Monday, 7 January 2013

Preparing for Rain (and lack thereof)

A few weeks ago we executed a rather ambitious part of our landscape plan: installation of a 21,000 litre concrete underground rainwater tank.

The front yard has been looking like a war zone for, well since the build commenced really, but decidedly worse since the driveway excavation was done and the soil piled up in a huge (and I mean HUGE) pile in front of the house.  We have been holding off on the tank installation for some months now as it is a project with a high propensity for cost variation due to the inability to estimate how much would come out of the ground and have to be carted away.  We needed time to ensure a sufficient buffer of funds!  But on the flip side, the tank needed to be installed before we could do anything else in the front yard.

We paid our landscape architect to project manage the job as there were a few different trades to coordinate, some of which were being paid on the clock so timing and coordination were important at trying to maintain some control over the cost.

Well, that was the plan anyway.

Of course, things rarely go to plan...

Firstly, the job was all booked to go for Wednesday 28th November, but a couple of days beforehand it absolutely poured rain all night and half the next day.  So the job got postponed (too mucky in the clay so would take longer, and most of the tips would have been closed).

It was rescheduled to a week and a half later - Friday 7th December.  The run sheet for the day planned as follows:

7am - Excavator arrives to start piling the first truckload of soil on the nature strip.
7:30am - The first tuck arrives and is loaded with soil.
8:00am - The second truck arrives
8:30am - The third truck arrives
2:00pm - The crane arrives, as does the concrete tank itself and the plumber.  The tank is lowered in the hole and the plumber does his thing with stormwater pipes for the inlet and overflow.
Sometime around 5pm the hole is backfilled over the tank and everyone goes home.  Job done!

The actual day however, went something like this:

The excavator arrived half an hour late (i.e. when the first truck was due to arrive and be loaded).  No big deal as it was loaded with the soft mound of dirt from the driveway and was gone before the second truck arrived.

Despite knowing where all our underground services were located; having photos of trenches, measurements, and I even paid a guy to come and trace the gas line and spray paint it in, the excavator still managed to locate and annihilate our telephone and Internet cables, water mains and stormwater pipes.  They scraped the electricity lead in but didn't sever it (at least they were careful where their lives were at stake!)  Oh, and throw in the Telstra cable backbone on the nature strip for good measure.

Rather than call the plumber early and incur extra cost to disconnect the water lead-in, as well as delay excavation, they told us to fill the kettle and a few jugs with water and then they went ahead and plunged through the mains pipe.  An inconvenient but cost sensible decision.

Then they hit mudrock about a metre or so down and had to use a big jack hammer type instrument on the excavator to break it up.  This slowed things down considerably, but you never know what you're going to find when you break ground, until you do so!

With only about an hour left of excavation, the digger broke a hose and was rendered inoperable for the rest of the working day.  It was too late to cancel the crane and tank delivery as they were both already on their way so we ended up with a huge concrete tank on our nature strip and associated lid on the next door neighbour's.  Being a Friday, it had to sit there on display for the entire weekend.  Certainly a talking point for literally every man and his dog on their evening walks!

In the end they carted away 14 truckloads (@ 10 tonnes per truck) of clay!  One hundred and forty tonnes - good grief!  I was having heart palpatations at the thought of the cost to cart and dump it all!  One of the nearby golf courses was the lucky recipient of most of the fill according to the paperwork (I wonder if they pay for that?).  The job took nearly all of Monday to complete.

Paul and I both grew up in the country and have lived on tank water supply, so we're no stranger to having one (or two).  Still, the cost is a bitter pill to swallow when you live in an urban environment, where you still have to pay for a mains supply.  Given the job went 35% over budget there were a few days following where I was suffering heavily from buyer's remorse!  A few weeks on now and in the midst of some scorching hot days, I feel better knowing that our veggie patch, and future front and rear gardens will be assured of a guilt free consistent water supply!

It's going to be quite a while before we can afford to tackle the next stage of the landscaping plan!


  1. Sounds absolutely typical! What a shambles, but worth it in the end I'm sure :) Can't wait to see the next instalment.

  2. Oh, Nat, your story makes me feel quite ill! Thankfully, the job got finished, but what a pain the entire situation was, not to mention the $$$.

    I hope you had a nice first Christmas in the house!