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.
21 – 26 March, the week we moved in and I can’t tell you what a wonderful moment that was. Obviously the move will be covered in this post but there is a lot else happening still around the build so this week will be a long read. I will also come clean with those things that aren’t right although there is a temptation to set myself up as the only guy who got a house build 100% in Thailand, I’m afraid it isn’t so.
The builders have basically finished the inside and have now moved to some of the more detailed work outside, which gave us the the freedom to claim the house and move in. There is still some work to be done inside to make it fully operational. The main one is the kitchen which is waiting the granite benchtop. Until that arrives we can’t install the sink, connect the drinking water filter or cut in the gas cooktop.
There are some very minor touch-ups around the place that others may not notice but I do. Rather than get Ming involved I will do them myself over time although if I leave them long enough I won’t see them any more and save myself the effort!
The week started with that slightly frantic activity when the builders know you are hanging out to move and they try to get everything finished so you can get going. The ensuites were the main delay at this stage and all action was happening in this part of the house. The plumbing, which has been the most woeful aspect of the build, was causing all sorts of problems. I have done some building work in the past but never tackled plumbing and I thought Ming knew what he was doing in things like the location of the piping etc. so basically left him to it. Mistake.
For some reason the outlet pipes for the two wash basins and the kitchen sink have been positioned as close to the wall as you could get. The toilet outlets were in the right place thank goodness but the water inlets weren’t. All of this required extensive work to reposition everything when if they were located correctly in the first place a lot of time and effort could have been saved.
LESSON: Even if you know nothing about whatever aspect of the build is happening at this moment it could well be that you know more than the Thai builders! Given my time again I would have been a lot more active in the placement of the plumbing pipes before the slab was poured.
However as I wasn’t paying for the labour it was nothing to me other than time. The end result has worked out fine as you can see below:
Cold water to the basin only. I never used hot water in Australia so saw no point adding it here. The measurement is 2.8 x 2.0 meters and is a spacious and uncluttered space. The ceiling extractor fan is a Panasonic and will cost you more than double a window mounted one. This one has a flexible pipe that takes it to a vent cut into the eves.
It is very quiet and seems to do the job. I went for this option rather than the wall one because I wanted to be able to seal the bathroom from noise at night and I also think they look ugly.
I will stick to the bathroom theme and show you some minor but avoidable mistakes.
Before I talk about the negatives let me tell you that this is the best shower in Thailand by far! Massive amounts of water, you can have it as hot as you like and it is just bliss after 1 1/2+ years of rubbish “run around to get wet” showers with lukewarm water.
However the shower head and tap aren’t in the middle of the wall 🙁 and this applies to both showers, which if you are trying to achieve the best result possible is one for the minus side of the ledger. I have to say that I don’t know why the placement was so poor. I know we decided to move the shower wall to make the enclosure wider, but I am sure that decision was made during the time the wall plumbing was being fitted.
The other silly aspect is that, as I mentioned above, the waste pipes were stuck right next to the wall. That has meant that I have to have a crappy Thai outlet cover rather than a nice classy unit, which would be so easy to install in Australia where the water outlets are in the middle of the shower floor.
If the pipe had been moved a few cm I could have achieved this. Oh well. The alternative was to jackhammer the floor to relocate the pipe and I just couldn’t be bothered.
Back to the positive again. Having a venting pipe outside for the grey water means that the water exits the shower super quickly unlike so many Thai showers where, even with a pathetic water flow, you end up flooding the bathroom because the back-pressure in the grey water pipe outlet prevents the water exiting rapidly.
The bathrooms still need to have skirting boards put in and a white granite shelf will be installed along with the kitchen benchtops. I will update the photos once fully completed.
The electrical fitout was completed on the Saturday, which was the other major holdup in us moving in. The total cost of around 32,000 THB, which will show in this week’s spreadsheet, was for the entire electrical from wiring the house to connections. It involved some complex work around the water system, which I will cover shortly, the hot water tank outside, and 97 switches and power points.
