My sustainable house renovation – Part 3, the build

If you’ve been following my renovation blog, you will have seen that not everything went according to plan! After the shock of seeing my house flattened, the construction process began in earnest. This followed what the house was prior – double brick and mostly to the footprint.

The crazy times certainly continued however. The major events marked this phase of our build:

  • La Nina
  • Supply chain issues
  • Covid lockdown 2.0 in NSW.

I recall asking at the outset about supply chain issues and the impending rain and was scoffed off. Well both came back to bite that’s for sure.

Firstly there was the price and availability of timber. Prices jumped 20% and there were delays. Thankfully my builder did not pass on the extra cost (though he tried) and had pre-ordered the timber, so we had no delays there. I know that this caused big issues for other builders.

Then, just when the walls started to go up again, the torrential rain set in.  The yellow tongue flooring was installed just before the rain and by rain, I mean crazy rain. Over that period we experienced the wettest March on record with widespread flooding. As you can imagine, that does not fill one’s hear with joy.

The result of all that rain was felt later when mould was seen on the underside of the flooring. My protestations to have the flooring replaced was met with scorn. No, my builder said that it was ridiculous to demand such a thing and that they would do a clean up before handing me the key. Well they did clean it up and as a consequence I also became alerted to this being a potential ongoing problem, which is why for an extra $5,000, I installed subfloor ventilation.

To this day, my daughter’s bedroom which was the worst affected still smells mouldy once the rain sets in. No amount of sub-floor ventilation can deal with moisture coming up from the floors. Had I known this, I would have investigated further and installed a membrane to stop moisture coming up from the floors given that my house is timber and on a sloping block. The moisture does come through the timber flooring I believe.

This is not to say that I can’t do this later, but always better to do it as part of the build. Therefore my advice to anyone doing a renovation, be really careful with how moisture is managed and speak to your builder about keeping water from outside out, and from the inside, allowing moisture to escape.

Other things I did to manage this was to have my rangehood in the kitchen and extraction fans from the bathroom and laundry vented directly out. Crazy that I had to insist on this, otherwise it is vented to the roof space to circulate there.

Linked to supply chain issues were my windows. Being on a busy street, I knew early on that I wanted double glazed windows. Through research and related to my work, I also became aware of issues related to thermal bridging () so wanted UPVC windows (being more affordable than other options). I checked out some suppliers and settled on a company which will remain name-less for now.

This became another bone of contention with my builder. He did include in his price aluminium double glazing (though he did spend quite a long time trying to talk me out of double glazing altogether), but I insisted on going with my UPVC option. This effectively meant that I took on all the risk associated with this decision.

As part of our build, the floor was lifted up, which then made all of the window openings needing to be also lifted up. Hence windows, their size and type of opening became an obsession of mine. Despite someone from the company coming out and measuring,  a few late changes meant that there were a few windows I needed to measure myself. Timing of the order and delivery also became something that I needed to coordinate.

Not surprisingly, there was a lag – so the site lay empty – all waiting for the windows to be installed. When they came to be installed, one of the feature windows (a window seat) was not the right size. The window company were good about replacing it and sending the correct one – but again, we hit trouble. The Suez Canal and the blockage which affected the world! The company asked whether I’d like to wait.  By now (April) I thought we were never going to get to lock up stage, so I declined the wait and accepted the window as it was. We added another row of bricks and that seemed to do the trick.

These windows which came from the most economical company that I had costed, still cost me $20,000 more. This was a large sum, but now that I have moved it, they are amazing and I think worth the investment.

By the time the windows went in, we got to lock up stage and the finish line was in sight. We were still living in a very small and grotty rental, so were desperate to leave. The fun part of choosing finishes was about to begin. What could go wrong?

