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House Building Project

16th May

The foundations are now completed and the house is due to arrive on Wednesday morning. Here are the final photos of the foundations...

Completed foundations Completed foundations
11th May

This afternoon, we met with the LVI planner. This'll take a moment to explain for the English readers. L stands for 'lämmin' which means heating. V stands for 'vesi' which is water. I stands for 'ilma' which means air. The first two are obvious(ish). Heating here is mainly underfloor. The system that we have to subscribe to (but probably would choose anyway) is called 'kaukolämpö'. It uses hot water which is a byproduct of electricity production and this is piped around the city through insulated pipes. This hot water can then flow through pipes under the floor to heat the house. Water includes the stuff coming in and sewage/waste water. Air exchange is a requirement here. The house has a system which circulates air and filters it, so that the air we breathe is clean, fresh and dry. They're a bit OTT about it if you ask me, but it's one of those things that one just has to have. So we sat there with Juha (our vastaava) and the LVI planner (who looked like a younger version of Einstein) and discussed all manner of things from toilets to sound-proof doors.

From the LVI meeting, we went to the plot to help with the insulation of the foundations. The groundwork crew had obviously been quite busy for the afternoon but unfortunately, they had run out of sand and were finishing up for the day. We helped move some packs of polystyrene around and then went to Daisy and Topi's plot and relieved them of their coffee supply. The insulation process is quite boring but if you weren't interested in the process, you wouldn't be reading this, so here goes... On top of the gravel, they lay a filter fabric. This is a kind of carpet that sand can't go through. Then they put some sand down and then sheets of polystyrene. This goes all around the outside of the house. Inside the house, they just fill the foundations with sand and compress it. Under the garage area, they use Finnfoam instead of normal polystyrene. This is tougher so it doesn't get upset when you drive a car over it. Then they cover everything with more sand. I still worry about this whole idea. Jesus was quite clear about the kind of man who builds his house upon the sand. What on earth will happen to us when the rains come down and the floods come up? I hope the house on the sand doesn't fall CRASH!!!

Today's pics...

The inside of the house, half full of sand Compressing the sand in Neil's office Laying insulation sheets
9th May

Quick update to show photos of today's achievements. Between Neil, Josh and I, we built a stand for our electric box. We also added a postbox and our name plate to it. Hopefully in a couple of days, the groundworks people will come back and fill the foundations with sand and help us put the insulation down.

Front of the electric box stand Side view showing postbox Other side showing name plate Josh proving that it is stable Josh sleeping in his new bedroom
8th May

There are a lot of photos this time because we've had a really busy week and haven't had time to do any updates until now. Earlier in the week, the foundations team came and erected a large, house shaped frame (at least, we hope it's the shape of our house). They put some polystyrene inside the frame and some rather rusty looking metal rods (got me wondering about hoop-iron but apparently we're okay). Then they brought a concrete mixer and a very dandy machine and filled the frame with liquid concrete. Like this...

Making the foundations Making the foundations Making the foundations Making the foundations Making the foundations Making the foundations

Today, we spent a long time adding insulation to the foundations and tomorrow will be more of the same. We bought 1m x 20m rolls of plastic egg-box sheeting. It's part of the damp-proofing process. We had to nail this stuff onto the foundations, which inconveniently are made of concrete. The conrete is setting rapidly and is already pretty hard to hammer nails into, but between us, we've done most of it. The following pics show before and after. We also had to dig a hole under one corner of the foundations to pass the kaukolämpö pipe under. That was bloomin' difficult, I can tell you. We all tried to keep cheerful and positive but that hole was the cause of a great deal of frustration before Andy finally worked out the best way to get it in. Anyway, as you can see, it's in!

Neil and Andy sawing the black plastic in half The foundations of the house Foundations of the garage with damp-proofing Andy, very proud of his successfully fitted pipe! Partially damp-proofed foundations Problem - we forgot to take a knife to cut it. End of business for today!
23rd April

I'll just put two or three pics on today to show what it looks like now that groundworks has finished. We got a massive pack of technical drawings in the post today, showing how the roof and walls and everything fit together. Hope they've remembered that a builder is supposed to be doing that bit! Having looked at the pictures, I think it would test my Ikea/Argos skills to the limit! Anyway, pics...

