Demolition starts today

After a rather frantic week of moving stuff around the house and clearing things out, we're ready for the build to start. Holly's been working like a trooper on this!

Builder moves in today with all his stuff, gets the site setup and start demolishing the back half of the house. Our furniture and stuff are distributed between the front rooms, shed and some at our friends' place.

As promised, here's the before photos.

Our build is about to begin

For those I haven't mentioned it to, we're about to do a major renovation on the house. We've lived here nearly 8 years and done a couple of little changes over the time, opening up the dividing wall between the kitchen and lounge room, re-doing the kitchen and bathroom, and adding on a little laundry out the back. But we've reached the limits.

We spent a few months looking around for somewhere with a bit more space in our area. The Sydney property insanity combined with how much we love the area meant anything suitable with 3 bedrooms was in the $1.4 million+ range which is just nuts. So we decided to extend.

Fortunately we have an awesome building designer in Tracy. She's probably spent an average of a day a week in our house since our first kids were born on the same day 5.5 years ago. She's managed to work out a really clever design that builds us two more bedrooms, creates a really functional and bright kitchen/dining space while maximising the amount of sun we get and heat it'll keep in. All while keeping to the same envelope of land use.

We're going up and down at once. The back half of the house will be demolished completely, then a new ground level much closer to the ground will develop. A bathroom will sit next to stairs down to the kitchen/dining and stairs up to the new first floor. Upstairs we'll have two bedrooms and another small bathroom. The back of the house will be a wide glazed view out to the garden. All the new windows will be double-glazed, providing great thermal performance and substantially reducing the impact of the ever-present planes going overhead. 

Excitingly, we're building with Hempcrete! It's basically walls constructed from the cellulose core of the hemp plant and some lime. The walls will be quite thick and providing good sealing as it's built into forms on-site. Thermal and acoustic performance is stratospheric, it's carbon negative and breathable to allow Sydney's humid Summer air a way to escape.

Pretty exciting! We move out today into my parents' place for 3-4 months, then it should be done. I'll post some "before" photos once we've finished moving all the boxes out of the bit that's going.

Disappointing experience with retrofit soft closers

I was quite excited when I found this inexpensive approach to creating soft close drawers and cupboard doors. They're a pretty simple concept: a little damper piston that you stick wherever possible to brake the closing of your drawers and cupboards. It'll never be quite as Star Trek as the really expensive mechanisms you get in proper kitchen stores, but it was still a neat solution and much cheaper at around $2 per piston, making it about $4 per drawer and cupboard.

Initially they worked great and I took huge pleasure opening and closing the drawers to see the nice, soft close. Pretty soon after installing them, I found some problems. They're not a complete killer on the idea, just quality and execution problems from the manufacturer really.

First a few of the pistons became stuck closed. I could jiggle them to get them out again, but that's hardly good enough. Then they gradually all started falling off. The adhesive they've used just doesn't seem to work. I would probably have persevered and re-applied the devices with a stronger glue if it weren't for the stuck pistons.

I've now sent the lot back for a refund, and the seller seems willing to refund so far.

I'm pretty disappointed. I really wanted this to work, and I'd still be interested in the product if they ever come up with a Version 2 that fixes these problems.

Shed progress, and networking disaster

Over the weekend I started insulating the shed. It's tough work because every joist width on the shed is different, seemingly for no good reason. That means every batt has to be cut. I bought polyester insulation to make this easier and more pleasant than cutting fibreglass or rockwool, but it's still a big job.  I expect the professionals have a huge guillotine to make this a lot easier.

I've done three walls, including the fiddly bits around the doors and windows.  This week I hope to get the big wall and ceiling done, in time to fit plasterboard next weekend.

Networking disaster
Had a bit of a disaster with the network. I didn't have the cable when we ran the conduit, so we ran a wire through the middle with the intention of pulling the Cat6 when we had it.  We tried that yesterday and the pull wire snapped halfway through the pull.  Whoops.

