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.


24 – 30 January, a week of more rendering or more plastering for you UK types. My apologies for this week’s update being very late. A moment of slackness on my part combined with being on the road most days looking for supplies. I have made up for it by writing a long post.

The building progress part of the story will be the same as the last couple of weeks in that I will skip to the end result rather than bore you with daily photos of more walls being covered up. Seen one seen them all.

I will start this post with some observations that aren’t directly linked to the week’s build but I hope you’ll find interesting and useful, especially if you are thinking of or are building in Thailand. If you just want an update of our house build then give this bit a miss and head to the end.

Before that however, a minor complaint. I don’t know if I share this with others who have built in Thailand but I have reached the stage that if I never seen another bag of cement in my life I will be a happy man. From day one the progression of the house has been mostly the addition of concrete to previous layers of concrete. If not concrete then steel. I now look back with fond memories of building in Australia with more characterful clay bricks and the smell of freshly cut timber. Somehow it was a process with a “softer” feel than the construction of my concrete bunker. Having got that out of my system we’ll get into the post finally.

I have been on the hunt for two main items in Week 13, a kitchen and some decent insulation. I’ll start with the latter, Now you’d think that in a country as hot as Thailand with increasing awareness of the building standards used elsewhere that something like insulation would be dead easy to find. Well it is, although it is rare to see a Thai house using it, but only the very thin foil “packets”. Any of the hardware stores, and I will list those in Udon Thani shortly, stock them but with very low Rt ratings.

I don’t know how the rest of the western world operates but in Australia we grade our insulation with a “R” rating, the thermal resistance to heat gain or loss that applies to the insulation product itself. The higher the rating the better and more expensive the insulation. Don’t be fooled into comparing the R rating you used back “home” with the Rt rating they use in Thailand.

Rt is described as “The Total R-value (RT) and is the total resistance of a building element such as a roof, wall, floor or ceiling. It takes into account resistance provided by each given construction material, internal air spaces, and the air film adjacent to solid materials. This allows architects and consultants to assess the overall thermal resistance of the complete component (such as roofing system)”. To my way of thinking this is a less useful form of grading unless every manufacturer used the same criteria for the non-direct insulation aspects of the building to reach a total, which is doubtful.

More general insulation information HERE.

Now there have been some very heated 🙂 debates on building forums such as coolthaihouse.com about the pluses and minuses of using insulation in Thailand. Some support the Thai “system”, which is to use minimal if any insulation. Sure it gets hot during the day but then the heat is quickly dissipated at night because there’s nothing “holding” it in. Maybe this works in a traditional Thai environment where people are out working during the day from sun-up to sun-down but for a retired farang like myself using the house during the day it doesn’t seem a viable proposition. It also presumes that temperatures do cool down to an extent that makes the nighttime comfortable, which is also debatable in the hot season.

I am currently living my wife’s family home, which is a two level building the upper storey with wood walls and a tin roof, totally uninsulated of course. Our bedroom is upstairs and on a sunny day, even in the cooler season like now, the heat makes it impossible to use comfortably. Everything you touch is warm from the reflected roof heat. In the hot season it would be unusable.

A typical Thai village house, except without the broadband dish.

A typical Thai village house, except for the broadband aerial.

Insulating the ceilings also raises a debate in the forums about trapping heat within the house negating the beneficial effect of the cooler evenings. Some people argue that one should insulate the roof, install venting in the gable ends, if you have them, to allow heat within the roof cavity to escape and leave the ceilings uninsulated. This is certainly a more realistic option in my opinion than no insulation. It does raise the question about why the excessive roof heat is a problem of course. At the risk of upsetting the concrete tile brigade I do question our obsession with dark coloured, heat retaining concrete roof tiles – see “Red Clay Tiles” below or indeed the dark coloured steel roofs. The plus for the steel is of course that the tiles will continue to radiate heat in the evenings well after the steel has cooled down.

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Let me quickly add that I am pushing no particular barrow. I have made my decisions and it’s a free building world, in some aspects anyway, and people can construct the house that works for them.

