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!