Friday 25 January 2013

Day 18: It looks like a house!

Magic, magic: only a week and a day ago, Our House was delivered. Only six busy working days later, Our House looks complete – at least on the outside. The roof is complete, the front porch has a roof and walls, and even the air vents in the foundations are covered in some neat and shiny fashion.

Inside still some walls need closing, floor heating needs to be put in, walls need to be smoothened, primed, and painted. The fireplace needs building. Hmm, yes, the fireplace – now there was a misunderstanding about time tables, and it won't be done next week, but at some point later, after the floor is complete, which fits better into the construction time table. Thus the next item on the agenda is the piping for the floor heating, and the concrete for the floors. This will be done in the coming week. Stay tuned for updates then.

By the way, you can find all blog posts regarding the construction under the tag "Our House."

Thursday 24 January 2013

Day 17: Front Porch and Floor Heating

Today the roof was finished. Even the rain gutters were installed, and the house looks quite complete on first sight. Work was still in progress on the roof of the front porch as well as the covering of the ridge of the roof.

Another lorry came today, but delivering only a tiny palette with hoses staked high. These are the hoses, which will become the floor heating. The floor heating will be installed next week, after which the hoses will be encased in concrete. Somehow I can't imagine that this small amount of hose is enough...

We got a phone call today indicating that the bricks and other materials for the fireplace will be delivered tomorrow. Those won't quite fit on one palette: there'll be about four tons of material coming. Tomorrow we will also have the first visit from the Sodankylä building inspector to see if the roof was done properly, and our mason will drop by to plan the construction of the fireplace.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Day 16: Roof Almost Finished, Floors Closing

When visiting Our House today, the first thing that was obvious was the progress on the roof. As seen above, the roof is complete now. All metal sheets have been installed, and so have the bridging bits at both ends of the roof, and two air vents (little chimneys). These air vents are for the extractor fan in the kitchen (closer by) and for the air exchange system of the whole house (further away, hard to see with a tree in the background).

Also the under side of the roof overhanging the walls had been covered on the western side with the help of some makeshift scaffolding. The eastern side was just waiting to be tackled next. The image above shows the two sides in comparison in a before-after fashion.

Also the floors and walls are being worked on. Our House was delivered in four large modules, and these were placed onto the foundations with a gap of about half a metre in between them. The photo above shows the gap, seen from inside the house, above the centre wall of the foundations. The red and blue hoses are for the water supply from the boiler to the kitchen.

The next image shows the gaps in the floors being closed. First a wooden panel closes the bottom, then rock wool is filled in the gap, and finally another wooden panel is placed on top. The gap in the walls is closed in a similar fashion. The transparent blue sheets of plastic will be closed across the gap. They will help to make the house air-tight, which is a requirement for highly effective insulation. The air exchange system mentioned above will be the main way to ventilate the house. The system employs a heat exchanger in winter in order to pre-warm fresh air using the heat contained in the outflowing air.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Day 15: The Roof Goes On

Today in the early afternoon, a good third of the roof was on the house. It looks great in the dark-grey colour that we selected for it. The roof was delivered only in the morning, and the secret of its fast deployment is that – while it looks like tiles – it actually comes in large panels of the correct length for our house.  The photo above is a thin pile of these sheets, containing all remaining (about two thirds) roof panels.

The individual panels are very thin sheet metal, only a millimetre or so.  Since they are supported by a great number of triangles and planks underneath, they will be able to support a snow load of 300 kg/m2!

Here's a photo of what the house looked like when I visited, but by now the roof is probably complete already.  Watching for a while, I saw that it took only some 5 min or less per panel to be installed. The two workers are sporting a bit of white foam on their heads held in place by their ear defenders, which double as FM radios. This is because they carry the panels on their heads climbing up the ladders in parallel, and even though these panels are not really heavy, the foam cushions them against their heads. Clearly, this wasn't the first house these two are working on.

