Energy providers

The solar panels on our roof provide us with power, especially when it is sunny. When we make excess power we sell this back to citipower for 8 cents a KWH. This is pretty paltry since the typical purchase price for power is around 20 – 25 cents a KW.

Had this system been installed prior to the end of 2011 we would be selling power back to the grid at at least 60 cents a KWH and we would be getting that price till 2024. This was to encourage Victorians to take up solar energy – a worthy cause and a good offer. This was know as ‘Premium Feed In Tariffs’ or PFiTs. When that ended a new ‘Transitional Feed in Tariff’ was set up (TFiT) at 25 cents/ KWH but ended at the end of 2012. This kind of tariff should be encouraged.

The 8 cents/ KWH we get makes little difference to our bill this means that by far the best time for us to save money is during the day when we can use the power we produce (when we are working). Some of this happens automatically with the fridge being on but we also save if we use the washing machine and dryer during daytime – i.e put laundry on timers. Other than that there’s not much we can do.

That aside we also need to buy power when it is not sunny. This is when things become extremely complicated. In my view it should be a case of ‘we sell electricity at x cents/ KWH. But like mobile phone plans this would make it too easy for customers. It is so complicated that swarms of door knocking energy sales people plague the suburbs and confuse the innocent. With energy accounts there are discounts and fees, various tariffs, signing up bonuses, conditions and contract lengths. To sift through this I found a number of useful websites the ‘get advice’ websites give general information, the compare plans helps you choose energy plans:

To compare plans.
http://www.yourchoice.vic.gov.au/search-results
http://energy.iselect.com.au/electricity/product-details/?iselectElectricityPlanId=elecRED002 (I didn’t fill in my personal details to get access)

To get advice:
http://environmentvictoria.org.au/content/feed-tarrifs
http://forums.whirlpool.net.au

I need to review our energy use better but we’re with AGL now and it seems likely that we can do better.

Also the government should ‘do better’ with feed in tariffs. The argument is that subsidising the development of a solar powered Australia will cost Australians but we all know this is short term nonesense from one of the worlds richest countries.

Noise

Neighbours are important for neighbourhoods so we were worried when council wrote to us, threatening further action, because there was a complaint about mechanical noise comming from our building. The noise in question came from our air conditioning condensers but because we don’t have air conditioning it must have been either the hydronic gas booster, the domestic hot water gas booster or the subfloor fan.

The Environment Protection Act explains that no mechanical noise is allowable to be heard from an open window or door of a neighbour after 10pm and before 7am. None. This is not widely known since some occassional noise is generally accepted and rarely does someone bring this up. But we do want to keep our neighbours happy so we have since set the subfloor vent to operate during the day for a few minutes every few hours – this is operated via a timer in the switchboard. The heating has also been set lower at night ,17deg , and hopefully this will prevent the booster going on. Lastly we need to remember not to turn on hot water between 10 and 7 during cold weather (when the solar doesn’t heat the water up enough).

Unfortunately the neighbour has a point, when the booster comes on it does have an audible vmmmm sound that I hadn’t noticed until this complaint. This means that my 9:45pm baths and 7:15am showers are riddled with guilt.

(We did also add foam to the base of the downpipes because of this neighbours previous complaint about drips being heard when it rained.)

Joinery

kitchen 2

The joinery has taken a while to resolve and consequently the job has been held up. The reason it has taken so long is because it has been the source design of debates between myself and A.

Kitchen

One debate was the position of the fridge. This has been drawn in four different locations which, given the size of the kitchen, is a lot. Where it is now located is sensible, easy to use and makes good use of the existing space. One important consideration for the fridge was the ability to ventilate it well. Fridges are rated for efficiency based on having very good ventilation. In practice fridges are often tucked away and therefore they work less well and their rating can be misleading. To improve ventilation we have placed it above the skirting plinth and have a vent in the plinth so that air can be drawn in from the front of the plinth, under the fridge, up its back and out over its top. Most fridges are quite power hungry – there are new ‘Inverter’ fridges that seem to be much more efficient but we couldn’t find any with a freezer at the bottom, narrower than 670mm and that looked good. I think Panasonic and Samsung have inverter fridges.

