Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm back

Hmph. I say I've worked out how to write more easily and then disappear for weeks. I've been swamped by a deluge of decisions to make about all manner of building questions, each one seemingly dependent upon the others. Teasing it all out has been almost a full time job (in addition to my regular part time job plus parenting).

Here's a brief summary of what I've been working on, which will also serve as more of an introduction to what and how we're building.


We had all but decided that our kitchen was going to be our great ethical compromise. Well, not a massive one, but a compromise nevertheless.

I'm really clear that I want our house to be as non-toxic as possible. We're only using low-VOC paints and our floors will be concrete slab (downstairs) and Marmoleum (real, true blue lino!) upstairs. Locally made kitchens are typically quite high in VOCs, and I wanted none of that. We talked with a mob who do environmentally friendly kitchens, and whilst we kind of liked some of their design, we certainly couldn't afford their prices.

The alternative was Ikea: relatively low VOC (though not E zero), 25 year warranty, nice design, affordable and relatively easy to organise BUT imported. We weighed up the miles against everything else and decided that this would be our Great Compromise.

And then, a few weeks back, our builders told us they had found another (much more affordable) kitchen mob who were willing to use E0 materials. Hooray. I've since made two trecks out to their factory in Bayswater and am sufficiently pleased with them that we've now asked them to quote on vanities for both bathrooms, as well as cabinetry in the dining room to match the kitchen. Hopefully this will come in okay ... otherwise, back to Ikea for those bits and then the dilemma of how to make it all match up. :(


I've had my heart set on concrete benchtops for some time. They look fantastic and you can do all sorts of interesting things with them. As well, they apparently have considerably less embodied energy than composite stone benchtops. In the last few weeks we've had a bit of an up and down thing happening about who to source from. It's all settled now (I think), but in the meantime, with uncertainty about benchtops, we couldn't make final decisions about kitchen and bathroom basin taps.


Speaking of taps, we have also had a hold up with deciding on our bath taps. We are reconfiguring our upstairs bathroom at the 11th hour. It looked fine on the plans, but when I stood in the actual room, I realised that we were likely to end up with too much water from the shower splashing on the curved roof. I spoke with our (very accommodating) project manager, who then discussed it with the plumber and both agreed that this might be a problem. My proposed work around - creating a separate shower and rotating our bath 90 degrees so it's under the curved part of the roof - seemed workable. But that then needed to be checked with the building surveyor, and new drawings submitted for that room. Luckily she is okay with it and we can proceed.

I'm really happy with the new design, but with adding a separate shower, there goes another $1,200 of our contingency fund. (More on that in a future post about MONEY and costs!)


I feel so sorry for our builders sometimes. We have been the clients from hell when it comes to the outside of our house. Possibly in many other ways as well, but particularly on all matters to do with cladding. We simply haven't been able to decide. We have investigated every option we could think of and nothing was quite right.

We liked the look of timber but got scared off by the maintenance regime.

We thought maybe one of the trademarked fibre cement products, then discovered it was way expensive.

Traditional fibre cement just didn't cut it aesthetically.

Plywood was attractive, but not for the whole place.

Ditto colourbond, which we feared was too sea-sidey.

We have finally - after much research - opted for:
* Narrow radial sawn timber battens on the front (facing east), over ecoply
* Zincalume on the more exposed section of the downstairs northern and western sides and all of the south side (not visible from the street or yard)
* Ecoply upstairs on the rest of the northern and western sides (protected to some extent by the eaves).

Now we are trying to work out which plywood and which timber finishes.

We were planning to use the Carter Harvey Holt ecoply but then I heard that Boral Evolution Ply has a much more interesting woody look to it. This turns out to be true, but in the process of Googling, I have also found out that Boral is owned by Hancock, which has a terrible environmental track record in the Strzelecki Ranges and elsewhere. Sometimes I really wish I had care factor zero. Now am in an ethical pickle. Again.

And to compound matters, the timber finish we want to use is produced by a firm that has also makes a "nano-tinted primer". If you don't know about the problems with nano technology, visit The problem I have is that their sales person originally told me via email that the primer contains nano sized particles, then said in a phone conversation that they don't. I have now had to ask them what size the particles are, a question their sales folks almost certainly won't know the answer to. Of course, we could just use a different primer, but if they do use nano, I'm not really sure I want to purchase from the company at all.

But if we don't, we are back to square one with our finishes, and I fear that if I don't make a decision by mid week, our project manager might kill me (with full justification I might add).