Nice - looks like a blank canvas now Nice - looks like a blank canvas now Nice - looks like a blank canvas now
19th April

Not much to say but we went to see how the work was progressing. It was sunny and bright - just right for some more pics. Oh, and the driver of the Hitachi Carrot was a real poser and enjoyed showing-off to some spectators!

More groundworks and a sunny day More groundworks and a sunny day More groundworks and a sunny day More groundworks and a sunny day More groundworks and a sunny day
16th April - Ground works begin!

Oh! How exciting! The groundworks people have started work and after a day, the plot is unrecognisable! Check out these pics:

The commencement of groundworks at the plot
The commencement of groundworks at the plot
The commencement of groundworks at the plot
The commencement of groundworks at the plot
The commencement of groundworks at the plot

This weekend is the building fayre in Oulu. It's a bit like the Ideal Homes Exhibition, only smaller. We're hoping to get some good deals on electrical items, fires, etc. for the house. I'm excited! Can you tell?!!

10th April

Yesterday, we had a meeting with our newly appointed vastaavatyönjohtaja. There isn't really a good translation for this role. He's basically a project supervisor but he has to be a building engineer, so it's not a sit back and watch job. With him, we've got the next phases mapped out between this weekend (hopefully finishing the trees) and week 20 when the house arrives. Next week, the city people will come and put a height marker in the middle of the plot. This shows the height that everything has to be built from. For us, that is 19.23m above sea level. Also next week, some big machines will be coming to dig and churn up the land. This should level everything and get rid of the stumps and excess foliage. A couple of weeks later, the city come back and put the house corner markers in place and the week after that, the foundations will be dug, filled and insulated. Quite exciting really!

Today though, we have to go and finish the trees. We're so nearly done, it's depressing! The work is getting easier as the snow melts but we can't work for anywhere near as long because it is so wet! In places, we're wading through ankle deep puddles and the water is freezing cold. As we plod our way around the plot, there is less snow - maybe only knee deep now but the weather is warmer, so we can't wear salopettes (which are elasticated around the ankles). Everytime I put my foot into untouched snow, my waterproof trousers go up, my jogging bottoms get soaked and the water runs into my boots. Also, when tired or when cutting, at least when there was snow, I could sit on it without feeling cold. Now, as soon as I kneel or sit, I feel really cold and wet. Well, hopefully, we'll get finished today.

Today, I'm taking a roll of red ribbon with me. Yellow might be more appropriate - Tie a yellow ribbon round the old, old tree - but I only have red. The trees that are staying need to be marked. For me, that will make the remaining trees look less threatening. The ever-growing piles of firewood are also making the job feel nearly done. It's just getting through this last little bit... God, give me strength and a final burst of energy!

2nd April

Hooray! The snow is melting and access to the plot is a little easier. We went this morning and cleared a couple more of the previously felled trees. There's now a sizable stack of logs in the back corner. On the right side of the plot, there's a group of five large trees that we had hoped to keep but now that we have the groundworks plan, we think it unlikely that these trees can stay. I think they will get in the way a bit and also, the ground between them is very mossy and bumpy. If we leave them, the ground there cannot be ploughed and it will look wild and untidy. So, reluctantly, we chopped down a biggie this morning. The saw blade is getting quite blunt now and the trees are very wet, so it was seriously slow work. We did manage to strip it and cut the trunk into smaller chunks, so we felt like we'd achieved something today.

21st March

The last few weeks have gone very slowly with regard to clearing the plot. We have had so much snow and everytime we go it feels like we're starting from scratch. We spent a couple of hours there today and dug a path down the side of the plot so that we can start moving logs to the back corner where they will live until the ground clearance team have done. Moving the snow isn't that difficult but it is still dry and powdery, rather like talcum powder and even when we're almost at ground level, underfoot is still a bit like quicksand. Anyway, here's a few pics to show how we're getting on...

