Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 5

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Part 5 we continue to follow the build of a really nice looking Pool Villa, in Phuket, Thailand.  The Villa is now really taking shape, but as we have always stated, this is one build that goes horribly wrong.  Here is the continuing exploits of our self builder, in his own words.

Roof Tiling nearing completion

Roof Tiling nearing completion

Week 13 – From the photo you can see that the roof tiling is pretty much complete. As I explained in Part 4, the roofers did point out that laying the tiles was the easy bit but to really finish it off the rid and gully tiles would take a lot more time, if the finished roof was to be water tight and looking real good.

I wasn’t complaining and in just 13 weeks we had come such a long way.

Inside the pool villa - looking a little dark

Inside the pool villa - looking a little dark

Now that the roof was on the inside really did look a bit dark.  But this is normal and I knew that once the walls had been rendered, plastered and painted it would brighten up beautifully.

The photo here shows the Master Bedroom that would over look the Pool and Sala.  A Sala, for those of you who don’t know, is a covered space and considering the nice weather in Phuket, would be perfect for outside dining.  I designed the Sala so that it had steps that lead directly into the pool.  Also the pool pump house was being built under the Sala to hide it from view.

Swimming Pool - After Drained

Swimming Pool - After Drained

The Pool was half filled with water when all the supports were removed (after the concrete had dried).  It was a worrying time and now we would find out if there were any leaks. The concrete had to hold the water and the weight of it.  As it got filled up I was very nervous.  The pool sat for three days with the water in it and was then drained.  I was happy to hear from the architect that everything had gone according to plan.  I did question him about the walls not being straight but he pointed out that they would be once all the high points, along the wall had been removed and all the tiles were in place.  I have to admit I wasn’t convinced and so I went to see a friend who had a pool build by my architect.  He came on-site and put my mind at ease and said that his pool looked pretty much the same and that I shouldn’t worry – it’ll be fine.

You can see, from the photo that parts of the walls have already been cut back in order to square them up.

The real problem with building a home for the first time, is the lack of knowledge. I had zero experience and so if you are thinking about it then you will need to put a lot of faith in the architect, project manager and builders.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions and question what is being done.  Far from it, ask all the time and learn – if you ever decided to build again, then you’ll have a much better understanding of what goes on.

Week 14 – To my dismay some of the items, such as floor and wall tiles had turned up on-site.  I was not happy and this was not what I agreed with the store manager who supplied everything.  As it turned out, our goods arrived in-store and were then shipped to site right away.  It now meant that the guys working inside had to cover all the goods and work around them.  Once again, the Burmese, made no complaints and moved things around as and when they needed the room.

Rendering the Internal Walls

Rendering the Internal Walls

We now had an additional three people on-site and their job was the rendering and plaster work.  I personally don’t know how they worked so fast in the heat, it was hitting 45C inside but it didn’t seem to bother then at all.

Pool Sala and Pump House Foundations

Pool Sala and Pump House Foundations

Back on the swimming pool the guys started working on the foundations for the Sala and Pump house and it was nice to see more being done here.  We had come up with a few solutions for hiding the pool pump and filter systems but placing them under the Sala was the most practical solution.  They are not exactly very nice to look at and I certainly didn’t want anything looking out of place and this was the perfect solution for hiding the pools inner workings.

Internal Walls Being Rendered

Internal Walls Being Rendered

By the end of Week 14 all of the roofing tiles where in place and 50% of the internal walls had been rendered.  It really was a busy building site and the Burmese certainly knew how to work hard.  You could see big changes to the build on a daily basis.  The architect did point out that if the suppliers hadn’t delivered all the tiles, and other goods, then it could have gone a lot quicker.  I was still extremely pleased with the progress and on the Friday night I bought everyone dinner and a few beers.

Ridge and Gully Roof Tiling

Ridge and Gully Roof Tiling

Week 15 – I arrived on-site to find the roofers starting work on the roofing gullies and ridge tiles.  They were doing such a great job and I was so pleased with the overall colours of the tiles.  Each time I drove on-site I could see just how well they blended with the Jungle behind.  Yes, you could clearly see it was a roof of a house, but it wasn’t as intrusive on the background.

External Rending

External Rending

During the week the guys rendering the walls really did push on with the job.  The photo here is of the back of the house and you can see just how much rendering has been done.  By the end of week 15 almost all of the internal rendering was complete and a good deal of the exterior of the villa was also rendered.

So far my luck had held with the rain, but that was about to end.  We had an almighty down pour over the last 2 days of week 15, which filled the pool over 1/4.  Without the ridge tiles or gully tiles in place the internals did get a bit wet but the walls were fine and we didn’t suffer any major set backs.  The guys did have to empty the pool and make a make-shift cover for the pool and sala but apart from that the roof really did go on just in time for the worst of the weather to arrive.

External Rending - Front of Villa

External Rending - Front of Villa

Week 16 – Most of the external walls where now rendered and the villa started taking on a whole new look again. The roof gully tiling was also complete and now would come the final part of fitting all the ridge titles.

While things were moving along nicely I was having problems with the architect.  He tried several times during the week to have a chat with me but considering he didn’t speak English and my Thai was rudimentary at best, we just couldn’t communicate.  The wife, as she explained, was off busy sorting out paper work for the villa.  This I didn’t question because anything official here requires reams of paper work.  If you want  a Visa or a Work Permit expect to sign at least 30 pages or more of paperwork.

I did explain to the wife that the architect was trying to explain something too me and so she needed to go and have a chat.  We turned up on-site and she had a chat with the architect – from the body language it didn’t look good.  I just asked the architect if everything was OK, once they finished talking.  He simply nodded his head yes and it got left at that.