I have written about my choices for a cool house before so if you have been reading the blog religiously you can give this bit a miss too. I have to confess that my original inclination was for a darker coloured roof. However after experiencing living in a hot Thai designed house with tiles and no insulation in Chiang Mai, and reading coolthaihouse.com extensively I rather reluctantly decided to opt for  white roof. Colorbond was always the material I was going to use not tiles whatever the other decisions on roofing.

Having installed the white roof I am now a convert. I was worried that the roof would look totally out of place and clash with it’s surroundings. The reality is that it is a bit of a chameleon and changes colour with whatever the sky is doing, even reflecting the blues on those clear days.

The roof picks up the colour of the sky and blends in really nicely.

The roof picks up the colour of the sky and blends in really nicely. That shed won’t be staying past the build in case you were wondering.

The main benefit of a highly reflective roof is of course to reduce roof space temperatures and the rooms underneath. As we are in the cool season here I can’t report on the effectiveness of this strategy with any authority yet. All I can say is that the internal rendering is taking ages to dry off because it is so cool inside the house.

Under the Colorbond went a silver foil with a foam backing. The anti-metal roof people always refer to the noise aspect during the Thai rainy season. Having been in an uninsulated tin roofed house during a tropical downpour I am here to let you know that it is a conversation stopper. The silver foil, a building regulation in Australia, was a given and the foam is there as the first defence against the rain noise.

Ah the memories. Am very pleased to be well beyond this stage.

Ah the memories. Am very pleased to be well beyond this stage.

I have gone for ceiling insulation because I am planning for a “mildly” air conditioned house. The two living spaces and both bedrooms will have Mitsubishi Electric inverter air conditioners, a 9,000 BTU in each of the bedrooms, a 12,000 BTU in the kitchen/family area and an 18,000 BTU in the lounge room. Having done my research ME are highly rated although quite a bit more expensive than some of the other brands. I have had inverter units in Australia and they are so much quieter than the on/off alternatives, especially in a bedroom environment, and are supposed to be a bit cheaper to run as well.

You can find a useful guide to calculating the size of air con required HERE – use Perth, or a very similar one HERE use Darwin. I will report back how accurate they were once we get through a hot season.

The reason I raise the air conditioning is that I have added Bt37 ceiling insulation, bought from Thai Watsadu for 428 THB a roll, each roll covering 2.4 m2.  The high grade insulation, by Thai standards, is partly to reduce the Isaan village early morning noise, the basis for a lot of my house design, rain noise and to exclude any roof heat transfer and retain the cool from the air conditioners when working. I am not relying on an expectation that relief from the heat will be available just by opening the windows in the evenings.

I used to live in Canberra where the temperatures ranged from -8 degrees Celsius in winter to 40 degrees plus in summer so I know a bit about hot climates. Once the air temperatures gets up to these levels it is way beyond the capacity of fans to maintain a comfortable living environment. Even with double AAC block walls, windows protected from the sun and good insulation I believe the internal air temperature will increase during the day to reach a level that requires some assisted cooling. Time will tell.

I am minded to hold back on buying the air conditioners for the two living areas and see how we survive the heat this season, which will hit us anytime from March. Lots to share with you later in the year.

Our search for building materials, last week being insulation and kitchens has made us an expert in local suppliers. In Udon Thani we have the following major outlet choices that I have discovered so far:

DoHome, HomeHub, ToolPro, Global House, HomeMart, HomePro, Living Index, St Mall and Thai Watsadu.

These are my location pins so are correct. Google in true form has Living Index at the HomeMart site.

These are my location pins so are correct. Google in true form has Living Index at the HomeMart site.

I had never heard of several of them so it would be worth Googling the names for your local area if building here. We have visited most of them in Udon, which is why the locations above are correct.

In a brief summary:

DoHome: Massive – probably bigger than any of the others. A huge range of everything required to build plus the usual cheap flat-pack furniture and some really awful decorating offerings. An electrical area selling TVs, washing machines etc etc. Take a packed lunch and plenty of water to explore this place. Heaps of undercover parking out the front. A decent small garden centre in the front but there are heaps of bigger alternatives roadside in Udon. We did pick up 100 decent sized hedging plants for 2.75 THB each or A$0.10. No Rt37 insulation.

