Renovation phase three
You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t been exposed to stories about renovations. They’re everywhere. Magazines and blogs share renovation yarns. Reality TV shows like the Block and House Rules allow viewers to gain an insight into the tension a renovation project incurs. As both a reader and a viewer – none of these prepare you for what reno stress actually FEELS like, until you undertake a renovation yourself.
Contestants on reno reality TV shows usually share projects with a partner of some kind – husband / boyfriend / brother / mother / friend. Someone you can discuss ideas with, relieve pressure (usually involving swearing at or blaming the other for a poor decision!) As a team eventually together you construct the renovation you’ve longingly dreamed of creating. I’m solo managing my project, so decisions are mine and mine only – which has its good and bad sides! I’ve blogged a few stories about the lead up to my renovation but this post was written in the midst of the project. A surreal and time consuming experience, it’s been a challenge to pull this story together – but here goes.
The building phase = stress
I’m not saying the planning, design and waiting for approval stage isn’t stressful. That’s stress – just in a different package. When your house and land becomes the demo zone that mine currently is, the size and complexity of such a project overwhelms in an entirely unique way. The halfway mark of my physical renovation project is when I felt I needed to be prepared to let go (if you can) much of whatever goes on in your life outside your house project to give the renovation all your energy and time. My justification for this commitment is to not have any regrets – wishing I’d been more available to make better decisions at critical times.
I’m enjoying this phase of the project the most. Why? Because I’m a visual person. Apart from the house demolition, raise and shift which was definitely very visual, now I can see the house taking shape via a framework of walls and floors. Rooms are becoming more than just architectural lines on a page.
I made a decision at the 11th hour to extend my house height to the full 9.5 metres allowed. This required a major re-think of design by the architect and engineer. Going up a further half a metre requires MUCH more than simply extending the wall height. The certifier had to apply to council for a citing variation (my initial DA was approved for 9.0 metres). The house raisers had to be “postponed” until council approval on the variation was received. A risky move as the house raising company my builder organised were busy. Delaying their “job” could mean they may not be able to fit us in once we gained the approval. My organised builder has a timeline to follow and my design change was interrupting it.
Why a last minute change of design?
The main reason was to maintain my city glimpses from my upstairs deck. My neighbours across the road from me are also completing a significant home renovation project (their project is much bigger than mine though.) Raising their house to the full height – going up another two metres from where it was once positioned, as my demolition was taking place, I watched what was going to be my incredible city views vanish to city glimpses. All part of life in suburbia and the home owners were (like me) taking an opportunity to develop and go for the best possible outcome. (Love them to bits by the way.)
Thankfully with the timing of my neighbour’s renovations, their changes were BEFORE mine had progressed. I had time to make a change (only just as the build had started!). But this was a MAJOR decision – keep the house height as it was initially designed or go higher? Would I regret not going higher when I had the opportunity? This was one decision I couldn’t make on my own, so I rallied the troops and called on a few friends and family members to ask their opinion! Collectively they thought the same – go up Jen! It was going to create a few headaches for my builder and architect AND cost me more $$$$ – BUT I decided to bite the bullet and give the approval for a re-design. This put the team of people around me under the pump. Especially my architect as all areas relied on his revised drawings; the certifier for completing the siting variation application; the engineer to work on the load changes; and the builder for the changes to his initial quote and original timeframe.
Waiting, waiting, waiting for approval
My builder discussed with the house raisers the additional steel and changes required, based on an optimistic gamble my height increase would be approved! I’d email my certifier each morning asking if he’d heard anything back from council (sounding like the kids who ask “are we there yet?) He assured me the “height approval was quite likely to be approved but I can’t guarantee it.” Of course there are no guarantees – this is the building industry renowned for its red tape, delays and over zealous visions having to be downgraded. In the meantime, additional steel was ordered and the house raisers recalculated for the increase in height and weight distribution changes. This re-design included modifying the original re-building on the slab, to building a timber framed floor (actually more cost effective as it meant less excavating!) The timber framed lower floor created an additional 800mm and the extra height was gained by increasing the downstairs wall height from 2.7metre to 3.0metres.