Most of the felling is done Open space! Neil digging a path

Behind the scenes, we have been doing a lot of planning. We had a bit of a disappointment when the city wouldn't allow the independent inspector we'd hired to do the job because he's not an engineer. Apparently this is a local rule. We're still making the final decision about another guy who would be somewhat over budget but does speak excellent English and wants to represent expats who are building. He seems very good but any overspend there means making cuts somewhere else.

We've been doing a lot of shopping for things like tiles, floors, kitchens, cupboards and the like. Again, it's a bit of a balancing act in terms of the budget. We have found tiles, flooring and cupboards for less than budget, which allows us to have a nicer kitchen. We're still waiting for a couple of quotes to come in, before making the final decision but we're confident that the kitchen will look fab!

One important thing we have signed a contract for, is the electrical plan. We've gone for a company called ValoHOME who do energy saving systems. All the lights will be about 3W LEDs and for 9 or 10 months of the year, they will run from a solar panel. The electrical system has a control panel which is linked to our mobile phones. It has a security system and various clever features like a leak sensor on appliances which automatically turns the water off if they leak.

At the moment we are waiting for the ground plans, which show where drainage systems will go and all the fine details of the foundations and stuff. It's deadly boring but very important. When that comes, we can take it to the groundwork company and they will come and turn over the ground, prepare it and dig foundations. It's now week 12 (beginning of) and the house will be delivered sometime during week 20. That means that in 8 weeks, we'll have a house.

20th Feb

It was a bit touch and go as to whether we ventured down to the plot today, as the temperature this morning was -34oC!!! It did warm up though towards midday so we put on our best 'sisu' and took plenty of bacon, sausages and coffee and went for it. Raymon and Laura came too and in two or three hours we got quite a lot done. We managed to clear some of the bigger trees from the front corner. Here's what it looked like at close of business today...

The workers... not working! Lots of felled trees Andy burning the stubble The wood store is growing slowly
14th Feb

Hooray! Work has finally begun on our plot! Yesterday we started cutting down trees. There's loads of snow on the plot. It's thigh deep, waist deep in places and it's really difficult trying to walk on it. Yesterday we cut down 15 or so smallish fir trees. We're trying to create a lattice of 1.5m logs at the side of the plot. This means trimming all the branches and foliage off and we discovered that it all mounts up quite quickly and looks really untidy. Another problem is that all the work makes you hungry and the low temperatures mean that you can get cold quite quickly. Being creative, like we are, we thought of a way of solving all the problems in one go. We went to Bauhaus (like B & Q) on the way home and bought a cheap BBQ. This morning we took the BBQ, a packet of bacon, some bread, a frying pan and some dry logs and we made a roaring fire. Once we'd cooked and eaten and the fire was really hot, we piled all the foliage from the trees on. It was damp so it smoked a lot and my coat stinks but it worked and it kept us both warm!

It has been a really sunny weekend, perfect for taking some photos of the work in progress. Here's a few. As you can see, we have a lot to do...

Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot
Phase... oh, stuff it, lost count!

It's frustratingly still all happening behind the scenes. We still have a plot with all its trees intact, covered with loads of snow and it looks like we've done absolutely nothing. That's quite depressing when we look at Raymon and Laura's plot - they've got foundations and it looks like they're about to build a house or something.

Over the last few weeks, the plans have been finalised. We've agreed what's going where and with the help of our Vastaava (a kind of independent inspector who checks everything out on our behalf) we've made some small changes. He's got a real eye for detail. Like, he noticed that on the plans, the bathroom sink is under the window but the window is too low to put a mirror up. So we've made some changes there. He also noticed that they'd written 'grey' as the external colour. We don't do grey! So that's been changed to light blue. Eventually, last week, the final plans, including the plot plan (that shows what's going where on the plot) were ready and we filled in the planning permission forms. Neil delivered them to the city technical department on Friday afternoon and hopefully we'll get permission to chop down trees in the next week.

