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!