Updated 6 July 2016:
I have just published a 750 page eBook that follows the challenges, frustrations and successes of building a house in Thailand from the very start of us buying the land through to moving in and beyond. You will be part of our building team for every day of construction and I will share many do’s and don’ts all designed to save you time, money, sleepless nights or all three. This book is a must have as part of your research on the subject of building in Thailand and you can find it HERE.
We moved into the new house at the end of March and I see that my last building post, which you can find HERE, covered the first couple of weeks after we moved in. This had us installing the kitchen benchtop and the front wall being built. The inside was mostly complete apart from wardrobes in the bedrooms and some detail work.
I thought I would update those of you following the build with what my impressions have been after two months of living in the house and what additional work has gone on. I had a reader suggest that I had gone quiet writing new material for the blog because I was spending my time watching the mangos grow. There’s a lot of truth in that comment but not completely true as it relates to the house 🙂
I have had a number of visitors since we moved in and the common question they all ask is “has the design worked?” No matter how much time and effort you put into drawing up plans on paper the supreme test of success is liveability day to day and this house works extremely well. Therefore my answer to that question is “yes” but I have a few reservations and I will share those with you here.
This bit is a really Thai house build enthusiast topic only so I would skip it if building in Thailand isn’t on the agenda. If it is you will find this topic helpful.
Insulation and cool house design is always a “hot” topic in Thai building forums. I would like to tell you that I built the best solution and all of you should be following my example. Double thickness AAC or super-block walls, quality windows with double glazing in the bedrooms, insulation under the roof and on the ceilings, light coloured high quality aluminium roofing and minimal window exposure to the direct sunlight. It all sounds promising but does it work?
Will it surprise you to hear that as an ex-government employee I can comfortably answer that question with a “yes” and a “no”!
The whole package does provide a measure of protection from the heat, and for those of you in Thailand at this time hasn’t it been hot. Up to 40 sometimes and certainly in the high 30’s daytime in Isaan. The house never heats up more than 31 degrees inside where outside shade temperatures are as mentioned. The direct sun temperature is obviously higher. So I can say that a 31 degree house is better than a 40 degree one, and the family home we lived in while our house was being built with its uninsulated tin roof and wooden walls was hitting temperatures higher than 40. However for me anyway anything above the high 20’s inside starts to be uncomfortable. 31 is certainly liveable with a fan but it’s not that “hit” of cool as you enter the house that you’d like it to be.
So success in building a house that is cooler than outside air temperature but not successful as I would like in the overall outcome.
The reason for this shortfall can be explained both in house design and the type of heat we have here in Isaan and probably elsewhere. The forums argue endlessly about high insulation v’s a more Thai low or no insulation alternative. Building a very insulated house such as mine does give benefits by minimising the effect of external temperatures. Close the house up in the morning and minimise exposure to sunlight and the internal temperature only goes up a couple of degrees during the day. The downside is, as debated in the forums, in that the heat then gets trapped internally if the outside temperatures drop below the internal. Here the Thai “solution” allows the house to quickly expel it’s heat in the evenings and be more comfortable. Bloody uncomfortable in the daytime though.
My high insulation house would work more efficiently in cooling down if we had more movement of evening air. Unless there is a storm around here, as I found in Chiang Mai, the air is almost totally still. Opening windows and allowing cooler evening breezes to flow through the house just isn’t an option as it would be say in a coastal situation or maybe if in a more exposed/higher location.
I am sure that if I left the house open at night we would have a lower “starting” temperature than the 29 degrees we have now. However as most of my openings are sliding doors without security screens, an open house policy at night isn’t a realistic solution. Electronic solutions to draw cooler air inside and expelling hot air through the roof space has been discussed in forums but I haven’t seen a realistic working example.
The solution is one I had always planned and budgeted for – air conditioning in the living areas. Not the ideal solution but the only one on offer in my case. The bedrooms were always going to be air conditioned as 27 degrees is my comfortable sleeping temperature and that isn’t going to happen based only on air temperature in the hot season.