Yesterday, we went to a kitchen and bathroom supplier and sat for two hours making a kitchen plan. We've chosen a design called Toivola. Josh insisted on coming with us because the kitchen is very much his domain. He loved the sink we've chosen and he helped choose a cooker and microwave solution that we were all happy with. Andy didn't bother coming - I think he's happy to be catered for. The bathroom units are going to be the same design (price allowing) but all the other cupboards and things are a plain design. The man in the shop spoke 'a little English' very well and we got the chance to practise 'vähän suomea'. It seemed a reasonable arrangement. He's going to produce pictures and plans now and give us a price, hopefully a week on Monday.

Phase 9 - Chopping down trees

We have just returned home from a lovely communal afternoon of felling and cutting up trees. One of our neighbours, who is a week or three ahead of us in the project, got permission to start clearing their plot. So, today we all went down to their plot and started chopping trees. Neil, the boys and I were doing the smaller fir trees with handsaws and an axe, whilst Raymon and Topi attacked the big silver birches with a chainsaw. It was a lovely bright day (all three and a half hours of it) but a little chilly. They have quite a large plot, so it doesn't look like we've got very far, but it's a start.

Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot Tree felling at the plot
Phase 8 - Signing the papers

I've saved this section until all the deals are definite. A few weeks ago, we went to the city offices to sign the rental agreement for the plot. They explained all the legal stuff (fortunately Daisy came with us to translate) and then we signed the papers. We would have assumed that would be it but before we can begin work, we still have to register the agreement at the court-house. Hoping to do that tomorrow.

Yesterday, Neil met with the bank and sorted out the mortgage. We had already had a vague promise from them but now we have something more concrete. They've checked out all the figures and are happy with it all. So that's a relief and a huge answer to prayer.

This afternoon, we signed the deal with our chosen building company. We have decided on a company called Kannustalo. They will build a 'packet house' in their factory which will be delivered to the plot during week 20 of next year. That's towards the end of May. Tomorrow, they are going to send us electronic versions of the final plans for the house but for obvious security reasons, we will post these in the members' area, along with other top-secret information. Before the house is delivered, we have to clear the trees from the plot and Kannustalo will arrange for the foundations to be dug. We had a survey done of the land and the soil quality is quite good, which means that the foundations only have to be 1m deep. When they dig the foundations, they put the electrical and water connections in the right place so that once the house is delivered, everything can be connected to mains systems. I'm looking forward to observing all this with my camera at the ready. Watch out for photos as it all progresses.

Still in phase 7 but getting further

It's been really slow going and a little frustrating but we have had various meetings with building companies over the last few weeks. The actual meetings have been really cool! We've all gathered next door and sat around Daisy's kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating scrummy pies, whilst discussing our options. Some companies do 'packet' houses. That means that the house is built in a factory and then they come and put it on the foundations. It's a good option because it's quicker than building on site but some of the companies are not to our liking. They give you a price and it's supposed to include everything but then it turns out that there are other costs. It's a bit scary.

Last week, we met with a chap who has built for another neighbour, so he comes recommended. He was different from the others. Most companies give you a choice of house designs and you can choose one. They can be slightly changed but there may or may not be a house that works for you. This guy will build whatever house you want. So we drew a design based on one that we liked but changed lots of things around and he'll come back with a price that includes everything from clearing the tree stumps to making the garden. He was quiet, coped well with the chaos of children playing in the same room and we liked him. He seemed trustworthy to us. If we all use his company, we will get substantial discounts because they can build them all at the same time, so machinery only has to be transported once to the area. They can dot around between the three of us and save time and travelling costs. I hope he comes back with a good price!

Neil is going to email the city technical department this week. We want to make an appointment to go in and sign the contract for the plot. Then we can get our saws out and start tree-felling. Also we want to ask permission to build the garage at the front of the plot and the house a little further back. The plot is marked that the house is right at the front and the garage is behind but this means more snow clearance, which means getting up really really early in the winter. So please pray that they let us!

Phase 7 - Choosing a building company

This morning, we went to look at a showhouse built by the cheapest house-building company in Finland. We'd heard varying reports about them so we thought it would be worth looking for ourselves. The biggest problem we had was finding the place - the roads and the map didn't seem to have much in common with each other, so we spent about an hour sliding around on the icy roads, trying to find it.