So I'm now looking into 802.11n at 5 GHz to make a high speed, reliable point-to-point wireless connection to make up for the lack of a wired connection.  Bummer, but the wireless system should be okay.

Shed in the pipeline

We had the council's tree officer around yesterday to look at the tree we want to remove from our garden. It's a camphor laurel, an invasive non-native species. In much of NSW it's listed as a noxious weed and the land owner is required to remove it. In Marrickville, we had to ask for permission.  Go figure.

Anyway, the purpose of removing the tree is to get a shed up. We want to build a small shed, under the DA-requiring size limits, for storage and, most importantly, so I can have an office.  I'm really finding I need some time working away from my work desk these days.  Too many people know who I am and that I'm useful, so getting clear time to knock over anything requiring a couple of hours' solid thought is difficult.

Today I've commandeered a desk up on the sixth floor (my desk is on the third floor) but I've told everyone I'm working from home. Hopefully get some decent slog done on a couple of big tasks I need to do.  With approval to remove the tree, I'm one step closer to building my shed and genuinely being able to work from home.

Fruit trees are in

Apples and passionfruitPlums

I planted out all the fruit trees and vines today. There's two types of apple, Dwarf Dorsett Golden and Dwarf Tropical Sweet, two types of plum, Maiposa and Narabeen, and two types of passionfruit, the familiar Black and one called Sunshine Special. They all came from Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery up in Kyogle.

You may be concerned that I've put them so close together. This is intentional, as I'm following the Backyard Orchard Culture idea, where you grow fruit trees much closer together than normal, and the trees compete with each other. This, and aggressive pruning, keeps the tree sizes manageable. In a small inner city backyard, this is the only way to go really. It also means I get some cross pollination and more varities. We'll see how it goes.

Also in amongst the apple trees and passionfruit is a Comfrey Bocking 14 from Digger's Club. This plant apparently digs deep and pulls up trace minerals from the sub-surface, making it a valuable compost and mulch crop.

One side of the gardenThe
other side of the garden

The garden is really starting to take shape. Two nice garden beds, the fruit is in. I get the feeling we're nearing the end of Winter and in the next few weeks, the weather will really turn. Then this garden is going to go nuts! I can't wait to get the Spring plantings in, though we're still waiting to harvest broad beans, brocolli, silverbeet, kale, parsnips and brussels.

Weekend of garden bed making

Earlier in the week I thought I'd missed fruit trees, but suddenly one of the suppliers has got some more stock. So I've quickly ordered some trees today. I'm changing tack slightly, as according to Backyard Orchard Culture you can grow multiple trees very close together. The advantages of this are that you get more variety, cross-pollination and the trees compete with each other, resulting in smaller and more manageable trees.

So on this note I've ordered two apples and two plums. I'll grow them very close together near our fences. That should mean a decent bounty of fruit. Also ordered two passionfruit vines, to run up the fence. Next Winter I might look at ripping out the ornamentals (weeds, I say!) in the front garden and replacing them with something more productive, like lemons and limes.

This weekend I'll have to make up the rest of the garden beds. It's gonna be a pretty big job as I have to mix five bags of sheep shit amongst the beds, but that should give the soil some good structure. At the moment it's pretty sandy on top, and a bit clay further down.

Missed out on fruit trees this year

One of the things I wanted to get in early in our house was some fruit trees. But because we live in the inner city, we have some constraints over what we can plant.

We don't want something blocking out winter sun from our garden beds. We don't have a whole lot of space, so probably two fruit trees is all we can put in. And we're in Sydney, where temperatures rarely drop below 5°, which rules out an awful lot of deciduous fruit trees.

I'd like to have an apple and a plum, but the pollination requirements of both trees mean you need two of each, really. So if we went for apples, there are a number of low-chill varieties, but I seem to have missed most of the suppliers this year and they're all out of stock. Plums seem to have the same issues.

Anyone got any advice on this? Know of great varities that work well in the Sydney climate?

At this stage, it appears I might have to wait until next Winter to plant fruit trees. Though I'll definitely get a bunch of passionfruit in shortly.