Monday 21 January 2013

Day 14: Outside Walls Nearing Completion

Today, I only managed a quick visit to the site, and first I thought nothing much has happened at all yet. It took a few more glances to spot the difference. Before the weekend, the gaps between the four modules had been closed only by one panel from the inside of the house, leaving large brown-grey stripes visible (see Day 13). Now the walls have been closed from the outside, too, and the house has begun to look like one complete unit instead of four sections. Also, the unprotected corners of the house are now covered by two vertical planks making the corner also look nice.

Thanks to this trim, one can start to imagine the colour: the house will be painted in traditional dark-red, and the vertical trim in the corners, the window and door frames, and some bits of the roof will be white.

Tomorrow, the panels for the roof will be delivered and their installation will begin – if all goes according to plan.

Friday 18 January 2013

Day 13: Roof and Walls

Now the further development of Our House project is in the hands of Muurametalot, the company we bought it from – with the sole exception of the fire place, which will be built in weeks 5 and 6. We can mostly relax and wait until they give us the keys. This important event is going to happen on 11th April apparently, so we anticipate to move after that. In the meantime we will of course check on the progress, it's just so exciting to see the progress.

Last night and this morning, the roof was made weather proof, and also the gaps between the four modules are closed now. Also, in the morning the team from Rovakaira arrived one more time in order to connect the main fuse box to the electrical grid and of course install an electricity meter. We didn't tell them yet that we are planning to make as little use of it as possible: heating the house with geothermal energy and using modern energy-saving LED lighting wherever possible.

The photo above was taken today in the early afternoon. It looks ever more house-ish. We have been told that the outer layer roof material will be delivered on Tuesday, and if possible we will try to film the installation of that, at least on the western side of the roof visible in the photo above.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Day 12: House Deployed

Today was the big day: Our House, which we spotted already last night parked up in front of a service station in the village, was deployed onto its foundations. Work began with the arrival of a large crane, and the first lorry with a house module showed up at 08:00 h. Another lorry arrived shortly afterwards.

The first module to be deployed contained the geothermal heat pump and hot water reservoir, and therefore it took some time to get the pipes fed into it before lowering it into its final location. Also, precisely lining up the first module is more difficult, the later modules are just placed a given distance from the first.

After the arrival of the second module, the plastic covers were removed and Our House revealed its interior for the first time. At the same time, a class of construction students from the local Lapland Vocational College showed up in order to see the construction process live.

There was a break, because the lorries had to return to their trailers, where another crane moved the other two house modules onto the lorries. This became necessary, because the dirt road to Our House has a narrow right-angle bend, and the site was out of reach of the trailers. Soon these modules arrived and were lifted onto the foundations. By lunch time, the house looked complete, with only the roof missing.

Another lorry arrived and brought all kinds of smaller elements, which are needed to complete the house. These include the steps leading up to the entrance doors, the small roof above the back door, the front porch floor, and the triangles for the roof. Nice to see the stairs, I guess there's no doubt who lives here...

It took less than an hour to put up all the roof triangles, plus another hour or so for the outer wall triangles at both ends of the building, which was completed only after dark and therefore above is the intermediate stage.

As one can guess from the photos, the weather was stunning again. Blue skies, a great sunrise and sunset, at temperatures of only –20°C, which is rather warm for blue-skies conditions in January. However, the registration plate of the crane looked very appropriate for these Arctic conditions.

A summary of the today's action is available as a time-lapse film, taken with a GoPro camera at one  photo per 5 seconds from 08:15 h to 16:15 h resulting in a short film of 3'30" duration (the lunch break cut out). Enjoy!

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Our House Arrived in Sodankylä

Today nothing happened on the site, except for one small thing: we still had to put up the signs we got when signing the purchase contract, which instruct the builders where to dump waste wood (puujäte) and other rubbish (sekajäte) as well as inform where the main water cut-off valve is (tonttisulku) and where the geothermal well shall be placed (lämpökaivo).

