Welcome to Building Better with CSR, a new podcast with Australia’s leading building supplier. Every week we’ll be bringing you information about how you can build better through interviews with expert guests.

This season we’re talking all about Australia’s favourite renovation show The Block.

CSR is behind a lot of the materials used on the block including Gyprock, PGH Bricks, and Bradford Insulation.

The first guest this season is someone who knows an awful lot about The Block. Aidan O’Shannessy is one of the builders from Nine In Six, who are the main builders on the block. Aidan and his team have been working with The Block for 11 years.

About Aidan O’Shannessy of Nine In Six

Aidan is a carpenter by trade, honing his skills in bespoke residential and commercial projects for more than 20 years. He became a registered builder in 2008 and built a network of top tier consultants and trades. He’s developed a reputation for working collaboratively and brings this approach to every project big and small. He’s got a keen interest in developing best practice in construction.

It’s a very interesting project, The Block. The best way to describe it is it’s a little bit of a drug; so high charged and so high paced that all our job is about really is making decisions. And on The Block, we get to make lots of them very quickly, which gives you a bit of a buzz and keeps you coming back for more.

Aidan O’Shannessy of Nine In Six

The Tree Change challenge

Aidan says that The Block’s tree change and move to Gisborne, in Melbourne’s Macedon Ranges brought new challenges to the build team.

“The move onto such large-scale sites has really given us new challenges that we’re not normally facing with inner city building,” he says. “Just the tyranny of distance out in Gisborne has been a real challenge. Now we’re across a 70-acre site. To walk from one end of the site to the other to have a look at each house takes three hours, rather than taking half an hour to run across five houses quickly. It’s about a two-and-a-half-kilometre round trip if you walk it.”

Another challenge in Gisborne is the fact that because the sites were new, all infrastructure had to be added and included as part of the project, including drainage, roads and bridges, as well as utilities.

“When we first got to site, it was just a 70-acre paddock with a one house (Scotty’s) there that was already in position,” explains Aidan. “But there was zero infrastructure, and a creek running through the middle of the property. In three of the houses, driveways go across the creek, which means you have to build culvert drain bridges across the creeks.”

“There’s lots of infrastructure and regulatory dealings that we have to get through.”

Gisborne, Victoria

Crowd Control

On site, Aidan and the Nine In Six team spend a huge amount of time managing a whole community of trades, TV crew and contestants. “Our induction records ranged from around about 100 to 250 people on site a day,” says Aidan. “There’s roughly around about 30 or 40 crew, and about 100 and 150 trades a day, depending on what’s happening in the weather.”

Nine In Six Builders are the principal contractor for the project. “The best way to describe it is that we take care of the structure, the services, and the shell of the building, if you like, for the contestants and their trades to do a fit out within that shell.,” explains Aidan. “So we handle all the structural steel, all the major structure, all the services up to the building, and then they take it from there.”

The Nine In Six team also does all the footings and foundations, often using CSR products. “This year, we used AFS Rediwall formwork from CSR, under the extensions of buildings, poured a concrete slab, build the framework, external claddings and contestants come in and fill out the internal of the shell that we provide them with,” says Aidan.

We like the AFS product because they’re fast; our carpenters put them together, we don’t have to wait and rely upon other trades. Within a couple of days, we can have a reinforced concrete wall ready to build off. So it’s a really good product that we really like.

Seven Star Rating

This year the building teams from The Block had an even bigger challenge – to achieve a seven-star energy rating, with all the homes completely off-grid.

“The insulation from Bradford this year was pretty critical in helping us create top standard buildings but also to be able to reach our seven-star energy rating,” says Adrian, adding that it was a goal for the design team to see if they could hit seven stars because that’s the new regulations that are coming in.

We’re all pretty excited and pretty proud of the fact that we were able to achieve that. Bradford Insulation, and Bradford products and systems is a big reason why we’ve been able to get there.

Bradford Insulation was critical in helping to reach the seven-star energy rating

Aidan also talked about the help from Bradford’s thermal engineers on site. “They’ve been great. We’ve had a real collaborative approach and come up with some systems and methodologies that have allowed us to get a seven-star energy rating and it’s been really exciting,” he says.

“It’s definitely the first time we’ve got a project to seven stars. It’s something that’s very difficult to achieve, especially from an extension renovation point of view. There’s lots of challenges in the real extension renovating world out there to hit these kinds of figures but we were able to come up with our systems and processes and get things right to be able to get there so it was very exciting.”

Bricks and More Bricks

Scotty’s home is a great showpiece for PGH Bricks, says Aidan. “We’ve got a lot of brick on Scotty’s home,” he says. “We have we have some base bricks around Scotty’s shed and some brick columns or piers around the outside of his veranda.”

The highlight, however, he says, is the amazing brick flooring using CSR’s brick facings (laid as pavers), laid by the Cursio brothers of Cursio Tiling.

“The boys have done a fantastic job of doing a herringbone floor with these little brick pavers. And it’s just incredible. It’s a real nod to their craftsmanship. That’s for sure. And it really adds such texture and depth and warmth to that building that’s pretty special.”

Gyprock everywhere

The scale of the project meant that the demand for plasterboard was high, says Aidan. “There are thousands and thousands of metres of Gyprock sheeting going into this project,” he says. “The scale of the houses this year is something else.”

Including the shed spaces, each house is between 500-600 square metres, some with soaring ceilings of seven metres. “It’s been a lot of Gyprock that’s for sure,” he adds.

Lessons learned

The main lesson learned during The Block: Tree Change was never again to do a build in Gisborne in winter, laughs Aidan.

Filming was pushed back to May, which sent the project into the colder months. “It was very cold and very wet,” he says. “We had a period where we did some statistics on how much it had been raining. And in the 36 days’ worth of data, it rained for 29 of them. That’s 75% of the time. So that made it really difficult. When the weather is miserable, everybody’s mood is miserable. It’s amazing when the sun comes out for a couple of days. Everybody’s mood lifts and everybody gets up and about. It’s pretty hard to execute a challenging project when it’s just wet, dreary and cold.”

“However, the place is going to look amazing come the next couple of months. Part of our Melbourne Water waterway management plan is that we’re planting a $100,000 worth of native trees along the creek corridor. So a couple of years’ time where they all start shooting is going to be amazingly impressive property to look at.”

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