This post is aimed at the many people who have purchased my eBook called “Building a House in Thailand” and may be of limited interest to others. I thought about publishing it separately only for those who have invested in the book but I decided to share it as a normal post. If you are building here and you haven’t bought the book then you will most likely lose money and time as a result. Up to you 🙂

Hi Tony,
Just want to say your book is the best $25 l have ever spent on a book. Absolutely invaluable to me.
We will be settling down at Ban Nong Kung near Yang Talat. l was originally going to build the house to all the wrong ideas, your book and the reasons you have done certain things have won me over and l have been re drawing up the plans using a lot of your ideas.
I’m up to page 300 so far god knows what else will change by page 700. LOL
Bruce M – Australia

I am loving your book – just on my second read at the moment, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything first time around (which actually it turns out I did!).  We intend building close to Udon fairly soon, but have had some issues with a couple of excellent potential land plots (both deemed too expensive, and too far from Mama!!)

Just a note of thanks at this point ……. I am a fairly methodical sort of bloke, but there are many issues which your book highlights which I just wouldn’t have thought about – or if I had, I may well have assumed they were “standard” building practice [U-bends, drain positioning, barge-board alignment] – if it hadn’t been for your excellent descriptions!!  I will probably still “miss” something – that’s the nature of building/design – but thanks to you, it shouldn’t be anything too mission-critical.

So leaving the sales pitch aside let’s get started.

A very popular series in this blog were the weekly posts that followed the building of our house commencing in November 2014 and ending with our moving into the place late March 2015. You can follow the entire process with lots of helpful building tricks and time/money saving ideas by buying the eBook HERE. I published an update in September 2015 when we made some additions and improvements to the original house, which you can find HERE.

Today I thought I would write a warts and all update that summarises my experience of living in the house for over two years. It is a very personal list of pluses and minuses that may have no relevance to any building project you have in mind for Thailand but there may just be some aspects that will get you thinking and might influence some aspects of your final design. These are in no particular order – I just wrote a list of things I wanted to cover and here they are:

Wall cracking:

I suspect this is more unique to my build but the small almost hairline cracks that have appeared in the walls continue to plague me even as I type.

These are not structural cracking in any way even though we didn’t use the steel mesh bonding between AAC blocks and concrete columns that some people recommend. I am not able to offer any insight as to why they continue to happen. They have appeared both inside all over the house and mostly on one wall on the outside. A bad mix of render? I have just completed scraping out and filling in these cracks in different locations for maybe the fifth time and I am not a happy man when doing it.

These are the cracks after I have prepared them for filling in my blog room. 

They are very inconspicuous beforehand and I could get away with not doing anything but I aim for perfection and am constantly disappointed – except with my wife of course 🙂 It may be unlikely you experience the same problems if building a house to similar specifications but be aware that the potential is there.

An Update to the Update – 25 May 2017:

I had a reader make a comment on this post which might provide the answer to this problem He wrote:

I have been told by SCG who manufacture a lot of building supplies in Thailand. That the cracking in the render is due to them putting it on too thick.

Apparently with Qcon or AAC blocks you are only supposed to put a very thin coating of render. But as you would know most of the builders here are used to the regular concrete blocks or red brick. We have the same problem with the cracking in our place. And they did put the render on quite thick.

I actually noticed how thickly the render was being applied during my build and commented on this in the eBook when I wrote:

I was surprised at the amount of render being applied. I was under the impression that one of the benefits of the AAC blocks is that because the surface is pretty smooth, in comparison say to the rough concrete blocks or the red bricks so loved by Thais, that a skim coat of render was all that would be required. Not so evidently. Can’t say I am particularly bothered. The render is cheap and the more bulk to the walls of the house the better from both an insulation perspective and sound reduction.

Obviously in retrospect I should have been bothered and made sure that the walls were constructed at a standard to allow for a thin coat of render rather than the thick “cover all mistakes” version most Thai builders prefer. I think this is an important point to add to your list of must do’s if you are using AAC blocks in the construction of your home.

Since my build I had a reader kindly send me an instruction manual for laying QCon (AAC blocks) in both Thai and English and I have attached them below in PDF format. I would suggest that both you and your builder read through the instructions before you get to this stage if applicable.

