A Custom Hardwood House Frame by Calco

The choice for a house frame, breathing-wise, was slim: hardwood or steel. We chose hardwood because it’s less volatile than pine, which has different terpenes. I will be getting stuck into a post sharing my research on building with a steel frame, as it seems like the obvious choice for people with MCS/and or CIRS aka mould illness or Lyme. I think I’ve found some good tips on how to build using a metal frame–so long as the correct amount of thermal break has been created to stop condensation. Condensation. That’s why we chose wood, so long as it’s protected from direct water damage, it can absorb a small amount of humidity then release it back into the air.

Sourcing a custom kiln dried hardwood frame wasn’t as easy as Dan and I thought it would be. We tried several places, starting to feel as if what we wanted was just plain wierd. People told us we wouldn’t find it. So we just asked other people… I know of people who have MCS and have successfully built using hardwood. So why was finding so hard?

Our talented carpenter, Damien, from Pristine Carpentry tried a few places also, finally coming up with Calco. He explained my condition to them. And I didn’t even have supply my usual doctor’s letter for them to get it. Don’t you like it when that happens?

Calco were so awesome they even gave us nails so I could test them. Nails? Yep. The nails are sold in packs of ten and they’re glued to blocks of wood for ease of use. This way, nails are kept straight and they’re not all over the place for the workers. So when Calco found out about my condition (which was diagnosed as inhalant allergies at the time but now has the addition of CIRS to the list of conditions that cause sensitivity to chemicals [read: a pain in the ass!]), they decided to give us the nails embedded in glue just to make sure they were not going to cause any symptoms. Perhaps they thought I was going to handle them myself? Or maybe that I was way more sensitive? Sensitive like some of you out there, perhaps. I appreciated the care they took to check the nails were fine to use.

Nails from Calco Timber and Trusses

Sample of hardwood for frame and nails set in glue, kindly from Calco Timber and Trusses ~ for testing purposes

You know, when you’re sick as you’ve ever been and totally anxious about house materials? (“It only takes one thing to ruin the whole house,” I’ve heard often. Stories abound of other MCSers who’ve had tradespeople agree to use products tested for that person’s particular chemical-irritant sensitivities but have then forgotten or negligently used their own noxious product; therefore, making the house unliveable), so when businesses take the time to check even the tiniest possible risk, it makes life a whole lot easier to deal with because you feel like people are on your side. And they are on your side. At the same time, don’t assume just because you tell someone you’re sick they will take it seriously. You just have to ask lots of questions and see if they’re up for the job. Always go with your gut, or put it in writing. It only takes an email.

From my experience, Calco Timber and Trusses don’t just want to sell just a product or a service rather, they want you to be successful with your project and happy with their product.

The only hardwood that couldn’t be sourced by our builder’s carpentry team were the balcony posts: hardwood just didn’t come in that size; not at the time we were needing it, anyway. Besides pine, which is out of the game because of terpene sensitivity (and I wrote about that here), so we were left with Cypress (also a type of pine but to be used on the outside of the building). When Pristine Carpentry first gave me a sample, it was a brand new freshly cut piece, plus it was raining: it stunk like burnt wood, stinging my nasal passages: not forgetting that I was living in a water damaged house and that my sinuses felt like I’d been hit in the face with a cricket bat, which, inhaling mould explains why it hurt so much to breathe, so I decided to test it further rather than just basing my decision on that one reaction. A few days later, after the sample had been left in the sun, it had a faint odour of wood. That strong smell that felt like a smack in the nose was gone so we took a punt on using the Cypress, sealing it with Intergrain low VOC wood stain, and, guess what? It’s fine, for me anyway! Looks sexy too.

We do have to make some adjustments to the posts to make them comply with our BAL level, which I’ll go into later, to do with the BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) in our area but I’ll post on that in a seperate post when the time comes. This house could take a while to build ~ I’m hoping I can get some sponsors who want to run their add in my sidebar ~ on the condition their product is cool for people sensitive to chemicals/and or mould. But back to the Cypress:

It’s wrapped in plastic and specifically says to keep it wrapped until painting time. We didn’t do that: we had the builders and carpentry team install it naked. Then handy man Dan painted it with Intergrain Low VOC paint in Tasmanian Oak.

