More pouring…..

15 06 2017

The owner builder gods have been smiling upon me…… since expressing concern about maybe having missed the boat with further concreting and Tasmania’s fickle weather, the frosty and rainy weather went on holidays long enough that I decided to persevere, and it’s all paid off….

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shower grates

Mind you, it wasn’t without the odd thing going wrong. As Glenda and I reinvented the bathroom layouts, I had to wait for several days for the new grates we are going to use in the shower area before I was able to finish the second spider (see above link). I ended up buying two of these online for $200, while Bunnings were selling them for $300 each…… always shop around!

While waiting, I made three of the four pipes that run into the riser. The riser was in its position, in the middle of the bathroom mockup in the shed, ready to go; once the fourth pipe was carefully glued together, I assembled the spider, only to discover later that the riser had been sitting for days on the floor upside down……… Sacré bleu! I thought I’d worked a way to get away with it, even dragging it up to the house site for installation, until I realised that the riser is moulded in such a way that all those pipes fall to the fitting (it’s only a two degree fall, but it’s important!) and that now all those pipes were going uphill…… and as we all know, water does not run uphill!

I really hate stuffing things up, but I had to go and buy another fitting (50km return trip and $35 later..), destroy the original one, and refit the entire thing properly. I’m getting really good at problem solving.

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waterproof membrane in place

I re-hired Caleb to do my heavy lifting and unload another couple of tons of crusher dust off the ute to cover up all those bare dirt patches between the trenches while I went to work putting them together.

There’s a lot to think about. I almost forgot to glue the outlet pipe from the second bathroom, and had to dig it up, by hand. No major drama this time, but there you go. These outlets also have to be lagged with 40mm of foam where they penetrate the footing in case the highly reactive soil I seem to continually build on make the concrete move and break the pipes. It pays to know how

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lagged outlet pipe

to read an engineer’s drawings!

Once all the crusher dust was in place, we covered it with the thick plastic moisture proof membrane my supplier sold me, and before you know it, I was ordering another ten cubic metres of concrete.

On the day, I was training Caleb on how I wanted him to rake the concrete towards himself while he stood on the first footing and I inserted the concrete vibrator into the pile of the wet stuff that would land in the middle of the trench. To my amazement, and Caleb’s visible delight, as soon as the vibrator started doing its thing, the concrete came to the end of the trench all by itself, like water in a flash flood……  I tell you, that device is worth its weight in gold! It easily does the work of at least one other man, and maybe more. Mind you, I also had to deal with the end of the machine vibrating itself off, and having to work out the thread was mysteriously left hand – very odd, as left hand threads are usually used to stop things vibrating off! No pressure….  I only had a concrete truck waiting for me to get going again…….

We had two truck loads of concrete in place within just forty-five minutes……. and I had expected it to take twice this long with only two of us on the job!

Now all I have to do is pour a perfectly level and perfectly flat slab on top of the whole thing (after I return from another trip to Queensland to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary!), and we can start BUILDING! I really can’t wait to be past this stage; I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but I am saving so much money, it will all be worth it. And to be honest, it’s all turned out even better than I expected, and I am justifiably proud of my handy work……  watch this space.

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Making spiders……

30 05 2017

It’s wet and cold, the building site’s a quagmire, and I feel like writing a story……

I seem to make a habit of one thing leading to another when it comes to building. Just prior to moving to the Huon in ute I,  I decided to see if I could buy a bidet or two on eBay. I really like the idea of going toilet paper free, as much as possible… Sure enough, I found quite a few, in Melbourne. Not just any old bidets it turned out, but high end Italian designer models! And they were $19 each – no, not a typo – which must have been less than 10% of their normal cost….. I told the sellerImage result for hatria you and me bidet double handbasin I was moving to Tasmania, and I’d pick them up on my way through, and he was cool about holding onto them until I arrived.

Little did I know the seller was a large business that bought out other firms going under. They would buy their entire stock for an agreed sum, and anything a bit slow to move, was sold off dirt cheap. Like bidets. When I arrived, I was gobsmacked to find a huge warehouse, easily 20 times the size of my large shed, full of building goodies; not least same brand double handbasins that matched my bidets, and they too were a bargain at $35…. They are quite unusual,Image result for hatria you and me bidet double handbasin being circular in design. I even bought all the taps I need for a song. I recently saw handbasins for $500 that weren’t half as nice as these….

Then one day, while watching Grand Designs on TV, I saw a circular bathtub. I’d never ever seen one like that before, and it got me thinking that maybe we could get one to match the rest of the bathroom fittings I had already bought. Sure enough, I found some, not cheap though…… from around $1500 to ‘the sky is the limit’ kind of designer prices.