Another debate was about the ‘Island’ bench; not a true Island because it is partially fixed to the existing house. A wanted people to be able to pull up a chair and hang out at the bench. This meant having a leg alcove under the bench. My view was that there would be a table with chairs very close by and that this would be fine as a hang out area. Also bench heights are typically between 850mm and 950mm high whereas tables are between 700mm and 750mm high usually – meaning chairs for each aren’t compatible. In the end A accepted this. This also meant that we could design the bench to float by having a gap under it – this wouldn’t have worked so well if we also had a leg alcove.

The last major debate was with the finishes. My view was that the kitchen is small and has a comparatively low ceiling (around 2.5m). Given this I thought it should be white 2 pac with a white benchtop (either reconstituted stone or a white marble). A’s view was that that would be very boring and she preferred a timber finish. I countered that a timber finish would clash with the timber floors if it didn’t match the floors. A didn’t agree. In the end we have used a reconstituted quartz based stone top from Smartstone. The colour, called ‘Nieve White’ is almost an exact match to the wall colours which are Dulux’s ‘Natural White’ (see painting). The 2 pack shelves are also coloured in ‘Natural White’ to a 30% gloss level (fairly matt) and they work very well with the walls. The fridge surround, a 32mm thick box, is also finished in the same way. Below the benchtops A found a bamboo board product from Leto Bamboo http://www.letobamboo.com/. We chose the ‘Strand Woven-Carbonised’ boards and this was finished with a Wittle finish http://www.whittlewaxes.com.au/WebPage/WebPage.asp?Ref=7989 . This has worked well, they are durable seeming boards, fairly dense and even. They look a little like burled timber and with the finish they have a warm colour.

For a while we did consider a stone finish, more precisely a marble finish. We know that this can seem to have an old fashioned image but marble has been used in many contemporary interiors well. We thought the combination of a contemporary looking marble used in a victorian renovation would work. We scoured the internet and visited a couple of stone masons and suppliers looking for the right type of stone. The marble we liked best is called Callacatta marble, it is very white with either grey or brown pronounced veins. It is a popular marble in contemporary design and as such it is expensive.
Callacatta
The cheaper marbles didn’t appeal because of their colours or lack of vein definition. Unfortunately (at the time) we couldn’t go ahead with any marble we liked because it would have added about $7000 to our budget. In retrospect this was good – marble might have been the wrong choice. The reconstituted stone that we have chosen is so simimliarly coloured to the walls that I expect the end result will be more sculptural. The stone goes in on Thursday.

Finally a note about appliances. We have scoured gumtree and ebay for stuff but only found a Porter and Charles oven for $650 (I’d never heard of the brand but google research seemed to say it was OK – and it looks smart). The fridge and cooktop come from Appliances online since my experience with them has been good. The cooktop has a flame failure device – really the only thing that is important other than looks and position of buttons. The washer and dryer were bought a while ago and rolled from nearby Aldi to our house in a shopping trolley.

A Stain

130507 002

The floorboards have been laid and now we want to finish the floorboards. Doug, from Bunnings tells us how to sand the floors (I should stress I am not promoting any company – purely stuff I found on google that I thought was useful) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6I0AIszrTY . Once the preparation is done then we are ready for the finish. What we are trying to achieve is a black floor that has an oily sheen to it. I have scoured the internet and spoken to companies but there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus about how to achieve this. but the two approaches seem to be:

1. To stain the raw timber and allow the stain to seep into the timber then cover the timber with an oil finish.
2. To apply a coloured durable surface.

In theory I prefer method 1 because I believe it is a more durable long term solution. The timber is impregnated with colour and over time you continue applying wax and an aged lustre will be maintained. This also seems to be the costlier solution.

My worry with option 2 is that as the surface gets scratched or damaged the pale wood comes through and this is hard to fix.

To choose we sought samples from our floor sander. This was organised badly by me. Samples were prepared but not to the extent I needed, i.e multiple coats applied correctly. Instead the floor sander prepared 3 options, each with just a single coat. Timing was such that we couldn’t prepare each coat adequately. Never-the-less the results were very informative. And can be seen here:

Stains

What this shows are 3 different systems applied at the interface between the old baltic floors and the new recycled Victorian ash floors. The stain furthest to the left that is the most solid is a ‘method 2’ surface treatment. The centre stain is a Feast Watson ‘Black Japan’ system (one coat) and the third is an ebonising system from Rubio Monocoat. I will go through each of these in reverse order.