 

Calco Trusses and Timber

Calco Trusses and Timber: Cypress Pine Posts for the balconies

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Calco Timber and trusses

Calco Timber and trusses custom built house frame (flooring is 20 mm MgO Board by Firecrucnch)

The timber arrived in perfect condition, mould free too.

Slide show: The evolution of erecting a house frame

Calco Details

62 Barwon Terrace, South Geelong

p: 03 5221 1655

f: 03 5221 9788

Trusses:truss@calco.com.au

Timber Sales:sales@calco.com.au

Administration:geelong.reception@calco.com.au

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

An Allergy-Free House Frame, Expertly Installed by Pristine Carpentry

Due to my personal symptoms with mould and terpenes, especially pine terpenes, we chose to have a hardwood frame. I know of other people who’ve built houses over 20 years ago and they have allergy-free homes made using hardwood for the frame. So, you think it would be easy to source new, kiln-dried hardwood for a house frame, right? Well, it wasn’t!

With a great stroke of luck, Dan found the perfect carpentry team: Pristine Carpentry! He drove around looking at new houses around Pt Lonsdale; often the builders put signs up the front of their builds to say who did what. Dan said some of the houses looked shoddy but the very next day he was walking closer to where I was renting and saw a house that he thought looked perfect. He has high standards, being a handyman, himself! This house was being built by Pristine Carpentry and went up in record time while still remaining perfect looking, not at all like the messy building sites you often see. So Dan went back and spoke to them and grabbed a business card. So glad he did!

But before we even found our carpenter, our builder and us tried calling around other places and were told it’s not possible to find hardwood for a house; especially if the frame is custom built—as specified by our draftsperson. We believed that until we spoke with Pristine.

Pristine Carpentry and Builders: the best carpentry team!

Pristine Carpentry and Builders: the best carpentry team!

Our carpenter had to source it specially from Calco ~ Trusses and Timber.

Calco Trusses and Timber

Calco Trusses and TimberCarC

We met up with Damien, the head of Pristine Carpentry, and worked out how we were going to go about sourcing the hardwood, testing materials, and sorted out schedules. He was so awesome with the chemical side of it; didn’t miss a beat and asked his crew to use the products we provided. They smoked outside, which was great too! Our builders looked over the contracts and pricing and all was well and good.

The one thing I can say about choosing a carpenter, or anyone who is going to be touching your hardwood frame, is choose someone who knows how to work with hardwood. This is immensely important. Otherwise you’re going to have workpeople who are just plain annoyed and cursing because their tools keep breaking (Yes, I watched this happen with three tradies): Pine is a much softer wood than hardwood; drills and what not get put to the test when used with hardwood. I watched one tradie go through three drills in a day!

It only took 10 days for them to get the bottom floor built. If not for having to wait on Boral Bricks, the top floor would’ve been done next but then we had no bricky because by the time the bricks arrived, our bricky was booked on another job. Mad scramble to find another bricky. Finally, once we found a decent bricky, the second floor went up just as quick (The roof was put up before this by ‘Blessed Roofers’.) and it began to look like a house. A safe house.

Custom built hardwood frame by Calco Trusses and Timber, installed by Pristine Carpentry

Custom built hardwood frame by Calco Trusses and Timber, installed by Pristine Carpentry

(The flooring is 20 ml FireCrunch MgO Board, previously called Modakboard, used instead of particle board, which I wrote about here.)

Another thing that we found most impressive was the way Pristine Carpentry handled our shoji door cavity slider problem: businesses who supply cavity sliders don’t make them in hardwood or oak or anything besides pine. Once our team found this out, they were like, “Oh, well, we’ll just make them up out of hardwood!”

