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.


15 – 21 November 2014.

My posts on Week 1 and 2 can be found HERE and HERE.

Another steady week of progress. Writing these weekly updates is good for me because construction seems to edge along at a Thai pace of progress, and that’s true to some extent, but reviewing the changes from the Saturday to Friday shows that I have more of a house now than I did at the beginning of the week.

As I reported before, work on the land itself had been delayed waiting for the official blessing ceremony, which happened last Sunday. Ming, the builder, was like a Thai greyhound after the ceremony, off the leash and in full building mode at the land rather than pottering at the edges filling in time, which he’s been doing up to that point.

Day 15 Saturday, with the building ceremony scheduled for tomorrow not a lot was happening on-site. However there were indications that Ming was keen to get going once the starter’s pistol went off. Using string lines this guy was finding the centre of each hole using a plumb line. Once marked a piece of rebar was drilled into the concrete to indicate the positioning for the column reinforcement when installed.

Marking out the cente.

Marking out the center.

Each column hole marked out for positioning the post rebar.

Each column hole marked out for positioning the post rebar.

Once this was done the rebar base was placed in each hole.

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Back at the house Gaun’s mama was preparing for the next day’s ceremony. A old spinning wheel was brought out and a roll of cotton thread spun onto it. This would form the center piece that would be installed at the top of one of the columns.

Gaun's mama. Household tools of her generation.

Gaun’s mama. Household tools of her generation.

Day 16 Sunday, Gaun and her sister Yuan were up at 3.30 am to get to the markets to buy food and cook before the start of the ceremony at 7.00 am. I decided that my presence wasn’t required and sensibly stayed in bed.

Up and about early all the ceremonial items were transported to the site. The ceremony itself was “organised” by one of the village elders and a guy I call the “Spiritman”. I am sure there may be an official title for him. He’s the man who decided that the 16th was the most auspicious day of the month for the blessing and is the main contact point to any spirits, Gaun calls them ghosts!, that may be inhabiting the land.

I have put “organised” in quotes because organisation isn’t often in evidence in any ceremony I have been witness to in Thailand, including my wedding! Semi-planned chaos is probably a better description as generally maybe someone has an idea of what should be happening but hasn’t passed that onto the helpers who then run around madly assembling the missing items, all usually in very good humour. Frustrating to some farang I know but I love the community involvement, the spontaneity and laughter that goes with it all. If you bring your organised western mind to Thailand you will be constantly disappointed with how things are done here. Read any of the on-line forums and you’ll find cranky guys complaining about Thai processes. Get with reality or go home!

Setting up.

Setting up. “Spiritman” at the back.

Assembling.

Assembling. Ming’s workers standing around waiting to do some real building.

This lady shows up in my blogs quite often. She is an important village elder and acted as my surrogate mama in my wedding ceremony. A delightful person.

This lady shows up in my blogs quite often. She is an important village elder and acted as my surrogate mama in my wedding ceremony. A delightful person.

Four of these placed around the main ceremonial hole.

Four of these placed around the main ceremonial hole.

I was expecting some sort of official speech, chanting or moment of great significance but it was not to be. The main focus of the blessing is the raising of two ceremonial columns, one which has attached to it the cotton spinning bob the photo of which I showed you above, and the second a beautifully made fishing basket. I only include the photos below because the basket is a lovely piece of handmade work by an old bloke who brought it round. Bought for 250 THB or A$8.00. How many hours went into making it?

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170 cm tall.

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A closer view to show the wonderful detailed work. It is destined to have a couple of lights put in it and will hang horizontally in the sala ceiling.

Me getting involved in a modest way. Attaching the to the column.

Me getting involved in a modest way. Attaching the basket to the column.

The column erected.

The column erected.

A family shot.

A family shot. Brother-in-laws Tham and Lud, Gaun and sister Yuan.

Heading back home after a hard morning with the spirits.

Heading back home down our road after a hard morning with the spirits.