That evening I asked my wife what the issue was about.  She just explained that there was a problem with the Pool Pump House and a bit more money was needed  – apparently  the model of pump and filter that was budgeted for was not large enough to handle the size of the pool.  I thought this was a bit strange considering his experience and knowing the size of the pool well in advance.  However, I left it at that and had no reason to doubt my wife.

Villa is looking good

Villa is looking good

By the  end of the week 90% of the internal and external walls where rendered and with the roofing almost complete the villa really was looking stunning.

Well folks that concludes Part 5.  In the next, and final, part you will find out how things went from being perfect to a complete disaster.  The final part really does show you just how perilous building a home in a foreign country can be and in this particular case is life threatening.  Come back  tomorrow for Part 6 and the conclusion of this true story – not to be missed!

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 4

March 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Parts 1-3 we’ve seen just how much progress has been achieved on this wonderful looking 4-bedroom pool villa, which was being built in Phuket, Thailand. The owner had provided a detailed account of how the build has progressed and in this part we continue to follow the build into what will eventually change the man’s life dramatically.  Again, the following is in his own words and is a complete and factual account of what happens.

Steel Roof Structure 100% Complete

Steel Roof Structure 100% Complete

Week 9 – I arrived on-site and was really pleased to see that all the steel roofing was complete and that it had been given the OK by the architect. We now had to wait for CPAC to return on-site and give their stamp of approval and I was assured, this time, there wouldn’t be any problems.

Swimming Pool Floor re-Concreted

Swimming Pool Floor re-Concreted

At the end of Week 9 the swimming pool floor, along with all the plumbing was finally complete and it once again started looking like a swimming pool.  There was still a long way to  go but at least now the depths and the slope of the pool was much better.

Internal brickwork - Master Bedroom

Internal brickwork - Master Bedroom

Inside the Villa it remained looking like a full fledged building site and now most of the internal walls had been built.  We still had a way to go, as they all needed rendering and plastering – but before any of that all the electrical and plumbing conduits needed installing.

Week 10 – At the beginning of the week the builders started fitting the door frames and skimming out for the windows. The windows where included in the price and the architect was keen to get me to decide on which windows I wanted to install.  He gave me three samples, each from local firms but I couldn’t say I was impressed.  These were all aluminium, which was what I wanted, but these were all constructed from either 1.8 to 2.2mm and simply holding it in your hands you could crush it. For me the quality just wasn’t good enough and I had already seen these installed in other homes – it was just awful.  After talking things through with the architect he agreed to let me source my own and simply remove the cost from the plans.  I ended up finding a company that supplied German made uPVC windows and doors.  The quality was as you would expect from things German made – solid and extremely well constructed.  As far as costs went, it did cost me more money but as I explained, we wanted to sell this villa and it had to be of the highest quality.

The window suppliers were extremely good, they arrived on-site the next day, discussed the plans with the architect and then agreed on all the measurements.  Delivery time was two weeks and this was right on schedule.

During this week I also expressed a concern regarding the living room.  I felt that it could be extended further to allow for more internal space. Due to the way the villa had been planned this was not a problem and so we extended it by a further 1.8m and still left a huge outside patio area before the swimming pool.

Swimming Pool - Taking Shape

Swimming Pool - Taking Shape

By the end of Week 10 the swimming pool had also taken more shape with all the rebar caging, for the sides in place, and the timber forms well under way.

Other parts of the house, such as the roofing fascia boards where also fitted in preparation for the tiles.  The overall room sizes looked really good and the architect pointed out they would look even bigger once they were rendered and the plastering was complete.

The weather was holding steady, which was great considering we were expecting rain, but my luck was certainly in and it hadn’t rained at all.  We all hoped that the rains would hold off for just another week or two until the roof tiles were on.

Roofing Tiles Arrive

Roofing Tiles Arrive

Week 11 – I got a call early Monday morning to say that CPAC had been and gone.  They had signed off on the roofing steels and delivered all of the tile.  This was really unexpected, we didn’t expect CPAC for another week at least.  Apparently the architect made a phone call Sunday morning and took the guy from CPAC out for dinner that night and bought a few beers – that did the job and when I arrived on-site they had already started stacking the roof tiles on the roof, ready for laying.

Guest Bedroom - Mountain View

Guest Bedroom - Mountain View

Most of the conduit for the electrical cables had been fitted and during this week they would start rendering the walls.  The image here shows one of the guest bedrooms, which had a wonderful view of the mountains.

Swimming Poll - ready for the concrete pour

Swimming Poll - ready for the concrete pour

Finally the swimming pool had been completely shored up with timber and reinforcement bars that would hold the timber forms together when they poured the concrete to form all the walls.

The swimming pool was, without doubt, the one part of the build that caused the most headaches.  It had to be constructed very carefully because the back side was not underground and so the amount of steel reinforcement was immense.  Again, the Burmese crew did a really good job.  The only thing now was to wait for the cement to arrive and be pumped into the wall forms.

Roofing Tile Being Fitted

Roofing Tile Being Fitted

Week  12 – Arriving on-site first thing and seeing the roofing tiles going up really was a treat.  The tiles had a pattern to them and the name of the tiles “Autumn”. The idea was to try and blend the roof in with natural surroundings, so that while you could see a roof, it didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  I was really pleased with how they looked and with each passing day, as more of the roof tiles went up, I was truly delighted with the overall effect.

More roofing tiles fitted

More roofing tiles fitted

In this picture you get a better idea of how the roofing tiles looked – these guys really knew their stuff, but as one of them explained to me, laying the tiles was easy, it was finishing the roof with all the ridge tiles and flashing gully tiles that was the difficult part and would take time if the job was to be right.  I told them not to rush it!

