Welcome to ned Productions (non-commercial personal website, for commercial company see ned Productions Limited). Please choose an item you are interested in on the left hand side, or continue down for Niall’s virtual diary.
Niall’s virtual diary:
Started all the way back in 1998 when there was no word “blog” yet, hence “virtual diary”.
Original content has undergone multiple conversions Microsoft FrontPage => Microsoft Expression Web, legacy HTML tag soup => XHTML, XHTML => Markdown, and with a ‘various codepages’ => UTF-8 conversion for good measure. Some content, especially the older stuff, may not have entirely survived intact, especially in terms of broken links or images.
- A biography of me is here if you want to get a quick overview of who I am
- An archive of prior virtual diary entries are available here
- For a deep, meaningful moment, watch this dialogue (needs a video player), or for something which plays with your perception, check out this picture. Try moving your eyes around - are those circles rotating???
- Broadband internet via the Starlink satellite dish.
- Two state of the art Wifi6 access points each end of the western wall connected by 2.5 Gbps fibre backhaul.
- Three state of the art low end Chinese security cameras at far, mid and near points along that western wall.
- Two 22,000 lumen warm white floodlights at far and near points of western wall.
- Under the full length of the roof section there is now RGBWW LED strip lighting.
- Lithium battery storage has been assembled and commissioned and its wiring to the inverter tested.
- The cameras and Wifi boxes are powered from the 54v DC mains supply, rather than from AC. The floodlights and Starlink require AC.
- The office is fully wired and ready to go.
- The shipping container is fully wired with lighting, sockets and ethernet and is ready to go.
- The garden shed is fully wired with lighting, sockets and ethernet and is ready to go.
So the lack of mains electricity is beginning to become a real bore. I’m onto my second electrician now, he also keeps not doing the work despite me pinging him weekly. At this rate I may have to expect no mains power until the house gets built, so I’ve decided on a radical solution for that. But more later on that.
Also, the mortgage Approval in Principle expired this week. The people from the AIB were basically on holiday from July onwards, so were doing absolutely nothing about the mortgage application. Anytime you’d ping them they’d be out of office for some long number of more weeks. Such is the banking industry. Anyway I’ll now have to apply again from scratch for the mortgage, do it all over again. Yay.
Anyway the first thing I got done after the last post was the middle security camera. Unlike the other two which are high up, this one is under the roofed bit:
What’s neat about this camera is it can see 180 degrees around itself. It does this by combining two camera images and stitching them together. As much as the resulting image is very nice in the daytime, at night time this camera cannot hold a candle to the other two, which have truly superb unilluminated night time vision. This camera won’t need it though, as under the roof we have LED strip lights and at some point I shall be having them turn on at night time automatically, just very dim. But more than enough light for that camera to see with clarity.
Here are the LED strip lights working, they are on a switch. They shine unnecessarily blue because the power source I had them on for test was incapable of supplying all the power they draw, so they are both dim and bluer as a result:
Finally, as this is the last photo of the last thing I completed out of the original western wall plan originally drawn up more than a year ago, this kinda makes me a touch emotional. So much effort to reach now. So much money, and so much time. But plan completion here we are!
That’s the Starlink power supply at the bottom, it emits a single 1 Gbps ethernet which the BananaPi board (middle) takes as its WAN. It then provides 2.5 Gbps fibre backhaul to the other BananaPi box forty metres away. Up top left are these very neat PoE powered 100 Mbit switches. You can daisy chain them until PoE runs out. Top middle are the junctions for the 54v DC which are the two thick blue and brown cables, very low voltage needs big currents to carry much power so you can’t avoid 16 mm2 cable really. A 12v and a 24v DC-DC converter hangs off that to supply the BananaPi and the LED strip lights. Finally, top right shows an external antenna, this is for a LTE 4G antenna. The BananaPi has a SIM slot, if you fit a SIM it’s capable of using LTE for internet. I reckoned for the small amount of money to buy a low end LTE modem and antenna, this would be a useful backup if the main internet failed.
And there you go, job finished at last!
I’m currently moving gravel to clear space for the next stage of all this (described next) and I needed something to shutter in the gravel within its final destination. I thought red brick would look nice, however I was horrified to learn they now cost €1.40 inc VAT for new bricks. And that’s for the cheap bland ones, anything nicer expect two euro.
I then wondered what about reclaimed bricks, and it turns out those have also massively inflated their prices recently. I found on DoneDeal a local chap selling off the end of a pallet for €1.50 per brick, so I went and got a bootful before they all went:
These are old British Imperial bricks made at the height of their empire, or thereabouts. They’re bigger than modern bricks, so in that sense they are likely better value in terms of brickiness per euro. However, they were made early in brick mass production, and therefore weren’t made quite as well. Also, a hundred years of use tends to impact a brick too!
Whilst unpacking them, I was fortunate enough to yield a few with their manufacturer branding (they would insert one of these per bale of bricks so you knew where they came from):
Adderley Park Brick of Birmingham was founded in 1876 through the takeover and industrial modernisation of an existing brickworks which had been manually operated since around 1840. Via coal powered steam engines, the clay was mechanically pressed and made pliable into moulds, which were then fired to cure them, again by coal.
As is often the case with these things, these industries tended to cluster where the clay was good and coal and transport was easy to obtain. Just up the road was Globe Bricks, who also churned out vast numbers of standardised consistent quality bricks like Adderley Park Brick. They, and dozens of other British Imperial brickmakers, made the bricks which built the empire.
We know when Adderley Park Brick was founded, but determining when it ended is harder. I think they stopped printing their full name on their bricks after 1916, they just used A.P.B. after that. And they were certainly still going by 1946, they ended up getting merged into ever larger conglomerates until the cost of energy and labour in Britain became too high compared to elsewhere. So brickmaking went elsewhere, mostly to Europe where energy was historically cheaper.
To date my specific bricks would therefore seem to have a particularly wide window. However, we were in fact really lucky here because we also got this branded brick:
It’s hard to make out – and it took some effort with the search engine to find – but this says “G. Goodall, Saltly”. This is in fact quite the rare brick! Produced only between 1878 and 1883, their yard was right next door to Adderley Park Brick. That narrows my set of bricks to that specific five year window, which makes these bricks between 140 and 145 years old.
(My thanks to the webpage at https://uknamedbricks.blogspot.com/2018/04/birmingham-brickworks-part-2.html which solved the Goodall brick for me. It also has lots more detail about Birmingham brick makers if that sort of thing interests you)
Megan feels sad about using these heritage bricks merely to frame gravel. She’s not wrong that it seems somewhat of a shame. However there is absolutely no shortage of these bricks, billions were made and given the cost of new bricks, reclaiming them is very profitable so there will never be a shortage of supply any time in the next few decades. And, more importantly, they were made to be used – their former use has ended, they’re now getting used for new things. Assuming their makers cared at all, these bricks I have here have a reasonable chance of seeing their two hundredeth birthday assuming myself and Megan live long enough, and one of our children claims the house after we are dead.
Finally, a much newer brick slipped into what I bought:
Marston still make bricks actually, and they’re very nice (and very expensive). But this specific brick is likely from the 1970s back when the Marston Vale was the source of most of the bricks still made in Britain back then. You can tell it is a modern brick because it has modern dimensions i.e. is smaller and thinner. It almost certainly got inserted into the building which our bricks made up as part of repairs and maintenance, probably because the colours roughly matched.
I’m getting royally annoyed about the unwillingness of electricians to come turn on my mains electricity, and seeing as I need electricity on site to make forward progress on the build, I went ahead and bought the solar panels for the house now. I’m going to erect eighteen of them now as a temporary installation, that will get me electricity on site and then if/when mains electricity happens it’s no longer a critical blocker to forward progress.
As much as spending lots of money now puts me further away from the mortgage, I had had enough to be honest. I’m stuck here working from home six months later than originally planned now. I have a perfectly good office onsite, it just needs electricity. I need electricity now, not later.
Another motivation factor is that European warehouses are currently with a glut of solar panels, so they are deep discounting to shift the older panels. The cause is the Ukraine war, stockists correctly anticipated a massive increase in demand for solar panel installations, so they ordered lots more stock. There is indeed a massive demand, but there is a big shortage of installers. So the stockists haven’t been able to shift stock as quickly as hoped, and due to running out of warehouse space, they had to firesale some stock.
