Monday, July 21, 2008


The hearing actually went pretty smooth, except for a few glitches. The expert didn't like the attic stairs and requested them to be either full sized stairs (for which we don't have the space and never had) or a pull-down ladder (ugly). Oh well... does save some space not to have stairs. Fire code doesn't allow storing things in an unfinished attic anyway, so it's just the ugly look of the ladder.

He also asked for inspection reports on the entire electrical system, so nothing creative there either. *blech*

Other than that we'll just have to wait until the legal stuff with the two properties is resolved and then we get the written permit.

The ruin next door didn't sell so far - not that I'm suprised...

As far as the windows go... they were a typical old-house project. I only managed to do one of the two since I had to fix a considerable amount of rot. I love the green though!

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Talk about bureaucracy in every country... upon doing all the preliminary paperwork for the permit we found out our lot legally consists of three(!) lots, the smallest one being a whopping 15 square meter(!) front yard (a tiny 3x5m strip). Now after we submitted the plans the town suddenly told us we couldn't have our building protrude over a property line (even if both lots had the same owner) and we needed to officially join the lots. Going to cost roughly €50 and a stamp on the letter... so not that bad.

We also got the official invite to the hearing, it's going to be next Wednesday. We got a pretty good chuckle reading the invite... on the back it lists all the recipients, obviously including everyone who could possibly be related to any construction project... like neighbors (alright, that was to be expected), construction official from Korneuburg (not a surprise either), the gas company, power company (a bit weirder as we stated everything would be connected to the existing service), chimney sweep (we don't have a chimney in our plans), local MD(!) for sanitary affairs, Telekom Austria (phone) and last but most funny ÖBB line management... ÖBB is the federal railway company, and the next railway line is a healthy 10km away... that one left us scratching our heads.

I'm going to travel out next Tuesday and hopefully I'll get to strip, repair and repaint the two front windows (main house). The paint is flaking badly and some of the wood already feels soft in small spots. Note to self: never use acrylic paint outdoors. I bought marine grade oil paint. (we know the PO used acrylic paint because we found the empty cans).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Plans submitted!

Today on the way to work I threw the plans into the mail box!

We wanted to submit them weeks ago, but they were rejected for some minor details. We had the architect add that and today I dropped them off. Now it's all waiting until July 8th, the date of the construction hearing.

We got a few estimates and realized wood ceilings would be way too expensive (almost 4 times as much as brick ceilings). Based on the new, more detailed figures I got the new price tag of € 44800. Yuck! That's $68000... not including insulation and exterior stucco.

The house next door project is dead... the walls are incredibly moist (moldy 3 feet up from the floor) and the roof framing is fairly close to collapsing. One main support is already missing a 1 foot section and several tie beams are like styrofoam. Based on local property values the lot would be wort maybe €1500, the house (if it were in perfect condition which it clearly isn't) €8000. Their asking price: €45000.

Besides, it has been butchered badly, the only(!) original items left are: the shot brick walls, the shot roof framing and one interior door. So even I would advise to bulldoze it.

Wish me luck for the hearing!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tale of a house

Like most old house people I'm always nosy when it comes to checking out other people's old houses. Recently I had the chance to take a brief look at a random old house.

Outside I had a hard time dating it. Two of the sides visible from the street are plain modern stucco, one is fiber cement. The roof is corrugated asbestos cement, something incredibly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Roof trim: 1970s or 80s semi-rustic rural tasteless. Windows: vinyl double pane. Based on the fiber cement I'd have put the construction date in the 1950-1965 period, with extensive remodeling in the 70s or 80s. Facing the yard there is a weird bumpout slapped to the side, with a narrow front door and a window.

The only thing that pointed towards a much earlier date were the unusually small windows. Narrow windows went out of favor prior to WWII, exceptionally low ones prior to 1900. These seem to be both. 1960s and especially 70s construction loved overly wide if not huge, low windows. Only recently the old style small windows, usually with divided lights became popular again.

Two wweks ago I got in for the first time... even with all exterior doors open the first thing that struck me was the thick cigarette smoke smell. The bumpout is some kind of a hallway, vinyl flooring, windows (three windows and three doors in a room no more than 10 square meters or 100 square feet) and a somewhat decent wood ceiling. A doorway led into the kitchen. 1970s knotty pine paneling, a tiny window that hasn't been cleaned for decades and a hedge blocking all sunlight. A huge brown and black wood stove (1970s too) also designed to work as a central heating boiler. To the left I could see a real old door with two vertical panels, 4 glass panes and a rim lock. That confirmed my suspicions based on the window size - the house is 1820-1870 rather than 100 years younger. It leads to the only bedroom. Blue-grey and pink wall to wall carpet, beige-ish wall paper, even covering the door trim. Every available square cm of floor crammed full with stuff. Ceiling painted baby blue, paint coming off in chips the size of my flat hand.

I quickly made a 180 degree turn and got out of there... veen though it was definitely the cleanest room I had seen so far. To the right of the kitchen there is an indefineable room with a few kitchen cabinets, nicotine stained dark grey walls and a wall mount hot water tank.
In the back there is a double kitchen sink that drains directly onto the ugly tile floor. Next to it someone partitioned off a tiny cubicle barely holding a toilet bowl across the door and a small shower pan.
On to the last room... a20cm step up onto the laminate flooring into a crammed living room (sort of). I don't remember much of it... the back wall covered with the aforementioned pine, obvious moisture damage on one interior wall.

The attic is only accessible over a rickety ladder (precisely a stepladder leaning onto the wall) and shows evidence of a fire in one spot.