During the first day of the 12th week the cement truck also turned up and pumped all the concrete for the swimming pool walls.  There was a lot of activity with several vibration units working, to ensure no air bubbles were left,  as the concrete was pumped in.

Inside the Villa work continues

Inside the Villa work continues

Work continued on the interior with the installation of the electrical conduits and plumbing pipes.  By the end of the week most of the roofing tiles where in place and lots of progress had been make to the internal of the villa.

I was told that the shuttering and forms would all be removed from the swimming pool on Monday morning and then they will partly fill the pool with water to see if it holds without leaking.  Considering that the pool had caused me a lot of grief so far I was not looking forward to it.  It was a very long weekend and I visited the site every day wondering if it was going to hold up.

Well that’s the end of Part 4.  It’s been an exciting time for us listening to the story and from the photos we’ve seen the villa certainly does look to be in great shape.  As we have said all along, this build does end in tragedy and you’ll find out just how one man, in a foreign country has to cope with what is to become a life changing disaster.  Come back tomorrow for Part 5!

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 3

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome back to the third installment of the Self Build Horror story.  So far, in Parts 1 and 2, things have gone really well.  The Thai architect / project manager and the Burmese builders really have done an excellent job and progress has moved along nicely.  In this part we’ll follow the story of the 2nd month of the build and the following is in the words of the chap whose build the villa, read on…

It was a bright sunny Monday morning.  I was full of beans as the build was progressing so well.  Both my wife and I agreed that things where right on the money.  I had agreed with the architect that he would provide a fixed cost for the build but I would be responsible for purchasing of all the finish items, such as floor / wall tiles, toilets, kitchen units and all the other bits that would make the villa look and feel the way I wanted.  I know sometimes it’s easier to let the architect handle all of this but I wanted to ensure I didn’t end up with any cheap and nasty fixtures and fittings just for the sake of saving a bit of money here and there.  My intention was to sell this villa and so I had to make absolutely sure that the overall quality was as perfect as I could get it.  For instance I could have purchased a Jacuzzi Bath Tub that was around £1,500, but for me quality meant everything so I splashed out on the latest model at £3,700.  I just wanted to make sure that when people viewed the finished villa that it was impressive and for the buyer, knowing that they really were buying a luxury pool villa.

At the rate the build was progressing I was informed now  would be a good time to start purchasing all the tiles for the floor, walls and pool.  I took a trip to the local Home Improvement Superstore and had a word with the manager.  We decided, for a decent discount, that we would purchase everything from the tiles, to the kitchen, appliance, bathrooms and even down to the door handles.  The only thing we didn’t buy where the doors themselves.  I wanted to add a real touch of class to the villa so I commissioned a local craftsman to hand carve the double doors for the front and then all the internal doors.  These were beautifully made and all from Grade A Burmese Teak. The doors were expensive but again, I wanted the person, whoever bought the villa, to have a truly beautiful home.  I also felt that selling a Villa of this quality would be easier to sell.

The store manager was pretty good and agreed that they would deliver items as needed instead of cluttering up the building site, which seemed like a sensible approach.  Meanwhile back on site things where progressing nicely and week five saw the building taking leaps and bounds of looking like a real house.

Villa Swimming Pool

Villa Swimming Pool

The swimming pool was really beginning to take shape and once again the architect expressed is concern over the depth of the shallow end.  Again, there was me thinking in feet where in fact the measurement was in meters.  The shallow end, as I mentioned, was 0.4m and there was me thinking this was 4 feet.  Again, I assured the architect it was exactly as I wanted.  When it was all said and done, maybe he could of explained that at a depth of  0.4m it would barely come above my knee cap (if that) and maybe then the penny would have dropped, but as it happened he merely said “If that’s what you really want, then OK, but I still think it’s too shallow.”

Swimming Pool - Concrete Base Poured

Swimming Pool - Concrete Base Poured

As you can see from the photo, the rebar caging is now in and the plumbing work installed and yet it sill didn’t occur to me that anything was wrong. It wasn’t until they poured the concrete for the flooring of the pool that the penny finally dropped.

I now realized that the shallow end was all wrong and finally realized that I was mixing feet with meters.  There was no choice in the matter – the lot had to come up and be completely redone.  During this we also decided to reduce the angle of the slope, so that instead of such a dramatic drop, it gently flowed from one end to the other – this time I let the architect have full say.  This small mistake was a costly one. Digging up all the pool require all new rebar, plumbing and concrete – we simply could not just cut half of it away, the whole lot had to come up and it was going to take at least a month to get it back to the stage it was now.

I felt really bad, not about the money, but for my Burmese crew because I knew they would end up taking it apart using pick axes and shovels.  I felt so guilty to put them through such hard work and considering the heat.  The architect assured me it was OK (I guess it was for him, he didn’t have to do the labor) but I insisted he hired a Jack Hammer to make the job easier – which he finally agreed to.

Part of Roof Complete and Concrete Floors Complete

Part of Roof Complete and Concrete Floors Complete

While the issue with the pool was being sorted, behind me the remaining members of the crew were fitting all the sewage pipes and the roofing guys had arrived on-site to begin the construction of the steel roof.  Again, it was one of those weeks that if you blinked you missed so much.  At this point, and standing back, it was like watching a colony of ants at work and no single person stood idle for a minute.

By the end of Week 5 the base of the swimming pools was complete and then started in digging it up again. The roofing guys were well underway in fitting the steel roofing beams and the entire concrete floor base of the villa was complete.

I bought a few beers on the Saturday night and some food.  I really did express my sorrow for the amount of extra work for the swimming pool. The Burmese just had a good laugh about it and thanked me for the Jack Hammer – I still felt awful for such a mistake, but mistakes happen and building a home is not always clear cut.