How-to-install-Q-CON-block-Thai

Q-CON-Fast-Track-Manual

QCON-Handbook-English

Ceiling/Wall Joint Problems:

This is one where I can offer you some advice. Over time the tape that joins the plasterboard ceiling to the AAC walls (there’s probably a technical term for this) to create a clean cut corner has started to lift creating unsightly edges between walls and ceiling.

It is really hard to capture this in a photo but this is a corner between ceiling a wall that is lifting.

I am sure the same happens in western builds too but there we tend to incorporate cornice or crown molding to cover over any problems.

The molding covers over that joint between ceiling and wall, which might otherwise cause problems especially if two different materials are used.

I went for a simple no frills join firstly because it was cheaper, secondly because I haven’t come across any crown molding and thirdly even if I had I doubt my building team would have ever have seen it before let alone installed any.

I have also had a couple of problems with the joins between the plasterboard sheets that make up the ceiling. I am told that these joins, whether in the ceiling or between ceiling and wall should be plastered over three times and then sanded back to give a stronger bonding between the two surfaces. I think in my case only one coating was applied and although this looked fine in the early days it has caused problems down the track. Do your research on this subject otherwise you may run into longer term issues. I am working to fix this.

A White House:

I do love the almost white theme (it was more a pearl) we ended up using for the house. The Colorbond aluminium roof, the paint colour on the walls and the outside floor tiles all followed this theme and I think it has given me a stylish and non-Thai looking home (the mix of pink, purple and green just doesn’t do it for me for some reason!)

Stylish AND easier to keep looking this good! Not my house I quickly add.

If you have the same inclination for a light coloured house you do need to be aware that it is hard work. I understand why Thais go for those vivid colours because they are better able to hide the dirt that seems to be part of life here. Certainly in a rural village I am amazed by how much maintenance is required to keep things looking to standard – in my eyes anyway. The place is super dusty. Even in a double block walled house with quality windows that are mostly closed everything even inside still gets coated with dust very quickly.

Outside the seasonal farming cycles like burning sugar cane adds to the mess. Geckos and lizards shit everywhere (sorry for my language), slugs appear after the rains and leave slime marks up walls and glass doors and so it goes. As soon as you have a patch of wet if you step in it your footprints in the dust will show up wherever you go.

White looks great but requires constant attention to keep clean.

A darker coloured house doesn’t reduce any of this impact but it does hide it better. If you are lazy about appearance then I recommend going for darker colours in tiles especially but maybe walls as well.

Bathroom/ensuites:

A mix of observations here. Firstly the timber veneered cabinet from Global House is a little bit of show rather than go. I think they are still available so I will cover them specifically in case anyone is looking at buying one. The handles are all a super cheap plastic and the silver will peel off in the first 12 months. We replaced them with metal handles, also bought from Global, at a cost of around 70 baht each. No big deal but it is a bit frustrating to be fixing things so soon after moving into a new house. The silver feet are also poor quality and will tarnish quickly. The silver overflow cover under the tap will turn black within a few months. I am not sure I would have changed my decision to buy these units as I still think they look smart but I would have spent more time considering other options.

On the plus side the veneer is holding together and I do like having drawers, a storage cabinet and a place to put things next to the sink.

I wrote in the book about my endless search for non-slip white floor tiles. In retrospect I would have gone for a darker colour. If you go barefoot as I do then there’s no way you don’t get pretty dirty feet by the end of the day no matter how well you keep your floors cleaned. I find that this foot dirt transfers very well onto the white bathroom floor tiles and after time gets imbedded and requires a lot of effort to clean. Maybe the shiney but more slippery tiles would be better at rejecting the dirt. The grout is also a good holder of dirt and the white theme also enhances any discolouration.

The non-slip tiles are certainly that but we use bath mats and tend to step from the shower onto them so the benefit of the non-slip is perhaps less than I thought. I still think that they are worth consideration especially if you are heading into that older aged and more accident prone stage of your life. Don’t get me started on people who design houses with lots of steps for their retirement 🙂

I have it in mind to change the theme of the bathrooms to something more dramatic and easier to maintain sometime this year. Tiles are cheap as is the labour to lay them. I will be going darker and maybe less non-slip to minimise maintenance.