In the yard there is a so-called shed that reminds me ofthe slums in Calcutta or anywhere... it seems to be slapped together with whatever leftovers someone had at hand.

The owner asked me to help her carry out two pieces of furniture... the first thing I noticed were my hands stuck to them due to all the filth, followed immediately afterwards by a heavy cat smell.

After I had the stuff out I made a polite excuse and ran to wash my hands... yuck!

Can you say dirty? The owner and her sister chain smoked during the entire time I helped them...

Regarding our pigsty plans: we'll be out in the country next weekend, until then I have to add the hundred little last minute details (by hand since the plans are already signed by the architect) and put them into some kind of folder to submit them. We need to submit three copies each in a separate folder, one for the owner of the property (my grandmother), one for the permit applicant (my grandmother) and one for the council... bureaucracy is just the same all over the world. Actually I think Austria is one of the less bad countries after reading horror stories about France and Belgium.

We're also still waiting for the contractor bids... should have been there weeks ago.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Status report

Yesterday we had a meeting with contractos and suppliers to get bids for the construction work. Things went ok, but I have the strong feeling we need to be extra careful and sometimes act very stern in order not to be run over by the contractors. They have a strong tendency to do things they way they're used to and that's not necessarily the way I want them done.

The plans are finalized, but the April permit hearing is full, so we have more time to submit them.

On the other hand the old lady next door just died and her house is for sale. Now we've got two options... but right now we're leaning towards continuing the pigsty project since the house next door reeks of a gut job which wouldn't be significantly less expensive.

We (or mostly my dad) also got everything we want to keep out of the pigsty, a neighbor will drive by on his tractor next week and haul everything else to the bulk waste pickup. He's also going to attack the partition walls and concrete slab with a sledge hammer - another neighbor said he likes that kind of work *ggg*

I got a splitting headache after lugging out the refrigerator (something that didn't really suprise me after two weeks of late night overtime at work) so courtesy for cleanup goes to my dad.

In the process he also found a door with a more or less working rim lock. The door itself is a plain shed door and absolutely rotted, but it's got all original hardware.

During the next couple of weeks posting will be scarce since we'll be waiting for bids and approval of the plans.

Monday, April 7, 2008


As you might have suspected I've got a tracker running in order to see who visits my blog. I'd say more than 90% of my visitors are from the US and get here via the OHW forums ( However, I do get the occasional surprise visitor... once I had somebody from Korea googling for clay plaster! Must've been a very patient person, because I checked the referrer and my blog was not amongst the first 10 pages. Another nice visit tracked back to the Czech Republic, very close to the actual location of the pigsty.
And finally, today I had visitors from the UK googling for Heraklith insulation. I even found out with these keywords my blog entry about walls is hit #2 on Google!

Side note: after 2 minor changes (correcting the floor area of the attic and adding the site plan) I plotted the final plans today. Now i "just" need to xerox all the other paperwork three times, create some kind of cover and bind everything.

Regarding the demolition work, Hofer, a discount supermarket chains (many Europeans will know the German owner of the brand, Aldi) offers a cheap electric jackhammer and we'll probably buy it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Plans finished!

The plans are officially ok!

I just need to get the layout right and have them signed by the architect. The architect also promised to get the official site plan and deed record by today and mail it to me. So once I get that and the plans signed we're ready to submit them!

Firday 11th we lined up suppliers and contractors to give us quotes, the construction supply house, a framing contractor and a plumber.

Most likely we'll leave the old concrete floor as far as possible, based from what is visible from outside this is a 15 or 20cm slab, possibly even with rebar. Unfortunately it is fairly sloped (to make sure any animalic liquids run out into the manure pit in the yard), so we have to see how far above ground we'll get. We need to build up at least 7cm above the highest spot of the current floor.

Aside of that I finally managed to get most of the tools out of our Vienna hallway where they'd been residing ever since we finished the last room in 2005 and into the new shop shelf. We definitely need to de-trash all other shop storage though... the new shelf is bursting and there's still enough stuff on the floor and any other horizontal surface.

Not so good: our 30 year old boiler in Vienna gave up the ghost late Saturday night. It had been dripping occasionally for almost 2 years, but once the pressure had dropped a little againa fter refilling it had worked, so we ignored it. Besides, we thought it was just an external valve, underneath the wall-mount unit.
Then my mom said the boiler wouldn't fire up. So my dad grabbed the fill hose at 12.30 Saturday night... or rather Sunday...
Suddenly he cursed and I ran to see what happened. The boiler wasn't dripping any more, it was running. And worse, the water was coming from inside the boiler!
The last plumber who serviced the unit had put the cover on so securely I couldn't get it off... don't ask me what he did.
We put a bucket under the unit to catch the water, grabbed a few extra blankets and went to bed.

The enxt morning much to our surprise it was nice and warm... the beast had held enough water to run!
That held until yesterday in the evening. My dad had eft the hose connected anyway, so he just needed to turn up the water a little and add just enough pressure the boiler would start.

We also got a plumber lined up for Thursday. Most likely he'll tell us to get a new boiler... but we hope to convince him of repairing it, maybe be using a band aid approach.

After all the boiler (which only heats our unit) is supposed to be replaced by a whole house pellet boiler next year, so we'd like to keep it running until then.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I spent the Easter weekend out in the countryside and tried to get some things done. First I spent a couple of hours removing stinging nettle roots. Those beasts develop root lumps several feet in diameter, with the occasional deep roots. About the only way to get them out is to dig up the entire area with a fork half a foot deep and drag on the roots. After a few hours I had about half of the area I wanted to dig up done and was extremely sore. So I decided to call it a day, smoothed the ground and seeded some grass. That way we'll slowly work our way through the entire garden. As an extra plus the fresh grass looks a whole lot better than the old, patchy coarse stuff.