Anyway, upshot is that I picked up forty Q Cells G10 375w solar panels (which are last year’s model, slightly worse than this year’s model) for a mere €94 ex VAT each. That is a very good price, you would normally be paying €150 ex VAT for a Chinese panel of that size, or €240 ex VAT for a non-Chinese panel of that size. Q Cells is of course Korean-German, and while they do make some of their panels in a Chinese factory, most are made in Korea, Malaysia and especially the United States where they are by far the largest domestic manufacturer.
My temporary solar panel installation shall be onto the side of my shipping container, which is 2.9m high and south facing. I have bought nine 4.8m lengths of 100 x 44 pressure treated timber. If one wanted a 45 degree angle, they would need to be shortened to 4.1m long each; if one wanted them closer to 35 degrees which is the maximum power generating angle throughout the year, you would leave them basically as is. I haven’t decided on that quite yet, I may just stick their ends over the top of the container a little or do something else.
At their bottom I shall have four ground anchors, these screw into the ground and if you can give them mainly lateral loads, they are very secure. The bottom of the timber beams will be pushing outwards mostly, so should be ideal for the ground anchors. At the bottom and top of the timber beams, I have 6mm chain attaching the top to the shipping container and the bottom to the ground anchors and to the shipping container for safety. I did some basic structural loading calculations based on a hurricane producing 4000 Pascal of wind pressure on the panels, and I think this design should be good in that (to give an idea, the Beaufort scale tops out at 1500 Pascal which is 180 km/h wind speeds sustained, something not usually possible at ground level, but I reckon gusts can be quite potent – the highest recorded yet is 408 km/h ten metres above ground).
Anyway, once I get those eighteen panels installed, I finally can commission the inverter which thankfully is an off-grid capable model, and also thankfully I did install a local earth, so I’m good to go once I get all this mounted and wired in. There is absolutely no way I get 375w from each panel – solar panel energy efficiency claims are very like for cars, they are aspirational rather than anything resembling reality. At worst (January), you might get 2.5 kWh in a day. At best (June), you might get 46.8 kWh, which is 81 watts averaged over sixteen hours for all eighteen panels incidentally. Even if just taking noon that day, those eighteen panels might generate 5 kW, which is 278 watts per panel. The NMOT power rating for that panel is 281 watts, so that’s actually pretty good (NMOT = Normal Operating Conditions).
Obviously I will not be able to work from that office in December and January, but for the rest of the year I think it will be not only fine, but there will be plenty spare electricity for space heating. That miserable 2.5 kWh in a day mid-winter becomes > 5 kWh by February, it’s a big difference, mainly caused by daylight hours going from six hours to eight hours within just a month and the sun getting far higher in the sky – and thus losing much less radiation to penetrating atmosphere.
Anyway, getting all that set up with take many weeks. Next time I post here it should be done, and I’ll also have the latest three month build cost spend to the end of September. Obviously due to the mortgage application I’m not allowed to spend much, but there have been little bits here and there over time.
I did drive around that six tonne digger three weeks ago. My normal hire place was booked out, so I had to get the digger from their main competitor who is a lot more expensive. On the other hand, their main competitor has much newer kit, my digger this time was a JCB with a mere 170 hours on the clock. The difference in terms of ‘freshness’ on the hydraulic power was most noticeable over the tired diggers from my normal hire place. This didn’t entirely undo the price being a third more than normal, but it did make lifting blocks very high much easier (as you will see shortly).
Last post I had a photo of the temporary blocks installation. Here’s the finished blocks installation all on a levelled foundation of tamped earth and tamped crushed rock so it should now be long term stable:
As you can see, there is a little back room in there now. This will gain at a future point a roof to keep the rain off, and inside will be pumps and other noisy electricals. The L-shape is there to retain a 2.2m metre high 3.5m deep earthern wall to be created out of the soil to be dug out from the foundations of the house. At some very future point when I get a lot more time and money, a water feature is intended in front of that earthern mound, and hence that little back room. Until then, it’ll still be useful for storing things like lawnmowers or wheelbarrows, stuff which doesn’t need to be absolutely kept dry nor indoors but does benefit greatly from not being left completely exposed to the elements.
You will note two blocks on the fourth level – those are temporary and are intended to help me install the rear security camera. They will be taken down next time I rent the digger for a long weekend, probably around Halloween. Speaking of said cameras, I got both raised only today, here is the rear and front cameras each with 22,000 lumen floodlight:
The rear is two metres higher than the front camera as it has an extra pole section in it. One might think that would enable it to see further (as indeed the neighbours thought when they came round to express concern about me being able to see into their bedrooms!), but that isn’t how cameras without zoom work – you basically get the first 20 metres in high fidelity, so if you raise the camera higher you actually lose range of high fidelity. I took a quick grab of the rear camera view:
Note how anything past the earthern region becomes a fuzzy mess, this is about twenty metres from the camera. You won’t recognise faces after this point, and you certainly won’t pick up things like licence plates on cars (look at my own after all, indecipherable!)
So why raise it higher if it damages the fidelity? Simple reason: potential robbers see it more easily, and thus get dissuaded from doing actual theft. It’s pure security theatre – you actively hurt your ability to catch them in order to put them off in the first place.
Now, undoubtedly I will be able to extract a bit more more fidelity – the camera is at unoptimised settings, it’s a 4k camera at maximum CBR h.264 bitrate, they do support h.265 however my laptop does not which is why live view in h.265 is unusable. However basic physics is inescapable here, a 4k sensor with a 90 degree field of view is incapable of resolving much detail past two dozen metres or so. You need far more expensive cameras than these to get face recognition at the fences which are thirty to fifty metres away, as an example.
Obviously the cameras aren’t hugely useful without an internet connection via which I can be notified of people entering my property. I thus needed broadband. Despite Banteer being fibre to the cabinet broadband enabled and despite that there is a vDSL broadband service throughout the village, my neighbours tell me that 40 - 60 Mbps is as good as it gets in my estate. This is due to when the estate was built (around year 2000) during which our national telephony monopoly was famous for using copper clad aluminium wire instead of pure copper in new installs. Hence 40 - 60 Mbps instead of 100 Mbps despite being two minutes walk from the cabinet.
Setting aside the crap bandwidth, there is a further problem: the village cabinet is horribly oversubscribed. As in, physically speaking, they have jury rigged in far more vDSL links than the fibre link is capable of. As a result, they have marked broadband as new capacity required, which means getting a new broadband connection requires going to the regulator and undergoing the appeals process. My neighbour said this took him about nine months, just to get a service which dies a death every evening.
Considering all this, I bit the bullet and installed Starlink instead. Starlink has a very high upfront cost for the satellite dish (~ €500), but after that (at least within the Euro zone) the monthly rental is not outrageous at €65 inc VAT per month. Broadband over vDSL is about €45 per month from the cheapest provider, but then they tap you for the line rental at about €18 per month, so the total cost is around €63 inc VAT per month, not much of a saving over Starlink.
And unlike fixed broadband, getting up and running on Starlink simply involves me purchasing the dish, installing the dish, undergo commissioning with the app, done. I had it up and running within a few hours. Not weeks nor months, hours. And here is the speed test I got from my phone:
That is rather the upper bound – in reality speeds bounce between 40 and 230 Mbps down, though usually over 100 Mbps for south west Ireland. Even the worst case is no worse than fixed broadband in my area, so until the government get round to upgrading my village with Fibre to the Home, I think Starlink is as good as it gets for now.
To serve access to the internet and cameras I finally got round to deploying the Wifi 6 custom boxes I’d been working on since last year. They are based on the Banana Pi R3 platform which including case and aerials comes to about €140 inc VAT delivered.
And my oh my what a wifi box for that money! There is 2 Gb of RAM, four ARM Cortex A53s running at 2 Ghz, and a 4x4 Wifi 6 both in 5 Ghz and 2.4 Ghz bands. They have 2x SFP cages and four gigabit ethernet ports. Their SFP cages max out at 2.5 Gbps, and for which I bought cheap 2.5 Gbps fibre optic 2.5 km transceivers to act as inter-wifi-cluster backhaul. They have first tier OpenWRT support, amongst alternatives, but I only care about the OpenWRT support specifically.
I knew these would be pretty good before deploying them on site having tested them at home, but once deployed, good god were they capable. I walked 160 metres away as far away as I could physically get, and I still got a rock solid Wifi connection on 5 Ghz. Certainly not at a high bitrate, but very connected it was. That’s absolutely immense, earlier Wifi standards on 5 Ghz couldn’t get much past 50 metres with obstructions, trebling that is very impressive.