There was a feeling of optimism. We had to wait for what seemed like forever for the re-drawn plans to come back from my architect. A few teams of people were waiting on the revised drawings. Throughout this waiting period my builder appeared to remain calm (what I saw anyways!) To his credit he seemed to take it in his stride – hopefully I’m not the worst client he’d come across. The “promised” time frame for my revised drawings was extended then extended again. When eventually I received the revised architect’s plans, yet another waiting game began with council. Ten business days extended to eleven then twelve. It was day thirteen when I finally received word from the certifier, Brisbane City Council had approved my new height.
The house raisers began their process of shifting and raising my house. Having watched my neighbours across the road raise and shift their house – I was fascinated by the process! I never noticed movement during the day – but by the day’s end I could see the height changes. I was looking forward to watching mine go through this same process (coincidentally by the same house raising company.) The guys responsible for moving my house probably find their daily grind methodical and boring, but I was intrigued. I’d visit the site checking on progress. A curious soul, I asked the fellas one morning how it was done. They showed me (no doubt humouring the homeowner.) I envisioned a house sliding on steel – which is what actually happens, but very SLOWLY! The movement is occurs millimetres at a time – a good thing given you’re dealing with something that size and weight! The steel beams supporting the house are lubricated with soap. Hydraulic pulleys and chains are linked to a stable point, they activate the hydraulics which slowly pulls the chains tight and the house moves (ever so slightly!) The chains are released, the workers move them and start the process again and again. Time consuming but methodical and calculated. Fascinating for me who hasn’t had the opportunity to experience something like this close hand before.
Lofty heights = SHOCK
I drove past the block once the house was raised to its new height (just under 9.5 metres) and in its new position (four metres closer to the street.) I was shocked. My initial thought was it’s so high it looks ridiculous. Perched on its new set of posts it looked like a UFO hovering (on stilts.) The house looked out of place and I was wondering – had I made the right decision to go the additional height? For the first time in the project, I was starting to feel anxious!
The anxiety passed when I scrambled up the ladder to the first floor to take in the new height. The improved view looked amazing!
The builder and his lads welded the floor joists, laid the plywood floor and started framing the downstairs rooms. My home was starting to take shape. Plumbing decisions were needed about where to fit shower mixers and vanity basins. And the biggest challenge – the internal stairs. I had a few issues visualising where they were going to start and finish.
The downstairs deck and the block towers were built – looking like guarding sentinels – rising from the ground. The architect felt they were a necessity for design balance, but I thought they were ugly and obtrusive. “We can replace them with posts,” suggested my architect. “It’s too late for that now,” I replied. Sometimes you just have to trust your architect.
- Love your builder
In the literal sense I mean! Recognise the importance of the relationship you have with your builder. You read about how critical it is WHEN you are in this phase. They “get” the design stuff and know how to pull it all together. They know about design changes and hopefully will suggest some where they think it will improve your design.
- Trust your builder
I trust Ben’s decisions and that he has my back. I still question him on many things and he good naturedly (it seems) takes them on. For me it’s important to visit the site daily to check on progress and (try to) answer any questions they may have. Watch your budget! And remember your builder needs to be aware your budget is not unlimited and variations must be discussed during the project (better than getting a shock at the end!)
- Talk to your builder
As the build progresses you see things that don’t make sense – even though they may be on your plans. Detecting where you may want slight variations BEFORE the builders get too far is beneficial to me as the client and your builder. Letting your builder know how you operate is important too. Being a visual person I can better appreciate viewing the site and space than looking at plans. It took me a while to grasp the stairwell hole and where the return would end up!
Taking the time to find THE builder I connected with and felt I could communicate with, was worth trudging through the 12 or so builders who came to my site to quote. Having a builder who appears quite relaxed has been a bonus. Knowing I can call him about small things (which may seem superficial – but important to me) is critical and ensures I feel progress is occurring but within my control. My builder’s creativity is crucial as well as his experience in dealing with my house’s vintage. I may ask questions, but I respect his prior building expertise and am very appreciative of it.
This is my project and is a significant investment for my future. It’s been four months since the builders commenced – but 18 months in the planning so I want it to be done to the best that it can be – given my budget, ideas, family, life situation and dreams. Although it may be holding me back from chasing writing jobs – this project IS important. It’s taught me a great deal and is what I love about life: to be continually learning and challenged – not knowing what is around the corner.
Next post will hopefully be the finished product!