The small drainage outlet in the very corner of the shower, one of my real hates, due to the builder’s stuff-up and my oversight still annoys me. From a practical point of view it also is easier to block up because it is so tiny with surface material and needs cleaning more often. If I do upgrade the floor tiles with a renovation then I will see if the following solution can be incorporated into the shower design:

I have seen something like this in Global with the drainage outlet on the far left hand side, which might work for my situation.

The shower head, which doesn’t sit in the middle of the wall as I also reported in the book, is also a shame but there’s not much I can do about that one without breaking open the wall. It is a minor fault.

The new rain shower head – see below. BTW my walls aren’t that green. I couldn’t be bothered editing the photo 🙂

One of my priorities for the shower was to have lots of hot water, which meant a storage hot water system (the Stiebel Eltron unit we purchases has operated faultlessly) and a high pressure shower head so that I could have a decent shower, which you just can’t get with those wall heaters – even the 6.5 kw units. I bought a large Thai made rain shower head and had three of them burst their seams over time. I don’t think Thais factor in the sort of water pressure we westerners might take as standard in the design of their shower heads. I ended up replacing them with Hafele German ones (see above) at double the cost but and have had no more problems since.

The lighting in the bathroom isn’t bad but could be better. I put in two lights one in the centre and one LED over the basin. I like bathrooms to be quite bright so this has ended up being a little underpowered. In retrospect I would have put in four LEDs and maybe not had the central light. I should have also added glass bricks to the wall that separates the shower enclosure from the rest of the bathroom. This is very personal to my design so may not be of interest to you. The bricks would have allowed light from that window to enter the shower enclosure, which would have been a better outcome and also added extra interest. It will be incorporated in the renovations if they happen. Extra LEDs might be possible too but obviously more difficult now.

Glass bricks required above the towel rack.

Just a small tip while I think of it. If you are using a bore/well for house water even with a water softening system (more on this later) then you may still get a slow clogging up of your toilet cistern. The calcium (hard water) attaches to the plastic and becomes sort of “sticky” preventing the free movement of the flush and refill arm. You can clean this by buying a large container of vinegar (about 65 baht for 5 litres in Makro), emptying it into the cistern, filling the rest up with water and leaving it overnight. Give the moving parts a hit with a slightly abrasive sponge the next day and you should be good to go for another year.

Storage:

My tip is that you will need more than you have planned for (if you have indeed planned for any). Thai houses are useless on built in storage because Thais tend not to accumulate all the absolutely essential “stuff” we westerners do 🙂 I wanted built-in wardrobes in both bedrooms but ended up buying ready made units from Living Index, which look good and do the job.

The storage units in the spare bedroom.

However I didn’t properly provide for what most Australian houses have as standard, a linen cupboard. I thought the panty (to be discussed next) would be sufficient but it definitely isn’t. Luckily the way my blog computer area off the main bedroom has worked out there is the space to add a cupboard which now holds all the linens. The post-build budget being what is was I went for a local unit at 3,500 (?) baht rather than the Living Index one at several times that. The cupboard is hidden away so I don’t think that’s a problem.

The linen cupboard on the right. It fits in fine into this little area.

Do have a good think about what your internal storage requirements are going to be (and then probably double it!) and consider how that will work with your house design. You may not plan storage incorporated into the construction phase but you do need to allow for cupboard and shelving space in the overall design.

Pantry:

While we are on the subject of storage my design incorporated a walk-in pantry and I love it. Once again Thais wouldn’t understand so if you are relying on your partner to set your design standards you’ll be stuffed 🙂 Thai cooking involves a couple of bottles and a few jars and they’re done 🙂 If you want to be doing any farang cooking you know what an amazing collection of herbs, oils, jars, tins and packets we accumulate just to product one meal!

Is this house owned by a farang or a Thai……….This photo says it all.

There is also a need to store all the other basics for running a house western-style. Spare light bulbs, exotic cleaning products, a vacuum cleaner, an iron and ironing board, alcohol, plastic shopping bags  etc etc. Now you don’t need a walk-in pantry to store all of this and freestanding cupboards elsewhere will do the job but once again do allow for your lifestyle and don’t rely on Thais to think of this aspect for you.

A minor point but I miscalculated slightly on the depth of the pantry. I wanted more storage so ended up adding more shelving behind the door, which was the space I originally planned to allow the door to fully open. As a result the door can now only open 2/3rds, which is still plenty to give full access to the main pantry space but in the pursuit of perfection not quite there. The pantry is 105 cm deep and would only have needed another 5 cm.