HomeHub: We didn’t go in because we had visited the Khon Kaen version a few days previously. A good middle of the road building supplier. No Rt37 insulation.

ToolPro: A smaller place and feeling a little run down. I read on Udonmap that they offered kitchens so we called in. No Rt37 insulation.

Global House: We are spoiled in Nong Bua Lamphu, 30 minutes from home, with a brand new and little used Global House. The Udon branch is obviously a lot older, or certainly looks that way. I suspect it is also something to do with the Thai’s lack of interest in maintaining anything once built. The usual GH range, which excludes Rt37 insulation!

HomeMart: A smaller place, which provided us with plumbing P pipes in our time of need, so I have a soft spot for it. Not a huge choice of building materials and I don’t see how they compete with their bigger opposition. However they DO stock Rt37 insulation at 435 THB a roll. They only had 24 in stock and I want 67 so we moved on.

HomePro: The classiest home store but not catering to the true building enthusiast. They have all the internal items, tiles, taps, lighting etc, as well as a “gentleman’s” range 🙂 of the other stuff such as plumbing items, soffits, doors etc plus three offerings of high grade insulation, one at 299 THB for a 2.4 m2 coverage and the other 328 THB. There was also a version that had a photo of a sleeping baby on the front at twice the price which I ignored. How could I have walked onto the building site with the guys and hand over a product with a baby photo on it! Really what were they thinking? Unfortunately HomePro only had 30 rolls of one and 12 of the other, with a ten day wait for more supplies.

If you are looking for good quality, farang orientated items for your home and maybe pay a slight premium, but not always, then HomePro is a great place to have a wander. Under the same roofline you will also find a standard range of additional home product shops that seem to form part of any HomePro centre including quality lounges, a electronics shop, some furniture and saunas – just what you need in Thailand.

Index Living: only included because it is part of the house building “package”. This is a good quality home decorating outlet with a farang oriented range of everything needed from bedding, rugs, curtains, kitchen items, lighting, as well as an electrical area – TVs, air conditioners – they are one of the few to stock Mitsubishi Electric air conditioners – fridges plus heaps of furniture. They do flat-pack wardrobes and kitchens but at a better standard than some of the others.

St Mall: A smaller outfit with a more limited range. We were there looking at kitchens only so I can’t comment too much on their offerings. A range of cheaper furniture, tiles and electrical items. Not a full building supplier but I could be wrong. Let me know.

Thai Watsadu: A Thai-wide company. I prefer Global House to TW in Nong Bua Lamphu, the latter which is looking a bit run down and is stocked with disinterested staff, but in Udon Thai Watsadu is a better set-up than GH. They also have a big stock of Rt37 insulation! Eureka. 67 packs ordered at 428 THB each and delivered 80 km to Si Bun Ruang for just under 1,000 THB or around A$35.00. The end result is the photo that heads this post.

Update 8 Feb:

A contributor to coolthaihouse.com has pointed out that there is a new Global House in Udoon Thani with the following location. I wish I had known this earlier. Thanks Jerome:

The new Global House location in Udon Thani on Highway 2.

The new Global House location in Udon Thani on Highway 2.

On the kitchen front after searching around we have decided to go with a more expensive option, typical, the MJ range from Global House. They have a very nice professional and English website HERE.

IMG-001

The choice goes over three pages - a much better range than offered elsewhere.

The choice goes over three pages – a much better range than offered elsewhere.

Although this is a flat-pack offering it is solid and good quality. I am not a big fan of the Thai concrete kitchens with the timber or plastic door inserts but each to their own. They are cheap and robust two big pluses.

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A Thai kitchen example. Concrete frame, tiled top and sides and cupboard doors set into the fronts. If you really want to be economical and beat any termites at the same time you can go for plastic doors.