Of course NO ceremony would be complete without food and lots of it. The Spiritman had headed off to do another blessing having pocketed 500 THB for his efforts from me.

Laab Moo the centre dish. You can read about how it is made HERE.

Laab Moo the centre dish. You can read about how it is made HERE.

Once again you will read lots of complaints about this sort of payment – all A$18.00 of it. This is a society which still relies on the younger generation providing support for their parents throughout their lives but especially when they get older. Government support is very limited in old age. My brother-in-law Tham is about to turn 60 and has applied for the government pension he is entitled to at that time. He will end up getting 600 THB or A$20.00 A MONTH. At some stage the pension is increased to 700 THB, which is the amount Gaun’s mama gets and she’s 85 – party time.

Whether you have any belief or not these elders have experience and knowledge such as the house blessing ceremony that they are happy to share with those who want to make use of it, and that is most Thais who are highly superstitious. I see payments like the one I made to the Spiritman and the provision of food as no more than an unofficial pension supplement plan. It is a small contribution to ensuring small communities like this one function with particular emphasis on the elderly members. How wonderful to be included as an essential part of events such as this rather than being excluded from society, locked away in retirement homes such as we do to many of our elderly in the west.

OK, back to the building – finally you say. Ceremony complete the builders swung straight into action installing all the column frames into the holes previously dug and attaching them to the rebar base.

Complete with some leftover greenery from the blessing.

Complete with some leftover greenery from the blessing. There is a small bag of nine gold coins down there too, one for each hole.

The bore pump turned on and the resulting water is still a beautiful sight for me.

The bore pump turned on and the resulting water is still a beautiful sight for me.

Concrete mixer in action with Ming keeping an eye on the process.

Concrete mixer in action with Ming keeping an eye on the process.

The first pour. This is almost like the beginning of the "real" building part.

The first pour. This is almost like the beginning of the “real” building part – exciting for me anyway.

The result. The base is covered in concrete to give sound foundation on which to cement in the columns.

The result. The base is covered in concrete to give a sound foundation on which to cement in the columns.

Day 17 Monday, The base concrete having dried overnight work started on building the formwork for each column to allow it to be filled to ground level.

Formwork individually made.

Formwork individually made.

And fitted.

And fitted. The guy is actually using a measure to ensure it is the correct size – 20 cm in our case.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

Concreted.

Concreted.

12 columns were done in this way with concrete to bring them to ground level. This allows the rebar horizontal “footings” frame to be built incorporated into the column rebar. This will become clearer later. The 13th column is situated without any associated connecting walls and therefore doesn’t require any beam footings, which are designed to sit under areas requiring more reinforcement i.e. the walls.

This column could therefore be poured in full and this was the last job for the day.

Getting the full column formwork in place.

Getting the full column formwork in place.

You will note that Ming actually has proper metal framework – evidence that he is a fulltime builder and not a rice farmer come builder.

Buckets of cement being poured in the top of the column formwork.

Buckets of cement being poured in the top of the column formwork.

My first slithery visitor to the build site. I have tried to enlarge it as much as possible to make it seem more impressive but have to concede it was a pretty small snake. PLenty of them around though including King Cobras, which I hope never drop in for a visit.

My first slithery visitor to the build site. I have tried to enlarge it as much as possible to make it seem more impressive but have to concede it was a pretty small snake. Plenty of them around though including King Cobras, which I hope never drop in.

I was a happy man to see the house coming out of the ground fr the first time so it was beers all round.

I was a happy man to see the house coming out of the ground for the first time so it was icy cold beers all round.

Day 18 Tuesday, today all the formwork was removed from the lower part of the 12 columns and the holes filled in. Work started on constructing the beam footing reinforcement a task that would end up taking three days. The beam that had already been made I think in Week 2 at the family home was transported to the site and installed.

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The site as it looked at the beginning of Day 18. Rebar brought from the family home to construct the new beam reinforcing.

The first beam installed.

The first beam installed.