The I dragged myself into the pigsty to check out how much of the demolition we could do ourselves. I grabbed our trusty Bosch rotary hammer, the flat chisel bit and started plugging away at the concrete floor. After 10 minutes I had a small dent, maybe 10cm in diamater and 3cm deep... definitely no way we could take out the entire floor with our own tools. I had hoped the concrete floor could be as bad as the roof and ceiling, but no such luck.

Then I turned my attention towards the exterior walls. First surprise: at least one of them was unplastered concrete up to about 1m from the floor. And the concrete even protruded over the plaster... so if we decide to plaster the entire surface the bricks will get quite a solid coat.
The plaster came off, reluctantly but in the end it worked.

Finally I tried my luck with the stall partition walls. They're supposed to be brick.

After 10 minutes of hard work I had chipped off a small corner... the plaster is like concrete, as is the mortar, and the bricks are rock hard too. Yuck!

Sounds like we're going to leave the entire demo to the pros, using a pneumatic jackhammer.

I first considered bulldozing the entire building and building new... but I then realized that would give us trouble since we'd have to build the ground floor to current code, which means 2,8m ceiling height instead of 2,65. And most likely that's only the tip of the iceberg. So we'll try to keep standing as much as possible and work with/around it...

On the plus side I realized if we use hollow core bricks we can significantly reduce cost. Precisely we can almost cut the cost for bricks in half. Nice! Besides they're much faster to put up due to their size (25x23x37,5cm) and provide better thermal insulation. The only downside: not as mechanically strong as full bricks and less sound insulation.

We also had the local handyman over for an estimate. He said he'd get a few contractors and material suppliers in for a full estimate based on my plans. He also said we'd need to have the plans ready for permission in April, because the hearings don't seem to be monthly like the architect said.
So yesterday I had a wild CAD session changing lots of details in the drawings. Except for 1 or 2 small items I'm done, so I hope tonight I can mail the plans to the architect again.

I need to get a full site plan though, that's the only large CAD item missing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Work space

The last weekend was spent doing something that should have been ages ago... installing shelves in our Vienna work shop. It's a former kitchen which is also used for storage, so in dry words it was almost impossible to get past the door. We filled about a full trash can with various stuff and cleaned out for two days before we could even consider installing any shelves...

On Sunday and yesterday we drilled holes in the brick wall, put up metal shelf hangers and solid pine shelves. It was incredible... my dad and me have put up many a shelf in that house, and usually we needed long, thick screws and copious amounts of Moltofill. This time we had screws where we wondered if they'd be enough.
Well, afert geting the first few in we decided we most definitely needed _smaller_ screws!
Eventually we mostly used 4.5x60mm screws and had a hard time getting them in...

Then we quickly filled up the shelf. It's now 2/3 full and the room loks ok again... but there's still more work to do, especially getting all the tools out of the hallway.

If we clean out the other old kitchen furniture we might be able to fit everything and have useable space.

Other than that we scheduled a meeting with the architect to discuss possible cost reductions. Meanwhile I have to alter the plans a little (drawing issues rather than actual footprint changes).

The weekend will be spent out in the country where I intend to do more cleaning up and whack a test hole into the concrete floor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Yesterday in the evening after rushing home from work I had the long anticipated talk with the architect. It was long and winded as usual, but that's what I expected.
It went fairly well as we addressed my questions regarding material choice and construction code and looked through the plans. There are a couple of necessary changes, but that's detail work.

Then, in the end came the big bang. I asked him for an official cost estimate. He talked and talked as usual and then gave me a figure that sent me to the floor. €1000/sq. m. That's roughly €60 000 for the entire place, give or take 15%. Twice as much as my worst night mare. That's US$ 90 000. Almost close to what my grandmother paid for the entire place... needless to say I was crushed for the rest of the evening.

I had considered investing maybe €10 000 myself so I would "own" a significant share of the building... if it's really that expensive that'd be 1/6 of the total... not much.

Afterwards we had a big family talk and looked for solutions. First of all we'll have a big talk with the architect to see where we can save money. Then we'll try to locate used materials to cut down that part of the price tag - if we manage to get cheap brick from a demolition company or something like that we can take off a significant part of the bill. Same is true for lumber. Construction grade lumber is expensive!
Last we'll have to see if we can match the estimate and our budget.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Price shock

Yesterday I decided to leave work early (I worked 2 1/2 hours extra on Friday, so nothing to worry about) and visit Quester, the hardware store that carries the Golem tile. When I came in, it was just weird. A large store, completely devoid of any customers and employees except for a solitary cleaning lady. After looking around I did find someone who pointed me to a tiny display case that contained a few of the decor tiles and a handfull of small scraps. No labels, no price tags, nothing.

So I went back to the counter, grabbed another clerk and asked some questions. He showed me samples and first of all I was disappointed - the colors are much lighter than on my screen, there is no actual dark blue in spite of the name. Then I asked for the price... and nearly fainted. 103 Euro/sq. m is expensive. In Austria they want 140. Yuck! The rounded edge border tiles are €7 EACH! That means they're about twice as much as regular field tiles.

I already tried to find a way of getting the tiles shipped from Berlin cheaper.

Friday I'll visit the second store in Vienna to see if they have more, darker shades of blue - that can't have been all.