Of the alternatives in kitchens:

ToolPro: They have a very limited flat-pack range, which feels a little flimsy by comparison to MJ above, but would certainly do the job and at half the cost.

Living Index: Have some good quality flat-pack units but a very limited range. If you build your kitchen to the size of units on offer then these might work for you. Good value.

Thai Watsadu: Have the same sort of MJ option that Global House has.

HomePro: Probably the best range starting at the MJ type of level and heading upwards in price. They will design a kitchen for you at no cost and send you plans and images. A good service.

St Mall: Will design a kitchen for you although we left them with plans and haven’t heard. A basic range of units, which you can personalise with laminate colours, handles and benchtops. I didn’t get prices but suspect around the MJ level. The drawers and doors felt a little flimsy.

DoHome and HomeHub would probably have kitchens but they would be towards the bottom end of the market and we didn’t look.

So back to the build. The beginning of the week had five guys working steadily on the rendering. It is a slow process with the original layer going on, waiting for it to slightly dry before using a long scrapper to finalise the thickness, waiting again for it to dry some more, then going over it with a wooden tool to smooth it and then finally wet and wipe down with a sponge to get the final finish.

One of the crew is working full time to get the levels right on every corner in the building. He uses a plumb line to build up a concrete corner at the right depth to evenly cover the wall between it and the next corner. The render when applied uses this as a starting point. It’s a vital job but takes time.

Good sharp corners.

Good sharp corners.

The outside kitchen finished.

The outside dining area finished. Kitchen/family through the left door and the guest bedroom on the right.

The Thai kitchen benchtop poured in the outside dining area above.

The Thai kitchen benchtop poured in the outside dining area above. It will will be home to my Aussie benchtop BBQ and a two burner gas cooktop for more exotic Isaan dishes 🙂

Another 85 bags of render delivered 8,960 THB – refer to my concrete overload comment at the beginning of this post.

The lounge room making progress.

The lounge room making progress. Entry door on the right. That little window worked well in breaking up the wall for about A$12.00.

The kitchen/family area looking out to the dining area.

The kitchen/family area looking out to the dining area on the right and through to the master bedroom on the left.

Smoky days in Isaan due to cane burning and early morning breakfasts.

Smoky days in Isaan due to cane burning and early morning breakfasts.

Same scene a couple of days later.

Same scene a couple of days later.

The Thai recycling system.

The Thai recycling system in action.

On Thursday, day 90 of the build, the electrical team turned up and started feeding wires through the maze of conduits across and down the walls. A total of nine people in the crew now including Ming, the builder.

The electrical crew at work.

The electrical crew at work.

Conduit installed for what will be a visitor's toilet and garden space at the back of the house. Thinking ahead.

Conduit installed for what will be a visitor’s toilet and garden space at the back of the house. Thinking ahead.

Hard to imagine that this will ever become a tidy garden.

Hard to imagine that this will ever become a tidy garden.

My step-daughter's bedroom making progress.

My step-daughter’s bedroom making progress. Looking towards what will be a small desk area with ensuite on the right.

The chicken/dog proof fence has gone in. My first contribution to the build other than money!

The chicken/dog proof fence has gone in. My first contribution to the build other than money!

A trip to Nong Bua Lamphu gave us 100 m2 of tiling to do the outside. At 122 THB or A4.00 m2 we got a good buy. We already have the internal tiling ready to go.  The arrangement with DeKu, the window/door people, is that they will come and measure based on their doors sitting on the edge of the outside tiling with the inside tiles a later option. I have asked Ming to complete the outside painting first so that the tiler can start work asap and get the base ready for DeKu. As they have a 2 – 4 week construction delay it means that we can move to internal tiling while the windows/doors are being built.

Due to the delay in writing this it is only a day before I am due to update you on Week 14. It will be worth waiting for because with all the nine guys working it has been a very exciting week of achievement and has give me hope that I might end up with a home in the not too distant future.

Costs week 13.

Costs week 13.

A category breakdown of the expenses so far including Week 14. This is a new addition so may change as I refine it further.

Total expenses by category to date.

Total expenses by category to date.

Thanks for reading.