Been another long while since I did a post on our kids! So, lots of pictures in this update post. I think we’re blessed in that both Hannah and Peter’s birthdays are in the month of June – which nicely coincides with the stipulated school holidays in the public school calendar. We celebrated both their birthdays at home; with friends in Hannah’s case, and with our larger family for Peter. Hannah is of course at an age now where she recognizes the significance of having a birthday, and that it’s not just about having more presents and toys to play with. Peter on the other hand was completely nonplus about it and probably wondered what all the fuss was about when the family all gathered around him for the celebration song.
One of the (relatively) more novel things we did for our new Minton home was to invest in a dishwasher machine. We’ve blogged here previously about our thought-process in going with a bit more automation in the kitchen, and the space considerations we had in mind in view of that. The short version of that is that we were lucky to be able to move our laundry machine out from the original Developer-supplied spot in the kitchen into the yard, therefore freeing up that space for us to put a dishwasher and additional storage in.
While there are quite a few dishwasher models from major brands on sale in home appliance stores here, I’m not sure if these appliances are really staple items for Singaporean households. For starters, our parents’ generation had no such appliances in the kitchen, and within our generation of friends and people of our age with families, we do observe one or two families with these devices but it’s not a common household item either; unlike say vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, laundry machines and the like. We decided early on we’d go with a compact/half-height dishwasher, largely on account that:
We wouldn’t be using the dishwasher that often. On non-school holiday periods, the only times we’d cook would be during weekends.
We don’t have that many mouths to feed at this point. Peter is fed separately, and Hannah uses children-size crockery.
We didn’t like the idea of having the entire cavity vacated by the laundry machine used by a full-sized and relatively tall dishwasher.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite a wide range of compact dishwashers to choose from, so eventually settled on the Bosch SKS62E12EU. This dishwasher now sits in a customized cabinet our Interior Designer constructed, with a quartz hard-surface counter-top too. Our experience six weeks into using this machine has been on the whole positive. Great things about the machine:
Reasonably cheap. The compact dishwashers we saw were routinely cheaper than the full-height ones.
Easily accepts all-in-one capsule detergent solutions, though the makers of such detergent solutions seemed limited to just two at the big supermarket chains.
Very quiet. Whisper quiet even!
Great for small families.
Great for already small kitchens, like our Minton home.
Utensils and crockery come out clean, for the most part. Ling remarked on the first use that there was some mild residue on a few of the cleaned items, but we didn’t observe it further on.
But on the other hand:
Difficulties fitting medium-sized and larger pans with their long handles. It’d be a non-starter if use big frying pans with long handles and must wash them in these machines.
Long wash-cycle (3 hrs on default settings).
Will be too small if you use a lot of crockery in food preparation, or have a lot of mouths to feed
In particular, the long wash-cycle is something we had to adjust to – since washing crockery by hand would routinely take just minutes, making those items quickly available for re-use.
Still, the appliance has proven quite handy. It doesn’t draw attention to itself when it’s operating, and when not in use, blends in nicely with the rest of the kitchen finishing too. Though I suspect when over time when there are finally four adults to feed in our household, we might look into a larger unit then.
There was a news article not too long ago reporting of workmanship issues at The Canopy Executive Condominum, a newly completed apartment project here on our island. In that instance, the general issues faced by new apartment owners apparently were so pervasive and widespread that news media took interest in their story.
To be fair again, our Minton unit was in a reasonably good state when we got the keys in January, and the first defect rectification went more/less smoothly helped by a jolly worker in-charge and an effective customer service officer who acted as the go-between us and the worker team. We were aware however of several neighbors who weren’t quite so fortunate over the last couple of months, though now that most units are already moved-in or in the middle of renovation, we’ve been hearing less of early defect issues coming out of newly received units. Still and mindful of what the The Canopy EC residents encountered, I wonder though if such workmanship issues are endemic to mass market apartment projects, and that it seems whether one gets a unit that’s in an alright state against one that has numerous issues is a crap shoot.
Now that our unit has been lived in for almost 6 weeks now, we’ve started to also observe little issues coming out of it. Nothing that poses danger to life and limb thankfully. Several of these annoyances we just shrug away – I’m certain that the longer we stay in it, the less these minor things will bother us – but one issue did bother Ling, and that was specifically how grouting was done in the living/dining hall and the kitchen. We heard a couple of our neighbors sharing that the grouting for their units were so badly done that they came off after a few floor cleanings.