Once we found the place, we were pleasantly surprised. It had four walls... a roof... a garden... all the things that a nice house should have. No, seriously, it appeared to be as well built as an other house. From upstairs, we couldn't hear noise from downstairs and vice versa. The fittings all looked nice. The sauna was lovely! We looked all around and then sat for ages talking to one of the architects. He looked at our plot and sketched options that we have for the build.

Whilst we talked to him, we also found out that we have to get a land survey done so that they know how deep to make the foundations. That should cost about 500 euros. They have to drill four holes and find out where the land is hard and where it is sandy. Hard is good because then the foundations don't have to go so deep = cheaper. Meanwhile, I still can't wait to find a chainsaw and start lopping the trees.

Phase 6 - Plot and the bill

Once we had the news that we definitely have a plot, the next thing that felt natural to do, was to go and visit it. Firstly, I wanted to walk around the edge and secondly, we wanted to see how many trees we are going to have to chop down. Well it's a good job we went, because the plot I thought we'd got wasn't the one we actually have got. In my mind, we were one street down. Anyway, we donned our walking boots and went to the plot. It was a really nice feeling to look at it and try to picture a house there. We found the plot markers and marvelled at how big it is. Sadly though, walking round it was impossible! The trees are too thick and the ground beneath is covered in mosses, blueberries and mushrooms. We tried walking on it but sank!

The boys standing by the side of the plot The plot is on the left Showing the path down the side of the plot The plot is on the left The plot is on the left

As you can see, we have a lot of trees to chop down. I'm a bit disappointed that they are all Christmas trees. If we were in England, we could make a fortune! I'm not sure how good the wood is for burning though. Silver birch trees are on most plots but we don't have any of them. Anyway, we'll see. At some point, we need to buy a decent petrol chainsaw and then we can start work.

On Friday, we got the written confirmation of the plot from the council. It came with a huge bill that we weren't expecting until March. It has to be paid by mid-October. It's not a problem, just a surprise. Another surprise was the timeline for the project. They recommend starting the build in May next year but we were planning on starting earlier. Every month that we stay here costs money that we could spend on the new house. Daisy thinks that we can start earlier because we are not building ourselves but getting a company in to do it. There's a meeting on Wednesday though so Neil will find out there.

Phase 5 - Messut (Finland's answer to the Ideal Homes Exhibition)

Sorry to get in before Neil again but yesterday's visit to Messut has to have a mention. Let's start with some pics. Not really sure about the woolly mammoth but it provided a distraction for bored kids and was 'different' in that lovely Finnish way.

Giant woolly mammoth at the Mammuttihirsi stand Mammuttihirsi stand Happy browsers at Messut Happy browsers at Messut

Apart from Messut being a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday, it was also very useful. All the major house building companies were there and most of them had somebody there who spoke English. We have found out more about what sort of things are included in the 'all inclusive' prices and what isn't. Most of the companies also assured us of decent discounts if all three families order together. Let's see how many will live up to their promises.

I think, as a result of our investigations, we will probably go for a single-storey house. It works out cheaper because the whole thing is 'finished'. With the 2-storey houses, the upstairs is built but you have to do the insulation, walls, plumbing, etc yourself... or pay someone else to do it. We have found one that we really like, with plenty of space and a good floor plan. What we might do, is give that to a different company and ask them if they could build it for us.

Another thing we found out was about timelines for the project. It looks like we should have a house built by next summer. We have to clear the land ourselves and then somebody will come and dig the foundations. Once the house is delivered, it can take anything from 4 weeks to 3 months, depending on the company and how they do the build thing. Our first step though, is to decide on a company and a design. Then, once we have the contract with the city for the plot, we can start chopping down trees. Today though, I want to go to the plot and stand right in the middle and shout (at the top of my voice), "It's ours! Hooray!"

Phase 4 - STOP PRESS!!