Finally, I got various other odds and ends done. I installed LED strip lighting for the garden shed:
I completed the 57v DC wiring in the mid services box including surge protector to detect accidental connection of the DC wiring to AC and direct everything to earth:
I got the hybrid inverter installed with everything except input from mains:
I still disconnect everything and put it inside safe end of each day. It’s not so much the cost of replacement if it got robbed, it’s the time to replace which concerns me.
Tomorrow I expect to complete installation of the front and rear cameras and properly tune and configure them. I therefore hope to have more shots of their view next time I add an entry here.
These are on bare unlevelled earth, they need to be removed, the ground levelled and packed crushed rock laid on top as a foundation, and then the blocks laid into their final positions. I reckon it’ll take the three days especially as the weather is not looking great. After that, what remains for me and the digger is to wait until after the end of September so I’m legally allowed clear the vegetation behind where my future vegetable garden is, I intend to clear it and lay down permeable membrane to hold down future growth. I then lay the last of those lego concrete blocks, and the rear boundary of the site is ready for the soil spill pile from excavating the foundations of the house.
I do still need to fit under that soil spill pile vermin and damp proof underground storage for potatoes to be covered with soil. I haven’t even figured out how to exactly do that yet unfortunately. I have in my head some sort of buried tank, like a Graf Carat XXL tank but its manhole is only 0.6m wide, which seems annoyingly tight to get sacks of potatoes in and out. I fear a prefabricated underground solution will be a lot more expensive than building an underground room with concrete blocks properly tanked to keep the damp and vermin out. Time consuming though.
In terms of progress on the site, I put in conduit and wiring for the garden shed: it now has ethernet, 1.5 mm2 three phase AC, and 16 mm2 DC main connections:
I almost completed the middle services box, only item missing is a 100v DC surge protector to protect the DC mains from getting shorted against an AC mains:
When I say ‘almost completed’, I mean before the build begins. Off the bottom of that box will drop a number of conduits taking electricity and internet to the house. They’ll be fitted later of course, and I only learned today during the M&E design meeting that building regs require that 10 mm2 mains cable (entering mid-right, currently unconnected except to earth) to be 16 mm2 even though my domestic mains connection couldn’t supply so much power. It’s not the end of the world, I’d actually fitted 16 mm2 up to the inverter which isn’t too far from from the middle services box, so it’s only a hundred euro wasted.
Finally, I got started on wiring up the far and near camera and flood light poles, here is me testing flood light placement:
The shipping container and temporary site office block most of the light unfortunately, however unlike them this pole is expected to be permanent and once they’re gone, that light should flood my front driveway most effectively.
In terms of everything else in getting this build going, I went to see a builder’s factory to see how the timber frames get made. Not a lot is different from the 16th century apart from the wood used and a very mild amount of automation – a human hand designs and draws the frame plans to match the architect’s plans. A Polish fellow manually chops up German sourced spruce wood and nails them into panels, cuts out the insulation to fit and staples it into the panel. The watertight membrane is then stapled in, and that’s your panel. When I say ‘Polish fellow’, I mean a specific one – there is only one person making panels for that builder, he does it all day long and that’s all he does there. Tedious work if you ask me, nice fellow though, friendly. And it’s certainly an honest day’s work.
Anyway, after he’s made all the panels, they get assembled onsite on a concrete base and within a week they’re done. You just need the glazing people to turn up quickly enough to get the glazing in before rain gets the panels too damp, after that it’s fairly weatherproof. I did ask about more automation, apparently the machines cost €80k each and if that builder did more than seventeen to eighteen houses per year, a machine might have payback before he would retire. But at his rate of house building, the numbers don’t add up, so you get this 16th century type of manual construction of everything. At least you get the human touch I suppose!
Regarding financing, the AIB have dramatically increased the amount of cash I need to raise before they will give me a mortgage. I no longer think I can raise it this year, so I am actively considering bridge financing instead. There are two options here, one is something like https://www.bridgingloans.ie/ where they will lend up to 65% LTV for around twelve months at a fairly eye watering interest rate, typically between 8% and 14% APR. The idea would be that you use that loan to complete the build, then take out a conventional mortgage at a much lower interest rate to repay the bridge loan.
The second option is that I take a Director’s loan from my company ned Productions Ltd for 75% of my normal gross income before tax, and pay myself almost nothing in salary that year. This effectively shifts the tax from one tax year to another, letting me borrow the tax I would normally pay to Revenue in a tax year (the other 25% is required as a refundable security by Revenue for the loan). The following year having completed the build, a conventional mortgage is used to repay the Director’s loan with interest. The company then makes twice its usual income, so I would be paid that tax year’s salary as well as the salary for the year preceding combined, which as a double salary would pay double the tax so Revenue get what tax they would have gotten with a bit of cream on top. This is fully legal, it just requires paperwork to be filed. Obviously, this isn’t as effective as a bridging loan – I normally pay around 50% of gross income in tax, so this approach can only yield 25% of gross income in additional financing. It is however much cheaper, as the interest paid at 4% half of it would come back to me salary later, making this form of financing have a total cost of maybe 3% during the loan’s duration as higher income means higher marginal rate of tax.
Cheapest of all of course remains the mortgage thanks to the €30k Help to Buy subsidy, which I lose if I don’t get a self build mortgage. So I’ll keep pursuing that option for now, though it’s looking increasingly unhopeful.
There has been zero physical progress since my last post on my future house build as I went from wall building at the start of this month straight to Varna, Bulgaria for an ISO WG21 C++ standards meeting. To be honest, I didn’t much care for that meeting, I have been finding the atmosphere at WG21 meetings a touch negative since they resumed post-covid. There are a lot of people bitching about other people by name, others actively spreading negativity about other people by name, and well it didn’t used to be like that pre-covid. Last two meetings I must admit I’ve found them trying, I don’t care for people being mean to other people when what we’re supposed to be doing is standardising engineering practice. That ought to be collaborative, positive, be in terms of ‘how can I/we enable?’ rather than ‘how can I/we disable?’. Let’s hope it passes with time.
As much as my mood there was suboptimal and I found myself recoiling from participation
from the endemic pervasive negativity,
we did make substantial progress on P1030
My enormous thanks to Elias Kosunan and Robert Leahy for staying up with me until the
early hours to create a R6 based on LEWG requests earlier than day. I really do owe you
guys a big one for that.
I especially thank Robert because I abandoned him at the end of that week by leaving MayStreet London Stock Exchange Group, where he was my manager and longest-putting-up-with-me coworker. I worked at MayStreet for four years three months or thereabouts, which is actually the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere in my whole life. The reason I stayed so long was the fully remote, the culture, the work, and the pay, all of which were up to the LSEG acquisition were well above average in the industry, and a combination of all four at once was rare. Unfortunately, the LSEG transition particularly impacted me more than most at the company – there was a generous payout if one stayed for three years after acquisition, but only if one signed an employment contract which required me to remove ALL my open source software from being open source. I felt that a showstopper for the monies on offer, LSEG were ‘take it or leave it’. Very much to their surprise at the time, I said no. I walked away from a six figure number rather than sacrifice my open source. LSEG HR was simply incapable of understanding why I would do that, they just didn’t get it. And that obviously started a clock ticking on me moving on.
For reference, old MayStreet did their very best to retain me, within what LSEG allowed them to do. The new contract it paid reasonably well, it had very generous expense allowances, and an immoral amount of vacation time. But total annual pay was capped by LSEG, there was zero accommodation to the Irish tax system which meant taxes were maximum possible, and there was no retention bonus like all the other MayStreet folk got. More importantly, I didn’t feel there was a long term future there for me – very clearly LSEG was going to grind MayStreet down by forcing out all the expensive staff and replacing them with cheaper staff, so MayStreet would become like the rest of Refinitiv. And that’s okay, they own the business now so they can do what they want with it, but that’s not somewhere I want to work.
Because I had no retention bonus, it cost me nothing to move on now rather than two years from now, so I started looking for a new US-based startup, as it tends to only be US startups who are willing to pay US levels of pay to fully remote European workers. I lucked out: I had been wanting to move into crypto finance, and a crypto fintech which looked promising turned up: https://www.monad.xyz/. They aim to build a better mousetrap of something well established, which I absolutely love in a startup. So after several months of campaigning, and also thanks to a particularly good recruiter named Chris Burgess, we got a deal done.