I mentioned this previous. This is where the beams are incorporated into the column frame to tie the whole thing together.

I mentioned this previously. This is where the beams are incorporated into the column frame to tie the whole thing together. String lines being used for positioning, which gives me hope the house will look like the plans!

Leaving the building work to steadily make progress Gaun and I headed off to see Bluescope, the people who produce Colorbond roofing here. Earlier that morning we had gone with Ming to a local supplier of aluminium roofing.

Thais and many farang are very often working to a very tight budget so to get what I would consider minimum Australian standards here can be a bit of a challenge. For example if you want a coloured roof, and I want white to maximise the design of a cool house, then the “Naa” in Thai or thickness is 0.30 mm or less. Some of it is so thin you can make a small cut and then tear it with your hands!

Colorbond starts at a BMT of 0.47 mm ending up at 0.50 mm once the color is applied. BMT = Base metal thickness and I only threw it in to impress you with my building knowledge – truthfully I only came across it by accident! All you ever need to know about BMT and more HERE. Colorbond is manufactured to international standards and to me represents the best you can get in metal roofing.

Thais love bright colours especially if they clash with each other. A sample of Thai roofing colours available 0.3 mm max. Needless to say they didn't stock the almost white.

Thais love bright colours especially if they clash with each other. A sample of Thai roofing colours available 0.3 mm max. Needless to say they didn’t stock the almost white.

Bluescope is located about 20km South of Khon Kaen on Highway 2, a two hour drive from us. For those with a GPS the coordinates are N 16 14 025 E102 46 075. Heading away from Khon Kaen it is on the left and has a big sign, oddly enough in Blue!, reading Bluescope. My thanks to “sometimeswoodworker” from coolthaihouse.com for the heads up on location.

In the unlikely event anyone reading this actually makes the trip to Bluescope, Khon Kaen, I need to give you a little background. Firstly this is basically a small factory and not well set-up for drop-ins. I was expecting a full showroom and maybe even English speaking salespeople. Not so. Even getting into the site is a high security exercise. Bluescope must have had a lot of roofing material disappearing off-site under people’s shirts at some time because to get in you have to get through a security gate, explain why you are there, thanks Gaun, and hand over ID in exchange for visitor passes. This took 5 minutes. When you leave a second security guard takes your passes, hands back your ID and you have to sign a form.

Then there is a third guy who acts as a parking attendant and directed us into the undercover area which had space for a maximum of six cars. Not the busiest job in the world. I parked nose first and was then told that I had to reverse the car in 🙂 One of those Thai deep breath moments!

The “showroom” is a room and a desk. No displays or anything that assists you in making a selection. A guy turned up who seemed slightly surprised to see us and had practically no English. We were given iced water and the Sales Manager, a lady called Boom, was called in from off-site and turned up shortly after. She didn’t speak much English either but luckily she roped in a bloke from IT who had some English and we were able to get going.

Gaun, who is normally my saviour in these sort of situations was of little help as roof construction has never been part of her rice farming life and she both didn’t know the English words I was using to ask questions but probably didn’t know the Thai equivalents anyway. She is quickly becoming an expert though by necessity. Our second house will be a walk in the paddy field.

Between Gaun’s limited building language, the IT guy’s limited English and the Boom’s almost non-existent English it was all a bit frustrating. A conversation that would be over in 15 minutes in Australia took a lot longer and I am not confident that the answers I got to the questions I asked were what I wanted to know! It is a situation many farang building here will be very familiar with.

Anyway the end result to the best of my understanding was an initial quote for a roofing profile they call Trimdek 0.50 mm thickness was 330 THB per m2. Flashing was 250 THB per meter and screws 3.5 THB each. Total estimate for 260 m2 was a case of beer under 100,000 THB or about A$3,500. This is more than double the thinner Thai equivalent but a sound, long lasting roof is pretty essential to a build in my mind and to go cheaper what are you saving – $1,500 – big deal.

