Renovations to Winter 2018

House construction

We have now been in our 1945 built home for about 18 months. Our home started its life as a single story two bed, one bathroom dwelling with concrete tile roof at a 35deg pitch with water tank and detached toilet. After 70 or so years and a handful of owners, it has evolved into a four bed, two bath, double story dwelling with painted steel roof, detached single garage, garden shed and back porch. It had the lower walls relined after a once-in-a-century flood in the 1980’s that came through about 1.5 meters deep. The original footprint is a rectangle about 10m x 9m. The roof space was built in to add a full length habitable area. Upstairs consists of a small study and a 6m x 6m ‘L’ shaped room with a north facing dorma. Upstairs is accessed by an internal ‘European’ style staircase that is 600mm wide with no railings and a door at the top step. The back of the house had a poorly built porch added at some point too.


Two pages from council records.


The house originally had a raised water tank on a reinforced concrete structure. Behind this was the old thunderbox. At some point the tank was removed and the structure extended upwards and enclosed to make a semi-detached laundry with a plumbed toilet and shower. The thunderbox became the coal store. A concrete and brick constructed tool shed and a single car garage were added sometime between 1970 and maybe 1995. A lot of documents have either been destroyed or lost in a flood that inundated the area in the mid 1980’s.

The main advantage of the older house is a solid a hell native hardwood frame. It is the kind of frame that means I have to hammer framing nails by hand even after firing them in with a nail gun at 125psi. Existing nails and screws have to be ground off as they wont even hammer flush.

Older houses like this don’t have adequate exterior wall cavity ventilation. Any moisture that gets in there, tends to stay there for a long time. This is especially true outside of a New Zealand Southland summer because the temperatures are just too low for water outside of direct sunlight to evaporate. Another big problem with old houses is the wiring. All of the cabling is undersized with most power run in 1mm solid core and while strictly legal, when installed, it is drastically undersized once insulation is laid. The light circuits had no earths which was the norm at the time. The cable insulation is brittle rubber and cotton braid. Circuits in the roof space were run in a timber duct called ‘cap and casement’ and the switchboard was old ceramic fuses with no safety switches mounted on asbestos. Some fixed wiring in the house had been run using old extension leads that were held in place with bent over nails through Gyprock.

Wall insulation had been added as part of the post-flood repairs. The batts used were designed for ceilings and over time it had settled in the bottom of the wall cavity rendering it pointless. If anything, the house would have been better without the incorrect insulation because all it did was trap moisture causing mould and timber rot.

The shed tilting door never had a rebate in the concrete slab. Rain water tracks across the floor and runs about halfway through the shed causing rot in the timber frame. The building paper/sarking underneath the sheds roof has been put in backwards meaning the bottom strips overlap the top strips. Any condensation now runs down the building paper and drips out on the floor instead of over the barge boards.

I could go on…

Renovation Triage


Triage is the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. Sahara and I suffer from asthma forcing us to address the moisture and mould problems first. This meant that the high priority task was to get the house water tight and warm while making sure that internal sources of moisture were either eradicated (leaks) or adequately controlled (condensation).

We had a lot to do before we could say our house is warm and watertight. We took a stocktake of problems when we moved in giving us two lists. What needed doing versus what we wanted done.


The two lists

The Necessary list also includes;

  • Wall insulation
  • Ceiling insulation
  • Replacing the coal fire
  • Demolishing the brick chimney
  • Re-wiringing
  • Relining downstairs bedrooms
  • New freestanding oven
  • Replace entire bathroom
  • Replace entire laundry

The Want list has a lot of items on it including

  • Change from storage hot water to Gas instantaneous hot water
  • Exterior painting
  • Shed shelving
  • Rewiring the shed
  • Replacing the tool shed roof
  • Tool shed external doors
  • Converting glasshouse slab into a firewood shelter
  • Adding a tap to the back yard
  • New blackout curtains.

Now that we had two lists prepared it is time to triage: warmth and moisture elimination are number one. To achieve this we needed to replace some roofing, most of the flashing and spouting, eight out of ten windows, rotten barge boards on the dorma roof, install a new wood fire and demolish the old lime mortar and brick chimney. We did the hot water system first before replacing the pot belly because the fire had a wet back heat transfer that leaked.

Work begins


The week following the 2017 winter solstice the work started with the plumber/gas fitter changing out the hot water. On the Saturday following, the scaffold was erected and on Sunday the chimney was taken below roof level and the dorma bargeboards were replaced in preparation for the roofers. Monday roofers and glaziers turned up and Tuesday saw the builder return to finish demolishing the brick chimney. Wednesday the old 7kW pot belly coal fire was replaced with a 15kW wood fire. We also used the window guys to help up get a three seater couch upstairs via the scaffold – #winning!


Roofing was quick and easy. The windows went in without a hitch. Almost without a hitch. One window needed to be raised by about 75mm so the roofer’s flashing could be done properly. This meant internal lining needs repair work as a result. The work was not without its problems. The guys who put the new fire in shot a nail through the ceiling from above requiring patching and the guys removing the chimney slid the bricks down the tin roof scratching the hell out of the paint finish. This I did not see until after the work was paid for and of course, any rectification work should have been done before I paid because they won’t entertain the idea now.


New roofing on the right, existing roofing on the left. Oversize flashing and a ton of rustkill mitigated the cancerous holes.


The master bedroom walls had a lot of mold. This became obvious when the windows were out. The wall linings were stripped below the windows to dry out resulting in us losing another room – we now lived in the equivalent of a two bedroom house.


Master bedroom after lining was removed and new windows were installed.