Then when I drove down from Queensland in ute III (the 4WD one), I had another look, and found something in Sydney I could pick up on the way down. Luckily, as it turns out, they were out of stock, and so arrived in Geeveston empty-handed. Six months later, Matt next door was going to Melbourne to pick up a new ute, and he suggested that if I needed anything picked up there, he’d bring it back for me. And you guessed it….. I found someone who manufactured fibreglass Japanese Plunge Baths, for half the price of the one I missed out on in Sydney…….. some things are just meant to happen! Even better, the factory was two streets from where Matt was picking up his ute! You couldn’t make this stuff up……

Of course, our original drawings don’t show any of these things, and as I’m now contemplating pouring the house slab, I have to bury all the waste plumbing underneath, and so the bathrooms have to be planned properly. Once the slab is poured, the bathroom layout is literally cast in concrete. Obviously, Glenda wants to have a say in how this all pans out, and spent several days drawing 1:50 plans on graph paper and sending them electronically. She could not be convinced it would all fit in the allocated space, until that is, I came up with the brilliant idea of making a full-scale mockup of the bathroom with the bath in the shed.

20170518_122523Using the form ply that came out of the footing pour, I laid out the bathroom outline on the shed floor. I then brought all the fittings from the container down to the shed on the back of a ute, and methodically laid it out on the floor.

Because our ensuite bathrooms are ‘walk through’, like a corridor between the living space and bedrooms, the layout has to allow free flow of movement….. and after moving things around to both suit Glenda’s sense of aesthetics and my needs to make the plumbing practical, we agreed on something. One good thing about technology, is that pictures are easily and conveniently sent now, facilitating decision-making no end… There’s no way we could do this 2,500km apart without smart phones!

Now that I had the bathroom all laid out in front of me, it became obvious that I had a golden opportunity to set out and put together the underslab plumbing right there and then…. No plumber would ever go to this much trouble to get it ‘perfect’; last time we did this, our plumber just ‘roughed it in’, and the pipes were not where I wanted them, requiring a lot of ‘fudging’ to solve issues………20170528_154853

Modern plastic plumbing fittings make this sort of work a cinch. It’s not rocket science either, all you need to remember is that water flows downhill! If you ever do anything like this, make sure you do it properly and use primer before gluing, because once it’s all buried in concrete, there’s no going back to fixing leaks!

Once finished, the whole thing looked like a spider…… and I carried it in one piece to the house site where I dug the shallow trenches in the gloop to drop the whole assembly to its correct level where it will be buried with crusher dust to within 100mm of the top of the slab that will go over the whole thing. Eventually.

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I say eventually, because I now fear I have missed the boat when it comes to the weather… as you can see in the above photo, there’s water in my trenches, but worse, it’s getting cold with winter looming, and pouring concrete and cold don’t mix…..

Cold weather concrete can be classified as a period of more than three days where some specific conditions occur under certain temperatures. The American Concrete Institute under ACI 306 defines that concrete will be exposed to cold weather when the following conditions exist:

  • The average daily air temperature is less than 5°C and,

  • The air temperature is not greater than 10°C for more than one-half of any 24 hour period.

  • Fresh concrete frozen during the first 24 hours can lose 50% of its potential 28-day strength!

This is not something you have to concern yourself with in Queensland, but here…….? coordinating the weather, a concretor, and the concrete trucks all together on the same day where the above conditions don’t occur could be very tricky. I may have to resign myself to having to wait until at least october……. which doesn’t exactly fill me with glee, but there you go, the owner builder’s lot is not known to be simple. I’ve watched enough Grand Designs to know this!





Eye opening comment from an independent Council Alderman

16 09 2014

This most interesting blog article from a Hobart City Council Alderman, Eva Ruzicka, explains why Council rates never go down, and how growth and, more to the point, incremental growth in the complexity of how governments at all levels no longer has any choice on how to run its day to day affairs, due to ever more stupid and unsustainable regulations.

If you ever needed more proof that we have to live more simply so we may simply live…….  look no further.

And the other big question on the election trail….

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

If there is one thing that people get feisty about, it’s the rates bill. Why is it so high? Why does it never go down? And why do people try to get elected by saying they’ll vote for lower rates and then we never hear from them again once they’re occupying the comfy chairs around the Council table?

I’m tempted to answer that you’re living in a Western capitalist economy predicated on growth and if you want the benefits you’ll have put up with paradigm of exponential increase. But I suspect that won’t win much in the way of plaudits, and it is a bit politically philosophical when you’re trying to put bread on the table and pay off the mortgage.