I started work at Monad at the beginning of this week, which has returned my pay to what I’d consider around current market pay for my skillset – MayStreet LSEG had implemented a pay freeze this year, plus hadn’t kept up with the increases in pay during the recent tech boom, which appears to have raised market pay by about 50% excluding inflation, so maybe 25% including inflation. So I’m back to market rates, and that enormously improves my ability to fund house building. But more on that later.
As part of new hire induction at Monad, I went straight from Varna, Bulgaria to New York where I had two days of onsite getting introduced to people and having meetings discussing what needs to get done and where everything is at. I returned home on Friday, and have been readjusting to all these time zone shifts with some difficulty since then.
It’s interesting to compare startups. I’ve worked for four or five at this stage now. They’re all unique. MayStreet very much had a ‘seniors only’ hiring policy, they only hired senior devs and usually ones from the WG21 committee at that. So most unusually you usually only needed to explain yourself once, and everybody was ridiculously capable. In this MayStreet was unique in my career, and I probably will never experience that again.
Monad is much more a tradititional startup – there are lots of twenty-something old devs, and three Gen X senior devs including me. Apologies now in advance for the use of Gen Something labels which some readers may interpret negatively, however I’m not sure at this late hour what would be better – We’re there to enable and facilitate the Gen Z’s. In any case, the Gen Z’s they very much treat their work life as being interchangeable with their private lives, much like the later Gen Y’s were doing but even more so, I couldn’t really disambiguate from spending time with them where they thought one began and another ended – which in itself is the wrong way to think about it, because they’re all just ‘fused’ from their perspective, as there is no separation.
I as a Gen X obviously can’t and never will understand that, so I won’t even try. Common to all younger people irrespective of generation is focus and concentration, specifically that they lack both due to being easily distracted. That was the same for my generation when young; people were complaining about it in Roman times so it’s certainly universal. It will be mine and the other ‘old men’s’ jobs to help them become more productive.
Anyway, the new job means that I think the cash funding gap should be closed by the end of the summer, before when the mortgage Approval In Principle expires. Assuming that build commencement could now occur before the end of 2023, I appointed lots more expensive design people. Here’s a list of them all, for completeness, in order of appointment:
Robert (Bob) is one of the two Passive House Certifiers in Ireland, based out of Wicklow. His fees are what they are, they are actually set by Passive House HQ in Darmstadt so if you want certification, that costs what it costs.
Stephen is a qualified Passive House designer, with offices in London and Cork. His fees to date have been reasonable for the quantity of work done in my opinion. His is a brand new practice, only been in business for a year when we brought him onboard.
They are UK based. I just appointed them for M&E having found nobody in Ireland willing to take on this project, which was disappointing. I tried really quite hard to find a M&E designer in Ireland ideally a small business who was not tied to a specific manufacturer, and would be independent. Everybody I approached in Ireland either refused the work, or didn’t respond at all. So I gave up, sourced the M&E design work from the UK, and to date (two weeks in!) they do seem okay, albeit rather expensive.
Hilliard is becoming something of a minor legendary engineer around southern Ireland, so I was very glad to have snagged him, however also slightly appalled at his expense because he is most definitely not cheap. He is based in Fermoy, Cork. I went to meet a bunch of other engineers around Cork, and I gotta be honest, I was not impressed. Hilliard impressed me, he has different opinions to me but he can justify them, and I didn’t have to teach him what I’m building here. He also answers email, and what you see is what you get with him. Most other consulting engineers around here could learn a thing about those small things, like replying in a timely fashion and actually studying the plans to have an idea about the client’s project before taking a meeting. Hilliard has come across as reliable, and that is very much what you want from an engineer. So I pay his fee, quality usually costs money.
Still remaining unchosen: landscape and garden designer
We originally had a landscape architect before even Stephen was appointed, but she rescinded her agreement which was unfortunate. We have made half hearted attempts to appoint a replacement, but because the garden keeps radically transforming in our minds, it seems a waste of money until we’ve definitely settled on what we’re looking for.
Still remaining unchosen: possibly a lighting designer, and possibly a kitchen designer
Megan is keen on a lighting designer for the main living space, probably due to anxiety about what I’ve got in mind for lighting the main living space. So I’ll probably buckle on that to relax her.
She also mentions a kitchen designer, though if I’m blunt, I think she’s spent so much time walking around her future kitchen in VR that I don’t know how much a kitchen designer could add to that. I also have walked from the hob to the pantry, to the fridge, counted steps and spent time within VR where all the appliances are expected to go. I think we’ve optimised those placements as far as they can go – any further improvements mean sacrifice elsewhere.
House build spend
Which brings us to this, as it’s been three months since the last house build spend update. This will be up to 1st July 2023:
- Spent: €195,759
- Committed to be spent soon: €21,303
- Current three month averaged spend rate: €3,696 per month
The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Mains electricity connection fee (ii) M&E design deposit (iii) Continuing architect fees (iv) Even more ‘lego’ concrete blocks.
I think that’s the lowest monthly spend rate since I started this, so we have been successful in hoarding cash for the mortgage application. Obviously, that’s going to worsen shortly with all those design fees going out in the next three months. And, who knows, maybe a deposit to a builder? That alone would take the monthly spend rate over €20k per month. Sigh. That’s so much money .
Anyway, I don’t expect much further spending outside fees owed until the mortgage approval gets closed, certainly a month or two from now. It would be nice to see mains electricity activated however, so the fees for a RECI electrician to do the certification would need to go out for that.
The neighbour was to install 24 metres of the 34 metre length at their expense, and I was to complete the other 10 metres at my expense. This may sound unfair, however my portion was the earth retaining portion and the quotes which came in before we decided this were about equal if we paid others to do it for us. I elected to use these ‘lego’ concrete blocks and install the wall myself instead of paying others, and thus saving myself about six thousand euro.
The neighbour’s contractor had installed the poles for his fence, but left them unfilled so I knew exactly what height my blocks had to reach in order to be flush.
Firstly, I dug a trench using the 90 cm wide bucket down to 240 cm below the top of their fence pole:
This usefully revealed subsoil, which isn’t noticeable from the photo for some reason. But when you’re there in person, the subsoil is a distinctly different colour from the topsoil, kinda rusty coloured brown instead of darker brown. The different colour really shouts out, you couldn’t miss it if you were there in person.
As I was on my own, I couldn’t use a thwacker which is a machine for pounding surfaces hard as it requires two people, so I had to resort to the tool used for at least five thousand years – a tamper. This is quite literally a heavy flat sheet on the end of a stick. You repeatedly whack the ground with it to pound the surface. It is very considerably more effort than the machine, but I can do it alone, and well it’s like an extended gym session, it’s highly fitness inducing.
Anyway, after tamping the subsoil flat and ensuring it was level in all directions using a level meter, I then poured a few wheelbarrows of two inch down crushed rock, got those level, and tamped those hard too:
Now I could drop in the blocks on a perfectly level, well supported base:
As you can see, I have at the end a support column which cantilevers support into the next ten metre run of the wall. For a normal cavity block wall two metres high, you’d have a support column every five meters or so. The reason that we can get away with one support column every ten metres here is the sheer mass of these blocks making them much more effective at pinning lateral forces, but also the width of the blocks being two thirds of a metre and more than easily wide enough to walk along. You can give this wall a good hard shove from the digger and it realigns, but it does not tumble. And that’s a six tonne digger I was shoving it with!
After that came lots more soil levelling, tamping, crushed rock layering, more tamping. I didn’t do the majority of this, Megan did the bulk whilst I shovelled crushed rock into the wheelbarrow and brought it to her. We had in fairness spectacular weather, only once in every three or four years do you get consecutive back to back sunny days in Ireland for multiple weeks. We were extremely fortunate to be doing this work in one of those rare extended sunny periods for Ireland.
It took two full days of work to lay the bottommost layer of blocks due to all the finicketyness. Laying the next two rows was done in mere hours:
All that attention to detail about ensuring everything was level and firm in the foundation shows its payoff by all the blocks neatly packing together tightly without gaps. If the right side looks unsupported, note that just behind it is a packed earthern mound support made by me with the tamper – you pour in soil recently excavated, and tamp it until it forms the same earthern mound shape at the back of the neighbour’s property. This supports the blocks from the neighbour’s side right up to the third layer of blocks.