By the end of the first real fortnight of work we had trades fit new windows, a ‘not yet’ water tight roof, demolish the brick chimney, install new freestanding wood fire and have mains-pressure showers. With that work, we now had windows with no architrave and a 1.2meter square hole in the lounge wall. The roofers did a terrible job. Matching folded flashing with soft lead flashing seemed to be a black art. We had three different leaks that they needed to return and fix five times in total.


Evidence of chimney leaks


The black timber shown in the above image is where the brick chimney had been leaking for many years. The main saving grace was that the water would then run back down the brickwork and ultimately through the floor and into the void under the house.

While the scaffold was up, I used the opportunity to strip the east facing gable weatherboards down to bare timber and repaint. The paint stripping was a week long job. I’d start about 9:30am and work through until it was school pickup time. I spent around 25 hours getting the timber ready for a new undercoat and four top coats including the repair of cracks, stripping the soffit and facia boards. It was another two weeks to paint because low temperatures meant the paint was taking a lot longer to cure. We also used the opportunity to paint the dorma section with our desired exterior paint colour and install a new digital terrestrial TV antenna and remove the two rusted out satellite dishes.


All up from HWS install to removal of scaffold was roughly eight weeks. I banked on it taking three to four weeks and the reason for the blowout was weather. I was not prepared for the effect of sub 4⁰C top temperatures. Paint stripping took longer because the stuff that wasn’t peeling needed to be baked with a heat gun before scraping. When the timber is under 4⁰C it just takes longer – not to mention I’m taking off 75 years of paint. My hands needed time to adjust because my knuckles ached in the cold. Temperature hindered the painting process too because the surface being painted needed to be over 10⁰C to cure properly. The up side of the scaffold being here for so long – the kids loved climbing all over it!

By the end of Nov 2017, the east gable looked proper mint. The roof is finally watertight. The windows are in and the house started to get warm and dry. I had cracked on with the laundry too.


New Windows. New Paint. New Roof. No Chimney...



Big hole in the floor - through to the dirt.



Framing sorted, hole plugged, new loo. Ready for lining.



Now ready for painting. I've mentioned my love of painting I'm sure.



Supplementary: Quoting Process

After we started the whole process of getting and accepting quotes, we found that three to four weeks was the normal turnaround to get a quote in hand. At least half of the quotes never arrived. Most quotes in this end of the world are still posted out with about half being hand written and the odd few being hand delivered after hours. Hand delivery is a nice touch.

When we started to sift through the quotes I was surprised at the vast differences. It is common to have an individual quote come in surprisingly high or low. The range of the quoted prices here is stunning…biblically. The best examples of the polarising quotes were the hot water system and the cost to replace the western facing weatherboards.

The HWS quote we accepted was just shy of $3000 which included running all new plumbing through the roof space. The next closest quote was for $5000 and covered the same work. The highest was $5200 + $2000 for the califont. The most expensive one wanted to go through the floor meaning access holes being cut and the repairs would be up to me at a further cost.

Demolition of the brick chimney also attracted some crazy quotes. It ended up costing about $1000 but we had quotes around $4000 and one at almost $6000. None of the quotes included any repair work – just removal of the chimney, fire and hearth leaving a big hole in the lounge wall for me to repair. In hindsight, I should have tacked this myself however in the grand scheme, $1000 was not a large amount and included replacing the rotten dorma barge boards and installing roofing to cover the hole.

Lastly, the western gable weatherboards cost us around $4000 inclusive of scaffolding. The next closest quote was $6900 + $1500 for scaffolding. This was obviously a quote done by a bloke who was used to commercial quoting and he did underquote the job. I wasn’t going to tell him though!


Winter is coming…

By the end of the 2017/2018 summer, we had a heap of work started but not much finished. We did have a lot of the two lists completed but not polished. The east gable weatherboards, new fire, master bedroom and laundry were the only things I could honestly say were completed. Several key jobs needed to be finished before winter. Even then, the laundry has some work to be finished – mainly painting (I hate painting).

Feb 2018, we still lived in a two bedroom house. I decided to tackle the two kids rooms before winter. We budgeted $4000 to reline the two kids rooms. This was to include new wall linings, ceiling joists, ceiling batten system called Rondo, insulating external and internal walls, architrave, plastering, painting new electrical fittings and wiring.



This job deserves its own post. Suffice to say, a $4k budget turned into a bridging loan, new bathroom, bearers, floor joists, sub-floor, carpet, tiling, toilet, shower, plumber and the kids using the toilet at night that is in the laundry out the back. With an extension granted by the bank, we did get it all done by Mid April 2018 and the house has never been warmer. The bank was happy with the work we completed to date. So much so, we grabbed ourselves four acres of land 15 mins from home that we will eventually end up building on.


The four acre plot in Woodlands

…Winter is here

The downstairs is as finished as it will be for the foreseeable future. There is one niggly job to get done. Stripping wallpaper and painting a hallway – I hate painting. Your God as my witness, I hate painting… Looking back after 18 months, we have achieved a lot. The coldest night we experienced during winter was almost -8OC. That night the last log hit the fire at 11pm and when we woke at 7am the house had dropped from 24OC to 16OC. The lounge has a heat pump but we haven’t used it once this winter.

Upstairs has basically nothing done. The curtains have been hung and new socket outlets have been wired and installed to replace legacy equipment. There are still holes, missing linings, no insulation, doors, architrave, framing among other things that are still pending. Maybe this will be a Summer 2018/2019 job…


This is the Winter Solstice. Expected top of 3 decrees...


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