What I can say is that historically, things might have been different if we’d elected accountants, rather than politicians. When elected people have avoided increasing rates or increased municipal debt, later generations have had to stump up.

And this is the nub of it. You have to go back to where it all started, and for this, have a look at the history books. Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then) wasn’t settled for any economic reasons. It was settled to stop the French from taking possession.

So there wasn’t any business case for the English government of the day to fund the prison camp from the Colonial Chest – other than just barely meeting the costs of running a dumping ground for the surplus population who tried to make a living any way they could outside the punitive property laws of the day.

When word got out the island was highly suitable for farming and grazing, we had all sorts coming here to make a fortune by taking up the land from the Palawa/Pakana by force, and being subsidised with free land and convict labour.

And when the Napoleonic Wars were finally ceased, guess what? England did the usual trick of saying, stand on your own two feet, we can’t afford to subsidise you anymore. So when Tasmania the colony did in 1856, it then got successive colonial governments that were excellent at running up large debts with overseas banks, but useless at providing the services a growing population demanded. Let a form of local government do it, they said.

And local government did.

Albeit very reluctantly, because while the carrot of local control (for which read those land owners and magistrates who got to impose their ideas of moral behaviour on the free, convict and ex-convict population) was tempting, no money came with it. Sound familiar?

(Cost-shifting is a time-honoured practice where central and local governments are concerned. Local government get the responsibility to provide the services that everyone expects central government to do, but bad luck bunnies, you’ll also have to find the funds. Don’t get me started on this today – perhaps another post another time.)

Nonetheless, by the end of the century, there was a proliferation of Councils, Town Boards, Road Trusts, schools, cemeteries, various agricultural pest control boards, jetties, marine boards, libraries, water trusts, and so on. By the time the Colonial parliamentarian, Dr John McCall, got all the Mayors of the day into a room well away from the press to discuss the delicate matter of reform, there were over three hundred various types of authority that came under the wing of local government.

You have to remember also that once was, most of the population of the island effectively lived, worked and died in the same locality, and rarely, if ever, left it. Local councils diversified to the extent their ratepayers wanted various services within their municipal boundaries – hence the diversity. And still there wasn’t sufficient money to go around because the Tasmanian population just wasn’t there.

(It’s a policy problem I’ll be writing more on – the lack of population impacting on local government.)

Reform was needed, and reform followed throughout the 20th century.

Yet still, money is the nub of it. The 49 Councils existing up to 1993 relied on State and Federal funding to cover activities the ratebase could not. Years of not wanting to incur debt, or incurring debt without sufficient raising the rates, or simply just not raising the rates because it was politically unpopular, set the scene for more financial reforms in the noughties. And life got more complex too, with increased State and Federal legislation and improvements concerning water, sewerage, planning, building, plumbing, health, parks, recreation, roads and rubbish management.

Anyone who said (and continues to say) amalgamation of Councils should lower rates is either ignorant of the changes in local government practice or just wishing out loud wistfully.

As one recent example, take water and sewerage. Okay, so its operation was taken off local government just recently but it still owns the asset. Why? The big Councils were able to sort out their problems, but for smaller ones, provision of clean water and adequate sewerage was just beyond their financial ratebase ability, and neither could they reasonably service the level of debt needed to get the job done to the high level of health and safety legislation. It’s been argued that the problems of water and sewerage were being sorted out at the local government level, but for State parliamentarians, particularly some of those in the seat of Lyons and Braddon, progress weren’t fast enough when people flooded their offices with complaints over water alerts. Hence, TasWater’s accelerated program of water and sewerage reform outside of Hobart and Launceston today. And this isn’t to say we shouldn’t all have clean water and adequate sewerage – we should. But how it has been gone about is not exactly creating less cost to the consumer.

Another big complexity is financial reform. Simple accounting is now replaced with accrual accounting and Councils now have to take into account asset depreciation, equity, debt repayment, on-costs, annual operating costs, long term 20 year budgets and financial plans, asset renewal programs, auditing, financial probity, etc. etc. Now the impact of decisions can be tracked across the whole organisation and into the future in the modelling of setting rates. (And we can see the impact on ratepayers today of past decisions where Aldermen refused to raise rates in election years.)

Okay, now I start to sound like an accountant, but bear with me. Here’s a plain English example of how things have got more complex in the last 50 years.