Total cost of this was €68.10 inc VAT per block delivered X 24 plus 2 X €385 for six tonne digger rental and its diesel = €2,404 inc VAT. Compared to the quote we got for over eight grand … this has been quite the saving. What we gave up was our time (three days, arguably five if including the sorting and moving these blocks to where they would be used!), and the additional space consumed by the size of the blocks which eats out of our garden.
Equally, you are looking at the first quarter of our future walled garden where in the future a fair chunk of our food calories shall be derived! I expect to mainly grow potatoes and carrots in this walled garden. It will be exactly square, so the 8.4 metre inside you are currently looking at will become 70 m2 of walled garden growing space.
Assuming the typical ten tonnes of potato per acre yield in Ireland, that equals about 172 kg of potatoes per year. Less if also growing carrots, which would yield 112 kg if using the entire walled garden.
To put that in perspective, the average 2023 Irish person would consume about 60 kg in a year, mostly in the form of fries. I chose 70 m2 because it would roughly approximate half the annual potato consumption of five adults, so with carrots and maybe peas thrown in, that’s about one quarter. The idea is that if all our children flee us in years to come, we will rarely have surplus to needs. But if they end up staying because they’ll never be able to afford their own homes as I expect will be the case, then we get a substantial subsidy to our annual food needs.
And also: there is zero comparison between shop bought food and the stuff you grow locally. Our potatoes, carrots and especially peas will be amazingly tasty in a way you can’t get from supermarkets. So there is a qualitative aspect in there too.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with a wide view photo of the whole boundary fence between our site and the neighbour’s, taken in sunshine just before we departed to get Chinese takeaway:
I’m going to suggest that both hard drives and SSDs will improve again this time next year as surplus capacity fights cost of manufacture
This time last year I thought a recession would be upon us by now, as interest rates rose above inflation in order to bring it down. I still think that will happen, it just hasn’t happened yet – interest rates are indeed many times higher than last year, but inflation hasn’t really dropped by much. So either there will be recession sooner rather than later, or interest rates will have to rise some more. In any case, a recession.
I won’t predict that for this time next year, as clearly I suck at timing. Let’s look at the new numbers. Well, the big stand out thing is that Optane storage lept forwards in capacity per inflation adjusted dollar. Like so much so that it nearly entirely eliminated how much it fell behind flash storage, so now it’s nearly tracking flash storage improvements. Who knew that Intel disposing of Optane would lead to such price reductions for that technology? Here’s hoping that only improves much further still.
Flash storage saw a better than trend improvement, whilst spinning rust stayed on trend. Do you know something interesting? Flash has nearly returned to an intersection path with spinning rust for the first time since 2012! That’s kinda exciting, back in 2012 flash storage was still in its linear improvement stage, had that continued it would have overtaken and completely replaced spinning rust by 2018. Obviously the linear growth turned into exponential decrease, however with these most recent numbers the regression predicts both trends go parallel (and very close, though without crossing) from 2050 onwards.
I personally think that unlikely, you can’t eek out that amount of density from silicon, nor the cobalt based magnetic alloys of hard driver platters. So at some point well before then, I would expect both to stop improving and plateau absolutely.
The question is which will be first? My money is on silicon plateuing first. Spinning rust has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, yet improvements in data storage density have been sustained since then. Whereas silicon based storage density started much later, but saw much steeper improvements so it caught up. I still think it is a ‘flash in the pan’ compared to spinning rust, and it’ll peter out first.
Hard to predict however – much of why spinning rust can now achieve such data densities is due to sticking what was a mainframe a few decades ago onto each hard drive to crunch the maths necessary to pack data so densely. So both technologies are actually in lockstep, and if silicon stops improving, that’ll impact spinning rust as well.
I’m sure you remember the GARE, the Ground-Air Heat Exchanger which was a 46m length of 200mm diameter buried pipe through which the air intake for the house flowed, thus cooling it in summer and heating it in winter? Well, it’s been ditched, I just couldn’t justify its cost for its benefits. Getting the pipes from Germany to Ireland was quoting at €8,100 or so, and certainly a further €3k to install them. I tried getting cheaper pipe, HDPE which is best material for conductivity requires a specialist contractor to fuse them, and thicker PVC pipe which only requires solvant glue to fuse I would have had to laid two parallel runs to achieve the same efficiency, so once again, back towards the 8k + 3k cost.
Ground-water heat pumps would be the next obvious alternative, these being what most people think of as ‘geothermal’. These work via a buried hose about 1.5m deep through which runs brine water. The heat pump exchanges heat between the inside and the outside buried loop in either direction. These were somewhat popular 10-15 years ago, but as air-water heat pumps became de facto obligatory in new builds in the EU after 2019, the ground-water heat pumps have become difficult to purchase, plus they have risen in price along with recent build inflation. I reckon you’re talking €20k for one now, and another €5k to install it because they require a specialist design team to prevent them freeze locking.
I could just bite the bullet on an air-water heat pump, though they’re costing €15k or so nowadays including installation. But then I discovered that Zehnder have launched two add-ons for their ComfoAir Q range of MVHR ventilation units:
For €6,200 inc VAT one can get the Zehnder ComfoClime 36 which is an air-air heat pump able to cool up to 1.7 kW and heat up to 2.2 kW at COPs of 3.0 and 2.5 respectively. No external fan unit needed, which is nice, but it would dump extra hot air into the greenhouse in summer.
For €5,450 inc VAT one can get the Zehnder ComfoFond-L Q ST which is an air-ground heat exchanger needing lots of metres of buried PE pipe 32.26.2 dimensions. It only draws 70 watts maximum so clearly cannot be a heat pump. It has no performance data, however it surely would be as efficient as the GAHE, and is obviously cheaper.
Of those two, obviously I’m rather liking the ComfoFond as it slots right in instead of the GAHE. Maximum possible cooling remains the same as this is the heat capacity of air: if outdoor air is 25 C, and below ground is 10 C, then:
- 350 m3/hr is 1.75 kW of cooling.
- 450 m3/hr is 2.25 kW of cooling.
- 600 m3/hr is 3 kW of cooling.
Actual cooling will be less than that, but you don’t need much to drop a passive house internals by 1-2 C.
What’s nice about this not being a heat pump is that any old joe can install the buried loop i.e. me, because the coldest brine you’ll ever send down there is the outdoor air temperature, and via anti-freeze you can abaolutely guarantee it’ll never ever freeze. This makes the pipe design very simple, no T-branches needed to spread a freeze load across trenches, you can use a single straight run of pipe which further reduces the chance of later leaks etc. 150 metres of pipe is around €180, and trenching it with a digger is well within my abilities. As you’ll only be putting 3 kW through it, 150 metres ought to be plenty.
I had been budgeting €20k for the site prep and GAHE installation, I think that has now been reduced to €7k if I install the loop myself. This is good, as I suspect the M&E design costs are going to well exceed the €10k I allocated for them, but more on that in another post.
I reckoned that my company whose office is on the site would be justified in purchasing security flood lighting, so I picked up two 200 watt LED flood lights. That’s not 200 watt incandescent equivalent, that’s 200 watts of electricity consumption. They are unsurprisingly therefore rather bright:
Using a wattmeter I verified that it does indeed draw 200 watts. Once warmed up enough, that does drop to 193 watts, but that’s the physics of LEDs for you.
So just how much light is there? Remember my cove lighting? It outputs plenty enough light with which to read comfortably in a nice even spread. According to my phone sensor, it reads 105 lux from the couch which is maybe 1.5 metres from the roof, with the light reflecting down. With the floodlight pointing straight up and a box hiding it from direct glare, the phone sensor reads 750 lux just from reflected roof light alone. I’m strongly considering fitting these into the vaulted space in the house as uplighting, a few of them together would be pretty decent and even coverage, and if you vary the colour temperature between them then the CRI won’t be half bad either.