While deploying the signs, the plumbers happened to arrive, and they asked about the timetable of their connecting the house to the water network. This will now happen on Monday.

While fuelling the car afterwards, I happened to see the lorries with our four house modules arrive. We managed to find where they are parked overnight and had another look, but it was too dark to take a picture. The house modules look as if they were vacuum packed in huge white plastic sheets. The only way to identify them is by their oversize, and by the livery of the lorries, which indicates that they came from where the house factory is, i.e. from Tornio in southern Lapland. Yes, Our House is produced almost locally. Tomorrow's the big day!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Day 11: Foundations filled with FinnFoam

Maybe it was a bad idea to praise the mild weather in yesterday's blog post. Today the temperature fell promptly to the appropriate level for the time of year, we woke up to –25°C, and during the day it went up to only –22°C. In the afternoon it was anyway time to fill the other half of the foundation with FinnFoam, since tomorrow even colder weather is forecast, and we will be in Rovaniemi all day, i.e. no time for construction work. Therefore, tomorrow there won't be any blog updates either.

The day after tomorrow, i.e. Thursday, 17th January, deployment of Our House will commence at 08:00 hrs. In any case, we are ready now, the insulation in installed, and everything it ready for the house.

The photo shows me giving the thumbs up: Job done!

A time-lapse film of today's FinnFoaming is on-line now. Yesterday's time-lapse is available, too. Have fun!

Monday 14 January 2013

Day 10: Huge Claws and FinnFoam

Today, work resumed on the site. In the morning, the digger arrived again, and brought an interesting and very handy tool: a gigantic claw, which can be used to break frozen ground. The claw can be rotated at the end of the arm, i.e. it can poke forward, or claw backward. Here it was used to break through compacted gravel and poke a hole under the foundations for additional electrical cables to be passed through. This was an omission in the original build, and now this problem is fixed and we can have electricity where we need it.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a stunning sky again at sunset. Lapland in winter is really beautiful, and we are extremely lucky that we have clear skies, but only some –10°C frost. At this time of the year, it is not uncommon to have –20°C and even down to –40°C. Double lucky, because at lower temperature the construction would have not been possible, thereby delaying the entire process, and also because it's much more enjoyable when not freezing one's toes off.

After the cable conduits were dug under the foundations, the area between the walls was filled with fine sand to make it smooth. An improvised piece of plank served as a rake to make the sand nice and even. On top of the sand, finally the FinnFoam was installed, a job that went well into the night. Fortunately my colleague Juha dropped by to give a hand with moving some heavy stuff around. Tomorrow we'll do the other half of the foundations, and then we are ready to received Our House.

Watch a time-lapse movie of this first part of FinnFoaming.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Colouring the Future

Today nothing happened on the land, due to low temperatures (–20°C) and lack of chain saws. Instead I went through all the paper work, sorted all the gazillion technical drawings into some sensible order, and checked the finances. In Finland, the value-added tax was increased from 23% to 24% at the beginning of the year, and we were happy to learn that Muurametalot will swallow the additional per cent, i.e. the price in our contract stands. Nice touch!

In the evening we finally finished a job, which – on and off – took some three weeks: we finalised our plan on which paint to use for which wall. We decided against wallpaper, because we think one can grow tired of any design, and it's tricky to change, while painted walls can simply be painted over. Therefore, we can also be a bit more bold in the choice of colour. The photo shows all the paint samples we were looking at – a subset of twelve different tones were chosen in the end. Happy guessing, which these will be... :-)

Saturday 12 January 2013

Day 10?: Chain Saw Problems and Brilliant Weather

Today was meant to be Day 10 of the construction project, but it wasn't to be. The weather was brilliant, with blue sky and the low midday Sun making the tree tops glow in warm red-orange light. The photo above was taken long the road out of Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory. Also last night was clear, and northern lights were seen north of Sodankylä.