It was to our delight and surprise when Damien turned up the next day with all 7 cavity sliders, handcrafted from hardwood.

It cost a bit more but was worth it as it was our only option; besides, they look great. All up we have 7 cavity sliders.

Did I not tell you this team of carpenters are awesome?

Okay, so now I show you what I’m most impressed with. Dan, not so much. I’m a bathroom girl. Love a good soak; and have been planning my upstairs bathroom for a long time (Dan can have control of the downstairs one.). It’s taken two years to get to the look right in my head: floor to ceiling travertine look-a-like tiles from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove (awesome people for us allergy sufferers because they too, understood our situation and were most helpful as they have tiled a whole house for someone else with the same condition as me: extreme mould illness. Fantastic show room too! They also come up on the list of Top ten tilers in Ocean Grove’. 

(The blue tiles are for the downstairs bathroom to break it up a bit. Oh, sorry, am I taking control of the downstairs bathroom? Best leave that for Dan, but yes, he does like the blue tiles I chose.) Think of a bathroom carved out of the mountainside in Turkey, which is where real travertine comes from (real travertine needs epoxy and coatings of just too many chemicals for us to risk. Then there’s the price… But I’ll be posting more about bathrooms, safer products, etc. later.

Travertine look tile from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove

Travertine look tile from Bella Tiles in Ocean Grove

So this is downstairs bath hob created by our carpentry team:

And this is the upstairs hob. As you can see, I’ve been playing around with design elements and accents already. It’s all in the planning, you see?

Pristine Carpentry Crew

Pristine Carpentry Crew

Pristine Carpentry: Phone 0417 573 832

So what have you used as a house frame? And how has it worked out in regards to your medical condition?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

How Proclima, and Laros Fixed Our Slab/Frame Overhang

The Slab Overhang Issue

How did this happen? Is slab overhang a common happening? How do you avoid a mess like this? Well, the Surveyor, contracted out by the builders, came out twice (over a six month period) to measure up, placing painted sticks and ties about the property for both house designs. We can’t work out what happened exactly. Except maybe…

11152015allergyfreeecofriendlyhouse_711_041

Take your own measurements, folks

…the kangaroos jumped the fence and moved both sets of sticks about. Yep! The first lot were left in; and the new ones were added to mark out the slab boundary.

The other thing could be that we downsized the house therefore confused our measurements. We’ve still not gotten to the bottom of it all but it really doesn’t matter now. The way the situation was handled by our carpentry team who alerted us and by our concreting team, who found the right people for the job, it’s such a small issue in retrospect!

If you accidentally design a McMansion and decide to downsize, beware!

Oh the #kangaroos this morning made my #heart sing I know why I live where I do. #grateful #wildlife #vegan #loveanimals

A photo posted by Michellina (@michellinaoutofthelabyrinth) on

Because of this mishap, the slab (due to the pegs and measurements) was made to the incorrect dimensions—the frame on the south side, the cold side of the house, was too short by 40 ml, and another 40 ml in two other places on the northern side, leaving our custom-built, excellent Calco hardwood frame hanging over—not precariously so but, according to engineering good practice: It wasn’t safe to build a second story on.

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And to answer the question: How common is this? People in the industry told us this happens a lot. Many builders don’t go to the trouble that we all went to. Life has been very stressful for him lately. He has to do so much. I can’t get government help for Oxygen or CIRS medications (some of them, but most, no!), testing cost a bomb. I’ve got my uni and my plans for a career from home but I don’t feel the disabled are given a fair go. Unless a fair go is just laying in bed getting sicker by the year!

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This piece was expertly sliced off by a concrete cutter

Plus, another section on the north side (the sunny, warmer side, which is our passive heating side during Melbourne winters!) and the western side (the hot side where the sun sets) were too big by 40 ml, which meant the concrete had to be wet cut with an electric saw by a concrete cutter.