No news on the architect... I called him on his cell phone and he was on the way to the movies.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I just had a good laugh... after realizing the fixed line number with the wrong area code didn't exist at all (and the directory didn't help at all) I decided to just call the first cell phone number. I immediately got a very helpful elderly gentleman who told me they're only a wholesaler and gave me two stores that sell their products to end users. One is a classic hardware store that seems to sell quite a lot of specialized items like eco friendly building supplies, fancy tiles,... but is slightly hard to track - in Austria it seems to be a taboo to have an online catalogue. They're only open Mo-Fr 8-6, so I'll have to try to get there after work before they close. Austria is one of the countries with the strictest opening hour regulations, even though things have improved a lot in the past few years. When I was a kid, shops were open Monday through Friday 8-12 and 2 or 3 to 6 and Staurday 8-12. Every first Saturday of the month larger shops would keep open until 5. Now most larger shops like supermarkets and everything close later than 6 (electronics chains still close at 6 though) but at 7 or 7:30 and are open every Saturday till 5 or even 6. Nothing on Sunday, except for a couple of supermarkets inside railway stations and airports.

A (temporary) end of anxiety?

It seems like my anxietey will come to an end tonight... the architect called back yesterday in the evening, but said he was in his holiday home and din't have the plans with him, so he told me to call him tonight. That means I'll hear actual facts. Some rest of mind, until we submit the plans to the city... or until I have to make changes and get them back to the architect.

So far I've been disappointed of Golem tiles... I sent them an e-mailearly last week, inquiring if they have a show room in Austria and never got a reply. Their Austrian branch seems to be pretty disorganised anyway - no company mail address, only a couple of cell phone and regular phone numbers (one of the fixed line numbers has an area code that absolutely doesn't match the address too) and one private mail address. Not very proefessional behaviour (not to mention the address doesn't exactly sound like a company address but rather like a small businees run out off an old apartment). I'll try to call them, if they don't answer or give lame stories...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Waiting makes me nervous.

I mailed the plans to the architect late Sunday and posted a question regarding the ground floor walls on a German construction board and haven't heard anything so far. That means I'm done with that stage of planning and all I can do is sit around and wait.

In my previous projects I didn't really have to wait - since we did most things ourselves work pretty much went at my pace. This project involves a lot of professional work, that makes it far more complex and unforeseeable.

In the meantime... some random pictures.

That's what I envision for the bathroom (clean of course):

I want to mix in blue tiles though, maybe a border, and most definitely a clawfoot tub. Re-using the weird free-standing drain is tempting though... we'll see. Most likely it won't happen since most of the crucial parts are missing.

Just plain eye candy: a selection of various vintage light switches and sockets dating from roughly 1890 through 1960.

Fairly old (probably 1950s) electrical meter:

Originally there were two fuses on the board which I'll put back when I ever manage to restore this thing. They were gone when I got it, but the ghosts are still visible on the wood.
It's only good for 10(!) amperes... (modern meters are designed for 40-60 in Europe and 150-400 in the US).

This is the look I want to recreate for the work shop wiring (using modern materials though).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eye candy

Yesterday in the evening I found some lovely eye candy for you all! Browsing ebay I (re?)discovered a link to a company selling reproduction art deco tiles. Some are just plain white like those I have (and need more of), others are just fantastic like cloudy dark blue, teal, red, as well as incredible patterns, borders and whatever. If I have any cahnce to afford it this will be my bathroom tile of choice. I'm especially in love with the dark blue...
Links don't seem to show, so I have to just make them copy&paste.
Direct link to my favorite:

Taking a closer look at the site I even discovered prices... roughly €100 per square m should be possible since I don't need that much tile, just a bunch of white spares and blue accents, maybe a border. Not one of their fancy border tiles though - €10 apiece is way too steep.
Doing the entire bath like that is out of question - around €1500 are just not in the budget. Think of it this way: that would be throwing considerably more than one of my month's salaries into just wall tiles! The entire bathrrom would most likely be around 2 salaries...

Still, a guy can dream...

On the other hand those tiles are chunky... 8mm thick! (modern tiles are half as thick). On the other hand, the matching floor tiles are 20mm... that might justify part of the extra price.

I had to edit this post to make the links visible... seems like in order to go on with this I do have to learn some HTML! *yuck*

Monday, March 3, 2008


Finally I managed to sort of finish the plans yesterday and mail them to the architect, along with a rough draft of the project description and a set of questions. What a feeling!

Now I have to wait until he reviews them and (most likely) requests a ton of changes... I hope it won't be too bad.

I already found something I most likely have to add... a cross section of the existing structure to show the current dimensions (especially the height, the footprint is already there).

I thought we had found 800-900 roof tiles for free... but alas, they were to far gone to save. The brick had started splintering off in layers like bark, so no way we'd use them for a new roof. Besides, many were broken. We took about 50 for patching since they match the existing tiles on the main house. We also decided against re-using the old tiles of the current pigsty roof. They're only 30something years old, but being buried under rotting walnut leaves and pine needles for all their live has definitely taken its toll on them, they're flat out crumbling. Off to pressed, dyed concrete tiles... oh well. They look reasonably good, but their aggressive color just screms "new" for at least a couple of years.

That's a decision I have to make anyway - do I want to make it look like a new house did in 1910 or do I want to make it look like a 1910 house today, without any modifications? Both ways have their merits - if I wanted it to look new I could easily make peace with shiny new roof tiles and everything. On the other hand, the salvaged floors definitely show their age, the old light switches don't match, the doors will be cobbled together,... so I guess the latter approach is more realistic.

Speaking of doors... I did a quick rummage through my basment and it seems like I can manage to do the entire ground floor with salvaged trim! That'll really free up our basement!