The plan for Day 10 today was to clean up after the ground works. Due to the location of Our House and the water and drainage pipes, quite a number of trees had to be felled. These are now scattered all over the place, and I planned to use the chain saw to cut off their branches and then pile them up somewhere neatly. However, the chain saw – which I bought second-hand in October and never used since – decided that waking from winter sleep isn't desirable. I wasn't able to start it up. It ended up on the "operation table" in our kitchen, got a new spark plug, cleaned air filter, fresh two-stroke fuel, and a carburettor adjustment, but all that didn't help. Thus it'll go back to the shop on Monday, and I will ask them to sort it out. One possible problem might be that the grid in the carburettor is dirty and plugged up, but I couldn't figure out how to take it out of the machine in order to open it. Anyone having any advice, message me. So Day 10 was not to be – for now.

Friday 11 January 2013

Day 9: Stunning Light and Work Planning

Today nothing happened at the site. The concrete continues to dry in mild temperatures of just -6°C to -8°C last night. Sunrise was today at about 10:45 h, and I went to the site at 11:00 h to meet the people who were in charge of the ground works in order to discuss some remaining work and ask for some corrections. We made plans to implement everything on Monday. At the same time, we were rewarded with a stunningly beautiful Lapland-in-winter day. The photo above is a wide panorama, click to enlarge.

The typical and famous blue-and-red winter colours of arctic Lapland, looking to the north. Tomorrow the weather is forecast to be just as nice, and then we will resume work: during the preparation of the ground, a number of trees were felled, and they are not lying scattered around. Tomorrow we will cut their branches off, chop the stems into chunks and pile them up somewhere for future use.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Day 8: Moulds Removed, Concrete Drying

Today not much happened at the site. In the morning, the moulds were removed, and the walls were covered by large tarps. Also the heating system for the concrete was removed. In the early afternoon, I met the site supervisor at Our House, and we discussed the work so far. First, however, we used a very fancy thermometer to measure the surface temperature of the concrete foundations. It turned out that they were frozen in some places (which is bad), and clearly above freezing in other places (which is good). Later in the evening I returned and with the help of my colleague Juha, we covered all the remaining walls. Now the chemical reaction in the concrete is the only source of heat. Let's hope that is enough. The countdown is definitely running: the house will come in a week's time!

The instrument, when pushing a button, projects a crosshair with a laser onto the surface to be measured, and then it does the measurement instantly using the infrared radiation from that surface. In the photo above I am checking out constantly cold floors in our current flat with the instrument. The minimum and maximum temperatures are the ones observed during the same session, and in this case I had pointed at the cold window, and at a halogen spot light. The device is rated to measure temperatures between –35°C and +950°C with an error of less than a degree. This comes at a price, the IR thermometer costs roughly a thousand euros, but fortunately we were able to borrow this one for free.

Since no new photos were taken today, here's an old one from 18th December, when the company, which owns the local electrical grid, brought the cable to our plot. Since we will be slightly off the main road, Rovakaira needed to place three poles to suspend the cables from, and then continue underground to our plot. From there, we had to bring the cables to the house, which happened on Day 5.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Day 7: Use Oil Pressure, Not Blood Pressure!

After yesterday's concrete delivery, the foundations were left to dry for about 30 hours. Tonight, the team from Pohjois-Suomen Perustuspalvelu returned to check the progress. There was water standing in places on top of the concrete, i.e. the temperature at the surface was just above freezing. Fortunately last night's temperature was rather high for this time of the year, only about -8°C, as shown in the graph of the real-time thermometer of the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory.

The pump will still be running for another day keeping the base of the foundations warm. Most of the heat for the drying process comes from within the concrete: the chemical reaction inside generates a lot of heat, which leads to a self-drying process, even in winter, if the mass is just large enough – like under our future fire place.

However, last night a lot of snow fell, as seen in the previous photo. All of the snow on the tarp came overnight. It looks quite bad, and I am not looking forward to the prospect of having to shovel it all out, but we shall worry about that on the weekend. The weather forecast is promising: no more snow fall before the delivery of Our House on Thursday, 17th January.