Walls being to be built

Walls being to be built

Week 6 started off like any other week and everyone was busy doing their work. While some of the crew worked on the swimming pool others work on the roof and the bricklayers turned up to start their work.

At this point I was blissfully unaware of any problems regarding the steel roof and it was during this week that the architect put a stop to the roofing work.  Again, the architect was very good and explained to me that it was not up to the right specification.  We had ordered the roofing tiles from a company called CPAC and they offer a guarantee on the tiles, but only if the steel work met the proper specifications.  It didn’t and so the architect fired all the roofer and bought in a new crew, who then dismantled the entire roof and then started rebuilding it.  Thankfully this was not my responsibility and so didn’t cost me anything to put right.

I did have a contingency fund for the build of 20% but the swimming pool had already taken a large chunk of this so I had to make sure that nothing else major occurred.  I found that with every passing day I was talking over the plans with the architect just to make sure.  All in all it was a very good learning experience and anyone building a home should understand the plans.

Villa taking shape

Villa taking shape

By the end of Week 6 the villa was really taking shape. The brickwork was well underway and and the steel roof was 90% complete.  With the walls taking shape I could now walk around the villa and get a feeling for the overall size.  It was huge – much bigger than I had initially thought it would be.

Week 7 was another flurry of activity. The bricklayers were hard at work building all the internal walls and the roofers where working their way towards completing the steel roof structure.  We did have one issue and that was due to the last roofers making a mess of the job. It meant that CPAC, the suppliers of the tiles, needed to come out and inspect the steel before signing off and delivering the tiles and organizing one of their crews to fit the tiles.  Because we had missed our appointed slot we were looking at a delay of a month which meant that we couldn’t get the building water tight and the rains were becoming more frequent.  Being a tropical destination Phuket suffers from monsoons and so getting a building water tight was a priority.  If you have never experienced a monsoon I can tell you it is one sight to behold – it rains as if buckets were being thrown at you.  It can get so bad that you can’t see 10 feet in front of you and you have to appreciate just how powerful mother nature is.

Villa Taking Shape

Villa Taking Shape

By the end of Week 7 the Villa really was transformed. The roofing guys had finished installing all the main steel beams and the bricklayer had not only finished all the external walls but made real progress to the internal walls as well.  We even had the new road surface installed leading to the villa.  It was taking shape so fast and I was spending more and more time on-site to watch the progress and learn as much as I could.

At the start of Week 8 things looked really good, apart from the swimming pool. It looked like a bomb site as it was still being dug up, but the rest of the villa was coming along nicely and I knew the Burmese crew would do a good job of the swimming pool – I just had to grin and bare it while they tore it apart.

Inside the Villa - Living Area

Inside the Villa - Living Area

Walking around the internal of the villa now, with the brick work complete I got a true sense of the amount of living space the villa had.  The picture “Inside the Villa – Living Area” was looking great. The idea behind the design was for it to be open to the back of the house, so that you had great views over the pool and into the jungle.  There was going to be a fair amount of glass to capitalize on the views.

The remainder of Week 8 continued with the building of the internal walls, all of which were double skinned to help with soundproofing from one room to another. The villa had a total of 4 bedrooms, each to include it’s own en-suite.  Then there was the open plan living and dining area.  The kitchen and utility room completed the villa with a 2 Car carport.

Villa Looking Good - Steel Roof Completed

Villa Looking Good - Steel Roof Completed

The end of Week 8 arrived and the roofing guys had completed the job.  It was now time to tile the roof, but with the delays due to the first set of roofers, there were no tiles, or tilers to do do the job.  We just had to concentrate on other areas of the build and wait for our new allotted time from CPAC.

I really couldn’t complain, so much had been achieved in just 8 Weeks!

Well that’s it for Part 3.  Tomorrow we’ll take you through the next 4 week period.  Everything appears, on the surface, to be a normal build. A few ups and downs, but that is expected.  What lies beneath will change this fellas life forever – he’s lucky he’s alive to tell the tale.  Check back tomorrow for Part 4.

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 2

March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Part 2 of the Self Build Horror in Thailand, which follows the true story of a very unfortunate chap who’s self build project not only cost him everything he had, but almost cost him is life.

The story commences…

I was delighted to visit the site to find that the ground works were underway.  Although I had no previous building experience (most first-time self builders don’t) I knew the method of constructing the foundations was a little different than those methods employed in the UK.  I wasn’t concerned, the architect, while he didn’t speak any English (everything was translated by my wife), did appear to know what he was doing and he did come highly recommended by other people who had used his services to build.

Digging the foundation pillar holes

Digging the foundation pillar holes

To start with the builders, all from Burma, had to dig a number of holes.  In fact there were a total of 39 holes, each measuring about a meter square and approximately 1.5 meters deep.  These holes were all dug out by hand and in the heat of 30 C + it could not have been pleasant for the guys and girls doing the work.  If you look at the picture, to your left, you can see some old corrugated tin roof, this was used to keep the sun off the workers while digging the foundation pillar holes.  Again, each one was dug by hand and the work was not only back-breaking it was very hot.

In Thailand, most of the construction work, is carried out by Burmese. The Thais consider it a low class job and in a society that is ruled by class they consider it to be beneath them.  Thais don’t like the Burmese, mainly because hundreds of years ago, Burma raided and burnt the then capital Ayutthaya to the ground on more than one occasion.  It was one of the main reasons the Thais moved the capital to Bangkok.  Again, this was hundreds of years ago, but Thailand is extreme in it’s nationalistic attitude – they really do believe they are the greatest nation on earth and that everyone who is not Thai is beneath them.  Being a foreigner in Thailand is not always a pleasant experience and the Thais are extremely discriminatory towards foreigners… but I’ll get back to that later.

