The house is going super well…but variations suck :-(

This week we started to get a sense of the scale of our house, with the steel now up to support our living room and kitchen. There is absolutely loads of steel in this house – particularly because there are some big spans requiring support. It doesn’t come cheap either, but I guess shelling out for steel is preferable to your house falling down.

Queenslander renovation steel extension
The steel’s going up!
Steel going up - Queenslander renovation
The first steps towards a new kitchen, living room and garage!

Anyway, it’s great seeing it in. I hadn’t been expecting those big horizontal spans to go in this week so was really pleased when I did a quick drive-by on Tuesday evening. Our kitchen will be at the rear of the house flowing out on to the back deck and garden, and the living room is at the front – flowing on to the front deck. Just having that steel there really helps visualise what our house will be like…even though it’s a million miles (maybe more!) from being finished.

Variation dramas

In other news, we got our quote back this week for our front retaining wall/fence. The plans for the wall are in last week’s blog post – they look absolutely awesome but it turns out retaining walls are eye-wateringly expensive. Of course everything in construction seems to be expensive, but oh my goodness… it was so depressing seeing the quote. Unfortunately it’s one of those jobs that needs to be done now or never, given the fact it affects our front stairs and driveway, and that if we were to do it later we’d risk damaging the services that come in underneath that front boundary line when the footings are dug. The only positive about the quote is that because it came through at 10.30pm, I didn’t check my emails until the morning therefore saving myself a completely sleepless night in a state of horrified anxiety about the figure next to the word ‘total’. Small mercies.

So there are two key learnings this week…though because I doubt we’ll ever do a project of this scale again, those learnings are somewhat redundant for us. Anyway, if you’re reading this blog with the intention of embarking on something similar, here they are: 1. Try to think about every possible extra ‘thing’ you may want to include in your build before signing a contract. We deliberated over ours for ages – pretty much a year – but we clearly still missed things out. Obviously it’d have been far better to have thought of something like the front retaining wall pre-contract, as it eliminates additional contract variation fees which can add a premium of anywhere between 20-30% to the quoted cost of that additional item/activity. If you’re just talking about an extra window worth a couple of grand, that’s not the end of the world. When you’re talking about a retaining wall and fence worth tens of thousands, any additional margin is going to hurt. Badly.

The second thing we’ve learned is to budget for fees throughout the project (surveying/engineering inspections etc) – and then double them. Or maybe triple them. It might just be a few hundred dollars here and a few hundred there, but they really do add up.

As a result of the proposed costs for the retaining wall, we’re trying to think of options to scale it back a bit – perhaps by stepping the block work down the front elevation, rather than trying to keep the wall straight the entire way across. The other option is to just do the block work, and park the fence palings for another five years – that way we’re getting the structural stuff out of the way and doing the pretty bits later. And yet another option is to do it, but leave it as ugly grey blocks (i.e. un-rendered). I figure we could slap a coat of paint on it to minimise its hideousness, but obviously that’s far from the ideal solution. Of course, the other option is just to go back to the original plans and not have any retaining across the front. While that’s by far the front runner financially; aesthetically and practically (given the difficulties involved in ‘upgrading’ the fence to a retaining wall in 10 years’ time), it’s really not the preferred option at this stage.

Both our builder and designer have been great at working with us to try and bring the costs down but we’re definitely going to need a good think about this one over the weekend.

Joinery

The other significant development this week was signing off on all the custom joinery. As we’ve got all new doors and windows going in (with the exception of the kitchen servery window and our dining room stacker doors which we’ve kept from our un-renovated house), there was a lot to review and sign-off. I thought it’d be a quick job, but it took countless evenings of dithering on my part and required our builder’s admirably patient door maker (a joiner? Not up with the jargon so not entirely sure if that’s what he’s called!) to make quite a number of tweaks as I considered – and reconsidered – what would work best. But we’re there now. I’m happy with everything we’ve signed off on, and although I’d love a black and grey leadlight door (not the colourful ones) – and I’d love an additional window in the downstairs secondary living area, I need to start reining in the ‘nice-to-haves’ and focusing only on the essentials. Definitely easier said than done…

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