Covid through us all another curve ball and hit Sydney again. We went into lockdown. Again. A strange time when most of the country seemed to be fighting each other, like it was a competition as to who could do lockdown better and who could remain sane under increasingly harsh conditions. Very little sympathy for Sydney folk, particularly from Melbournians who had it really tough I have to say. Still being stuck at home, not being able to go out and see family, all within a small radius of your home with helicopters and police everywhere is no fun for anyone.

This time construction sites were closed, so our site also closed up- this was literally very close to the end, so months of waiting and watching Covid numbers, then the number vaccinated further added to the stress of being back at home working and home-schooling. Again I’ll stress the tiny and grotty rental full of cockroaches and as we discovered mice – in the house – I mean finding mouse poo in the kids beds!

I did the choosing of lots of things including furniture all online. Thankfully earlier in the year to take advantage of the end of year sales, I’d purchased a bunch of things and arranged delivery for the middle of the year. This worked in my favour because supply chain issues continued for many people and are still going on.

Once construction were allowed to go back, it meant no work could really happen because Western Sydney was still in a harsher lockdown and nobody could enter or leave it (strange, strange times…).  All of the trades for me were coming from western Sydney, so I remained impacted. Then there was the fun bit where only vaccinated people could go to work and some of my trades people did not want to be vaccinated. Eventually – we limped across the finish line and by late-September the house was finished and we moved in!

No big parties of course because we weren’t allowed, but a nice feeling to be in a brand new house as it turned out in the end.

I wanted to share this build with you because sustainability was one of my main drivers. My experience was that anything deviating from the regular churn was treated as a big cost and a source of much back and forth with my builder who was not a bad guy, just wanted to get on with it and do what he usually did. It took a lot of insisting for me to get my way. Now what did I get my way and how much did it cost?

  • Abolished gas:  $1,800 to Jemena to abolish the gas connection). Now you can opt in for electric appliances without having to abolish your gas, but I chose to do this. To do so, I contacted my electricity retailer and filled in a request form which had to be approved.
  • Electric heat pump: total cost $4,890 – so about another $2,000 on what I would otherwise install). I chose the Sanden which was the more expensive option, but so far it is amazing and it also has low global warming potential refrigerants and it’s super quiet.
  • UPVC double glazed windows and doors:  total cost, about $44,000 (ALL my windows had to be replaced and I included some large bi-fold type doors too). As I stated about $20,000 more than my builder’s allowance. I went with Integra Windows, but do be careful as their after sale service is not the best. I’m still waiting on a call back (more than two weeks later) for a broken handle.
  • Rainwater tank: $6,770. I was surprised with the cost to be honest, but I needed a concrete slab to be poured and the pump, so it’s quite involved. It’s a 10,000 litre tank which thanks to all this rain fills up in a few days!  I only have it for irrigation because one of my failings amongst the Covid lockdown and busy-ness of life was I missed the opportunity to connect it to the toilets. This would have no doubt cost me even more.
  • Appliances: no specific costs here. I needed new ones, so made sure they were all efficient. I did buy a BOSCH induction cooktop which I am very happy with.
  • Electric vehicle charge point: about $300 – no biggie at all. My builder basically through this in for free. I did need to make sure there is the right wiring with capacity in place, but this was not a major cost. I have no electric car, but hopefully in the next little bit – fingers crossed!
  • Three phase electricity: $3,000. Given that I wanted to put in a lot of solar and to future proof the home, I put in three phase electricity. My meter box needed replacing anyhow, hence taking the opportunity to do this.
  • LED lighting – no extra cost
  • Low VOC paints – no extra cost
  • Water efficient appliances, taps, toilets etc – no extra cost
  • Ceiling fans – $700 extra as I wanted nicer fans than what the allowance in the contract would have allowed

So all in all, I got most of what I wanted,  but for some I had to pay quite a bit extra. While the timing for the renovation was stressful, I am lucky that I completed the works before things got even more crazy on the cost side.

Of course, one is never done. Since moving in, I have a few more updates that to write about which have made my house even more sustainable.

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