That's the good news.

The bad news: I might have to ditch my dream of salvaged windows. I think the farm house windows my uncle stores are all outwards opening casements and that makes them awful to clean upstairs... besides; I'm worried if I can find enough matching windows. So we might be stuck getting new windows custom made... expensive!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Building & Energy

Since I didn't want to do two posts on one day I saved this one so far...

Last Sunday we attended the Building & Energy Fair, a huge fair mostly aiming at future home owners and renovaters.

We saw a lot of beautiful things (and far more useless or plain ugly things) and got some usefull information.

For example we saw a company the specialises on traditional farm house doors and windows. Their work is absolutely stunning, as is the price. Roughly 800 questions marks for a regular door without frame is intolerable.

The same is most likely true for a carpenter advertising 2"(!) thick wide plank floors... but we couldn't find a representative or any catalogues.

Stairs were mostly ugly beasts without risers... and usually made of either tropical wood or ugly plastic-looking beech. I'm pretty sure I want traditional stairs with white risers and 2" pine treads. If we can afford that...

Perhaps the most interesting tidbits were informations about insulation, mostly wood or other fiber insulation and a couple of very nice folders about green restoration of old houses without destroying them. For example, I found out that all ceilings have to be F30 fire resistant by Lower Austria construction code. That rules out plaster and lath, but Heraklith should be ok.

Or for example, if you insulate the exterior of a building it might protrude over the property line. In our case the house sits smack dab on the property line facing the street. Of course there are regulations taking care of that... Vienna limits to 7,5cm while Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) allows 10cm... thanks heaven I want exactly 10cm insulation!

We also talked to a clay plaster contractor. He said he could do the entire house in a few days and if we provided helpers we'd get discounts on the labor costs.

When I asked him about the ground floor walls he recommended putting up reed insulation prior to plastering.

I'm not sure if that's a good idea... first I have no idea how reed reacts to the ammonia and whatever else might lurk in those walls. Second I'm nowhere near sure we'll get those walls perfectly dry. While reed is said to withstand some moisture I don't want to have a rotting wall underneath my plaster. Last but not least I've always been warned not to put any insultaion on the inside of a wall unless it's completely covered with a moisture barrier. Not sure how bad that is in this case.

Yesterday I spent about an hour in front of the computer after I realized the cross section and elevation drawings were all crooked and didn't match each other... on some the house was 10m floor to roof ridge, on others 10,7... yuck!

Now it should work and I even improved proportions of the front elevation!

This week is incredibly busy... Yesterday I went to a dance (the only sports I currently do), I have to finish the plans, clean up my room, get rid of some old stuff (which means getting it to the church flea market). On Saturday I attend an excursion to the local railway work shop, then I want to have a look at the flea market, in the afternoon we have my girlfriend's parents over,... go figure.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Money money...

Yesterday I did something I had neglected so far...

With the plans close to being final I did a first cost estimate, just based on the necessary brickwork and almost fainted...

Based on the plans we need close to 20000(!) bricks, that equals roughly 50 pallets. Given a price of 40 Cents each that would be around 7500 Euros... not counting mortar, labor or even plaster.

Roof tiles for roughly 2500 are cheap in comparison ;-)

A huge factor will be wood. The roof framing is inevitable, the roof needs to be replaced or it'll most likely collapse within the next few years, which leaves the two ceilings. I calculated 10 5m long 4x10" beams for each ceiling, that's going to be a lot of wood! Add 35 m2 OSB for each floor and go on... I think 20mm OSB is about 6 Euros/ m2, so that would be roughly 400 Euro, harmless compared to the price of the load bearing timbers...

To give you and idea, the neighbor replaced his roof 10 years ago, and was quoted 400 000 Schilling for the wood alone. He ended up buying it across the border for 100 000. By today's price level that would be something like 40 000/10 000 Euro. So I guess for our small roof + 2 ceilings we can factor another 7,5k.
I just got some figures from lumber stores online, and it seems like I was even too high - something like 3500 worst case for both ceilings seems to be more realistic.

After all, my high figure is 30k for the entire house worst case.

My dad wasn't that shocked after all... so the project might fly.

We briefly considered brick ceilings, but installation seems to be fairly complex and the price difference negligible (one supplier was even slightly cheaper on the wood ceilings).

Another serious downside of brick: no cavity space to install wires. All wires have to be put in conduit before the screed on the floor above is poured, installing wiring after the fact would be pretty tough.

Once I manage to get the plans to the architect we hope for something closer to an estimate rather than a SWAG (scientific wild ass guess).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sick of AutoCad

I'm officially sick of seeing white-on-black ACAD screens... I just want to be done with the planning!

So many details to be taken care of... I even need to get some more measurements to determine how far the ground on the street side actually rises above floor level, which will in turn determine the size and position of the bathroom window and porch/deck stairs.

Besides, I noticed I had forgotten adding a WC window all the time... and I absolutely hate WCs without a window! Of course it will have frosted glass, but a window is a necessity.

I added the window to the footprint and managed to get the elevation drawings more or less done (minus said window and a few details).

The cross-sections is there too, just needs some more tweaking. I hope to get the plans far enough to mail them to the architect today. Then we'll see what needs to be changed.

They can't be finalized until I get all the measurements, but we might be able to have the township guys look over the preliminary version to see if they would approve something like this at all.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I finally gathered the time to upload some long overdue pictures...

First, the famous hole in the ceiling... I guess you understand why the ceiling needs to be replaced. Since I took the picture the hole about doubled in size... even though we fixed the leak, the wood is rotted and keeps crumbling down.

