While it can be hard work on The Block as a builder, facing bad weather and long hours, this week’s guest on the podcast, Spence Thomson, says it can also be a lot of fun, especially when you have the right team working with you.

With about three decades of building and construction experience, Spence Thomson has brought a lot of expertise to The Block. First a contestant in 2018, he was surprised (but pleased) to get a call from host Scott Cam to be part of the 2022 season, building Scotty’s house with the help of another former contestant and builder, Duncan Miller.

The call from Scott Cam

“I was a bit taken aback actually,” Spence says. “I had a job lined up with Foreman Dan, in Mount Macedon, and that fell through. He said something to Scotty and then I got the call. It was a pretty awesome experience to take on board and I ran with it. I didn’t think it was going to be difficult because it would be behind the scenes.”

Spence and Duncan worked on Scotty’s house for three months before the contestants and the cameras arrived. “Scotty was moving into the house, so we had to get the original part of the homestead finished so that he actually had somewhere to stay,” Spence explains. “It was kind of nice, because it was quiet and we got everything done on time and there were no cameras… but then the show started.”

There was a core team of 15 working on Scott Cam’s house during The Block, he says, including three electricians, five plasterers, Duncan and a couple of other helpers, plus the Cursio brothers, who were the tilers.

The key to their success was that it was a trusted team. “We all know each other,” Spence says. “We’ve all worked on jobs together before. So, it worked quite cohesively, and it was a lot of fun.”

“Most of them had done a ‘Block’ before so they know that you have to get the job done. They don’t leave at 3.30 saying, ‘we’ll come back and do it the next day’. They know it has got to be done that day.”

“The best thing about this year was I got to have sleep, which was fantastic,” says Spence. “Even though we did a couple of late nights, I still got to go home and sleep and we didn’t have the cameras in our faces, which is fine.”

Spence Thomson

The good, the bad and the ugly weather

“The best thing about this year was I got to have sleep, which was fantastic,” says Spence. “Even though we did a couple of late nights, I still got to go home and sleep and we didn’t have the cameras in our faces, which is fine.

“We were going about our own thing getting the job done,” he adds. “We did have to have our rooms revealed the same time as the contestants did, however. So, Sunday morning, Duncan and Scotty were in there styling the room to get done by nine o’clock.”

Like almost every other builder on The Block, Spence says that the biggest challenge this year was the weather. “I think the first four weeks was okay,” he says. “But after that, it was just mud. Mud and rain and cold. There was no dry ground and getting materials into the house was hard and then people were bringing mud into the house when you’ve finished stuff, but we all just work through it.”

The other challenge was the size of the houses this year. “Even Scotty’s house is quite big,” says Spence. “There’s a lot involved in it. A lot of technology going in it that you’ve got to think about and a lot of large voids and big, big roof spaces. I think we’re expecting it to be a bit cruisier, but it wasn’t.”

Using CSR products

Spence is a big fan of Bradford Insulation and says that the size of the houses meant that there was a lot of Bradford product to install and manage.

“A lot of our programming was getting the insulation in and out of the way because there was so much of it; it took up a lot of space in the house,” he says. “With a seven-star rating this year, we’ve put two stud walls in to get extra insulation. So we’ve got two walls of 2.7 batts. And then in our ceiling space, we’ve got R7s. So there’s a mountain of insulation that went into these houses, but they’re nice and cosy.”

With heating and cooling costs on the rise, you need to be sensible about your power usage, says Spence, “and also insulate your house, because that’s where that’s what makes a difference”. “Double glazing and insulation are probably the easiest things to get your house warm,” he adds.

“They’ve got hydronic heating, but it doesn’t need to stay on for long. The house holds the heat beautifully. The main lounge/dining area has seven-metre ceilings, but with that fire going and the insulation, it’s a very cosy house.”

Beyond The Block

Spence and partner Kerrie are completing a new off-grid property of their own, called the 4Sheds Project and located in regional Victoria using sustainable building methods.

“I don’t know if it’s a future in building, but it definitely opens up a lot more doors if you’re looking at buying property in regional Australia,” says Spence. “This property is 120 acres in the middle of nowhere on a hill. And the closest power line is probably two kilometres away. So, we were able to buy it cheap because there’s no power. But the property is amazing; it has beautiful views and it is a such a peaceful place to be.”

“When we were looking for properties, Kerrie wanted 100 acres, she wanted views and she didn’t want to see anybody. We found this and it’s like, okay, there’s no power, what do we do? We had an idea of what we were going to do with the house – we wanted to go off grid with everything. We wanted to try and make it passive.”

“We’ve run our house east/west, with all our glazing to the north. In winter, the sun heats up all our concrete in the bedrooms, the bathrooms and the lounge rooms. And then at night, it radiates. We’ve got a 250,000 litre water tank, but it’s been overflowing for four months.

“Our generator has kicked in probably twice this year. It’s only when we get those whiteout days where it’s just cloud and we’re not producing any power. We’re virtually finished building now. And it’s performing beautifully.”

Spence’s renovating tips

Fresh from his own build – as well as The Block – Spence has a few tips for anyone about to embark on a building project. With trade and building material shortages everywhere, he says it’s good to be prepared.

“Number one tip is to expect delays,” he says. “And expect a few of the companies to say, ‘oh, sorry, there’s been a price increase in the last week since we quoted’ – that happens a lot. We bought our block of land here with a planning permit and then went to get a septic permit. And they said, ‘Oh, no, you need a planning permit’. We said we already had a planning permit, but they said we needed another one. We lost three months and pushed us into the middle of winter for building.”

Inspired by The Block?

Take a look at all the CSR products used on The Block, room by room and start planning your own renovation or new home.

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