Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spiders Redux

The exterminator was only a stopgap measure. We quickly learned that any spider intrepid enough to make it past the film of diatomaceous earth on the outside walls would be welcomed by our house with cries of "Doors are open, Darlings! Last one inside's a Daddy-Long-Legs!"
            Example: Last night we took out the rubbish and met a very large Redback with a very large egg sac in a very new web strung right across the laundry door.  We watched it scuttle into a wide crack between the door frame and the brick wall that should have been filled with grouting - but wasn't.  
             The construction of this house is not exactly quite up to reasonable par - or building code. Big city developers are buying up old housing trust homes, knocking them down and putting up rows of cookie-cutter ranch houses on sub-divided lots the size of domestic postage stamps.  They're doing it fast and cheap and lousy.  Our house is only eighteen months old, but our walls are full of cracks, our corners are no longer quite square, and the grout and window seals never seem to have happened at all.  Door are hung off plumb and let the desert in as creeping dunes of red sand. The insulation in the roof is made out of crumpled cotton wool and sea-mist, and when you open the windows, they fall right out of the frames and into your arms.
            It's really something. Last week our friend the Architect and his fiancée Zoe drove up from Adelaide to spend a weekend with us in Whyalla.  Bouncing out of the car, the Architect hugged me absently and bellowed "Bloody Hell!  It's like someone hit copy+paste all the way along your street!"
            We gave them the grand tour. We pointed out the hole in the soffit over the front door- where a builder had tried stuffing paint-stirring sticks into the gap and forgotten about them half-way through the job.  We let them open windows and giggled politely when their arms suddenly became unexpectedly full of window panes.  We pointed out our budget sized portico, with the Grand Column twenty seven inches from the front door and the Unitex Dado Rail stapled to the wall.              
            We even showed them the big banana - the party trick. Our garage has three doors - a door from the kitchen and a roller door on both ends: one to the street and one to the back yard, so that the garage can double as a shed and an entertainment space on wet or hot days. It is all very functional and sensibly planned out - except for one teeny tiny design flaw: the kitchen door is placed exactly underneath the backyard-side roller door, and when that roller door rolls up, the roll extends twelve inches out over the door to the kitchen and barricades it shut.  An easy mistake to make and a deadly one never to fix - twelve inches of lazy CAD design by some remote office boffin brainlessly dropping CAD blocks into model space, and a builder that didn't care enough to make it right.
            And once the Architect had done guffawing, we showed him the twelve inches of eave overhanging the north façade. All of the other stuff is small stuff.  Amusing sound bites to show off  to guests.   We laugh at it and it gives the house the personality that shiny new houses that are built right take years to earn.
            What is genuinely infuriating is the house's terrible environmental design.  In the middle of the desert, in a climate of climbing energy costs, rising energy pollution and massive private and public focus on sustainable building design, our roof is black, our north façade is pure window with no overhang and the windows and doors, far from being sealed and double-glazed, are quadruple-vented and drafted and gusted at every seam.            
            Our house is fairly representative of the contemporary mass-produced domestic design and building technology in this town.  It seems about as cynically inefficient as it is possible to contemplate.  Under that black roof, our cream-puff and vapor insulation is more or less useless.  One of our wedding presents was an indoor-outdoor weather station.  Careful observation has established that at 25 degrees centigrade, the internal and external temperatures equalize.  They rise steadily together until the outside temperature reaches 32 degrees C, at which point the inside temperature begins to rise faster than the outside temperature and the house turns into a Turkish bath.   In high summer, with the air conditioners going full-bore, we have struggle to keep the inside temperature under 30 degrees C.
            We spend most of the summer subsisting on popsicles and ice-cream sticks and cucumber salads.
            On the flip side, this house is a fantastic case study in the value of really good environmental design.  I am writing this in our study - the eave-less, window-lined ex-main bedroom on the North side of the house. We are having a cool week and the main part of the house is pleasantly chill.  But it is a lovely sunny morning and in the two hours since the sun came out the study has become so hot that I am sweating rivers in a tank top and boxer shorts, while the spins fast enough to raise whirlwinds.  I am about to move out and go set up my computer on the dining table, where bare arms raise goose bumps and I can shunt the bulk of my personal energy budget from gasping and sweating to thinking.

*Mr Tabubil won our private side bet. 
            I said Not even the Architect.  
            He said You wait and See.
            And Sure Enough, as the Architect entered the city limits, he made a phone call.
            "What is your address, by the way?  I've just realized it never occurred to me to actually ask you where you live.  Reckon I should have thought of that a few hundred kilometers ago, eh?"
            And two minutes after that, we received another call mentioning apologetically that he hadn't brought a street map, so could we possibly offer a few directions? 
            This was complicated.  Our town doesn't have street signs (there are a few, painted on the kerb in letters two inches high, but they're hard to see in daylight and completely invisible after dark) so they drove around town aimlessly until they found a hotel with a name visible on the front and we talked them in.
            I paid up.  

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