I haven’t replaced the fluorescent tube light in the pantry and it still annoys me by sputtering to fire up when all I want is instant light to make a quick find on the shelves. As I stated in the eBook I would go for a normal light in this situation. It will happen next time I get an electrician in.

I used the pantry to locate the fuse box (do you really want one on the lounge wall?) and the access to the roof space. Both of these are best hidden and the pantry has worked well on that aspect.

Floor Tile Spacing:

The standard floor tiling that I have seen in Thailand uses minimal spacing in between the tiles. They are almost totally butted up against each other with no spacing or grout. I am sure you have noticed the same.

Our entry hall.

A closer view of the tiling.

Now this looks very smart and clean from a design point of view and will certainly be what your tiler will be aiming for unless you specify otherwise. My experience of Australian tiling (other countries may differ) is that floors looks like the example below with spacing between each tile.

Now my post-build concern is what happens if one tile should become damaged? This doesn’t have to be anything structural but what if you drop something heavy on it and chip of crack a tile? Trying to extract a single tile when the edges butt so closely against the next tile means that you are almost bound to chip the edges of the four tiles that surround the one you want to remove. In the western example above at least you have a “safety” barrier of the grout line to protect the adjoining tiles making it less likely you will chip many trying to remove just one. I just don’t know how it would work in a Thai situation. You’d end up replacing the whole floor or buying a mat!

If I had my time over I would have got the tiler to use spacers and build in a grout join around all my tiles to make for easier replacement if something went wrong.

The other thing you should check out is the type of mortar used to lay your tiles, on both floor and walls. On my build they used a cement mixture and the tiles are almost impossible to remove if you need to (and I did with some cracking in the bathrooms). I suspect that the cement also makes them more prone to cracking with any underlying movement in the walls/floor.

Can you spot that hairline crack across two of my bathroom tiles? That has resulted from a very minor surface crack in the wall behind it. In a western sense that is unlikely to transfer through the mortar to cause the tiles to break.

I was lazy with this aspect and have regretted it. You can find proper western tiling adhesives and the tools to lay them as a tradesman would back “home” and I do recommend you explore this option.

Gaun inspecting proper tiling solutions at Boonthavorn in Udon Thani.

Doors:

I think that every door in my place partly closes on its own! I have many door stops which add a comic interest and only cost 10 baht each but once again it isn’t ideal. I just haven’t got around to having a go at correcting them as suggested on sites such as this one HERE but will one day (I have more time now that I am retired but do less with my day!).

Cute but not on the design plans!

I only raise this because working with timber on more exact aspects of a build like this may not be high on your builder’s skillset. It obviously wasn’t with Ming, my builder along with his plumbing expertise. Things like doors are happening towards the end of the construction and by this time you may be feeling the pressure to just get the thing done and move in, which can result in you overlooking poor workmanship like this. I seem to remember that I noticed these self closing doors but thought that I would just fix it myself later. Well later is still my timing on fixing this 🙂 I can give advice freely so do as I say not as I do – keep on top of the small quality aspects like this even though you don’t want to slow down the completion process.

BTW the hardwood doors that I paid extra for at Global House are rubbish. The panels like the one in the photo above are very thin and tend to crack as they dry out. I can see several spots of daylight through my front door, which is due for a replacement. The joins between the frame and these panels has never been sanded at time of manufacture and reflects the pretty shoddy design of this make of door. Look for something better. PLEASE re-read my comments on the variation on the thickness of the door and the standard Thai door frame (door 30mm thick and door frame 35mm). It is one of those little things that will catch you out.

Why I am thinking of replacing the front door? This is a reminder of what I have now:

Full sized photo above.

Firstly I am not happy with the quality as I have said but mainly it is because the solid door puts a barrier between inside and outside and the rest of the house has been designed for that not to happen.

If you compare the lounge area and the entry hall in this photo you will see that one flows into the garden while the other is a dead end.

There is a bridge over the koi pond leading to the front door and this view beyond. It is worth getting a glimpse of this from inside rather than exclude it with a (almost) solid door.

I want to find a glass/timber door 35mm thick that will open up the entry hall to the garden. It has been added to my to-do list.

Quality:

Now for the majority of you reading this you will be exactly like me and probably losing sleep worrying about the budget as your build progresses. Your fitout purchases will be largely decided on price and when you compare the 2,500 baht kitchen sink with the 5,000 baht one they both look as if they will do the job. Both are nice and shiny on display in Global House.