Today, all the moulds were collected, since the foundations are basically hardened already. When the question arose of how to collect them from the far side of the building, one of the team said "Better use oil pressure than blood pressure!" – Of course he was referring to using the hydraulic pumps of the crane instead of carrying all heavy elements to the lorry.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Day 6: Concrete for the Foundations

Today was another race against the clock. The concrete mixers were scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m., but the electrical cable, which was put down yesterday, needed still to be connected to a temporary fuse box. This process was going on when the first concrete mixer/concrete pump lorry arrived. The photo above shows the readily connected fusebox (grey, in background), as well as the heater/pump system to heat the concrete in order to harden properly despite the frost (grey and red, foreground; the red hose runs through all walls).

The team had done a fantastic job until late last night, and certainly again early today, in order to prepare everything ready for the concrete. The photo above shows the space to be filled, including the steel reinforcements and the red heating hose on the bottom. It seems Our House has central heating already!

At some point we had three concrete lorries on the yard. The one on the right stayed all the time, since it was a combination of mixer and concrete pump. The other lorries came and went, and poured their concrete into the first lorry.

Via the hose at the end of the long arm of the pump, the concrete flowed into the moulds rapidly – and problems appeared. It turned out that our contractors didn't do their job properly and flatten the ground enough. This resulted in large gaps under the moulds. While unfortunate in itself, it was then aggravated by the consistency of the concrete, which was delivered with too high water content. This meant that it was very liquid and flowed straight out of the bottom of the moulds in many places. We ended up needing a couple of extra cubic metres of concrete, another delivery, and lost time. We'll have to see what to do about that in the end. The rather atmospheric shot above shows the end of the hose delivering the concrete, and the flash highlights nicely all the steam in the air: the concrete was delivered hot in order to prevent freezing.

The result looks great though, and owes a lot to the highly competent team from Pohjois-Suomen Perustuspalvelu Oy, who prepared and executed the foundation work – they worked very hard indeed and did a fantastic job. The photo above shows the ready product (well, a corner thereof) after the top had been levelled to the exact building height with the help of a laser level as a reference. The laser is just visible in the distance as a red spot.

PS: Click on the photos for enlarged versions.

Monday 7 January 2013

Day 5: Start of Foundation Work

Today was my first day on the site, and I learnt an important lesson: if you know what you want your contractors to do, don't leave them to do it alone. Quite a few things were not as expected, despite detailed drawing and explanations. Thus the morning was a race to work around the missing bits. Most importantly, the electron inflow promised for Saturday had not been done, and thus a long trench was dug first thing in the morning. Fortunately, we had asked for spare tubing to be inserted in order to feed electricity out of the house for future buildings and lighting etc. These came in handy now, because they proved the only way to get electricity delivered in first place.

A big "Thank You!" goes to the technical staff of Rovakaira Sodankylä, which – for the second time in a few days – changed their plan for the day instantly to respond to my calls for help. Well done! The photo shows them suspending a cable drum from a crane above the trench. They then unrolled the cable from there as much as needed.

The cable was then tied together with a copper grounding wire and pushed through my 50-mm white plastic tube into the area inside the foundations. The white tube on the right is a bit cut off accidentally by the digger – we had to rush, and there was no time for shovels, because the next work team had already arrived.

A lorry from Oulu brought all the bits and pieces to make the moulds for our foundations – and those of an identical house to be built elsewhere in Sodankylä soon after our's. Here one can see the team unload the first pile of wooden walls, which will later form the moulds. Also visible is the FinnFoam, which has been spread out in the areas of the foundation walls. The foundation will be hollow, consisting of a rectangle and a wall longitudinally in the centre for extra support. The thing on the tripod in the distance isn't a camera (not yet!), it's a laser levelling system.