Agggh. We have looked at all of the more "ethical" timber finishes, but they would require a lot more maintenance, which we really are not up for. :(

So. I need to stop here so that Rodney can use the computer, but I do want to finish on an up note. I popped into the house yesterday to pick up the samples of the Boral ply. Nobody else was on site, so for the first time, it was just me in our house, and it was lovely. I walked around just saying hello to things. I have been dreaming this place into being for years now, and it's just so wonderful getting to see it finally evolving into reality.

I just realised I haven't written about the other big thing that's been going on, which has been trying to finalise our kitchen design, accommodating the fact that we have no wall space to speak of.  I suspect this is a problem that lots of people have with houses that are passive solar, so I'll spend a bit of time on it in my next post.

Thanks for reading.



Anonymous said...

Hi Elisabeth,
I read your posts with enthusiasm, how nice to bump into something that is of great interest and local as well! We're in Melbourne and are in the process of renovating and retrofit our old, albeit way too charming, federation home. Perhaps you wont mind telling me who your kitchen people are in Bayswater...So far I have not got anyone offering low voc cabinetry! And what about your concrete benches, any luck there?
See I am picking your brains! For my part on cladding we have decided to stay with weatherboards. Some of those claddings you see on renovations/extensions do not age well in my view...I am a bit concerned that after a few yearsthe I might not like very much the look of ecoply...Best of luck with everything,
regards marie

Elizabeth said...

Hi Marie

Sorry I didn't reply earlier. For reasons I cannot fathom, I don't actually get notified when I get a comment.

Our kitchen people are Grandview Kitchens and our benchtops will be made by John Lee at Benchmark Benchtops.

I'm not in love with ecoply either, but it seemed the best option. I shall just have to hope that I don't grow to hate it. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Elisabeth,

I have contacted Grandview kitchen, they say they have used EVO board for one of their customers but don't do low voc paint..Is that what they used for you and what exactly is it, MDF? Would you mind also telling me what your other kitchen company was ? Thanks so much! :) marie

Elizabeth said...

Hi Marie

We have been looking at timber veneers, and have just settled on Laminex FSC timber veneer.

I talked with the foreman at Grandview last week about the fact that he will need to find an alternative to his usual two-pack for the lacquer! :) I suspect Laminex will be able to point him in the right direction. Otherwise, I will contact Oikos.

I gather that powder coated MDF is an alternative to two-pack. But when I spoke with our builder about it the other day, he said he thought that there's no longer a supplier of E0 powder coated panels in Australia. Apparently there wasn't the market, although I think that's probably just that they didn't market well enough. There is a supplier in NZ, but the issue is volume: they don't do small lots - kitchens aren't worth their while.

But never fear! Jeremy thought it might be possible to just get the E0 panels/doors made up and then have them powder coated locally. If we hadn't chosen to go timber veneer, I was going to chase them up. If you have your heart set on two-pack look, perhaps you could?!

I did read a quote from an old uni friend about powder coated mdf, so I will try to email her to see if she has any leads for you.


Elizabeth said...

Oh, our other kitchen company was going to be Ikea! :)

Their stuff is made for a European market so it tends to have much lower formaldehyde levels and other nasties.

Nice design, and a 25 year guarantee. Shame about the miles, but I will say that even if we had taken that route, we would still have ended up with way less embodied energy than the average house. I'm going to write a post on that soon.

We did end up buying our kitchen and laundry taps from Ikea. They have ten year warranties and cost us about a quarter of the price of the other taps I looked at.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Elisabeth, I shall definitely check the Ikea stuff...Still you do mention a 'mob doing environmentally friendly kitchens', but whilst you liked some of their design their price was too high'. I am still interested to know who they are , not that I want to go for the more expensive options, in the end it all comes down to price I know, but I am still in browsing mode so I can gather lots of ideas!

And one last thing if you don't mind telling me who your builder is I might get a quote from them at some stage! Gee I am starting to feel like I'm gonna owe you a drink or two from all the unashamed brain picking I do. Have a good week-end!!Marie

Elizabeth said...

Hi Marie

Oh, yes, the other other kitchen company. :)


Kitchen with them was going to start at $20,000 for all laminate. :(

Our builders are Positive Footprints:
Can't recommend them highly enough. I'll write more in a blog soon.

Drinks are always welcome, but keep up the brain picking in any case! I've learned heaps from other people so it's nice to be able to pass it on. :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all that...I am doing some more retrofitting of my old house this holiday. We are going to replace our rotten windows with double glazed windows from Colonial Glass, I have visited 6 or 7 factories and have settled with those guys. My handyman is taking my weatherboards down, and I am insulating with R2 Austex polyester batts. This is going to make a big difference in the comfort of the house I have no doubts! Will be in touch I ma sure with more questions! Take care, Marie