Buddhist Ceremony for the Building Foundations

Buddhist Ceremony for the Building Foundations

Thais are mainly Buddhists and so they believe that the foundations need to be blessed – to make sure nothing goes wrong with the build and that it doesn’t suffer from any ill fate or problems with ghosts.  Personally, I’m not superstitious but I did respect their beliefs and the expense of the ceremony was not a great deal of money.  I also had to keep the wife, architects and the builders (Burmese are also mainly Buddhists) so I went along with it.

During the first week the Burmese had managed to completely dig out each of the foundation holes, construction the rebar cages and dug out a fair amount of the ground for where the swimming pool was to go.  The pool was pretty big at 10m x 5m and so there was a lot of earth to be dug out.  Again, no mechanical equipment was employed, every shovel full was dug out and removed by hand.

Now that the foundation pillar holes were complete it was time to move onto the foundation trenches and constructing and fitting all the rebar cages that would add strength to the concrete.  All of this work was carried out by women.  The oldest lady on-site was in her late 50’s and the youngest was just 15 years old (apart from Poppet – see below – but she didn’t actually work).  I watched in awe of these ladies and just how hard they worked, especially in the heat.  I was told, from the beginning of the build, that I shouldn’t really chat with any of the workers or be nice in any way, but for me these were people, with real lives, real feelings and they worked so hard for practically nothing.  The average daily wage was approximately £3.50 and that was for a minimum of 10 hours a day and it wasn’t unusual for them to work 12 hours plus.

Burmese Ladies hard at Work

Burmese Ladies hard at Work

I got on great with the Burmese – all in all, a really great bunch of people and even though they didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Burmese, we managed to communicate just fine. At the end of each week I would bring in a few beers or a bottle of whiskey and some food and chow down with them having a laugh.  I believe it paid off – they didn’t just see me as another rich western arsehole (although I wasn’t rich, but compared to them I was a billionaire) and they certainly put in a great deal of effort into the build.  They would often stop working when I came on-site just to ask me if everything was OK, regarding the work they were doing.  Again, great bunch of people.

I made sure that I spent as much time on-site as possible, throughout the build, as this would be a good learning experience and would stand me in better stead for the next villa I would build.  The architect was great and explained, through interpretation with my wife, each stage and what was going on.  I will admit, there were times that I looked on in horror – I couldn’t believe that the workers didn’t have any type of safety wear, it was all bare feet and flip-flops.  No safety shoes, eye protection or anything and yet, not once did I hear any of the Burmese complain.  It did make me wonder just how bad living in Burma must be for them to want to come to Thailand, knowing the are despised by the Thais and their working conditions would be appalling.

Villa Foundations complete

Villa Foundations complete

By the end of Week 2 all of the foundations where in.  From the picture you can see that the timber forms where still in place while the concrete cured, but in just two weeks, and all by hand, my group of Burmese workers had dug 39 foundation pillars, all the footings, built and installed all the rebar cages, built the timber forms and put them in place and then, by hand mixed the concrete and poured.  I was in awe of these people and it never ceased to amaze me just how hard they worked.

While the concrete was curing the Burmese didn’t sit around doing nothing – the foreman, while a really nice guy, was Thai and he was not about to pay a bunch of Burmese to sit around doing nothing.  The whole crew, for three days, was set to work on the swimming pool foundations.

The swimming pool presented a number of problems, because the land at the back where it was situated, sloped away quite dramatically.  The solution was to dig down the sides and then build up the back. This allow us to build an Infinity Pool and the overall design was very attractive and once it was completed it would look like the water was just cascading over the edge and into the tropical jungle.

I provided the architect with the specifications for the pool, that is the width, length and the internal depths.  He did try to tell me on a few occasions that he had reservations about my  internal depths and even my wife tried to relate this too me.  I was convinced however my calculations where right – but as it turned out I really made a mess of things.  I put the shallow end at a depth of 0.4m and the deep end at 1.6m – for some really stupid reason I was thinking in feet and meters, that is I knew the deep end was OK but I was thinking in feet for the shallow end and therefore 0.4m just was nowhere near deep enough.  Unfortunately for me, this mistake ended up costing me £3,500 by the time it became obvious.  I’ll explain more about the pool later and provide some pictures. As this mistake occurred a little later in the build when the concrete was being poured.

Foundations nearing completion

Foundations nearing completion

During mid-week, the timber forms got dismantled and for the first time I could see, roughly how the rooms where laid out.  It was a fairly big villa with an internal living space of 265 sqm.  I was really impressed and there wasn’t a day that went by without some excitement.  The thrill of watching a home being built is just incredible.  Yes, there are stressful moments, but the satisfaction is unparalleled in my book.

Once the floor timber forms where removed the Burmese crew got to work on the structural pillars. Again, it was an unusual sight, not seen in the western style of building but this was Thailand and it had it’s own ways of building. I couldn’t complain and with each passing day I was amazed at just how much was achieved.  Each supporting pillar was constructed with timber forms that surrounded a rebar cage.  All the cement was then poured by hand into each column. This was the first time I had seen any type of mechanical equipment on-site.  They used a long steel rod that was attached to a generator and then slide inside the timber forms. This rod then vibrated in order to remove any air bubbles in the columns.   I had never seen anything like it and yet, this was apparently, the way things in Thailand were done.

By the end of Week 3 all of the supporting pillars had been been completed and the forms removed. I was in awe once again.  I just couldn’t believe how 9 Burmese Men and 11 Burmese Women could achieve so much in such a short space of time –  it was remarkable, considering they had nothing much in the way of machinery and the fact that they were working in temperatures that would make the average man faint.