The colour I chose, which they luckily have in stock probably because nobody wants a white roof in Thailand, was Aiyara White, which rates almost at the top of the Solar Reflective Index as you can see below. Compare this with red concrete tiles you see around so often!

Snap 2014-11-22 at 10.37.54

There’s a heap more on using roofing to reduce heat in a useful Colorbond brochure HERE.

Day 19 Wednesday, After such a long entry for Day 18, not a lot to report today. The workers were plodding along with rebar construction.

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Boring hot work.

Boring hot work.

We got a call from the Obortor, a local government agency, to advise us our house plans had been approved. What this actually means I don’t know 🙂 We don’t have to get anything approved here or even get plans drawn up as the village falls outside the town planning area. However as a farang I want to make sure that I do everything at a level beyond what might apply to a local Thai just in case. I was expecting some sort of government levy to be applied for a few stamps and a couple of signatures so took along a few thousand baht. I ended up paying 100 THB or A$3.50!

The site looked like this close to the end of the day:

Ming, sitting on the left, is always on-site and checks everything. He is constantly referring to the house plans, which is reassuring.

Ming, sitting on the left, is always on-site and checks everything. He is constantly referring to the house plans, which is reassuring.

I spent a lot of the day working through the budget as I now have a better idea of costs. The house should come in at around 1.8 million THB or A$63,000. Land was 300,000 THB on top of this. This is including some more non-standard features such as double AAC block walls, Colorbond roofing with insulation, 100,000 THB on four German double glazing window for the bedrooms as sound deadener’s!, four 5KW inverter air conditioners and a 150,000 THB kitchen. I am sure it will end up costing more as these things do but for 260 m2 under roofline and a 160 m2 two bathroom house I think this is a pretty good outcome.

Three days having passed since the blessing ceremony the adornments to the two columns could come down. My future lampshade is now back at the family house!

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Gaun retrieves my lampshade.

Day 20, Thursday, more rebar work so not much to report. My house design is very fiddly with wall placing. It’s not the average square box design. This has resulted in the rebar for the footing beams not being in nice long straight sections.

Ming started to build the timber formwork for when the concrete is poured to complete the footing beams.

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The formwork was removed from the completed column and it was wrapped in plastic to slow the drying period.

The formwork was removed from the completed column and it was wrapped in plastic to slow the drying period, which increases strength.

The build looked like this at the end of the day.

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The rooms start to take shape and we can now walk “through” the house.

 Day 21 Friday, the final adjustments were made to the rebar and all measurement rechecked by me and Ming. A couple of minor errors were discovered in placement and corrected.

The end of getting the footings ready.

The end of getting the footings ready. The first of the formwork is put in place.

A trip to Thai Watsadu in Nong Bua Lamphu got us our first plumbing supplies. All pipework will be PVC 13.5, the thicker version.

Hopefully a little extra spent now will save any problems in the future.

Hopefully a little extra spent now will save any problems in the future.

For those of you interested in double glazing I have received two quotes from down South, one from a firm called Project Supplies Direct based in Phuket, their website HERE and the other Europvc in Pattaya, website HERE. I want two sliding doors one 2.0 x 2.4 m  and the other 2.0 x 2.0 m plus two sliding windows 1.6 x 1.1 m and 1.2 x 1.1 m for the two bedrooms. I am sure it will surprises no one that both quotes came in at a bit over 100,000 THB including insect screens and delivery to Isaan. Although as a proportion of the total budget this is expensive the benefits in lessening the noise of roosters, dogs, motorbikes and loudspeakers at 5.30 am is priceless 🙂 Both companies have been efficient to deal with and their replies to question processed quickly.

I am still happy with the builder Ming. He has a steady core of five people working for him on this and previous builds so they seem to have an idea of what they should be doing. Ming himself is always on site either supervising or getting involved in the build. A long way to go but looking good so far.

Costs at the end of Week 3 are as follows:

Costs by the end of Week 3.

Costs by the end of Week 3.

Thanks for reading.