The people want a BBQ in the local park. Council either has the money to pay for building up front or it raises a loan to do it, say $2000 for a simply concrete slab, brick and steel plate BBQ, labour costs included, and some donated bricks and cement from the local businesses. And as people wanted to boil a billy to go with the sausages, a tap was provided that anyone could turn off and on. And a simple wood slab table and bench set were sat beside the BBQ. We’re talking about 20-50 years ago.

The BBQ is built, and lots of families and their friends used it, especially in the summer months when everyone visited in the holidays. So many people from out of town in fact, that Council ends up cleaning the BBQ and making sure there is a wood supply because of the complaints about cleanliness and people using the park’s trees for the BBQ. Have to encourage the visitors – good for local business.

And as the hole in the ozone layer got bigger and the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign took hold, the local people asked for a cover shelter. And then for more chairs and tables for families to use, and they had to be under cover too. Eventually everyone uses the asset so much, it wears out and vandals have their way tagging the park furniture on bored winter afternoons, and for some reason, people keep nicking the tap fittings and firewood.

So then the local people ask for an electric BBQ replacement. As Council neither has the up-front cash or wants to raise the full loan to do it, it works with the local community group to raise the funds and eventually makes up the shortfall with a grant sourced from the local parliamentarian who is due for re-election. The shortfall is added to the rates budget.

Voila! A new BBQ with a renewed cover shelter and upgraded, vandal proof chairs and tables and shelters, and because we all wanted it to look good, some landscaping with trees and shrubs that provides wind shelter and a form of privacy between the tables of the many families now using the BBQ area. And the tap has been converted to an in ground sprinkler system, with a more secure drinks fountain with a dog bowl attached at the base. There is no longer worn out lawn under the tables but a lovely mulch soft-fall. New cost, say very little change out of $300,000, because of the grant, but actual bill of say $550,000.

The community and the elected members all get to enjoy a celebratory community BBQ when the power is switched on and have their picture in the paper. Everyone’s happy, it’s a wonderful place and the older folks reminisce about using the last one when they were kids, and how they’d like to form the same sorts of memories for their grand-kids.

So what’s the problem?

The asset was built either with a loan that had to be repaid, as well as interest and charges, and/or rates that have to be raised. So the initial cost of $2000 may well have been more as interest rates shifted around or Councillors didn’t want to raise the rates that year to finally pay off the loan.

The cost of cleaning and wood supply has to be added to the Council’s budget, as well as the increase in manpower needed to service the BBQ on a regular basis.

No money was put aside for replacement for the BBQ, tables and chairs or the nicked taps, so when the new electric BBQ with the new park furniture was provided, no money was there to pay for it. A lot of Council officer time (time equals wages costs here) was spent designing the new asset, engaging with the local community and consulting about it, as well as the planning, building and plumbing costs and requirements. The cost of providing water from a vandal proof tap has to also be factored in, as today water has to be paid for, and there is the added cost of maintaining the new landscaping. And there was the officer time spent in trying to source the funds through the grant process, and reporting the whole shebang to the Council for discussion and, finally, a decision.

In terms of asset management, there was no asset depreciation or replacement put aside for the old BBQ. Further, the cost of the new equipment was much, much higher as it had to meet Australian Standards requirements, let alone the fact that Councils now have to meet planning, building and plumbing rules just like everyone else. These are hidden costs no one really had to contend with in the past and now have become mainstream in local government practice because State and Federal governments demand it, and risk management decisions in the Courts have created them.

So now the Council, under 21st century accounting rules, has to put money aside for replacement/depreciation, asset development and annual operating costs, and it has to meet various health and safety obligations and Australian Standards in replacing the old BBQ. This is the financial iceberg under the upfront cost of the BBQ. You not only have to pay for building, you also have to budget for maintenance, depreciation and replacement.

All in all, while this is a somewhat potted explanation, it should explain why a rates bill continues to grow.

So in answer to the questions, why are rates always rising? The real cost of local government is like a financial iceberg. At some time, the elected members are taken into a budget workshop and get to see the full horror of the finances as the iceberg of electoral promises rolls over. We get to see there’s more than just the tip. The real cost has become a hazard to political shipping when you least expect it. And so rates are raised, after careful noting of CPI, and a sounding of the electorate’s mood. In Hobart City Council, the Aldermen are fully aware of the finances, and get to find out the real costs and impacts.

And that is why rates bills never get lower. The community demands more, it pays more. More complex local government processes cost more. We could cut the rates to zero, but at some stage, someone has pay for replacement of what we all use. If not you, then your children and grandchildren in a disproportionate amount if we won’t foot part of the bill today. We could cut the rates to zero, but would you then be satisfied with the loss of services?

Carefully spent taxes bring civilisation – not political promises to cut rates.