Poppet - Kitchen Supervisor

Poppet - Kitchen Supervisor

I mentioned earlier, that safety was never a concern on-site.  I know in the UK you can’t even walk on a building site without wearing all the appropriate safe gear, but here in Thailand, safety is of no concern – the only concern is getting the job done on time and on budget.  We did have a very special member of the Burmese Team turn up at the end of Week 3.  I took it upon myself to put her in charge of the food.  I did not know her name but took to calling her Poppet – she was adorable, and while a building site is no place for someone so young I had to accept that this was acceptable practice in Thailand.

The last week, in the first month, experienced a flurry of work, mainly to the swimming pool area, while the support columns where left to dry out.  It was a very busy first month and I was amazed at just how much was achieved by a group of people all working by hand.

In Part 3 we’ll take you through the 2nd Month of the build and you’ll see just how much progress had been achieved.  So far things have gone smoothly, but in the coming months things will take a turn for the worst.  Look out tomorrow for Part 3.

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 1

March 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Most of us enjoy our DIY and Home Improvement jobs. It gives us the satisfaction of being able to improve our homes, add a little value to the property, and provide a little more comfort.  The ultimate DIY project has to be the self build.  Building your own home, for many, is a highly rewarding experience that is unmatched by most other life experiences and the satisfaction, on the end result, can be exhilarating.

Building your own home is not always plain sailing and many, while happy with the end result, find the experience just too stressful and would never consider building another.  For others it’s a thrill that cannot be matched, even if there were a few hiccups along the way, and it’s not long after the home is completed that they are hunting for another building plot.

There are a few cases where things do go horribly wrong and when it does, it can be one extremely costly.  This is the story of one such self builder. The home he built literally cost him everything and nearly his life.  Remarkably, even after leaving him penniless he is determined to turn his life around and hopefully one day build the house of his dreams.  This is a true story and over the next few weeks we’ll detail his journey of building a home on the island of Phuket, Thailand, the problems he faced and ultimately causing his ruin and even the threat of death.  What you read now is the events in his own words…

It was mid-July 2008 the weather was hot and my Thai wife, of 4 years, and I were looking for a building plot.  My plan was to build a really beautiful pool villa that I could sell and then move on and build another.  After I had sold my small business I had approximately £200,000 as my total net worth. A lot of money, but not enough to be able to survive for the rest of my life, so my ultimate plan was to build three villas, the first two I would sell and finally the third I would live in.

At the time I loved living in Thailand and Phuket was such a nice island. It seemed like the perfect place to live and enjoy life with the golf, diving and enjoying long relaxing  days on the beach. Nearly all my friends were so jealous of the life-style was creating. No more 9 to 5, no more stuck in city traffic and no more having to grind away at work, just to pay the taxman.  Life seemed so perfect.

In September 2008 we finally found the plot of land and at 800 square meters, at a cost of £25,000, it was on budget with a perfect location with tropical mountains as the back drop.

Self Build Thailand - The building Plot

Self Build Thailand - The building Plot

As a foreigner I was unable to own the land in my name. It is illegal for any foreign national to own land. I basically had two choices if I really wanted to buy the land. Firstly, I could set up a Thai Company and the company, as a Thai Entity, could own the land. The downside to owning a company in Thailand is that Thai Law states that no foreigner may own any more that 49% of the shares.  The solution is to bring in a Thai partner, but the dangers here, as many foreigners will attest to, is that it is all too easy for the Thai partner to rip you off and take all of your investment. Corruption is rife in Thailand and there are many horror stories of foreigners getting involved in businesses and then the Thai partner taking everything – in a number of cases the foreigners have even been murdered for his assets.

The second choice I had was to put the land into my wife’s name.  We had a good relationship, we were very much a couple and spend all of our time together and while it had been reported in the news, on many occasions, that a Thai wife of a foreigner had hired someone to kill him for his assets, this was not something that worried me personally.

I did chat, both of the options, over with my wife and she agreed, that whilst both options presented problems the second one would be easier in the long run, as she would be the one dealing with the land office, planning office and all the other people involved, including architects and builders.  Knowing how the system worked in Thailand, I decided that the only sensible options was to put the land in my wife’s name.  If I had registered a company then applied to the land and planning office, I knew that I would have to of handed over large sums of money in bribes in order to get all the paperwork approved.  As a Thai National, my wife wasn’t going to get any of those problems.  We actually worked it out, and to get the land transferred and building permission, with it in a Thai Company, would have cost in excess of £10,000 in bribes and no doubt, by the time the build had finished could have cost five times that amount.  Obviously I was on a budget and so these corrupt payments was not something that I could afford.

We completed the purchase of the land, which went into my wife’s name in late September 2008.  We now owned our building plot and it was now time to find an architect to design the villa.

When it comes to any type of tradesman, you cannot beat a good recommendation from other people, who have actually used their services.  My wife and I did a fair amount of searching and finally found an architect who would also act as the project manager.  Building a home is difficult enough, especially when you have never done it before, but building in a foreign land presents even more problems and our architect assured us that he would take care of all the planning, planning applications, building permits and project manage the build.  This was the perfect solution for a first time self builder and we appointed him for the job.

Before we could apply for building permission we needed a set of build plans and within a week our architect came up with three different design and costs for each one.  While the drawings he produced where very good the layout and overall design was not to my liking and after spending several days with the architect we finally produced a set of build plans that my wife and I loved and that fitted in with our build budget.

ground work for building a villa in thailand

Ground Word Begins

Because I wasn’t directly involved in dealing with the local authorities we received confirmation, with all the plans stamped, with a week and it was now time for the architect to organize the work force for the villa.

Ground work commence on the villa on the 29th October 2008.  It certainly was an exciting day.  I had dreamed for years about building a house and while I knew I was going to sell it, I was still determined to put all my energy into building a really beautiful home and something I could be truly proud of.