Here the excellent insulation design of the house works in my favour not to exclude heat but to keep artificially generated cool in. The bedroom air con, a 9,000 BTU unit servicing over 30 m2 very easily, is turned off when we get up and the room is still markedly cooler than the non-air conditioned part of the house for most of the day. I am running a 18,000 BTU inverter air con in the living areas covering 70 m2, an area double its rating. It won’t achieve Arctic cool but does definitely gives you that wonderful relief in temperature when you step inside.
How effective are the individual components of the house design? Impossible to say without building several houses and comparing the end result. I believe the main contributor to the “natural” lower internal temperature is the roof colour and insulation. I suspect that if you built the same house with my roof but say double non-AAC block walls and cheap windows you might end up with a hotter house but not dramatically so. I could be wrong – who knows?
I do think you’d have to upgrade air conditioning for this latter design and pay more in electricity costs because the house would “leak” cool air more than mine. Maybe short term savings for longer term costs.
The other major criteria for my design was to reduce the noise of an Isaan village. The double blocks, insulation and double glazed windows were all aimed even more to a quiet outcome than for the heat. Air con fixes your heat problem but apart from ear plugs what legally solves the 5.30 am loudspeaker announcements and endless night time dog singing sessions?
Here I can report that the result is worth every baht spent. The heavy duty 6 mm windows in the living areas vastly reduces daytime noise and the double glazing in the bedrooms is dramatic in its ability to provide for a peaceful night’s sleep. I have now been through a couple of funerals, Songkran and now the lead up to Bun Bang Fie, which you can read about HERE, as well as the travelling speaker trucks and the Moo Baan announcements without having an overwhelming desire to buy rice land in the sticks or change my retirement base.
I am not sure that I could cope with the endless intrusion of noise into my home at anytime of the day or night without medication! If noise is your problem do what I did and live happily.
1. The main bedroom has a large sliding door facing the morning sun. It wasn’t an ideal placement but I wanted to have a room visually connected to the garden. I knew it would be a heat problem and it is. We bought good quality curtains and they stay closed for the morning until the sun moves. The solution was always to build a pergola (a covered area) to protect this window but that hasn’t happened yet.
The second bedroom faces the setting sun but only has a blank double AAC wall on that side. It is the coolest room in the house. I wonder how a double non-AAC wall would cope with the hot afternoon sun compared to the superblock.
2. The effort in building the best shower in Thailand was all worth it. Don’t give me how refreshing a cool shower is! A high pressure, hot as you like shower is blissful no matter what the temperature.
Both Kudos shower heads developed splits six weeks after installation. Maybe they already had faults that weren’t helped by the water pressure going through them. We bought them in January at Global House but didn’t install them for a few months after when the bathroom fitout happened. Global only have a 30 day return policy. I wrote to Kudos stating the facts and received a very prompt response from their representative, a Suwatcharawut Suphaprod, who organised for me to exchange the heads at Global. Excellent follow up and a great result. Thank you Suwatcharawut.
3. Our first electricity bill came in at 2,300 THB or A$85.00 for the month and the second, after we were running the living room air con sometimes during the day, at 4,300 THB. One bedroom air con is on every night. Gaun is also watering the garden a couple of hours a day during the dry and this kicks the bore pump in to top up the main tank and a second pump is used to provide pressure to the hose. That storage hot water must have some effect too.
Considering this is the only major utilities cost as water, sewerage and rates are zero, it is a pretty low expense base. We had to exchange the gas bottle used for all our cooking at a cost of 420 THB or A$15.00. As we bought the original bottle in Chiang Mai when we first moved there November 2013 this a pretty good result!
4. We arranged with PEA, the Provincial Electricity Authority, to exchange our temporary meter box for a permanent version. I thought the new one would be free for an ongoing connection but not so. We paid 12,000 THB for the new one and will get a 10,000 THB refund on the existing one. I think the unit rate reduces once you get a permanent connection but will report back on that next time. Once the wet season starts in earnest Gaun won’t have to water as much as that will reduce costs.
5. The front wall was completed over this period and painted. A stainless steel gate was installed courtesy of a place on the 210 out of Udon heading to Nong Bua Lamphu just after the intersection with the 216 bypass. I can provide further information in the unlikely situation someone reading this wants one. It cost 10,000 THB a meter, a 40,000 cost including installation. Some places charge per square meter so make sure you know what sort of meter you are talking about before ordering.