The Rubio Monocoat system is interesting http://www.rubiomonocoat.com/en/index.php (I think under smoked or fumed floor). It is a clear liquid that blackens floors by reacting with the tanins in the wood. Apparently this effect can be achieved with vinegar and iron filings and was done this way historically. Our problem was that the timbers clearly had different tanin levels with the Baltic almost having none. This meant that it didn’t blacken and for us this didn’t work. I imagine on some floors this could be a great solution.

The Feast Watson ‘Black Japan’ system http://www.feastwatson.com.au/InteriorFlooringProjectGuides.asp seeks to copy a traditional effect in Victorian houses where the edges of rooms were blackend and rugs covered the centres of rooms. It uses a stain to seep into the wood, then the wood is waxed or coated. We didn’t give this the chance it should have had by only applying one coat but even with one coat we could see differences in the colour absorbtion between the two types of timber – with Victorian ash being denser and therefore less absorbent. With additional coats perhaps the two types of wood would have looked more similar.

The last patch is a polyeurathane surface treatment that has Feast Watson black tint added to it. It gave the best result with a very similar colouring to both types of timber yet allowing the grain of the wood to come through. In the end we proceeded with this solution. The specification of the finish we used (as explained by the floor sander) was: two coats of Polycure Titan with about 7 – 8% Feat Watson black prooftint followed by a final coat of Durapol low sheen with 5% black prooftint.

The floor is finished and looks like the photo

LED’s and Dimmers Don’t Work If You Want To Relax

Well they do but not well and here is why… A warm colour gives a sense of cosyness. During the day this is not important but at night it is a light quality people look for; warm lighting – a warm hue – is used in restaurants, houses, resorts and other places where the goal is to relax. As far as I can tell the warmest white colour from an LED is around 2700K, this is equivalent to about a 100W incandescent or an old bright light. As I mentioned before this colour temperature doesn’t change as the lights dim unlike incandescent or halogen lights which become warmer as they dim. This means that when 2700K LED’s are on full blast they look fine but when they dim the light get gloomier rather than cosier. I know this because the lights are in and its gloomy when dimmed at night. Here is a link to info about colour temperature http://www.seesmartled.com/kb/choosing_color_temperature/

In the double height living area we have two built in lighting effects; a general, central light that operates as task lighting over the seating area and a wall washing effect that lights the side walls to give a greater sense of openess. My plan is to fix theatre gel sheeting to the wall washers in a light amber colour and I have since bought ‘Gel Sheet Orange No. 105’ from Light and Sounds for about AUD$9. Theatre gel is a kind of heat resistant acetate sheeting that is coloured, it is used to create coloured stage effects. I will cut disks from this to go over the light – possibly with a central internal disk cut from the acetate so that some white light gets through.

Gel light

Hopefully this will mean the walls will be lit by a pale orange light which will reflect back into the room so it feels better in the evening. I will report back on this.

Incidently dimming is complicated, here is a link that explains dimming http://lightproject.com.au/the-basics-dimming

Painting Misery

Green Panels

The interior is currently being painted and is due to be finished on Friday – back to that later.

We painted a large portion of the exterior soon after the cladding was finished. We still have a bit more to go, possibly including the old house, when the project nears completion. We used Taubmans paint; their 3 in 1 undercoat and their external flat water based paint. It was recommended by a builder and has a good warranty. The complicated part of the paint job was the green panelled wall. This wall was made of Magnesium Oxide panels from Ezylite over which we screwed and glued 10mm Ezylite boards cut to size. The whole wall was painted with white undercaot (now I know better I would have used a mid grey). We then painted the rebates between the panels in ‘Woodland Grey’ (a Dulux colour) to match the woodland grey cappings. Once this was done I went to buy the four colours of green that I needed for the pattern. Unfortunately, having chosen them based on colour swatches, I was told that many of the green colours couldn’t be used outdoors. This meant choosing many greens and getting the shop assistant to check his computer to see if each one was suitable. I then remade my selection based on what was available. We then painted the four green colours to seperate panels to give the pixelated effect we wanted. This had to be done early in the morning and late in the evening because the weather was so hot – over 35C almost every day. When it got too hot the paint would become sticky and start to clag up and we had to stop. Each panel received two coats of topcoat. When it was done I felt two colours were too similar and I mixed the remains of two tins together to get a green that was different enough from the others to work – and repainted those panels. The capping over the brick walls between the brick walls and green wall was also partially painted matt black (over a suitable undercoat) where it was reccessed so that it was less visible. The effect of this was better than I anticipated, to my eyes the green wall seems to hover over the brick white wall which I think is a good effect. The greens also work well behind the tree next to the wall and I think the whole effect makes the house look less bulky.