In Part 2 … Find out how the first month went


If you are interested in self building has a great Self Builders Guide which provides practical advice on what to consider and things you’ll need to do to get started.

How to Build a House – Getting Started

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Building your own home can be a very exciting prospective.  If you’ve never built your own home then there are lots of things you need to take into consideration before you start.

Like anything in life, planning and preparation are the key.  I’ve built my own home and I have a clear understanding of what it takes and how essential careful planning is.  While building your own home can be cheaper than buying one and while you may be able to build a home exactly to your living requirements there are pitfalls.

Ask anyone who has built their own home and you will get a mixture of perspectives.  Some will say that’s it’s exciting and rewarding.  Others will tell you it’s the most stressful thing they have ever undertaken and would never do it again.  Others will say they can’t wait to build another, but generally you will find that the comments are a mixture of all these.  Yes, building your home is exciting, it is stressful in some parts, and it is rewarding.

Before you set out on your quest to build your ultimate dream home you will have to be realistic.  It is very easy to get carried away in what you want to build.  If you have a family then you must sit them down and chat to them about your dream of building a home.  They may not show the same enthusiasm and unless everyone is on-board with your plans then you could end up putting an enormous amount of strain on the family life.

Besides all your dreams do you know how much money you have available to build a home?  Do you plan to sell you existing home to raise the funds – if so, where are you and your family going to live while the house is being build.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a home.  There are so many considerations to be made, but if you are like me and really want to build then take a look at the guide below:

How to Build a House

When it’s all said and done I can testify that the emotions and financial strain can be difficult to cope with.  Generally it’s not all plain sailing and you will find a number of issues to deal with along the build.  The key is to be able to step back and look at any problems in a logical way.  What may seem like a complete disaster one minute can easily work itself out the next.  If this is your first time then I would highly recommend that you employ the services of a site Project Manager.  I was advised to do this on my first build and I took that advice – oh so glad I did and for two reasons.  The first is that the Project Manager takes so much of the hassle out of the build for you.  He or she is the one that will sort out tradesman and materials.  The second reason is that I gained a vast amount of knowledge.  I made sure I was on-site every day to discuss things and watch how it all came together.  I am planning, in the future to build another  home and this time, providing I can get sufficient time of work, I’ll either project manage the build completely or co-project manage it… that is employ a part-time project manager or consult heavily with my architect.

I hope the guide provides you with an insight as to what you’ll need to consider when building your new home.

DIY – How to Make a Coat Hook Rack

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

A cloakroom is a great place to store your Coats, Hats, Scarves and Shoes, but if it’s not properly organized it can look a real mess.

Take a look around any DIY or Home Improvement store and you’ll see a range of Coat Hook Racks for sale.  While there might be a wide choice these don’t always meet you r exact requirements, for example they are too big or too small.  The answer to this dilemma is to make one yourself.

All you need is a length of timber and the number of hooks you actually want, which all can be easily purchased from your local DIY store.

You’ll be pleased to know that is this one of those DIY projects that is so easy to do and as usual has just the project guide you need to complete the job.  Not only that we also have a guide on fixing it to the wall.

So, get your toolbox and measuring tape out, it’s time to make your own custom make coat hook rack and fit it.


1. How to Make a Coat Hook Rack

2. How to Put up a Coat Hook Rack


Hope you find these project guides useful!

Getting MORE Visitors to Your Website – Part 3

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Part 1 and Part 2 we showed you ways in which to boost traffic, by Posting Tips and Answering Questions on  In this final installment we’ll show you how you can add some real juice to SERP and drive even more Direct Traffic to YOUR web site and or blog.

Sometimes, especially for us  small businesses, it seems like a never ending battle to get Google to rank us high enough so that we do get sufficient traffic that produces enough income to put bread on the table.  Many people think that is some well funded, large corporations.  That’s not true.  In fact we don’t even qualify as a medium size business.  We are in fact one of the millions of small business on the web trying to make a name for ourselves.  How small is  Just two people.  I take care of all the content, design, blogging, marketing and everything else to get people to visit, while Andrew, takes care of all the clever CSS /ASP.NET coding that makes the site run.

Just because we are small doesn’t mean we are not successful.  We’ve come a long way since Jan 2011 when we launched and our site traffic continues to rise.  I’m not going to say I have a magical solution, far from it.  What I do have is a passion for what I do and I work 14 hours a day, every day.

So how does get traffic?  For a start we work hard on SEO, but we believe SEO is not the be-all and end-all to getting visitors.  Our primary goal is producing excellent content that our visitors will find useful and therefore return for more.  SEO can become quiet natural and as Google further extends and tweaks it’s algorithms it’s getting hard to manipulate, using White Hat techniques, rankings.  As Google stated, concentrate on great quality and unique content and Google will recognize it and reward you for it in terms of higher rankings.

If you look closely at you will see that it is very much a social web site.  We allow anyone to Post Tips, Post Comments and become part of our growing Questions & Answers Community.  All of these are capable of creating one-way back-links and driving traffic to the posters site directly.

Our third and final offering is ‘Writing Guides‘.  We encourage anyone with knowledge of DIY (Home Improvement) and Gardening to write and submit a guide.  We do have strict guidelines for submission and this is to protect the integrity of, our visitors and those who have already submitted guides.

Writing a guide is a great way to let people know what you know.  It adds confidence in what you do and produces far greater levels of traffic than any Banner Ad could ever hope to achieve.