The unit claims 22,000 lumen, but I have no way of testing it other than what I’ve done. I can say that my workplace high lumen lighting solution which keeps me awake and working productively late into each night:
… emits 806 lumen x 5 = 4,000 lumen, and my phone’s sensor reads 400 lux when about 1.8 metres away with the phone pointing at the light. So to get nearly twice that after a 2.5 metre travel and a reflection suggests the floodlight may be telling close to the truth – it helps trust that the units appear to be manufactured in Britain, and not in China. They’re also very well made, with big hefty heat sinks on the back which do a great job of drawing heat away from everywhere else. I left it run for half an hour, then took these thermal images, firstly of the front and then the back:
(In case you’re wondering, yes my Hikmicro thermal camera finally got a firmware upgrade which retains the visual camera image. Turns out said camera is dog shit bad and the images are saved with severe JPEG compression, but it’s much better than nothing)
As you can see, the front remains under 50 C with only the outer frame conducting heat from the back. The back meanwhile, well it gets up to 70 C or so. This is good thermal design, I also had it on its back so the heat would rise, if it were facing down like its designers intended it would be still cooler again.
Anyway, these particular units are destined for poles raised high over the site. Just need to get the mains electricity activated – it was paid for 11th April, so nearly seven weeks ago now. Here’s hoping they get round to it soon!
Firstly, this is what they look like, this is the pile dropped at the front of the site:
They may look uninteresting at first glance, but they have some interesting characteristics. They are 1.4 tonnes in weight each, 1.4m long, 0.7m high and 0.68m wide. ‘That’s a weird width?’ I hear you ask? It’s explained by the volume: 1.4 x 0.7 x 0.68 = 0.666, or exactly two thirds of a m3. I paid €68.10 inc VAT and delivery for each of them. That makes them €102 inc VAT per m3, when ready mixed concrete is currently costing north of €140 inc VAT per m3 depending on delivery quantity. This makes them rather good value!
Most other suppliers were looking for €100-140 per block delivered, only one was looking for around €90. So I lucked out in finding a supplier keen to turn inventory into cash before the surely soon building downturn.
Pricing them higher than ready mix is somewhat disingenous of the sellers of these blocks however. They’re actually made from the leftovers in the ready mix trucks when they return to base due to a customer ordering more than they needed, so the concrete was already paid for once. Sure, the galvanised steel reinforcement frame which also provides a lifting loop might cost maybe €30, and the casts will cost a few bob, however I think these are likely quite profitable at over a hundred euro per block. At €68, well, I suspect he wasn’t making much profit if his input costs are what they are now – however chances are he was churning out those blocks over the past few years, and most of them were made back when concrete was a lot cheaper. In any case, they are vastly cheaper than a concrete block wall, never mind an earth retaining wall. They are bulky however, so you swap space consumed for reduced price.
Luckily due to having two merged sites I have the space to swap for reduced costs, so that works for me. Using the digger, I firstly sorted the blocks into ‘ugly’ and ‘pretty’, where ‘ugly’ is defined as blocks with chips in their sides and ‘pretty’ are blocks without chips in their sides (though they can have them at their ends). The ‘pretty’ blocks will be exposed to view permanently, so I want to be looking at a smooth-ish surface. The ‘ugly’ ones will be behind retained earth, so I’ll never see them.
I stacked the ‘pretty’ blocks in a newly cleared rear space I created with the digger, which puts them next to where they’ll be used after my neighbour finishes his part of the boundary fence.
You may be able to notice that the blocks at the back left the third row is sloppy. Those were my first ever attempts to get the digger to raise the blocks that high, and there is a skill to it because the digger really doesn’t like lifting 1.4 tonnes that high. By the time I got to doing the columns on the right however I had it down to a fine art, if I do say so myself. Each of those columns in 2.1m high, and I made sure when climbing over them that I could not cause anything to move nor relocate with all my adult strength. I can’t stop the local children climbing on them, but they definitely will never be crushed by a falling block, those blocks are extremely secure.
To lift the blocks one needs a 16 mm diameter shackle rated for two tonnes to fit the lifting loop in each block. I bought these from Amazon for an absurdly low price:
About £50 for all those shackles. Madness. Are they any good however? Well I did do my research, those are Titan Marine shackles, the low end (yellow) not high end (black) ones. They are made in China with the original Canadian manufacturer having been bought out by a Chinese company, and Practical Sailor’s 2015 review of anchor shackles found them absurdly better than rated specification in their empirical testing, they broke at 43% more load than their rating. Interestingly, the yellow ones performed identically to their black ones, yet cost a fraction of the price. One suspects that they are actually the exact same shackle, just with two pricing strata (alas, the black ones claim to be 67% stronger than the yellow, so snapping at 43% more means they fail their claimed specification).
Having been very mean to those shackles over three days, I can confirm that they did not even remotely deform nor bend nor even jam their pins. They absolutely breezed through what I put them through. This suggests that they are indeed very very strong. They did, annoyingly, produce a lot of metal slivers from grinding which become splinters in your hands. Most painful, and much tweezering was needed each night (I couldn’t use gloves, as I couldn’t screw or unscrew the shackle in the limited space with gloves on).
Whilst the ‘pretty’ blocks went into those columns, the ‘ugly’ blocks went to seal the back corner of my site where the western wall stops early – there is about a 3.5 metre gap there through which anybody could drive anything. I had been concerned for some time that that was the obvious place to steal building materials, so blocking it off securely was desirable. Let’s see anybody get through this in a hurry:
This is actually temporary, I didn’t have the time to do better last weekend. Some other weekend I’ll rent that digger again and redo that bit properly – I need to lay crushed rock foundations, compact that down to a firm flat layer, then lay the blocks straight with a connected L-shaped earth retaining wall. There will be a 1.4m wide space between that outer wall and the earth retaining wall, that is for plant and pumps and it’ll be mostly covered from the elements to keep the rain off it. This will make use of a spare roofing metal sheet which Irish rollforming threw into my order unexpectedly for free.
Getting that done will be a while away. Completing the neighbour’s boundary wall will be higher priority, but I’m blocked on his contractors for that.
Anyway, I have to admit these ‘lego’ concrete blocks have been a real joy to use. They’re easy to move around and lay with just me alone, unlike a lot of other building techniques. They’re a touch ugly true, but they’re vastly cheaper than labour doing a concrete block wall or especially retaining wall. They also make a most satisfying ‘clunk’ noise when you drop them in. And what adult doesn’t want to build stuff from grown up Lego blocks?
The big movement since the previous post on my future house build is that the AIB came back with a mortgage offer – apparently they’d issued it prior to the last post here, but it had gotten lost, only when I went asking about progress did they find it. Their Approval in Principle was for 3.25x income i.e. LTI ratio of 3.25x, where the legal cap is 4.0x for first time buyers like me. That would normally be a problem for most people (effectively it’s a ‘soft no’), however in my unusual case due to the remote rural location the valuation was always going to be the limiting factor, and we had never had any illusion about that from the very beginning. To remind people of the post from February, mortgage lending maximums are:
No more than four times your average income in the past three years (this is the Loan to Income limit set by the Irish government).
No more than the cost of construction (€700k).
No more than 90% of the final valuation of the completed property.
So everything was always going to hang around the valuation. The AIB ended up appointing Liam Mullins & Co estate agents as the valuators, they are the most successful of the local regional estate agents. In fairness to them, they did take their time to understand the build detail, the design detail which surprised me. They then surprised me even further with a €490k valuation, which seems rather high for the area!
Let’s compare that to other recent sales in the same estate. Price data is from https://www.propertypriceregister.ie/, the rest I culled from estate agent listings, the plans on the public planning applications website, and the CSO data for house price inflation in the P51 eircode district.
2023-02-14: 24 Ard Na Si, €390k.
- Four bedrooms, four bathrooms, BER B2, 316 m2, built 2009. €1,234 per sqm.
2022-05-08: 36 Ard Na Si, €265k.
- Three bedrooms, BER C2, 151 m2, built 2009. €1,755 per sqm (normalised to 2023 prices: €1,562).
2021-12-06: 32 Ard Na Si, €300k.
- Five bedrooms, 260 m2, built 2007. €1,153 per sqm (normalised to 2023 prices: €1,191).
2020-10-30: 2 Ard Na Si, €218k.
- Four bedrooms, built 2012. Not more than 160 m2, if so around €1,363 per sqm (normalised to 2023 prices: €1,644).
You’ll note the unusual price per sqm distribution peculiar to British and Irish house prices – we are unusual in the world by not following a universal price per sqm for a region which most of elsewhere does. Instead we price the first 120 m2 of any quality (no matter how bad) at an eye watering price barely affected by quality nor condition, then remaining m2 especially cheaply but with more account of quality and condition. This is due to the bimodal nature of house buyers in Ireland and the UK – there are lots of people who will take any house at all, and they tend to overly bid up the bottom end of the market which rather does a disservice to the non-wealthy (in any other country, they would live in high density apartments and would never consider owning a house, but that isn’t the culture in Ireland and Britain). Meanwhile, those who can afford to pay a little bit more get far less competition during bidding, and so can be more picky. It also means they (relatively speaking) get bargain housing in terms of additional space and quality/condition per euro spent.
