Grey Cliffs Renovation - 2015/2016

   This page is in chronological order - which means that the most recent news is at the bottom. The last update was June 25, 2016 - to go directly to that section of the page use this link.

  Our 150 year old house was badly damaged in the series of earthquakes inflicted on Christchurch starting with September 4, 2010. The aftershock on February 22, 2011 was the one that devastated the central business district and killed 185 people (see but the two that did the most damage to our place were the original 7.1 quake and the 5.9 on December 23, 2011.

   We were luckily covered by the New Zealand Earthquake Commission (EQC) insurance system but with so much to be rebuilt and so many people evicted from "red zoned" houses it took a long time for us to get to the head of the queue. Real building work finally began in February 2015 after we had spent many months with architects, engineers, and insurance assessors. This web page is to track progress of the repairs, demolition and renovation. To get the inside story of the history and the anecdotes of the process you simply must come and stay in our new guest suite (once we have one).

  So - a bit of the "before story". Grey Cliffs was built in 1860ish. It consists of a 2 story wooden, weatherboard cottage on the north (sunny) side and a stone cottage to the rear - which is (or was) partially embedded into the earth with the rear wall serving as a retaining wall. The stone cottage would have been the original kitchen, laundry and root cellar. The weatherboard cottage survived the quakes remarkably well for a structure with a foundation composed of rocks sitting on the earth, but, sadly, the stone cottage perished in the constant aftershocks and joined the long list of Christchurch heritage buildings requiring demolition. Because a major repair project was required, we decided to go further and renovate the weatherboard cottage by adding central heat, double glazing and insulation, and a new kitchen and bathroom, along with other improvements. We engaged a heritage architect and together created plans for a complementary weatherboard structure to sit in the footprint of the demolished stone cottage.

  Here are some architect's drawings of the existing elevations and floor plans

  And a few pre-earthquake photos 



   Once we knew that the stone cottage required demolition we decided that a rebuild in stone would only create a replica without the historic and heritage values of the original. So we worked with the architect to design an extension in the same footprint that was sympathetic to the existing weatherboard cottage. To paraphrase William, the architect, "every historic building has a story to tell, and the goal is not to freeze the building in time, but to continue the story with grace and style."

  Here are the designs for the new build:

  The next step was to apply to the local district council for approval to demolish the stone cottage. Due to the historic nature of the building this required the involvement of an archaeologist, with recording of the structure pre-demolition and ongoing monitoring of all work on site.

  We needed to vacate and empty the house for the expected 6+ months duration of the project. Luckily we had an existing sleepout, our Garden Cottage, and existing double garage for storage. We purchased a 5.5m caravan (house trailer) and had it brought on site to serve as the kitchen, lounge and loo while the sleepout was for sleeping. Our home (not very far) away from home and the garage/shed at the back packed full of everything from the house looks like this:



  So, on Monday February 16, 2015 the builders (Nick and Martin) arrived for day 1 on the job. Here is a selection of interior views taken just as work was starting.

  Guest bedroom and lounge


  Office (with tabletop already removed for use in storage) and kitchen (with new island outlined on the floor)


  Master bedroom and "red room" showing damage


  The first job was to strip the damaged lathe and plaster off all interior walls and start lifting floorboards to check conditions of the "foundations"




   Very quickly after the wall interiors and subfloors were exposed certain "treasures" emerged. First were a selection of skeletons and mummified rats.


  And original wallpaper (complete with borer holes) and a bit of newspaper dated April 3, 1886. The archaeologist told us that when houses of this period were built they used floorboards as wallboards initially with newspaper to stop the drafts - sounds cozy. Later, when the lathe and plaster was put in, the newspaper was left in place.


  After the first week of work the process of removal had really taken hold, and several skips had been filled with rubbish and taken away.




  Once the skins were off the structure of the house could be really seen - complete with tangles of old wires and some very damaged supporting members.


  While the internal demolition continued there was a bit of repair of the exterior weatherboards too.


  After the removal of the floorboards it was clear that the bearers lying on the earth had perished to the point of no return. The decision was taken to brace the house from the inside and remove all the interior wall and floors. Yikes. 



  The rocks under the exterior walls are still acceptable foundations, but the internal space is excavated so that proper piles and bearers can be put in place, with sufficient airspace available, and eventually, subfloor insulation!


The native timber, kauri, floorboard were reserved for future use, but the bearers, also native timber, rimu, were rotted and eaten by borer.