With each guide that is submitted we allow a single web link.  This provides you with a one-way back-link and an additional tool to drive traffic to your website.  The best thing… it’s permanent!  Once your guide is accepted and published it stays there, so you are able to continuously get traffic from the effort you put in.  Here’s an example of a recent submission – this will give you an idea as to the layout and where the web / blog link is situated. How to Install Window Shutters

We certainly appreciate that writing a guide is hard work but once the guide is online, your work is done and then we take over promoting that guide.  We want loads of people to read it and we want loads of people to visit YOUR web site and or blog from it.  We promote the guide through the prime social networks, we also promote them within the guide pages on, through Tags and our More How To Guides.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again… The web is an information platform and it was designed originally to share information between people.  By writing a guide you are sharing what you know and this in turn benefits you by increasing the visitor flow to your website and or blog.  If you truly want your own website and or blog to be successful then learn to share, learn to dedicate your time and effort that helps others in their pursuit of knowledge.  A little love  goes a very long way.


So there you have it.  At you really can create one-way back-links and drive traffic directly to YOUR website and or blog by:

1. Posting Helpful Tips

2. Being a community member in our Questions and Answers boards

3. Writing DIY and or Gardening Guide


Each of the above takes effort on your part but unless you win the lottery then to make it in this world, and on the world wide web, then you’ll have to put in the effort to be successful.

Finally, is always open to suggestions, questions and comments.  If you have any then please use our Feedback form.  My name is Graham Briar, you can direct your questions or suggestions directly to me.

I hope what we offer at helps you to get more visitors to your website and I sincerely hope that your efforts are rewarded by success!


Graham Briar


Getting MORE Visitors to Your Website – Part 2

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Part 1 of Getting MORE Visitors to Your Website we showed you how you can get a one-way back-link from and also drive direct traffic from that link by Posting Tips on our Guide pages.

Today we going to show you another way you can drive more traffic to your website or blog and also create additional one-way back-links…

During the redesign, from all the feedback we received, one of the things many of our visitors wanted to see was a way for them to post questions and get answer answers for their DIY and Gardening issues.  This, we felt, would be a great edition to and so we now have a fully functional DIY & Gardening Answers system.

This Answer system certainly helps our visitors to ask questions and get answers, but how does it help YOU to drive traffic to your website or blog and how does it help YOU to get a one-way back-link?

The answers system has been set up to benefit everyone.  Let’s take an example.  Mr. A has a question “Is it a good idea to paint walls, in one room, a different colour?”  Now let’s say that you can answer this question and in fact you have a guide on your website and or blog showing Mr. A how to do this.  This is how you could answer that question…

“Yes, it is a good idea, but you need to make sure it’s done properly so that the colours do not clash. It’s best if you use one base colour and then lighter versions of it.  To help you out, here’s a guide that we have – How to Paint Walls Different Colours.  I hope  this helps.”

Now you can see by the above example that you have:

1. Created a link that can drive traffic to your website.  Note that other people using Hometipster Answers can also see this question and answer, so the traffic you get can grow.  The question and answer also stays on the system so that you can continuously get traffic from that link.

2. The link also provides you with a one-way back-link

That’s how easy it is to drive more traffic to your website and create a one-way back-link with

You might be asking yourself WHY does provide so many ways for other web owners to get traffic and back-link, without asking for anything in return.  The answer is twofold…

1. We benefit from it by getting useful content on the site.  Both ‘Posting Tips’ and ‘DIY & Gardening Answers’ adds more useful content which helps our Search Engine Rankings.

2. This is what the Web is about isn’t it?  Sharing stuff and helping one another to get more recognition and more traffic.  It’s just about spreading the word – the web is after all supposed to be a community and if you don’t interact with that community how is your website ever going to be successful?

A final note on Answering Questions… It’s a fact that people are more likely to visit a site where help has been provided.  People also like to see that you know what you are talking about and your expertise can create trust and reliability which further increases your chance of making money from your website due to the visitors interaction with your web pages.

OK, off you go now… take a look at DIY & Gardening Answers and see if you can answer any of the questions – get yourself those one-way back-links and start driving more traffic to your site.

Can you PLEASE SHARE THIS… let others know and hopefully they can benefit from ‘Posting Tips’ and ‘Answering Questions’.

Thanks folks… hope your website is successful as mine!

Getting MORE Visitors to Your Website – Part 1

February 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

There are tons of websites out there showing you a multitude of ways to drive traffic to your website and or blog.  We all know that to ramp up site visitors takes work and there is simply no getting around this.  There are no magic solutions or fast-track ways to increase your Search Engine Rankings, it takes time and dedication.

Think about why you blog for a moment.  That’s right, you want people to read what you write and spread the word, so that other people will read what you write.  It’s all about getting more people to view your website and or blog.

If you are a regular visitor to then you would have noticed that our website has been given a complete overhaul. One area that we did pay attention to was the ‘Comments’.  Yes, nearly all websites have a Comments Board and also provides a way for people to leave their comments. However, we wanted to take the concept one step furthers, so we introduced POST TIPS.

Post Tips

A tip is generally more helpful by it’s very suggestion and that’s exactly what we are achieving. Anyone can post a tip on any of the hundreds of DIY and Gardening guides we have.  These tips provide additional information for our readers and they allow those posting tips to get a useful back-link, plus a direct way to drive traffic to their own website via a live link.

—Example— Posted on How to Choose a Bricklaying Trowel

If this is your first trowel then it best if you go for a cheap one first. If you like it then spend the money on a really good quality brick trowel of the same type, weight and shape.

As you can see, from the example above, the tip is very useful and it probably took less than 2 minutes to write and submit.  In return now has a Back-Link and a live URL so that our visitors can visit their website.

A note to all our Subscribers…

We all need a little more traffic to our websites in order to make them a success.  The Post Tips helps you to get a useful Back-Link, Direct Traffic and a way for to provide even more useful information to our visitors.

Please pass this on to other webmasters / site owners you know – it could help them to generate a little more traffic.

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