Gary, if I am working here and there is a fire in the bathroom, the only way out is through the window. Let's call it a fire escape".

"All right, but if you have a handle only on one side."

"Suits me."

I had bought two old Solar Hart hot water services, knowing that one cylinder was faulty, but this gave me four plates, and these were duly installed.

The hot water services were in place long before the house was finished so we turned off the gas hot water service in the old house, and used the new one.

This had two interesting outcomes. We got a letter from the gas company wondering if they had offended us, and a Meter Reader who couldn't find anything to read on the meter.

Our new house has only one bathroom as that is quite enough to keep clean. Big northern windows to let in the winter sun with overhangs to keep out the summer sun.

We have a wood heater in the lounge, and later installed air conditioning because of a very hot summer.

All in all it is very comfortable, our new house.

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