And what was formerly rooms with walls was suddenly open space - including below the cupboard under the stairs.


  At the end of the first month of the project - March 16, 2015 - our summer long drought was broken with about 2 inches of rain (50mm). With the floor open it was clear that water was seeping under the house. So, even more floor boards were lifted and some remedial actions taken - in the form of holes and buckets!


  It should be noted that by now the the builders had stopped saying "piece of cake" - but they were not overly concerned, reassuring us that it was "all fixable". So the job of fixing started with the clearing of even more floor and walls, and the excavation of many wheelbarrow loads of clay from where the floor used to be, making a big pile in the back.



The next big job was the demolition of the stone cottage at the rear of the house. It was sad to see it go, but inevitable. Before the work could start the trees at the back, and the atrium connecting it to the weatherboard cottage needed to be removed. The cabbage trees went easily, but the removal of the big old euchalyptus required skill and care. 





With that done, in came the diggers. The little one to cut trenches for power, etc., and the big one to deal to the stumps and the demolition.



With the roofing iron off, it didn't take long for the roof to disappear.



And the old stone and brick walls didn't last much longer either. Note the archaeologist getting in for a good, close look.



It was amazing how the mortar crumbled to dust with just a small push from the digger. So, what had seemed solid walls was easily separated into individual bricks and stones and piled for re-use, exposing the space that would eventually turn into our new extension.



To see a video of some of the demolition follow this link to YouTube: Demolition video

By April 16 we had been in progress for 2 months, and with the destruction of the stone cottage we lost our last working flush toilet. But, not to worry "it is all fixable" and our shy builder, Marty, came up with the idea of building a flush loo over the septic tank. So, presto, it was fixed.


Having completed the demolition the excavation continued to shape the earth around the house and create a platform for the extension. We had decided to lower the driveway at the back of the house so that the house itself would be above the ground with a level entry from the outside. This will help to alleviate the drainage issues but does create some new contours for future landscaping. Good thing that we have all those stones for building retaining walls.



With the earth removed the work shifted to preparation for putting new foundations under the old house. Naturally, in a normal build the foundations go in first, but we didn't have that option. So propping and bracing continued while the bottoms of the existing external walls were removed and steel filled trenches and internal pile holes were put in place. (Note the reuse of the chopped down tree rings as temporary foundations)




Even Jill got into the act!


And she and Marty got creative with a spot for the washing machine. More of the comforts and necessities of home come to the building site.


So, May The Fourth came - but no forces were with us. However, May the Sixth was a momentous day. We finally got our building permit and were thus able to start constructing officially, rather than just destructing. The first action was to schedule a pre-pour inspection of the piles and ring foundations. This was a real turning point. Additionally, we got the official notice from the insurance company with the cash settlement offer. Yoo hoo! Meanwhile supplies started to arrive on site, and the builders started putting us back together. The big first step was pouring 4.4 cubic metres of concrete into those holes and ring foundations.



Once the concrete set the builders got stuck into connecting the walls to the new foundation.


This was followed by using the new foundations to construct floors and walls while continuing the foundation work on the other side of the house. During this work some old wallpaper and more newspapers dated from 1886 were exposed when an existing internal wall was removed.



Work continued in a similar fashion on the next corner of the house - but this time the concrete was transported by manpower and there was a bit of an adventure when the concrete truck got stuck up the the axles and the tractor came to the rescue. 

With foundations come new wall frames - outside and in - and the spot for the new kitchen window.




With the back section more-or-less in hand attention turned back to the front of the house. And, what a surprise, closer investigation exposed dodgy structure - so more propping and rebuilding ensued.


Eventually the camilia bush got moved and that corner rebuilt. Moving along, the wall between the lounge and the veranda was the next to get rebuilt. At this time John was away having fun in Africa with Cliff, and Jill was dealing with overnight lows of -8C/18F.



Having covered the perimeter of the poor old cottage, attention now turned to preparing to pour the concrete slab to serve as the foundation for the new extension - including underslab plumbing and plenty of steel.




After a bit of snow and several delays, the big day came on August 11 - 4 or 5 concrete trucks and a big pump filled the holes and the boys kept busy smoothing the surface.




Once the concrete was set the blocklayers came in and built the back and side walls. The top of the wall will be the garage floor level.



At the front of the house the veranda came off so that soil could be removed and ventilation and drainage achieved.


And inside, the subfloor was completed and inspected - including all subfloor plumbing, electric, central heat and layer of plastic. Then insulation and plywood and - we have a floor! Who would have thought that you could be excited by having a floor.