The downside is that I can say with some certainty that the cheap things you buy will often underperform in the longer term. Now because I didn’t buy the expensive ones I can’t say that they would be better but I suspect that might be the case.

Take the kitchen sink as an example. The super silver look I bought two years ago has turned into a dull unit and there’s nothing I can do to bring it back to its original glow. It isn’t ugly but it also isn’t what I bought. You will find that hard water (calcium) from bore/well water will take attack all your shiny things – sinks, taps and basin plugs. Would a more expensive unit do better? Maybe not but what I can say is that the cheap one won’t keep its finish (my experience only and you may have struck it lucky with cheap and quality combined). Taps, the sink outlet fittings, electrical plug outlets (you end up with drooping plugs), doors and windows, insect screens and so on. Some of these are things that will degrade in looks, and that may not worry you and others in performance, which might be of concern.

I am not suggesting it is practical or realistic for you to buy expensive, and I hate the concept of paying money just for show, but maybe some aspects of your build would benefit long term with a little extra spent up front.

Windows:

We have lived with our DeKu windows and sliding doors for two years now so how do they rate? I still have mixed feelings about them. On the whole they are working as designed. I had one double glazed unit fail (they need to be sealed to keep moisture and dirt out) but that was replaced painlessly by DeKu. I got charged for labour but not the pane of glass, which was reasonable. I still think that there are better designed and built units out there perhaps at the same sort of cost and the options may have grown since we built back in 2014/15. If you remember from the book my problem was trying to find a supplier I could afford who was willing and able to install in Isaan as well. If I was building in Pattaya, Phuket or Bangkok I might have ended up with a different supplier.

What I can also say is that having seen some of the cheaper off the shelf units in local houses there is no way they compare in any way to the solid nature of the DeKu product. Talk about flimsy and they also have insect screens that will stop working after 12 months in my opinion.

I still like the really chunky look of my doors and windows but that is a very personal thing of course. The chunkiness plus the 6mm glass makes the sliding doors heavy to open and close and that’s a downside especially if you have kids (although keeping them outside may be a plus!) The double glazing in the bedrooms certainly makes a noticeable difference in reducing the noise of a rural Isaan village at nighttime and early morning and I have no regrets on that score.

Exactly what I wanted. A house that connected to the garden. These double doors open to expand the living area to the outside.

And this is the area through those glass doors.

The insect screens on the DeKu sliding doors in particular are a pretty ordinary effort (but way better than the Thai ones I have seen) and as I come from a country where screens are standard on every build I have some experience to make that statement. They are made from thin plastic,which means that if slightly warped they can’t be corrected and won’t slot smoothly into the frame on closure. They slide directly against the door frame, which will wear the frame coating over time and this “design” doesn’t provide a reliable sealing. DeKu make reference to their German design expertise but either the Germans don’t “do” insect screens or this aspect of their product is more Chinese/Thai than German. Talk to an Aussie – they know what a good insect screen looks like.

Another vinegar tip. If you water your garden using bore/well water then any splashback that gets on your windows will spot (the calcium). If you leave the marks there long term they will become almost impossible to get out. The best way to remove them is to buy a 20 baht spray bottle and fill it with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water (filtered). Spray on, leave for a short period and wipe off. You can also use this solution to effectively (and cheaply) remove the spots from taps, shower fittings etc.

Water Softener System:

I hope you have read the detailed explanation of a water softening system that I included in the book. A whole chapter no less. Effectively removing the calcium and mineral elements (hard water) from your water is important in my opinion especially longer term but the concept is a mystery to many (me included at the beginning)  Hard water will clog up your pipes, stop your toilet flushing or keep it running full time, burn out your heating element if you have a storage hot water system, permanently stain all your taps and sink and leave marks on glassware and crockery.

I bought a Master system from Global House for around 16,000 baht from memory and honestly it isn’t up to the job. At the time I thought I was buying a water filter (to clean the water) not a softening system, which says it all about my level of  knowledge at the time. The Master unit is either too small to fully extract the hard water elements or the pump that pushes the unfiltered water through the softening unit is too powerful. Either way (or both) although the softener makes a noticeable difference it isn’t 100%. The main outcome is that our internal drinking water filtration unit isn’t functioning because it gets clogged up too quickly. The reverse osmosis filter in the unit costs 1,200 baht to replace and only lasts a couple of weeks. We also get some hard water spotting on taps, showerheads etc. The system is flushed manually using brine (salt water) every couple of weeks, which is a to-do item and reducing your to-do’s is probably a goal in your retired life. You can buy automatic units at double the cost.

