So it was January 2013 while on a holiday and a retirement reconnaissance trip to Chiang Mai we decided that Ace would purchase a residential block of land for our house in a new Moo Baan (housing development) called Mod Chic constructed by SANSARAN (the developer).
It is south of Chiang Mai in an area called Hang Dong, just where the foothills begin, rural Chiang Mai flourishes and only about 20 minutes to the vibrant, busy city center. Nearby are both rural countrysides, shopping facilities and other amenities such as a local gym and swimming pool making it ideal for us in terms of location and tranquility – something we were looking for. This will do just fine, for many reasons, as our retreat in a new tranquil life in a different land; but one that is Ace’s home country.
During our time exploring the area we probably visited about 20 housing developments over a two-week period, many repeatedly but kept returning to what has become our home. We had rented a house north of Chiang Mai to get the feeling of living in a gated-estate and felt we would be comfortable in such an arrangement for the longer term. The area, the developer, ease of access around Chiang Mai and the natural environment of the area was a draw card.
Here is a short story on the construction project and activity to highlight how things are done here in Chiang Mai. It’s not intended as a detailed building guide but simply a general overview of the building schedule and steps observed for our house and others in the neighborhood. I am happy to share further details if you wish to contact me.
We decided that it would be a good approach to have the house constructed while we continued to work in Australia while we planned retirement in about a year. This required that architectural design drawings were done remotely by email and phone calls to agree our final house plans. The design period took from March to about June 2014. Construction finally started in August 2014 and finished in April 2015 – about 9 months later.
Being absent from Chiang Mai during the building phase was a bit of a gamble. Not being around the building site on a routine basis was somewhat risky, but we thought that the developer, who had done a previous development and was doing lots of houses, was reliable. We had seen the workmanship of completed houses and were satisfied with the work, so decided to take the chance.
This was probably against the standard advice of being present to oversight what is going on by Thai builders and sub-contractors. We did have the opportunity to visit only once during construction to see how things were coming along and to make some choices on fit out products and colors. The developer was good at taking progress pictures and sending them to us so we could see what stage things were at and to ask questions. The result was pleasing and we are happy with our finished product – in future I would rather be around to inspect the new house building if I ever did it again.
The decision to pick a building site was fairly simple. We reviewed the site’s plans of available lots, did site tours and settled on a lot at the end of a quiet Soi (street) with views across the countryside to some foothills and Doi Suthep, the mountain that overlooks Chiang Mai.
With the paperwork for the contract completed and down payment made the site preparation and construction got underway in August 2014. The foundation construction was first and there seem to be two construction methods for this. One was to dig footings and pour concrete where the ground is sufficiently hard or as a second option for soft soil, they use pilings driven into the ground with poured concrete footings around those pilings.
A site blessing ritual is often performed and coins put into the footing pits for good luck. The construction company did that for us in our absence and the construction proved successful! Once the footings were in and foundations poured it was time for the pest control people to lay their piping systems. Then the first floor is laid with pre-made concrete slabs topped with poured concrete to create the base for the ground floor and later tiling.
This created an open space under the floor that had piping laid to allow for fumigation under the house to prevent white ants and other creepy crawlers from invading. With the first floor and foundation complete a wooden framing system is put in place to prepare for the construction of the second floor. that is made again of pre-made concrete slabs and poured concrete. Once that’s done then its time for brickwork to commence to fill in-between the concrete house pillars and to create our room designs.
Usually, as this is happening, sometimes before and sometimes after, the roof trusses are secured to a metal frame that has been welded to the pilings around the house and the roof tiles are installed.
Here is a selection of images of the first stage of works that might be easier to interpret than the words.
You have to love the use of bamboo scaffolding for work around the house – its strong and easy to handle. It a bit concerning to watch the Burmese and Thai workers scrambling over the site, up on the roof or around the scaffolds with no harnesses, safety equipment and usually only in sandals or thongs. Getting things done seems to be the motto and not worrying about safety – accidents apparently are bad luck in Thailand and not something to waste time to prevent. Not sure about the philosophy.
Internal works are commenced at this point involving electrical and plumbing. Installing these with concrete floors and brickwork in place was is an interesting challenge. The electricians and plumbers make necessary cuts to the walls and floors to embed the blue PVC pipes and yellow PVC conduits to create the necessary infrastructure. In Thailand, houses use a type of septic tank system for waste with excess water runoff to the street drains.
Our new house has proper 3 phase electrical design and safety circuits. We were also able to have international electric plugs installed to allow for the use of Australian or Thai appliances – a wise choice it turned out.
Then the brickwork and embedded services are rendered (covered) with a concrete solution to make it smooth and ready for painting. After the rending is done it is left to cure for about a month or 6 weeks before painting can begin. The metal ceiling framing and gyprock (drywall) are next installed. If you’re doing insulation now is the time – we did ours later.
Both insulation fiber-bats and a more modern air pocket aluminum insulation are available. It’s now time for the windows and doors to be fitted – these houses don’t use wooden ones, they use a PVC type that doesn’t swell in the humidity and are easy to care for.
Check out the images of this stage of works.
The main house construction teams were made up of workers from Myanmar and the specialist finishing trades seemed to be mainly Thai. With the main house build completed then the floor tiles and laminate, baseboards are installed and detailed painting gets completed. Lighting fixtures and built-ins for the bathrooms and kitchen are also tackled during this period.
The doors and windows in the security alarm system that was pre-wired into the house can now be set up along with a gate intercom. Looking good – when will they finish? We had negotiated our air conditioning design and installation when we visited in January so the contractor had gotten access to the house to pre-install the necessary pipes and electrical requirements so that when it was time to install everything was prepared.
We had arrived on the 17 March 14 while the final works were underway – about a month from completion. Daily trips were now happening to follow the progress of the final trades and activity. Grass goes in and the house starts to take the appearance of being close to finished. It’s always the small leftover tidy ups and minor fixes that take time to rectify.
It was April 11th, 2014 on Friday that the house was transferred. Songkran (Thai new year) weekend was upon us and it was celebration period so workers had gone on a break and the tidy up activity would have to wait. This made me nervous but in the end, I need not have been concerned – all was fixed.
It was our time to be out scouring shops for other products that would be installed once the house was transferred. Ceiling fans, some lighting, wall tiles and wallpaper and some built-ins had to be sought, organised and planned for. It was a busy time as we didn’t know where to get everything in Chiang Mai – so lots of exploring different suppliers and finding new ones. This occupied the days but managed to locate everything we needed and had a plan for the add-ons after much exploring. Here is what the place looks like when finished…
The yard was small – I call it a villa garden, but that’s what we wanted – some space around the house but not a lot to look after – something to create a tranquil garden. We had a rough design idea done and the quote to do it was silly – so with time on our hands we did it ourselves. There are fantastic plant and flower markets here so armed with some ideas and lots of looking we settled on various plans, trees, shrubs and flowers to decorate with.
We had a wishing well water fountain installed and an elephant scene for the wall…we had two other water features that we added later to the front and rear of the house. Planning in Thailand was somewhat experimental in terms of what grows well, where? What is the sun aspect of the day and the seasons around the house…its an every changing garden but this is the general look. What is amazing is how fast things grow here and trimming is an ongoing hobby….
So there you have the pictures and the story behind the work of making our dream reality – we are happy in our home, most of the work is done and its more the daily maintaining and gardening that occupies us these days.
As everyone knows with a house there is always things to do – but with time on your hands, that’s not such a bad thing?