HINT: For those building here and reading about how cheap it is and budgeting accordingly watch out.It certainly can be cheap. For example a light switch/power point can be provided for 150 THB. However the catch is that this is an electrical wire stapled to the wall with a switch box stuck onto the wall. Two switches=two wires etc. Maybe not the best look but certainly cheap. It is what you’ll see in many Thai homes.
If you want wiring within a conduit inside the wall or between the two walls in my case and power boxes cut into the walls to make them flush, then you will be paying a lot more. 350 THB in my case. BTW this includes all the associated wiring not just for the box itself. Still super cheap by Aussie standards but very expensive by Thai.
On the Sunday the air conditioning people turned up to install the two 9,000 BTU inverter Mitsubishi Electric air conditioners in the two bedrooms. Bought for 21,500 THB each including installation at the local electrical outlet.
Just out of interest the recommended size for rooms of our dimensions is 12,000 BTU. It is one of the benefits of the double AAC walls, double glazing and good insulation.
The installers and I did end up having words at the end of what they thought was a completed job. The conduit covering the wiring that brings the power from the ceiling ended a few cm below the wires because they were slightly to the left of the end of the conduit.
Now in a Thai situation having a few pretty coloured wires coming out of your ceiling would be quite acceptable. For a farang maybe less so. On being told that no payment was forthcoming until they fixed it the installers repositioned the conduit so that the wires are now covered. As one of the workmen commented, the air con people had obviously never worked for a farang before.
I have made a few slightly derogatory remarks about the standard of Thai building but they are not intended to be rubbishing Thais. Decisions are usually made around a very tight budget and often based on how things have always been done. Where a workman makes 350 THB a day spending that amount on a power point is not an option. Exposed wiring is what you see everywhere. There is no need for contractors to be meticulous in the finish because most people don’t care or even notice. As long as it works what’s the problem? Getting Thais to understand that they are required to operate on a different level is the problem for us farang and it is something that required endless attention.
The final thing to sort out was the house and garden water system. The arrangement we had been using to date was always temporary as the main water filter processing the bore water wasn’t connected. This is because we had set it up to filter the bore water before it went into the main holding tank. The submersible pump and the high output of our bore completely overwhelmed the capacity of the filter, which is why we disconnected it.
The other complication was that we wanted two taps located in the garden so that Gaun could keep up with her plant watering. I didn’t want these to be fed from filtered water unlike Canberra where we provide chlorinated water to everything and have ants with the best teeth in the world.
The end solution was as follows.
Step 1: The bore water is pumped to this 2,000 liter holding tank. An electronic water level device in the tank ensures the submersible pump only turns on once when the tank is nearly empty and fills it to the top.
Step 2: A second pressure pump feeds water from the main tank through the water filter into a 1,000 litre holding tank for house use only. A separate pipe takes pressured water from this pump and sends it to the two garden taps unfiltered.
Step 3: Another pressure pump takes water from the filtered holding tank and feeds it to the house. This is a good quality unit to provide the pressure I wanted for my super showers!
So dead simple – three pumps, two filters, three water tanks, one hot, and you turn a tap and get water 🙂
The end result is perfect. I have high pressure everywhere and clean water inside the house. Drinking water will come from another high quality five stage unit which has been installed under the sink if I had one!
With water on, bathrooms operational, the lighting and power in it was time to move the amazing quantity of stuff I had collected from where it was currently stored in the the family home around the corner to the new place. This was a mixture of personal things I had shipped out from Australia, including a couple of pieces of furniture I was dying to see in the new house, things we had bought to set ourselves up for a 12 months stay in Chiang Mai and furniture we had specifically bought for the house since moving to Isaan in November.
The septic tank had been filled with water when it was installed to stop any possibility of it popping out of the hole if it rained, pictures of which you can find on Thai building forums. We now had to pay to remove the water. A small pump would have done the job but no one had one to offer.