Since moving in we have come across a local (Nong Bua Lamphu) water filtration business (Thai owned) that comes recommended and given my lack of expertise I would have got them to assess and install an appropriate system. It is on my list to have reviewed at some stage when money is available. There is a farang owner shop Buriram if you are from that way and you can find his details HERE. I will report back on any future changes to our water softening system.

While on the subject of drinking water, since our filter stopped working we just buy use these 20 litre plastic bottles that are refilled with filtered water for 10 baht. We have three of them plus one of these nifty easy to pour stands and that amount of drinking water does us (mainly two sometimes three people) for a month. A$1.20 a month for drinking water isn’t too much burden on the budget.

250/300 baht for the stand. Well worth the cost.

I am not sure we will go back to maintaining a filtration unit in the future even if it was an option.

Eaves/Roof Overhang:

I allowed for eaves of one meter overhang all around the house and I wish I had made them wider. Once again this comes down to what I would like now versus what I had in the budget then. In an ideal world post-lottery win I would have made the eaves at least two meters wide but say 1.5 meters minimum. This would give extra sun/heat protection to the walls and windows and reduce the splashback on the tiles from the very heavy rain we get.

You can see the standard eaves in the background and in the front the extension to the roofline we made since moving in.

The same view from the opposite side.

On the east side, the view above, I would have taken the wider roofline and extended it the full length of this side of the house. That would have given better protection from early morning sun and extended our outside living areas. I have a reader who bought the eBook (I am referring to you Mike) who will be building a house outside Udon along the traditional Australian Queenslander style, which so suits a Thai climate (the north of Queensland is tropical for those who don’t know Australia). Here are some examples of the style, which incorporates outside living areas into the house design through the use of wrap around verandahs with rooms opening directly onto them:

A rather grand example.

A smaller version.

So suitable for Thai tropical living. I love the timber floor in this example. An expensive option in Thailand with some concerns for termite activity although that’s a problem in Queensland too.

I think the use of shutters to filter the light and reduce the amount of rain that would get inside is a great talking point and practical too.

Mike I think you are spot on with your concept and I look forward to seeing it once completed if invited.

 Outside Overhead Fans:

This was another expense option at the time, which I rejected. It is a shame that I didn’t go ahead with two overhead fans, one in the outside living area on the east side and the other in the dining/Thai kitchen area on the west. We have large free standing fans in both areas but they are noisy and the airflow is sometimes more than is needed. I prefer a more gentle stirring of the air that a decent overhead fan provides on a low setting. I find that I have become very Thai in that I am usually looking for some air movement and turning on a fan is the first step to sitting down somewhere. Do you find that too? I can retrofit these but as always it would have been easier at the time.

We have four internal overhead fans and a couple of the direct portable fans as well. I have found that the more expensive Mitsubishi four speed fans work very quietly on the slow setting and do the job even with high ceilings while the cheaper three speed fans also available have a much faster rotation on the low setting.

Thai Kitchen versus Farang Indoor Kitchen:

The house design incorporated both a big internal farang style kitchen and an outside Thai kitchen, which included space for an Aussie BBQ and small oven. I had read many comments from other westerners stating their Thai partners wouldn’t make the transition to cooking inside so I expected that I would be the only person using the internal kitchen. It was the main aspect of the house that I thought was going to be for show rather than go. Well not all Thais are the same and Gaun has totally accepted the convenience and comfort of cooking inside and now does so most of the time.

A well used kitchen.

This Mex rangehood performs very well and we have had no problems with it so far. Try to avoid the rangehoods with plastic motors.

I do recommend an outside kitchen for those spicier Isaan dishes especially those using “fish dead long time”, a literal translation of the powerful fermented fish sauce used here. Your partner may insist on it but don’t rule out that they might adapt to life away from insects, geckos, ants and dust and cook in comfortably inside.

Utilities Area:

This was originally a clear clothes drying area but Gaun can’t help herself. Large items are now dried at her mama”s place!