The plaster on the walls is crumbling too... probably both moisture and pig pee.

Last summer was dedicated to a large project too... the wood shed had a leaky roof, the walls were crumbling... it was shot. Besides, the garden between pigsty and wood shed sloped dramatically, so it was pretty much unuseable and mowing the grass was a major PITA. The haphazard steps made of granite blocks (some of which already toppled over) weren't any help.

And yes, you could pull out the loose looking section of brickwork...

The roof framing was undersized, rotted and had apparently seen a fire at some point.

In the background you can see the current attic access of the pigsty. No door, maybe 1,5m tall, no stairs.

Long story short, we had the wood shed fixed up (some masonry work, new roof, new stucco), a retaining wall and stairs built to even out the garden and dug along the pigsty down to the foundations to insulate.

The result looks almost Greek and my mom requested everything (including the pigsty) be whitewashed with blue windows and doors.
After pictures are on my dads computer, don't ask me when I'll be able to get them...

Yesterday in the Evening I got some more fine tuning of the plans done, like hatching the walls, straightening crooked lines and drawing the second elevation drawing. 2 done, 2 to go!

I'll try to take a screenshot and post it later tonight.
Right now Blogger is a nightmare... I have no idea why it is sooooo painfully slow... sort of reminds me of my old Mac Classic but still far slower.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The weekend out at the farm has been quite productive!

On Saturday we headed out to Hodonin across the border for a shopping tour. We hoped some stuff would be cheaper there (and besides I wanted to see what kind of outlandish electrical stuff the Czech use). The first hope most certainly didn't work out... OBI in Hodonin was considerably more expensive than Obi in Mistelbach. Example: 10mm 1,5mm2 electrical wire was €12,90 when I last looked in Austria (just a few weeks ago, after all copper wire prices are fluctuating it makes you feel like stock exchange market), in CZ it was close to €30... they don't sell 100m reels either, only bulk, off the roll. Of course it's more expensive to have a clerk measure and cut every wire instead of having the customers grab a roll from the shelf.
They did have some quite outlandish stuff... so my curiosity was fulfilled. Nothing Useful though.

We ended up buying a metal shelf for the goats stables, the main target for the day.

The desired wood book shelves for the living room just didn't happen... too expensive. We planned on buying IKEA IVAR, but the only had sides left and were out of stock on shelves... back-ordered for at least one week in both stores near Vienna. So we looked in Hodonin, but the only wooden shelves they had were flimsy and cost close to twice as much as IKEA Ivar.

So, there are still book crates in the goats stables... some of them pretty moldy. Putting up the metal shelf we managed to get most of the floor cleared though, and move all my electrical supplies out of the pigsty.

I then started sifting through all the stuff stored at the pigsty.
The front two stables are mostly "keep". Freezer, lawn mower, lawn party tent, two small old shelves (in bad need of a coat of paint, they're a mustard yellow right now but otherwise fine), garden hose and other stuff like that. The second booth to the left is full of PO trash, hardenend cement and lime, paint leftovers, cheap plastic flower pots,...

Second one to the right is firewood. Lots of rotted, powderpost beetle infested boards. The funniest thing I found was a quite large (I guess 1 1/2 by 1m) chunk of original flooring from the main house just cut out and stored there... just unfinished face nailed random width pine planks, nothing spectacular though (not the 30 or 40cm wide planks some old houses have). Most of it is very rotted, so it's firewood too I guess.

The two back stables are filled with some indefineable stuff like some rotted shipping pallets (can be burned too, but require tedious disassembling and leave tons of nails in the ashes), my late grandfather's bike (heavy as a rock and only suitable for flat areas with only 3 speed transmission AND the weight), lots of old farm kichen stuff (probably too far gone to sell). Most likely going to go too.

Now there's some special stuff.

A) extra refrigerator with cracked door gasket. Will stay.
B) Electric range, probably 1970s, never used. For sale to collector, function unknown (Elektra-Bregenz, 3 plates, oven, advertisement stickers still on plates)
C) Ancient iron grave marker. For sale, picture will follow
D) Iron grave lantern, intricate detail, red and white glass. For sale.

News on the planning front too... My 1m stairs will pass as long as I have a second way leading upstairs. That means the garden door is mandatory instead of optional and I'll most likely put in some kind of porch or deck with stairs at least 120cm wide. Now I can use my beautiful blue and beige cement tiles (they're a bit too coarse for interior use but lovely for something outside). Besides, I have to make sure all hallways are 120cm wide. Should be possible.

I have to draw the foot prints (basically done), all 4 elevation drawings (1 down, 3 to go) and one cross section (needs a lot of work). Then I mail all the plans to my uncle who'll check and sign them. He'll also get all other plans needed for our permit. Yay!
The permit process is simple too... either we'll get it right on the spot or we'll have to have a hearing. Those hearings are held monthly, so hopefully it won't take forever (fingers crossed).

So, off to finishing the plans!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Did I mention I'm close to never wanting to see AutoCad ever again?

Yesterday, after a horrible work day I managed to sit down, fire up my windows computer (I'm a convinced Mac user, but AutoCad just does not run on a Mac, so when a Friend gave me a Pentium IV for free I did some upgrading, mostly free parts and now use it for some special stuff, but compared to an iBook it's awfully noisy and I suspect it will once send the disc of the elctrical meter flying out the front door, so I have to really convince myself to plug it in and turn it on) and did some more tweaking.

At 1m width the upstairs hallway was too narrow to fit a regular size door + trim (roughly 90cm for the door and 24 for the trim, 12 on each side), so I had to widen it a little, and to keep the room sizes equal make the back room a little smaller.

