1 – 7 November 2014
This is the first of what will be weekly updates on building our house in Isaan. It is a long post as a lot has happened in our first week here to get the build underway.
For those of you who are new to the blog you can read about how we came to buy land in Si Bun Ruang in the north East of Thailand HERE. Just to give you some idea of the size of place we are building, to make sense of the costs I will share with you as we go along, it has a roof and matching concrete slab size of 260 m2 with an internal area of around 160 m2.
Day One – Saturday, had us starting working through the list I had prepared for a quick start on the building project. The builder himself, a guy called Ming, came over to make sure we were still good to go as we hadn’t signed anything at this point. The calendar was consulted to work out an auspicious day to start the build. Luckily the 6th had a full moon so we had a date to kick things off!
Later in the day a more detailed analysis was undertaken with the help of the local “spiritman” and the 16th came in a winner for the official blessing of the land and house to be. I thought the build would be delayed by two weeks but wasn’t too concerned as you have to relax into the Thai schedule of things otherwise you’d end up a frustrated and alcoholic farang! However it turns out that work can commence on the digging side of things, just not on the “building” aspect, that is things coming out of the ground. Phew. The 6th was still a go’er then.
I am lucky to get Ming, my builder, as this is his last building project before he retires to grow sugar. He’s 64 but looks 80. Probably a damn sight fitter than me though. He is actually a professional builder unlike many who will take on construction in-between harvests to earn some extra income.
With the start of the build happening in five days we needed to quickly organise water and power. Water in the village is provided by a community bore and pumped to houses via small blue pipes that sit almost on top of the ground at the side of the road. There is very little pressure and showers are a slow affair unless you have a pump.
I set up the family home with a 1,000 liter water storage tank and a pressure pump the last time we were here so that I could get a half decent hot shower when we moved in, which is at the start of the cool season. The idea of the tank is that the Moo Baan or village water slowly fills the tank and then the pump accesses this to provide pressured water to the house. You can’t connect a pump directly to the community feed otherwise you’d stop delivery to everyone downstream!
Now for someone like me used to pressured water at the turn of a tap this didn’t seem like an ideal situation. It certainly doesn’t work to if you want to water a garden where you’d use the 1,000 litres in no time.
The solution is to provide your own water supply via a bore or what the Thais call a water-down. My regular readers are used to me rambling off subject so……..Thais also call a waterfall water-down in their very sensible way of applying descriptive words where context is applied to make sense of them. If looking at a beautiful waterfall and you say – in Thai! – “that’s a beautiful water-down” you are obviously not referring to a bore! We English speakers complicate the things by applying a whole separate word to different aspects of the same thing.
Back to subject – are you still with me? Having a good water supply was especially important for us because we want to establish an extensive tropical garden, which will require watering in the long dry season here. Also I don’t see how you can build a house here based on the local water supply. Concrete is the central to the Thai building process and it is a thirsty bugger. So a bore was top of the list.
My sister-in-law Yuan called her bore digger contact and negotiated his normal 15,000 THB fee, which I thought was pretty reasonable, down to 13,000 THB because it was for her sister. No water no charge. He agreed to start the next day. Now in normal circumstances this may seem like a good outcome but the downside in a Thai environment is that nobody has warned the spirits on the land that someone was going to arrive and maybe drill through one of them.
Unfortunately due to the speed of the start of bore drilling a ceremony wasn’t possible pre-commencement. However luckily for us with Thai spirits evidently a “sorry” after the event is equally OK. Gaun’s mama and another elder were on-site early Monday morning to get the spirits back onside. This ceremony also covered off the digging for the footings that would happen shortly after so we got good value from the event.
The final thing we achieved on Saturday was the purchase on a sala or bamboo hut, which would eventually be located on the land under the two mango trees at the front as my “site office”! We had seen a good solid example of sala for sale on the way to Udon Thani, the closest major city to us, last time we were here. A return visit had us selecting a large sala 2 x 2 meters, big enough to hold small parties, and it was delivered that evening.
Day 2 – Sunday, the morning had us clearing the land ready for the build. I have to admit that a lot of the work was done by Gaun, who has incredible energy and can last in the heat far longer than I can. In the 12 months since we bought the land a lot of rubbish vegetation had taken it over especially with vigorous growth during the wet season. Very kindly Yuan and Lud, my sister and brother-in-laws, has got in there before we arrived with heavy duty cutters and taken it all down to ground level again. Now the dead growth needed to be collected up and burnt – there is no recycling of vegetation in Thailand that I have seen.
Just out of interest, as I alway report on the small things, it had rained the night before and everything was damp. Lighting the fires was done with a used motorbike inner tyre, which can be bought for 3 THB, and then cut up to act as a fire starter. Environmentally unfriendly but did the job.
In the afternoon the bore drilling equipment arrived on site and set up.
The first step was to locate the water in the general area that I had selected, which was right at the back of the land where our water tanks would eventually be located out of sight. A high-tech computer scanning device was put into action and the precise spot determined for the bore – or not!
The drilling system is really basic and requires constant human attention to make it work, which I will explain later. Firstly a small trench is dug to the side of the rig. The bore head uses water to lubricate and cool plus the residue from the drilling is pumped up to the surface keeping the hole clean. The water is provided from this trench and a constant supply is required for the system to work. Although what’s pumped down comes to the surface again in a constant cycle, water is lost in porous levels of the dig and a surprising amount is needed. This is a bit of a catch 22 situation as what you are looking for is water but need water to look for it!
The solution in this case was to truck it in using four plastic barrels on the back of a ute. The water is being sourced from the farm pond of one of Gaun’s nieces about a ten minute drive away.
Thanks for reading.
The most comprehensive reference manual on building a house in Thailand. An e-book of 120,000 words arranged in a number of sections including the initial planning stages, a daily report on the construction process, later updates after we move in, a few summaries and a section on more general background topics such as land titles, Usufruct contracts, utility expenses and the daily cost of my building project.
So, what will you find here?
Firstly, I am a retired government employee not a builder so you won’t find a very specific how-to building book full of technical details. However, what you have bought is a very detailed 884-page coverage of how an enthusiastic amateur like me survived the Thai building challenges and ended up with a wonderful home that I still find hard to believe I have achieved.
Although the house we built is unique to us and may not be anything like the style of dwelling you plan to build, you will find many of the processes, frustrations and hints I share very relevant to almost any domestic construction project in Thailand. Topics covered such as creating a cool house, planning and design tips and specific topics like septic and water solutions are mostly likely generic to your situation, or parts of them will be, so will be a useful addition to your research material.
I have tried to make the book a good read and not just a dry list of dos and don’ts. It is written in a casual style as though I was chatting with you and I hope that makes it more engaging. In each chapter you will live every individual day of the build with us plus some of other events and activities and share our excitements and frustrations. Even if you aren’t about to build in Thailand, I believe the book includes enough interesting material of one farang’s story to hold your attention.
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!).
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. Mike
Undoubtedly, we would not have the quality home we now have without the book, we had no idea even where to start until we found Building in Thailand eBook. We did manage to avoid most of the traps that we could have fallen into, we are extremally thankful for the authors attention to detail and common-sense approach. Chris
I have had the good fortune to have used the first edition as part of Yuri and my plans to build our home here in Surin. To say it is a good reference book is an understatement. The practical advice and your self deprecating style make it a great read. The anecdotes and asides all add to its appeal as both a “how to manual” and a fascinating insight into what lies ahead for people like me who have only just commenced a similar journey. Far better armed for what’s to be encountered. Greg
The income from my eBook pays for the upkeep of this blog, which is otherwise commercially free unlike so many others.