Do allow for an area to dry clothes and somewhere to store garbage and recycling bins. I did have a utilities area at the back of the house that incorporated an under the eaves washing machine. This got quickly transferred to a real laundry in a new storage area we built late 2015 (why ruin a good machine machine with sun and rain). However my plans for a clothes drying space got taken over by Gaun’s love of plants. You can but try.

The Pond:

We have a small koi pond at the front of the house with a bridge over it leading to the front door.

The pond almost hidden in greenery on the right.

Keeping water clean especially with a combination of water plants and fish is a real challenge and I wouldn’t go into it lightly if you are looking to incorporate water into your garden theme. It is a constant battle to keep the water clear and the dust that seems to be a constant in rural Isaan will quickly cover the bottom of your lovely tiled pond. Green algae will take over given the chance and the occasional snake will enjoy a dip (we’ve only had two in two years). Running a decent sized pump to aerate the pond plus push water through a filter isn’t expensive but it is an extra expense you might not want on a more limited budget. You will need to have a filter and probably use some chemicals to keep the water looking reasonably clear. We built our own filter based on some examples I found on the internet so it doesn’t have to be a big expense.

I have bought several pond pumps from Global House and Thai Watsadu (around 2,500 baht) and their lifespan is a maximum six months run fulltime. I am now trying a commercial unit bought from a local farming supply shop for 1,300 baht. It uses more electricity but at least he gave me 12 months warranty so I will get a longer usage from it.

The pond has been such a challenge that I have considered filling it in but I do love the concept, the sound of running water is always a plus, it looks great and the fish are now part of the family!

The Hedge:

This was another budget decision but also I liked the concept so even with extra money at construction time I would have done it. I wanted to be able to isolate the house/garden from access by animals and roaming humans so we put in an ugly concrete and barbed wire fence but then planted several thousand hedging plants to eventually hide the fence and increase security.

What we started with.

We have ended up with 120 metres of hedging on the perimetre of our land and lots more inside. I come from a city (Canberra) which has an slowish growing period due to a long winter and extremely hot and often dry summers. What we would call a box hedge is a slow growing thing and keeping it under control isn’t a major effort. However in Thailand our hedge has grown like a weed, which in some ways is terrific but in others it is a real pain to keep trimmed. Gaun has taken this on board, as she has with everything in the garden, and it seems that she starts at one end and then by the time she finishes she needs to start again.

As you can see the hedge has done pretty well for a bit over two years growing. Gaun stretching with her cordless hedge trimmer to get anywhere near the top.

This is on our neighbour’s side, which is lower than our land by quite a bit so the hedge looks higher than it is.

That same hedge looking at it from our side almost blocking out those roofs next door. It is over two metres tall. You can see some of the internal hedges too that Gaun has to trim.

My point to this is that you have to have a real commitment to a hedge if you want to grow one here as it is constant work to maintain. I love them but then I don’t have to trim them 🙂

Electric Gate:

I battled with myself spending the money to install this as it seemed like an extravagance especially as Gaun acted as my very own free automatic gate opener. Having bought one (a cheap unit from Global House) and had it installed, a total cost of around 14,000 baht, I wouldn’t be without it. Although it is slow and isn’t fully open by the time we get to the gate (I am never in a hurry these days so who cares) it is a great convenience especially in the wet season – for Gaun of course……..I was always dry in the car 🙂 It stops the kids and a few adults in the street too who have never seen one in action!

The aluminium gate is still looking good. No rust so I hope it is what the Thais call “standard”.

A Cool House – the Hot, Hot Season (March 2016)

This is a topic that is dear to my heart and I push it with enthusiasm whenever I can. It has me totally puzzled why westerners come to an extremely hot climate and then proceed to build houses that take little consideration of the heat. Firstly it is just totally slack and lazy thinking and secondly why wouldn’t they take some simple and inexpensive steps to design a cool house that will save air conditioning costs for the life of the house???? If expats are similar to me with a more limited retirement income any simple ideas of reducing expenditure sounds like a good idea.

I wrote the following for “Isaan- the Small Stories 11” post last year HERE and thought it would provide a good real life example to illustrate this topic:

“I suspect that the hot season has arrived in Isaan 🙂 Thank goodness for a highly insulated house. 40 degrees plus outside (we got to a maximum of 43 for a number of days and have had six weeks over 40) and it is a comfortable 28 inside without air. Even cheap foil insulation under the roof would make a big difference but most Thais and quite a number of farang don’t use it.