Seven months into the project now, and we have really started to move forward instead of sideways or backwards. The septic and storm water drains were laid around the extension foundation and then the digger arrived to sort out preparation for the garage slab and make start at outlining where the driveway will go.



And the straightened windows went back, along with more weatherboards and flooring every day. We have been busy visiting lighting, tile and plumbing suppliers.


Our last major concrete pour was for the garage slab - after the required steel and boxing was in place.


Meanwhile work continued inside with more ceiling framing to create a batten pattern when the sheets are applied and windows!


In the first week of October a big load of new supplies arrived - along with 2 new members of the team. We now have 5 men onsite with Kerry and Steve joining Mike, Marty and Nigel. The new timber was quickly assembled into framing for the extension and we had a burst of rapid progress.



Definitely moving forward now instead of backwards and sideways. We now have most of the framing of the extension and garage. With a bit of imagination you can even see the shape of the coved ceiling in the guest suite.



And while this was happening we had more wall and ceiling preparation, including electric wiring and plumbing, inside, and septic and storm drain installation outside.


Framing continued as the extension was built out to connect to the old cottage and the garage door steel lintel and trusses arrived.


The digger then arrived to put the final form on the drive and shape the areas adjacent to the garage. Meanwhile spring had arrived and the peonies were spectacular.



Roofing was coming soon as the builders were in the rafters and the scaffolding erected.


In New Zealand everything is always a rush around Christmas as it is the start of the summer holidays as well as the festive season (we call it the silly season). The standard demand/joke is that any building project will be finished by Christmas. We knew that this was not happening in our case (unless you count Christmas 2017), but, nonetheless, all the tradesmen seemed to be supercharged, and the work progressed at the fastest rate yet.

The roofers put on the corrugated steel roof, while our builders installed skylights and hand crafted finials to match the existing house.



Once the roof was on we had the traditional "roof shout" with our team of Kerry, Marty, Steve, Mike and Nigel - complete with flag and no roofers!


With the building wrap going on, wires and pipes and insulation installed, windows waiting to go in, and with the "pre line" inspection passed (meaning that wallboard could go on soon) you could actually imagine that it was going to be a house someday. But, that day would be after Christmas.



Work continued through the holidays - especially on the stone wall constructed from the stone reserved from the old stone cottage.



Meanwhile the builders and other tradesmen were busy in the house getting the various services installed so that the wallboard could go on. It seemed funny to no longer be able to see through the walls. But is was good to get a sense of the spaces that are being created. And then our recycled kauri (native New Zealand timber) floorboards arrived and were stacked to equilibrate before installation.



The next step was to lay the floorboards in preparation for the installation of the kitchen, office and laundry joinery (cabinetry).


Then the big day came for the installation for the new kitchen, office and laundry. And no, we are not crazy enough to order a bright green kitchen - that is just a protective wrap.




Doesn't it look great! After "celebrating" our first anniversary of life in the gypsy encampment we can at least start to see that it has potential to be pretty nice when it is all done. While the installers were busy the builders worked on the exterior and the interior trim, and the stone masons returned to complete the stone work on the new extension. Meanwhile, Jill and John could start to think about interior colors.



Plenty happened in the 8 weeks between mid-March and min-May as finishing work on both the interior and exterior ramped up.

On the inside the ceiling battens (pattern) were installed, the floor was oiled, and the granite benchtops (countertops) were installed.The photos don't do them justice.




And the painters have been busy. The first color applied was called Champagne - which was in the pantry, which must be a good omen. The former Green Room - our old guest bedroom, will become the new Music Room and befitting it's new identity will be painted an elegant reddy orange color called Alter Ego.


The exterior is a melow yellow called Custard Bake. And check to completed stone work too.



  So, the house still is a building site, as you can see, but the finishing work is accelerating.

The furniture was moved back in on June 16 - 16 months to the day from February 16, 2015 when we moved out. The last few weeks have been a complete frenzy of activity, but I am sorry to say that not much of it got captured in photos as I was in a frenzy myself. So here are few more photos pre-move to give you a taste of what it is looking like.

The tiles are laid in the laundry and the recycled wood is on the stairs. The living room carpet is also in - and note the new rock hearth.


Upstairs the master bedroom walls are a different, and better, blue. The fixtures are instaled in the guestroom ensuite.


And the kitchen/dining/office is in use - and note the central heating radiators - which work really really well.


Thanks all for now - stay tuned.