We also used a very dark grey industrial paint on the cross beam at the rear elevation. This paint is called Dulux ‘Ferrodor’ and it is used in areas where steel is exposed to corrosive elements. I chose it because the finish looks like fine grade, very dark, sandpaper. I like the look of it but I could have gotten a way with a cheaper low sheen black to match the windows.

I have also painted the bearers and joists that will make up the rear deck. These are painted black to give them added protection (they are termite proofed LVL) and so that they are less visible between the decking.

Black Joists

Now to the misery. I used a website called Service Central to get three quotes for work. I always wonder about getting trades from websites but all the other painters I knew were busy. In the end I received two quotes and one person decided not to quote. Of the two quotes one was considerably cheaper and when I met the cheaper painter (prior to their quote) we walked around the house and identified the scope of work. Of particular importance was the fact that the previous owners used waterbased paint over enamel to freshen up the house before selling. This is an old trick and the paint doesn’t adhere properly. The paint over the timber could be scraped of by runing a finger nail accross it. The painter identified this as a defect along with other items.

Flaky Paint

I accepted his quote and his men started work. At first one man was scrapping back the paint correctly, later they decided to surface sand the unstable paint as an acceptable solution. I argued that this would never work and that it was unacceptable. He claimed not to realise the scope of work. My letter (without naming names) follows:

“Following from our phone call I want to reiterate that I expect the paint work to be in accordance with your quote. That is: “Ensure all areas prepared for paint application”. I don’t mind whether this is done by scraping, sanding or any other suitable method.

For the area to be “Prepared for paint application” you need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. These are:

“Ensure surfaces to be painted are clean and free of dust, dirt, mould and grease. Previously painted surfaces must be sanded down thoroughly removing any flaking or blistering.”

Clearly a previously painted surface that scrapes off when finger nails are run across it is not suitable and would be described as ‘flaking’.

When I went on site it became clear that you had no intention of meeting your quoted standard. Rather than escalate the argument I agreed, at my discretion, to pay an additional $400 to ensure the work would be done properly. You said this would be done in one day.

I expect to pay your quoted price and I am willing to pay an additional $400 as goodwill. I hope this is clear.”

He then said it would take three days and would cost $1200 more. I met him on site and the following email was sent shortly afterwards:

“I am attaching the letter I handed to you a few minutes ago while I was on site for your records.

I note that no dropsheets were in place, contrary to your quote, and that the rear window was partially masked. I note that paint spray has drifted onto the finished windows and that paint was on the uncovered timber floor. No other fixtures were masked. Paint is also on the shower screen and on the chrome radiator outlets. I further note that the paint finish at this stage is uneven with some areas showing an almost stippled finish, I understand sanding will occur and more care will take place.

While I was on site I videoed some of the above for my records.

I note that you threatened to walk off the site and further threatened to come in and damage the property if you weren’t paid (I have always agreed to pay as per your quote). I also note that in your phonecall after my visit to the site you agreed that scraping off the paint was a more efficient way of preparing the timber surfaces than sanding off the paint.

On site you asked for a $3000 progress payment. I have agreed and will process this tomorrow providing I can see that work is continuing in a workmanlike manner.

I look forward to this work being completed to a fair standard on Friday, I also expect the fixtures, including glazing, to be clear of any paint by Friday.”

All of this is giving me stress but he seems to be proceeding and will hopefully be gone by Friday afternoon.