We lived in Gaun’s mama’s house for five months while ours was being built and the heat upstairs from the uninsulated tin roof was unbearable during the day. 

As I am on the subject of the temperatures here and building a cool house I thought I would share a couple of relevant photos. I monitor temperatures inside the house, outside and in the roof space and it has been really interesting to watch the effect various aspects of the house design have on internal temperatures.

The first photo shows outside temperature compared to inside with no air con – 39 v’s 29. 

 

The second shows the temperature in the roof space, which if you compare ti to the photo above shows a 5 degree reduction 39 (outside) v’s 34 (roof space). Now this decrease is due entirely to the combination of a light coloured, aluminium roof with silver foil under it bonded to a 5 mm foam insulating material.

This photo below then shows a further 5 degree drop from the roof space to the room temperature inside the house, which is due to Rt 37 foil insulation batts that sit on top of the ceiling and the design of the house with cool walls and no internal sunlight.

The temperature build for a typical day looks like this (no air con):

  • 10:00 am inside 28, outside 35, roof 30
  • 12:00 pm inside 29, outside 39, roof 33
  • 14:00 pm inside 30, outside 41, roof 35

And the cost for all this insulation – 35,000 THB or A$1,400!!! What a shame all this “high tech” is beyond most Thai builders and many farang too.”

The words above focussed on the insulation, which certainly forms an important part of your armory against the heat but there are other important aspects too.

I have double AAC block walls but I think that a single AAC wall would be pretty efficient at resisting the heat too. I can put my hand on the my west facing internal wall that’s being hit with the setting sun on a 40 plus degree day and there will be absolutely NO transference of heat. Try that with your single Thai concrete block or small red brick wall. It will be radiating heat into your house for much of the night.

Make sure that no sunlight gets into your house by thinking through the placement of windows and the location of your house on the land. Wide eaves and massed planting on the east and west to stop the low early morning sun and hot evening sun from hitting walls and windows will all help in time. All it takes is a little thought and planning. Sermon over.

Soundproofing

I have touched on this already. The double walls, decent windows, double glazing in the bedrooms and thick ceiling insulation makes for a house where the sounds of roosters, dogs, early morning village announcements over loud speakers, tractors heading to the fields at 5:30 am, trucks selling things via speakers, parties for funerals, weddings and monk initiations are all kept mostly on the outside. I also have the house set back as far as possible from the road. I hate noise so for me this was money well spent and a successful outcome. For others noise isn’t a problem so you can design your house accordingly.

Door Handles

A super small suggestion. As you know you can either get door handles with rounded knobs or the longer handles. I recommend the latter because you can open a door if you have both hands full (a beer in one hand and a burger in the other for example) using your elbow. Once again keeping in mind that we are mostly a retired and older group of farang (minimise the stairs people) if you do have problems down the track with your hands then it is far easier to open a door with the handle rather than a knob.

 Boonthavorn – Udon Thani

This is one for locals and of little interest to other expats. The DIY part of me can’t resist browsing a new building themed store and this one in Udon Thani is a beauty.

In presentation and in some aspects of stock it leaves the opposition absolutely for dead. Called Boonthavorn, although the streetside signage is all in Thai, it has only recently opened and is a must to include on your supplier list if you are building in the area, and I know of a few readers who are. It is on the 216, the ring road just after the airport as you head into Udon and it is on the left.

A massive selection of tiles.

The cafe and landscaped area hidden away at the back is worth a visit even if you want nothing to do with building supplies! Very upmarket for our little corner of Thailand.

Well I have crossed off everything on my list but I may have missed some aspects. Who knows, there may be another update at some stage.

As you can see I have been lucky in that although after two years there are a few minor problems requiring attention no major structural faults have appeared. The house seems solid, leak free and generally well built. I am also delighted with the design. For me it works 100%, which is such a relief after spending so much time trying to get it right on paper in Chiang Mai. It has appealed to others too because as far as I know there are four copies of my house design being built in Thailand with modifications.

Good luck with your build whenever and wherever that might be. I hope you get as much enjoyment and as few ongoing hassles as I have with my home.

Thanks for reading and for buying my eBook.

Tony