You can see this in the above where there are two categories of house on the estate: let’s call them ‘premium’ and ‘non-premium’ (the plot sizes are all identical, so only the house affects the sale price). In 2023 adjusted prices, premium houses sell for ~€1,200 per m2 and non-premium sell for ~€1,600 per m2, a 25% discount per m2, but premium houses have at least 75% more floor space and so therefore cost more overall. Or, put another way, ‘non-premium’ housing is around one third more expensive per unit of living space than ‘premium’.
Having explained all that context, doesn’t the €1,570 per m2 valuation for my house (which is ‘premium’) look excessive? The CSO stats reveal something interesting: between 2012 and 2018 new house sale prices had a ~15% premium over those of used house sales, which would be a percentage consistently repeated anywhere in the western world historically speaking, as people do like brand new over used; however from 2019 onwards the new house price premium rose to a fairly astonishing ~75%, at least for the P51 eircode region.
Changing the eircode region reveals that the same phenomenon appears countrywide, but with different start dates. Cork southside is like the Mallow region, the new build premium jumps around 2019. Cork northside saw it jump from 2016; Naas saw it jump from 2015; Dublin 24 (south west) appears to have gained the premium as early as 2011, albeit consistently lower over time at ‘merely’ ~48%.
As to likely causes, I must admit to being a bit stumped. Significant first time buyer subsidies only came in from 2017 onwards, and they cannot explain more than 5-10% of the premium in any case. Britain has similar weird patterns in new build price premiums with a clear pattern of the highest premiums being in the historically least developed areas, same as what we’ve observed in Ireland above. The evidence is clear that the new build premium vanishes after about three years, so that’s effectively negative equity of 50-70% in year three unless house prices are generally rising, which is motor car type value depreciation. I’m going to have to put it down to the same phenomenon as with motor cars: humans are irrational about ‘new’, and the irrationality is particularly pronounced with what is deemed a premium brand or thing which isn’t really all that much better than the non-premium brand or thing, but people simply go nuts on them. A five year old motor car rationally speaking ought to be worth most of a brand new motor car – it’ll be barely more efficient, and wear and tear replacement parts won’t cost much for years yet to come. Yet motor cars consistently lose half their brand new purchase price after three years, and that’s been the case since the 1960s at least. Similarly, a five year old house ought to cost most of what a brand new house costs, very little would need replacing or maintaining. Yet, apparently irrationality says otherwise, as clearly Akerlof’s Lemons effect couldn’t rationally generate such large price premiums.
I assume that the estate agent’s valuation is meant to be for after three years not new, so on that basis they were rather generous to me in the valuation – they used the non-premium per m2 value rather than the premium value. Equally, if the bank seized the house when it were still new, it would be worth far more due to that new build premium. On that basis, the valuation was generous to me but fair to the bank. It’s not an unrealistic valuation.
Anyway, bringing all this back to my actual build, 90% of €490k = €441k, which will cost me €2,700 per month in mortgage payments to repay incidentally . €700k - €441k = €259k as being the unborrowed cash sum that we need to raise before September when the mortgage offer expires. I don’t know if we can achieve that by then. Maybe. If not, we’ll do all this again this time next year. As mentioned before, one is in a terrible bind here – if I spend money on progressing the build, I reduce the cash balance needed to get the mortgage, but if I don’t spend money on progressing the build, I delay the build. And certain things can only happen in the summer, when the ground is dry .
This weekend is a long weekend, I have rented a six tonne digger with which to move a bunch of soil and relocate those lego concrete blocks away from the front where they are in the way. I am just praying that the rain holds off unlike the last time I drove a digger on that site, it quickly turned into a mud bowl.
The Ground Air Heat Exchanger (the ‘GARE’)
The GARE is simply 40 metres of dumb 200 mm diameter plastic pipe buried in the ground. The idea is that the house MVHR air inlet draws fresh air through the GAHE before it enters the house, so fresh air is brought closer in temperature to several metres underground i.e. cooler in summer, and warmer in winter. The heat exchange efficiency of modern MVHRs is so good that the GARE makes very little difference in winter, so its main purpose is to provide cooling for the house in summer. My probably not very accurate maths reckon it should be worth about 1kW of cooling, which for a normal Irish house wouldn’t be worth much. However, for a Passive House we have much much better air tightness, so that 1kW of cooling goes much further.
GAREs are rarely installed in the UK or Ireland, and mainly for commercial. It is nearly unheard of to install them for a domestic building in this part of the world, despite their being popular enough elsewhere in Europe and north of Africa. This is because only around 15% of the land in Britain and Ireland is suitable due to the wrong soil type or wrong internal pressure, plus you need to have the right kind of site as well. I specifically chose my site as I reckoned it ought to be unusually suitable for a GARE.
The installation plan looks like this:
A top down view doesn’t convey everything going on there: the GAHE enters the house via an underground 315 mm diameter pipe 2.5m long standing vertically on its end underneath the house. Until the GAHE 200 mm pipe reaches this vertical pipe, it slopes downwards during its entire length, so condensate from warm humid air meeting cooler earth drips downwards. When the vertical 315 mm pipe is reached, the condensate pools at the bottom where a level activated pump removes it so it doesn’t induce mould.
About half of GAHEs fail within their first decade due to mould buildup caused by pooling of condensate along the pipe. This is mainly caused by incorrect installation, but also due to heavy construction vehicles putting pressure above which puts unanticipated kinks into the pipe. To prevent that happening here, as you can see I have taken the pipe immediately away from the building rather than looping it around the building’s foundations as would be more typical. We bring it up next to the drainage ditch, and run it the full length of that ditch. The idea is that the static pressure of rainfall upon the estate will cause a constant underground flow of water towards the ditch, thus refreshing the heat capacity of the soil surrounding the pipe. This is what I meant about needing the site to be right, the site is within a river basin and so has silty soil which has high thermal capacity, and we also have static pressure driving underground water flow underneath the site. Most sites in the UK and Ireland do not have both prerequisites for a GARE to work well.
The top of the 200 mm pipe enters the 315 mm pipe 1.8 meters below the house. Most GARE installations use a 1% slope, we however shall be using a 3% slope from the house to the ditch to prevent later kinks introducing condensate pooling. The brings the top of the pipe to 1.4m below the ground which is too high, so to account for that as you can see in the diagram we create a retained wall raised garden to increase the depth. It must be raised no less than 0.1 metres to keep the top of the GARE its minimum 1.5m below ground (and in reality, we’ll probably raise it 0.3-0.5 metres with well manured soil).
After the GARE turns right, its slope increases to 4% under the current plans. This raises it by 1.2 metres by the time it reaches the western air inlet. At this point its top is only 0.2 metres below ground, however we have all along the rear a 2.0 metre high earthen wall which is at least 3.0 metres thick at its base. This ensures that the pipe is never closer to the air than 1.5 metres right up to the inlet, which should maximise heat transfer. The quite steep 4% slope is to prevent kinks from dumping a 2.0 metre high packed earth wall on top of the pipe, it’s a lot of weight and more importantly, it’s permanent so the ground under the pipe will never get the opportunity to spring back.
If I do say so myself, this use for the excess soil on the site after the foundations are dug out is quite clever. There is an existing low earthern wall plus an old spill pile from somebody else’s house. Adding that with the expected soil removal for my house should fill that wall and leave about 20 m3 remaining. I plan to turn that into my ‘holy pool’ water feature some day in the far future when I get both free time and sufficient money to do it. Disposing of the soil costs about €70 per tonne/€140 per cubic metre, so it also saves me money if I make use of the excess soil instead of spending more money to have it taken away.
As great as all this may look, I have a big problem: the GARE pipes are made by Rehau who are a Swiss polymers manufacturer. And as I mentioned earlier, almost nobody in Ireland nor the UK uses these, so getting them delivered to Ireland is going to be a real pain. I got a quote from their Irish exclusive reseller for over €7k ex VAT delivered. I can get the same pipes in Germany from an online shop for under €4k ex VAT delivered to Germany and its neighbouring countries. There surely must be a way of getting them from there to here for under €3k, even surely me driving a van there via ferry and back would be cheaper than €3k.