These are the drawings our engineer drew so that we could get a clear picture of the solution to the slab overhang:

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-8-17-08-pm

Basically, we had a steel beam bolted onto the 3 edges of the slab to support the frame. However, right away from a building biology standpoint, it bothered me to think that some builders and owner-builders would construct a building straight over this  because of the condensation issue that most likely would develop: basic building-biology science says that if you have metal that’s cold on the outside while warm on the inside (as most houses are in cooler weather) then condensation will occur… then mould! could follow.

Being concerned about the health of the building envelope, condensation for the above reasons and, for a mould sensitive person with CIRS, this is a nightmare of a mistake to make.

In my brain fog, attached to oxygen, I contacted Thomas at ProClima in New Zealand (whom I found out about from Building Biologist, Rapheal at EcoLibria at Torquay, who I found out about from Lucinda at Eco Health Solutions). Thomas then put me onto Andreas at Laros Technologies, here in Australia.

Thankfully, Andreas understood my concerns! I have CIRS

The irony of writing a book on how to Build and Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free House that is mould free and having to deal with these issues aren’t lost on me. As far as my book and blog go, this is a fantastic event to document because, thanks to ProClima and Laros, we fixed the issue. (I have a whole chapter on mould and happenings that can and did! go wrong and how we overcame these issues.) Dan and I inserted this thermal break ourselves. Now, 12 months later, my thumb still hurts from holding the beam while Dan wedged that low voc, non-toxic ‘thermal break’, between the slab and the metal beam.

Other ProClima products we plan on using:

Intello Internal Airtight Wrap (post coming up on that)

And, hopefully having our house and cottage roof windows’ supplies (flashing and tapes) supplied by them. I’m trying to book Kale in from KLM plumbing to do the job. He’s the perfect plumber: on time; does what he says he will. We’ll be sure to get good instructions for our plumber from Andreas [check] at Laros!

An Energy Efficiency Weakspot

From an energy efficiency point of view: this would be a weak spot that would suck out heat from the building during winter. So although the solution from our engineer was a clever one that saved our house and budget, it didn’t take into account that, Melbourne, being a colder climate, that has such *lovely cold weather, which would keep the piece of steel cold on the outside and warm on the inside each time the house was heated: this would cause condensation given those conditions, which is a great way to end up with mould!

The solution was to create a thermal break along the piece of steal. This would be a guarantee against condensation because there wouldn’t have any heat conductivity of the steel leading to it in the first place!

The galvanised steal beam which is called a ‘RHS’ (Rectangular hollow section) bolted to the slab edge. The RHS had the dimensions of 150 X 50 mm; and was placed On the 3 sections under the overhang of the hardwood frame&msash;Southside and Northside.

Again, the slab was too big by 25 ml: the whole west side length of the house, jutting out with no purpose but to leach heat out of the house by poking out into the cold like that.

The slab jutting out by 25 ml along the length of the westside, a potential heat leak in a passively heated house.

The slab jutting out by 25 ml along the length of the westside, a potential heat leak in a passively heated house. We had this saw off by (update coming)

So then the builders and Dan found a concrete cutting mob to came out to the build. Whew! They bought with them a special saw and expertly cut the excess slab of by 25 ml, exactly!

Our frame was then nailed and glue together by Pristine Carpentry the ones who rang us alerting us to the fact that the house frame was too too big for the slab. When you take into consideration all the bricks, tin and metal that need to make up the house, that’s still only 40 ml hanging precariously over the edge of the slab. Earthquake anyone? Hyperbolic catastrophes aside:

The problem was: because of the steals temperature conductivity, it was a potential, most definite with time. Mould problem caused by condensation, which would have rose up the wall.

We could have used a hairdryer to meld the shape of the material to the beam but, we realised the pressure of the house would do this.

It was a hard lesson.

Note: It’s best to check yourself.

But it’s all taken care of one thanks to Laros and ProClima: sell truly environmentally-friendly and people-friendly products made for New Zealand weather.

Our solution to slab overhang came from Laros.

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People and Places where we Received Assistance in Relation to Building Biology for People with MCS and Mould Illness (CIRS)

 

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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