Well hot off the press and for once, ahead of Nicki (hehe), we have just heard today that we have been fortunate to secure a rental plot from the city. Better still, we have been granted our first choice. Of course, we now have the hard bit to follow, but thank God for His provision in this and thank you all for your prayers. We are all delighted and excited. Tomorrow, we are off to a house builder exhibition - for those in UK, think Ideal Home but on a much smaller scale. We hope to be able to make some more decisions following this. So, time to head south - not completely, but towards the other end of the city and for those visiting (hint, hint), we will become closer to the airport. Have a great weekend.

Phase 3 - Applying for rental plots

There's nothing quite like that moment when you click the send button and you know it's done! We got together with the neighbours last night and decided which plots to apply for and in which order. You can choose up to 20 plots and then they are allocated by some kind of lottery. 70% of the plots will go to families with two adults and two children - that's us! I filled in the online form (in Finnish) and only had to ask for help with one word. There's not a lot else to say. It's done! Please pray now that we get one of our first choices.

Phase 2 - Changing one's mind

We've been very busy this week, looking at possible builders and getting all the forms and information for plan B (the rental plots). Neil actually talked to a builder and got a breakdown of the costs. We also went into the city technical office and talked to somebody there about the rental plots and planning permission and so on. The upshot is that we are going to be pushing ourselves right to the limit if we buy land. Also, one of our other neighbours has got a plot of land on one of the rental sites and after much discussion with the other neighbours and several drives around the area, we are now moving plan B upto plan A status and vice versa.

So we're looking at an area in the south of the city, just off the motorway, not far from the airport. At the moment, there aren't many houses there but it's going to be quite a large housing estate. There's a part of us that would prefer something more countrified but practically, to be on several bus routes and near the major transport networks is more sensible. The plots range in size between about 700 and 1300m2. This is the current favourite, because of size and the fact that it's end of cul-de-sac.

View of plot looking towards the end of the road View of the current plan A plot Looking down the road from the plot

The applications have to be in by the end of this week. They are then allocated by lottery, with 70% of the plots going to families with two adults and two children. We've filled in the form and tomorrow evening we are getting together with the neighbours to write our list of preferred plots. We're hoping that if we all write down different combinations of the same plots, we might get the ones we want. Obviously though, we'll be praying too. If you're one of our friends that is praying for us, then please pray that we get our first choice... unless, of course, God has plans for next year's wasps' nests near there, in which case, could we have one that is out of the 'fly-zone'. You get the idea!

Phase 1 - Finding a plot

How do go about finding a plot of land in a strange country (albeit a very beautiful country) where you don't speak the lingo? Well, firstly, you learn some important words in said lingo. The most obvious word to learn is 'plot', which is 'tontti'. At least that gives you something to search for on the Oikotie website (which we use frequently). Then there was the complication that land around here can be rented or bought. It sounds simple - buy it and then it's yours! The thing is, land in the centre is mega-expensive. We narrowed it down to a rented plot about 10km to the North of the city and a sale plot about 15km west.

The second big problem is our neighbours. There's 12 houses in our little plot. Okay, so some of them are empty and being rented, some people come and go... but there's a small group of us that are friends now and we all want to buy our own place but don't want to leave each other. That's really how we ended up looking at this plot of land...

Plot of land that we hope to buy Plot of land that we hope to buy View from the end of the road View down the road with nutty neighbours

The plot is about 5400m2 and we are currently looking at whether it could be split into 3 separate plots. We would have one and our current immediate neighbours would have the other two. Of course there is some debate as to who would have which bit. As for me, I predictably would like whichever plot has least nettles! That would probably be the middle section. Close to the back, right corner is the Sanginjoki (river) and when we went to look at the plot, one of the neighbours (whose brother owns the plot) showed us down to the river through his garden. It was amazing! Beautiful! Idyllic! I could picture us fishing and boating... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Back to the real world! We have asked the owner about whether we could build 3 houses and he's checking for us. That will take about a week. Meanwhile, us and one of the families is definitely IN! We are waiting for the other family to decide. While that's happening, we are trying to find the best deal from the building companies. I'll write about that next time.