The final photo of today's blog entry is a picture of the van belonging to the other member of the two-person foundation work team, bringing extra equipment, and featuring a 220-V inverter and a microwave oven. More important for us is the machine in the foreground, and the canisters. This is the heating system, which allows for the concrete to dry our fast despite the cold. When the concrete will be poured in, pipes will be embedded in it, through which a special, heated liquid will be pumped. The machine in the picture is a pump and electrical heater combination. By heating the concrete, it will dry out in some 24 to 36 hours.

Fortunately, the temperature was a rather pleasant -10°C all day with a thin cloud cover, but in the evening the sky cleared up and some stars were visible, so it might get cold. Tomorrow early morning, the concrete will arrive.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Day 4: A House Needs Electricity

Today, Saturday, our contractor Arska arrived himself on the site to dig in the electrical cables for feeding the house with much needed electrons. In addition, four 50-mm flexible irrigation tubes were put into the gravel, which allow additional electrical supply lines from the main fuse box in the house to eventual other consumers on the yard: most importantly the cables for external lighting and for the the cars' block heaters will need to be installed before the next winter comes.

The yellow piles in the background were delivered today, too, with some delay due to the delivery person falling ill last week. They are FinnFoam sheets, which will be spread on the ground to prevent the ground from freezing under the house in winter. FinnFoam is a lot smarter than polystyrene in that it is non-compressible, and completely sealed: water can enter only the pores directly destroyed by cutting the sheets, i.e. the top couple of millimetres. Even if submerged for a year, FinnFoam stays dry on the inside, and thus retains its insulating capabilities.

Why does the ground need to be prevented from freezing? The problem is that water, when freezing, actually expands, and thus a process of freezing and melting under the house can lead to shifting of material under the house, and the house can end up at a strange tilt – though I doubt frost had anything to do with the tilt of the famous tower in Pisa... :-)

Finally, a nice photo of today's sunrise – or is it sunset or indeed midday? At this time of the year, the Sun doesn't rise much above the horizon. It looks like the digger's been here, too...

Friday 4 January 2013

Day 3: More Machines and Some Pipes

Day 3 of the construction saw gravel being filled in in order to raise the foundations to the correct level and to provide a solid base for it all. The panorama above shows that another yellow toy, aka wheeled loader, has arrived. It seems we lost quite a few more trees than we anticipated (the gap in the middle of the photo). Apparently, this was necessary in order to dig the trench for the water pipes to where we can connect to the regional network. On the other hand, we wanted to have a nice view from the living room and kitchen, so we would've at least thinned out the forest anyway. At least now we don't need to worry about buying fire wood for next winter.

The next photo is a sign of things to come: these pipes will connect a well to the heating system of our house. The well will be drilled some 100 m or so into the bed rock and provide us with geothermal energy.

Above, the gravel area marks the location of our future house, and the grey pipes with orange caps indicate the waste water drains. The one closest by is for the kitchen, the one right behind and furthest away is for sauna and shower, and the one offset to the right is for the toilet/bathroom. In the background again the pipes for the geothermal well.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Day 2: Terraforming!

Trees? What trees? Yes, it looks scary, everything's changing. And I am in Germany, unable to see it happening. But I have to admit that our daughter was right, the digger does look just like the LEGO one! Nice.

The photo above shows the view from the northern border of our plot. The house will be somewhere there – or so we think. I hope the precision measurements placed before Christmas survive the ground works. Click on the image for an enlarged version.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Day 1: The Digger Arrived!

As you might know, we shall be moving into our own house in about four month's time – if all goes well. Today, 2nd January 2013, the digger arrived, and work on the land commenced. The photo above shows the "before" photo of our new home on 30th October 2012.

Our daughter's comment was that it looks just like Daddy's LEGO digger, and it really is very similar, but fortunately quite significantly bigger than the model.

The jobs ahead are removing trees, excavating top soil, compacting, pipe laying, electricity cabling, filling with gravel, frost insulation. Timetable? Needs to be done by Friday. Ouch. Let's go!