The gate is set up for a powered opening system but Gaun says she is happy to be the remote and save money! One day maybe.
6. The entry was concreted thanks to the A Team. All done by hand. I have left the driveway as gravel mainly for cost reasons but also because I am well over more building work.
A vivid letterbox, still to receive it’s first mail item, and a sign with our street and Moo Ban number, used a few times in the Thai lottery without success so far, completes the front. Planted up by Gaun.
7. The design of the outside areas has worked really well. The sitting area at the front is the most used part of the house in the daytime. If you are building a house here do make sure you are generous with your comfortable outside living spaces unless you are a type who sits in the air con watching sport, in which case don’t bother. The outlook from here over the pond and garden is relaxing and will only get better as the garden develops.
The dining area on the other side is also used quite a bit for breakfast and dinners. The Thai kitchen gets more of a workout than the inside kitchen although when the flying ants hit, see my post HERE, then all cooking and eating is done inside and it’s great to have that option. I am expecting inside to get lots of use in the cool season November – February as well.
8. The wardrobes in both bedrooms have proved a bit of a challenge. I originally wanted to have built-in wardrobes and the design allowed for that. Finding someone who can give me this result is more difficult. I have ended up ordering stand alone units from Living Index and they will be delivered this Sunday. I will provide photos of both bedrooms next update.
9. The pond is both a wonderful focal point and a pain. Isaan is very dirty in the sugar/dry season with dust and sugar cane residue after burning the crop. The warm water and sunlight has also resulted in excessive green algae rather than the clear water to view Koi fish and two turtles.
The benefit outweighs the work so we will stick with the maintenance. If you do have a green algae problem rather than chemicals try a biofilter option. We have been running ours for a few days and there is a definite improvement. Heaps of info and YouTube videos if you search for “how to build a biofilter” or go HERE.
10. TOT efficiently transferred my wireless broadband from the family home to the new place at a cost of 1,200 THB and two beers. I am still getting the advertised 13 mbps download rate for 690 THB a month plus tax. A new 20 mbps plan is coming soon for 890 THB a month that might be worth checking out.
A satellite dish was fitted at the back of the house, because they are butt ugly, by Tam head of the A Team, a guy who can do anything. We now have 200 + channels of absolute rubbish Asian TV 🙂 I watch farang TV streaming from my laptop to the TV so see no need to buy a True TV type option.
11. House and contents insurance has been taken out through AXA Insurance. 2 million on the house and 400,000 replacement for the contents. Around 6,000 THB a year premium.
12. The overhead fans are wonderful. Don’t build a house without them whatever your Thai wife says. In retrospect I would have put them in the outside areas as well instead of the floor fans we are using.
13. The powered drinking water filter isn’t just a gimmick. We replenish the fridge’s 5 liter water container regularly. This feeds the cool water outlet on the front of the fridge and the ice maker inside. Instead of waiting for the water to be forced through the filters there is a large filtered tank that does the 5 liters and then the filter pump refills quickly.
14. We ended up with heaps of minor surface cracks as a result of using render on AAC blocks. Ming, the builder, came back and did a big two day effort to fill and repaint them all. We have had a couple of new ones but the walls seem a lot more stable now.
15. The huge 3.6 meter front window is a lovely view point for the garden however it does transfer a lot of heat inside. I might have reduced the size had I realised just how much difference it made to the lounge room temperature during the day. A great feature but at a price in cooling efficiency.
Two weeks after moving in we had the basis for a garden thanks to Gaun’s tireless work. Where the house was all my design and input the garden is totally Gaun’s. In this heat I am happy to let her do her thing and also it is her passion and she loves every moment.
I am sure I have missed things I should have told you. If you need any specific information please write.
I might do another update in a few months but it will probably be more on sharing the garden progress for those of you interested in that side of the home. I will also cover the couple of items flagged in this update.
In summery this is a wonderful house and a joy to live in. The combination of high quality living farang style, a beautiful tropical garden in the making and the vibrancy of Thailand just outside the gate is pretty hard to beat.
Thanks for reading.