A week like this one makes you understand how randomly lucky you can be. We woke up at the start of the weekend with what at first seemed like "normal" reports of bad bushfires that usually plague the Australian summer. Then the body count just kept getting higher, and higher, until the news media began declaring it the worst natural disaster in Australia's recorded history.

We found some extra room in our renovation budget to help out those who have not only lost their homes, but family members, pets, possessions, and a sense of safety and wellbeing. Hopefully you can, too.

Unfortunately, since we are nowhere near the worst fires (even the ones in NSW are quite a way away from us), there wasn't much else we could do other than exercise the credit card. So we pressed on with the last pieces of demolition and clean up work that were pending before the walls could be rendered.


Wall Plates

Last week the most significant thing that started was that the electricians began rewiring the house. When we pulled out the timber panelling and trim, we necessarily had to remove all the switches and power outlets, because they were not already correctly channeled into the walls. We put together a plan for where we wanted all the power outlets, switches, alarm sensors, and anything else related to the wiring. The first thing the electricians did was chase the bricks, cutting grooves where the wiring and wall plates were going to go.

The next thing was to put pieces of conduit into the grooves for the wiring. That way, wires could be threaded through the conduit from under the floor. When the wall is rendered with cement, this means that the wires can still be moved without damaging the rendering. Finally, wall plates are put on the walls where power outlets and switches will go after the rendering was done.

We also had to do one major piece of work ourselves. The front part of the house was originally divided into four small rooms: two bedrooms and two living areas. We didn't really see the point in having two small living areas when we could have one large open space. However, you can't always just randomly remove walls. First we had our builder check whether the wall was load bearing at all. It wasn't holding up anything significantly structural, but there were some rafters above the ceiling that rested on a beam at the top of the wall. This meant we'd need to leave a lintel in place to help keep those rafters supported.

New Lintel

Our builder removed the top 3 courses of bricks and installed the lintel for us. Then it was up to us to remove the actual wall. For safety purposes, and also because we wanted to preserve the bricks, we couldn't just take a sledge hammer to the wall. Sunday was spent cleaning up all the demolition waste in the back yard and tearing down the wall, brick by brick.

Brick Wall Removal

It was very hot that day, nearing 30°C (almost 85°F), and right around noon the neighbourhood had another major power outage (there had been one a couple of weekends before as well). Fortunately we had some friends to help us get started. We invited a few people over for our first "renovation party." Friends brought over a small barbecue, and we bought some food (after a lengthy walk to the only nearby shop that had electricity). They helped us stack all the timber, carpet, and other bits and pieces from the demolition into the skip we rented. We were lucky to have such helpful friends, although they got to go home early and rest up while we had to keep going well into the evening, finishing the wall demolition.

Although it went relatively quickly to remove the wall one brick at a time, there were still a lot of bricks, and we didn't end up going home (very tired and very sore) until 8:30pm.

Lessons Learned

  • Sometimes an early start is a good thing. Removing bricks in a dark house with no electricity sucks. We had a 7 hour day that started after noon.

  • If you can trick your friends into helping you, it really makes a world of difference. Even if they ony just make your lunch for you (and we got even more out of them!) A hearty round of thanks to last weekend's lifesavers, Carl, Snega, and Dave M, whose help and company made a tough day much more pleasant and drastically reduced a large workload.

  • Safety is paramount if you are doing your own work in a construction zone. Cleaning up the timber we had to watch out for nails and splinters. Adam hit his hand quite a few times chiseling out the bricks in the wall. And we both slipped on one of the boards covering the joists (with a near miss for a broken thumb). We'll be nursing our bruises for the rest of the week, and that was with being relatively careful.

What's Next

The next few things on our list mostly involve our tradies. The builder will need to start getting the joists ready to lay the floors. While that's going on the renderer will start work on the walls.

There are a few things we'll need to do as well. We found a borax-based product at our new favourite shop, The Natural Paint Place, that we can paint onto our joists to discourage further termite activity. Borax is harmless to people, but if termites eat it they will be poisoned. That should keep the wood under the floor from being gnawed on any further.

We also want to clear out as much as possible all of the brick dust and rubble that collected on the ground, to encourage good air flow under the floor boards. We also still need to pick out our cornices for installation after the walls are done!

One little indulgent thing we decided to do alongside the electrical wiring was to get extra chasing, conduit, and wall plates for our surround sound system. That way all our speaker wire can be run tidily under the floor and plug directly into the wall. We found that The Hi-Fi Trader have custom face plates with banana plugs on them that are just what we need.

The final thing we need to do is get ready to have the floorboards and the window delivered. The boards will need to sit in the house for at least a week in order to acclimatise. And we will be replacing a leaky, dodgy large window over the kitchen. it will take several weeks for the custom ordered window to be built and arrive.