Now the plans are in a stadium where I can make a screenshot and post it here. I have the footprint of both floors more or less done and a rough front elevation drawing.

I also browsed through a Bauhaus catalogue where I found something interesting. Now I'm considering to do for all plaster and lath since cheap 12mm pine paneling seems to be only half the price of Heraklith... I'm slightly worried about the strength of it though, after all Heraklith is 25mm thick and feels really sturdy. The old ceilings in Vienna were done with 15mm lath and still have a very slight give to them. On the other hand, the ceiling beams are on 80cm(!) centers and our studs will be more like 40 or 50cm centers.

Doing everything with plaster and lath would take care of two issues. First, Heraklith was simply not around in 1910, so it's not period. Second, a plaster and lath wall should be less prone to cracking than a wall made of large panels. I simply don't like the idea of doing all the extra labor of spackling in mesh over the entire surface.

Tomorrow we're heading out for the weekend. My parents buy some shelving at IKEA today, so I might be able to actually do something. I need to get the books out of the goats stables to get space for the garden stuff from the pigsty.

By the way, does anyone know a person who'd like to buy an ancient metal grave marker?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nothing but walls...

Lately I've been obsessing with the house a lot... I really want to finalize the plans, so I can get in the pros and possibly have them signed off by the mayor.

After discussing th mouse issue with my dad again we decided it won't be that much of an issue, so we're back to regular stud walls.

Another problem arose when I really started planning the bathroom.
The salvaged tile I have (15 cm square tile with flat edges, like subway tile) are salvaged from one of the kitchens in Vienna (we connected two apartments together and one kitchen was turned into a family room, so the tile wasn't necessary any more) and I calculated it to be about 9 square meters, not counting much breakage (actually it should be around 9 1/2 or 10 and the tiles came off very smoothly) and the bathroom walls will be around 13 or 14 square meters, not counting any cutting allowance. Sooo... I'm at least 4-5 square meters short and don't have any tile left for the WC. (The latter was clear even before I realized the problem in the bath).
So now I've only got two options... only partially tile the walls or get more tile. I might try Freecycle on that one.

I picked up the table lamp and it's a real beauty!
Someone even rewired it with a period looking cord and left the original plug in place!
I might rewire it again though since the cord is pretty short.

I then proceeded to hunt around lighting stores trying to fulfill a dream I had ever since I was maybe seven years old... a plain, round (somewhat funnel shaped) lamp shade that's green on the outside and white on the inside. At the first store I only found a new light with such a shade that cost 300 and something Euro - no way. Besides, the color of the shade was plain wrong and the thing was way too tall. The nice lady referred me to a second store that sells used fixtures. The guy there was fairly nice, but didn't have anything like I wanted, only different shapes (turned out I had gotten the figures wrong and the shade I wanted was actually 25 cm in diamater and not 30) and asked around 100 Euros instead of the 40 I had heard of at the first store.

So on Saturday I set my alarm to 9 (something I'd NEVER ever do without a very good reason, my job being as bad as it is sleeping in on weekends is almost holy) and set out to Vienna's most famous flea market. I had been there a few weeks ago, but the weather was bad and I was too late to get anything decent.

Yesterday it looked better... loads of people, grammophones blaring "Lilli Marleen" (a German song from the 1930s) and a lot of real antiques booths instead of the "trash" booths last time and the guys trying to sell possibly stolen digital cameras and cell phones. (Who wouldn't get suspicious if you saw a booth with 30 fairly new phones, all without chargers, manuals,...)
Looking at a banker lamp I caught the attention of a seller and he asked me what I was looking for. After some discussions the guy from the next booth chimed in and told me he had shades like that in his shop... so I went there and after some negotiations I bought one of them for 45 Euro!

During all that light shopping I also realized I DID get a bargain on that table lamp...

Besides, I bought a matching set of door hardware (handle and two covers) for the work shop door. When I pulled that door out of the dumpster someone had tried to repaint it and taken down all hardware except for the mortise lock (the glass panes were alredy taped off and some dents had been filled), so I needed something. More on my doors in a separate post.

Friday, February 8, 2008

More walls...

Just after I clicked "Send" on yesterday's post it occured to me that if we manage to securely fasten the Heraklith panels to the studs we could even save the planking on both sides... and plaster directly over the infill and studs. However, we definitely need to make sure the infill won't fall out when somebody leans onto the wall. Screws driven at at angle through the panels into the studs don't seem secure enough to me... maybe long nails in the mortar joints between the panels, just like they secured the door frames in the early 1900s gypsum panel walls (5, 7 1/2 and 10cm thick solid gypsum panels, 30x60cm in size). Though I guess full sized Heraklith panels (50x120cm I think) would be too big, maybe cut them in half to get an extra joint.

Heraklith advises to spackle and put up mesh over the entire surface to keep the seams from cracking the plaster. I'm not sure I like that idea... seems like helluva lot of work. On the other hand, I definitely need something to cover the seams, my aunt had some areas of ceiling redone with Heraklith and you can clearly spot every single panel. My favourite DIY book tells to nail up strips of burlap directly over the seams... I like that idea. In my case we'd cover both the vertical seams and the studs. The horizontal seams shouldn't be as troublesome as they're mortared (the mesh advice only seems to apply to Heraklith board screwed to studs like drywall).