The longest pipes are 6 metre lengths which is problematic for pallet based freight, which maxes out at the 2.4m pallet. I could drop to 3 metre or 1 metre lengths, but that very substantially increases the cost per metre from €56 to €84. I guess I can try my luck on https://www.shiply.com/ or equivalents assuming that the German online shop is willing, it’s a light load at under 300 kg, just awkward that’s all.
Back last summer when I was ordering a garden wagon with extra large wheels to save me ever again moving concrete blocks one at a time by hand, I was looking on the vendor’s site for other things to buy for the fairly large delivery cost and I decided to also purchase one of their steel garden sheds. I originally intended to put it at the front, but then I realised that duplicated functionality already provided by the shipping container, so I then decided to put it at the back. However lots of other things were higher priority, so whilst I bought it in September 2022, I only got round to erecting it this month.
I spent a fair bit of time umming and awing on this one. If you want a quality steel shed, it is extremely hard to beat Britain’s Asgard who manufacture sheds. For the spec, I know of nothing remotely close in price – take their 7 x 7 ft model for about €2,000 inc VAT, it has 1.2 mm thick steel sheet walls and roof, comes with a built in metal floor (note this is rare in sheds!), and weighs 326 kg so it doesn’t even need anchoring to the ground for hurricanes. It would require a bit of effort to break into, more than a sledgehammer or screwdriver, an angle grinder would do it.
With hindsight, I probably should have got one of those, however what I got instead is a 225 x 225 cm (7.5 x 7.5 ft) pent shed from Sheds Direct Ireland for €754 inc VAT. In contrast to the quality permeating the Asgard shed above, this one has claimed 0.3 mm (I suspect actually 0.25 mm, see below) walls and roof with a 0.6 mm structural frame. It is screwed together by around four hundred screws, with all the screws easily accessible on the outside so anybody with a screwdriver can get inside. I found the OEM product listing at https://www.sunor.cn/product/Skylight-Metal-Shed/, with their Alibaba listing showing the cost for more than two hundred per order as US$140 each (which excludes shipping to Ireland and taxes), and also the weight as 68 kg per item.
Which is about one fifth the weight of the Asgard shed above (note that 1.2 mm divided by five is 0.24 mm, which is why I think the vendor’s claim of 0.3 mm thick panels unlikely), yet still two fifths the price once including the added costs: (i) I needed a heavy and raised base to keep the shed off the ground and away from rising damp plus to anchor it against hurricanes, which cost me €70 inc VAT for thirty-six solid concrete blocks (ii) I needed to level those blocks into a flat surface which cost a few dozen kg of sand (iii) €120 inc VAT for thirty concrete tiles to create a hard wearing floor, though arguably I’d have had to fit the same to the Asgard shed (iv) I had to buy a new long shackle lock costing €35 for it because its stupid door handles are too far apart for any of my existing padlocks (v) and finally, and perhaps the most important, is my very scarce and precious free time of which this Chinese shed consumed around three full days! Admittedly, this was spread out over many days these past two weeks, however I reckon about twenty-five hours went into prepping and constructing this thing. Which is very far from the claimed ‘two to three hours’ by its vendor …
As you might be gathering, there is a touch of buyer’s remorse here. I remember at the time of purchase I was very much thinking ‘either go quality or go cheap’ and I don’t particularly rate the 0.5 mm thick panels most of the ‘premium’ metal shed vendors in Ireland use. Sure, 0.5 mm is a world better than 0.25 mm panels, but do you know what’s world’s better again? > 1.0 mm panels. They actually have a good bit of solidity to them – not as good as the 2.0 mm panels on a shipping container for sure, but they don’t feel quite so ‘tinny’ any more. Whereas 0.5 mm panels definitely feel tinny – indeed, when I bought the one metal box roof panel for the western wall, I opted for the 0.7 mm panel for a little added cost rather than the 0.5 mm panel which most go for. That extra heft I certainly noticed lifting the damn thing, but I’m also very confident it will never rust through before I am dead, and therefore I will never ever have to redo that roof before I die. When you tap it, the panel ‘rings’ like a bell, which isn’t tinny.
My new garden shed wasn’t intended to live so long – in fact, I expected it to be scrapped well before I die as it’s in the way of my planned future reed bed system, and after the outhouse gets built that’ll be my next major expense work item. So I didn’t want to spend too much, and I guess one fifth the shed for half the price of the Asgard shed is the tradeoff you make.
All that said, Zhejiang Long Yard Industry & Trade make an above average product, relative to others I have experienced. Most of the steel sheet edges are folded back to prevent cutting your hands during handling, and I didn’t get cut once, so they did well there. The predrilled holes mostly lined up, which is better than average. In about four places the holes didn’t quite line up, causing some of the metal panels to bunch slightly which will let in a small amount of rain if there were a storm. There were only two places with completely missing predrilled holes, and those were easily drilled in by my own hand. They chose polycarbonate rather than cheaper and much inferior acrylic for the window. The instructions weren’t great – I’d look at them more as inspiration for writing your own instructions – but I’ve also seen far, far worse, and the numbers on the parts did match those in the instructions for the most part, except when they didn’t, none of which was a showstopper. One thing annoying about the instructions is the ordering of what to do in sequence, the design is actually better than the instructions give it credit e.g. they have a mini roof panel just big enough for your head to stick up through so you can easily screw in all the big roof panels without needing to hang over the roof from a ladder, yet the instructions completely ignored that quite nice design feature. There were sufficient quantities of screws, washers, bolts etc and then some, as it is good to have spares. As much as I’ve lambasted the thin steel sheet, it does have the one huge advantage of single handed ease of assembly because you can feasibly hold a whole sheet in an awkward position with one hand as you screw it in with the other hand. Good luck achieving that with 1.2 mm thick sheet, where assembly really does need two people start to finish.
I will admit it looks quite smart with its two tone paint job:
And, ultimately, once assembled it is sturdy enough and weatherproof enough to have solved what I bought it for. It’ll do. I can’t say I had any love for the quantity of time it consumed, the head scratching over what the instructions meant, or having at times to ignore the instructions because bits didn’t line up so I was going to have to think laterally. I’d have preferred an easier time of it, to be honest, given I had spent a grand overall on it. Still, it’s done now – well, actually, it isn’t quite done yet, I haven’t anchored it to the floor nor installed its floor concrete tiles, which you can see stacked there in front. Maybe by the end of this week!
House build spend
I undoubtedly overspent last year. In fact, due to bad record keeping by me we actually spent €10k over what we could afford, whoopsie. Which led to an unpleasant cash crunch after Christmas due to end of year taxes going out, and I didn’t quite have enough money.
Anyway, all that’s behind us now. My last update on this went up to 1st January 2023, and this will be up to 1st April 2023:
- Spent: €184,672
- Committed to be spent soon: €4,329
- Current three month averaged spend rate: €6,736 per month
The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Lithium batteries (ii) 60.5 m2 of concrete ‘lego’ bricks (iii) Three phase solar hybrid inverter (iv) Concrete blocks and concrete tiles for shed.
I’ll almost certainly write a separate post about those concrete ‘lego’ blocks, which let you build a cheap earth retaining wall, so I’ll say no more about those for now.
Fairly obviously the big blow out spend these past three months were the inverter and batteries which I originally ordered last summer, and they finally turned up some eight months later. Those unlock me getting mains electricity activated on the site, which I have set in motion. That will cost me at least five grand, unfortunately the bank will require that a mains electricity connection be activated during the build, so you don’t get much choice (you may remember I did some calculations, and I reckoned it actually cheaper to buy and run a diesel generator even assuming they will need regular replacement than get a mains electricity connection installed and then pay its annual standing charge and running costs).
The second large upcoming cost will be purchasing those GARE pipes mentioned above, which needs to happen soon if I want them installed this summer as they have a three month lead time. Past those two big ticket items, I don’t expect any further large expenses in the next three months at the current time. If the AIB set achievable terms for any mortgage they offer, that might change quickly – I’ll need to bring on a structural engineer and a M&E engineer and each will cost at least 10k. And from June onwards, I would need to shell out a whole ton load of cash for any prepatory groundworks to install the GARE etc, which is a blocker for the builders commencing build. I suspect that would more than wipe me out for this year, I’ll need to wait to 2024 for more cash to continue the works.