These tankers come around once a day to service Thai houses that only have small septic systems needing pumping out on a regular basis. We have a 1,600 litre unit, which will self maintain and not need emptying providing you allow the bacteria to do their thing and not kill them off with harsh toilet chemicals.
Speaking of harsh chemicals Thais on the whole don’t bother with any of them. Things are cleaned with a cloth and water. It is amazing how they have survived when in our society we are programmed into spraying everything with specialised chemicals to kill 99.9% of deadly germs so that our kids don’t contract some deadly disease. Like governments, advertising agencies are built around creating fear and then coming up with the solution to keep us all safe. Don’t get me started.
On the Wednesday our lounges and entertainment unit arrived from Living Index.
The entertainment unit was a decent quality flat pack. Unlike Australia where you’d spend the next three days trying to work out how to put it together here the two delivery guys assemble it for us. Bliss.
You can also see in this photo that the curtains were delivered and really finish and soften the room. The venetian blinds were delayed and will be installed in Week 22.
The A Team having finished the electrical and water system headed off to do some work for the Moo Baan or local village but then arrived back a few days later because I had asked them to build my front wall and entrance gateway. I pay them as soon as they finish so they give me preference over others in the queue.
Needless to say I want a more complicated arrangement than normal. We are building two walls one in front of the other. The lower one will run 60 cm in front of the 1.8 meter privacy wall and provide a flower bed that Gaun will keep constantly in colour. The main wall will run across the 20 meter width of the land with a 4 meter stainless steel powered entry gate on the left hand side as you look at the house.
The bottom half of the wall will be rendered concrete painted in the house colour. The top half will be slatted palings so that people can get a glimpse of Gaun’s garden once established 🙂
A separate 1 meter entry gate will give access to the house because the main gate will be mainly closed to prevent dogs and stray children from wandering onto the land. There will be lights on four of the columns, two at the small gate and two on the main one. Power will also be provided to the main gate for the electronic opener.
I will concrete from the road to the rear of the gate but leave the gravel in place to the carport for the time being.
Apart from the design my other criteria was that the walls stayed upright for more than 12 months. The Thais are big on walls but build them on small foundations with no supporting reinforcing so that over time they lean over and sometimes collapse. My philosophy for everything to do with the house has been to pay more now to get right the first time. When in doubt buy bigger.
I will report on how the wall has been designed to achieve my goals and you’ll see it finished by the end of the week. The gate takes two weeks to manufacture so that will be a later install.
Finally you might be interested to read how is the house performing in the heat. It is very early days of course but so far it is looking good. We had a 38 degree day in the shade yesterday and the house held 28 degrees all day with no increase during the hot afternoon. This is a comfortable temperature with a fan except for those farang that like to replicate their European winter temperatures inside their Thai houses. I do use the air con in the bedroom at night set on 27, which just takes the edge off the temperature, but would be reasonably comfortable without it.
The house does hold the heat, which I knew it would do with the high level of insulation. However I have an inside/outside temperature gauge set-up and once the outside gets cooler than the inside I open up the windows and doors. The whole house has been designed to allow any breeze to flow through with windows positioned opposite doors.
I do the opposite in the morning and once the outside temperature heats up to more than the internal I close the house up and that’s the way it stays during the day. So far so good.
I would show you more photos of the inside but truthfully the apart from the lounge the rest is work in progress. Maybe things will be presentable by the end of this week and I can give you a full tour.
I am nearing the end of this journey of building during the week and then sharing the stories with you afterwards. There may be a couple more weeks in it but then I will only report back on an irregular basis mainly to update progress on the garden and any new ideas we get.
We will shortly stop our almost daily visits to Global House, we are going there after I finish this post, and settle into enjoying the house and garden. It is an activity or is that non-activity I am really looking forward to.
Thanks for reading.