On the electrical side... yesterday, after a lot of thinking and some fiddling I managed to turn one of the Ebay switches into a 3 way by using the guts of one that turned out to be shot (seller didn't include that either... he received a BAD feedback yesterday).
I might have managed to do the second one too, but the screws that hold the guts are way too tight (and you can't even get a wrench to turn the nuts, it's so tight in the back of those switches). So most likely I'll use the old switch at the bottom of the stairs and something newer upstairs.

By recycling the guts of the damaged switch I was also able to permanently repair my absolute favorite, a ca. 1890 rotary switch made of black porcelaine and brass by replacing the broken springs inside. This one is sure as heck going into my bedroom!

I also received a French rotary switch from Ebay yesterday... it looked good from the picture, but I'm ure as heck not going to use this thing ANYWHERE near 230V! A) the terminal screws are accessible from the outside, without even opening the switch. B) the screws on the front that hold the guts are live too. C) the mounting screws are freakin' close to the live guts! Put one in a little crooked and it's hot too, energizing the entire wall...

A and B could possibly be remedied by puttying the screw holes after installing the switch, but C is the killer. Maybe I can find a way to put plastic tubing in the back of the switch to keep the screws straight AND isolated... don't know.

Today I'm going to pick up one more purchase... a beautiful art deco brass table lamp that can be used as a wall sconce too. That was most definitely the most expensive purchase I did so far (for the house that is).
Getting a deal on lights on Ebay is pretty close to impossible, at least as far as pre-1920s lighting is concerned. 20s and 30s fixtures go for close to nothing, but anything that remotely ressembles ornate brass (and doesn't scream 1970s fake) will soar up to roughly 100 Euros or question marks ^^ (on the internet it can happen that the €, or Euro sign gets replaced by a question mark due to character encoding issues and in news groups it happened that often most people will only talk like: "How much could that be?"
"'bout a hundred question marks."

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mouse solution

We might have found a solution to the rodent potential I discovered in my last post. We could simply spill up the stud bays with 75mm Heraklith board, eliminating any cavities. Of course that would make running wires a bit harder, but it would most definitely beef up the walls. 12 1/2 cm solid Heraklith should be almost equivalent to a brick wall, and the walls wouldn't sound hollow any more. Expensive though... we'll see.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

One step ahead, two steps back...

Only talking and some CAD...
I talked to my uncle who pretty much built his own house and he said I should most definitely get a plot plan and clearance information for the lot before I plan anything. A bit late since the footprint of my building is pretty much done ;-)
I most definitely need to get specific information before I get any permits. I guess that's where my architect uncle comes into the picture... I sure hope they will allow me to expand the building towards the second outbuilding and add a full second floor and gable roof.

My DIY uncle also recommended wood framing everything... but my dad refuses, and I don't really like the idea either. After reading Chez Neumansky I even start to question our choice about the first floor walls...

We don't have rats there, but most definitely lots of mice and even found some in the main house, so I really really don't like the idea of hollow walls... mice just don't bite through solid brick.

That would mean I have to add a steel I beam under every first floor wall and most liekely above too... and since the steel beams would bisect the floor beams they'd need to support those too. Not nice...
Besides, one of the two beams would need to run under the stairs or end facing the stairs... but the wall there isn't load bearing... I even planned on having a doorway underneath.

On a side track I just got the first batch of my ebay purchases of vintage electrical equipment yesterday. n the bright side I got some basically brand new 1905 switches. On the down side two of them are not 4 way switches as promised by the seller (4 way switches have 4 screws and can be used to control a light from 3 or more points) but simple two-pole on/off switches (just switch both wires of the circuit). That means I still need two 3 way switches for the stairway (3 way switches are used to switch a light from 2 points)... options right now: use newer ones I have around: I have some early 1950s rotary switches that look fairly good, but they were used for conduit wiring, so the covers miss quite large chunks where the pipe entered. Or I could take flip switches about the same age that were used with cloth wiring when I found them but don't really look appropriate. Last I could get retro switches from Casa della luce. They're designed for their wiring, but also expensive and don't quite look right.
Yuck... I hate choices like that!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More planning

Over my extended holidays I managed to actually do something.
First, we pretty much decided on several crucial parts of the house.

1) Exterior walls. The exterior walls are going to be regular solid brick as the existing ones. We most definitely want to look into insulation though. A remote cousin of my dad's sells eco-friendly insulation, so I'm hoping to get something better than the usual styrofoam sheets (especially something sturdier). If you want to check it out go to (German only, the picture of the owner will tell you why ;-) )

2) Interior walls. On the ground floor we'll use the same bricks, on the second floor wood framing with either plaster and lath (given we get enough free lath) or Heraklit board and plaster.

3) Ceilings. We are going to do classic wood ceilings with sturdy beams but covered with OSB.

4) Stairs. Originally I wanted to do straight stairs with one landing, but that's not going to happen unless I lower the ground floor ceiling. So the stairs are going to be curved.
That will make them noticeably less steep than originally planned.

5) Electrical wiring. If I manage to communicate with the owner of Casa della luce most rooms will get their wiring. Precisely:
Hallway = casa della luce.
WC: same
Bathroom: modern concealed wiring, but old switch and socket.
Work shop: conduit, exposed.
My bedroom: casa della luce
My brother's bedroom: concealed wiring.
Closet under the stairs: not much decided yet.

I also decided on the paint colors for the hallway and bought paint samples to experiment with. I am indeed going to do the blue and green I mentioned. The shop will be white I think. If I manage to get my hands on pattern rollers and a rolling machine on Ebay the other rooms will get rolled patterns.

Doors and windows willl most likely be beige on the inside. Exterior... maybe green to match the main house or a deep burgundy... (one of my favourite colors, RAL 3004 for the Europeans who want to recreate it).