Ours was thankfully in a relatively better state on the overall – in that they didn’t dissolve and stayed sealed for the grouts in the living and dining halls even though they still aren’t as nicely done as we would have liked them. Just as well, since it’d be hard for grouting to be redone for the living/dining hall now that all our furniture has gone in. The kitchen grout was a different story though – they were of uneven color. Some of it was white, others cream, and several were even grey.
And Ling would have had none of it, since she spends so much time in the kitchen and she’d have to look at it everyday. So, we contacted our customer service officer – a different lass as the previous one who served us very well had since left the company – over for an inspection a fortnight ago, had a short inspection to ascertain the scope of work, and re-grouting work started shortly thereafter and over the weekend. We also took the opportunity too to get cracklined tiles around the rubbish chute replaced, likewise also for a chipped marble floor tile in the master bedroom toilet – though the worker ended up accidentally damaging a neighboring tile, meaning two tiles had to be replaced.
The several news articles reporting of the worsening smog in Beijing this year had a side-effect; they reminded those of us in Singapore of the dreaded haze from last year, and that it was only going to be a matter of time when the effects of slashing and burning tactics employed by Indonesian farmers coupled with weather phenomena would once again reach Singapore. So, when local news reported last week that the haze was not only going to return soon, it looks to be even worse than last year’s, it was largely received by persons here with a mix of mostly disappointment and resignation as opposed to shock, going with social media at least.
We went without air purifiers last year, and instead relocating most of what we did at home to the master bedroom at our old home. This year with Peter at home, we’re even less inclined to risk living with the bad air. So, we started scouting around for air purifiers over the last week. Our requirements were quite specific again; we’d likely be relocating most of what we do at home to the master bedroom at our new Minton home, so the air purifier unit would need to easily work with a room of that size. We wanted also a unit that was True Hepa certified, and also with filter parts easily available for end-user purchase.
The Honeywell purifiers were the most consistently highly-rated units on online chatter and are priced attractively in the US but apparently heavily marked up by the local distributors. We thought of picking them up through Amazon but didn’t want to have to deal with having to use stepped-down transformers. Of the bunch of alternatives, the Sharp and Philips purifiers seem to be quite popular, but we eventually settled on a Novita NAP 611-i. The Novita purifiers seem to be relatively well-received on online forums and popular purchases too. We eyed the the NAP 611-i which ticked all the boxes. The unit was a $599, but we got it at $500 at Goh Ah Bee, a home appliance store located at Kovan and quite near The Minton. The unit came with a extra complimentary filter set – nice – which immediately extends the longevity of the unit, assuming if everyone else works to expectation in the years to come.
The unit seemed to work just fine, though we’ll have to wait till the haze actually returns in a couple of weeks to see how it’ll operate under stress. More to report when that time comes!
Most new condo projects on our island routinely try to design their blocks such that each unit’s living and bedroom areas are in the north-south orientation, and in so doing avoid the afternoon sun that can otherwise blast unrelentingly into the rooms. Most of the units in The Minton are north-southerly facing (with the exception of one block!), including ours.
A year ago while I was doing my fortnightly photo-visits to the ongoing construction site then, I observed that our front balcony would get some morning sun. Not quite an issue for us. And when keys were collected in January this year, we again observed that there would be some mild afternoon sun getting into Peter’s room – but not the other bedrooms. Whew – we thought. But then, exactly as Ling feared, this was a seasonal thing, and since 3 weeks ago, our Tranquil World facing bedrooms have been getting some direct sunlight into the rooms. Not full-on thankfully in the east-west sense, but sufficient to heat up the room to the point that it’s noticeable. Hannah’s room and our workroom are especially affected, since the Zebra blinds we’ve got there can’t block a sufficient amount of sunlight.
So, we had to look into window films and specifically of the solar control type. There were already several advertisers promoting their various brands on different web sites and the like, and it was some intensive fact-finding on our part. And also because solar control films are a commonly-requested product for new built-up apartments on a hot and humid equatorial island, our mail box over the last months have been stuffed with flyers and brochures from many, many window film contractors.
Without getting too much into our exploration process, what we’ve learned in the last one week – from deciding to go with films to learning about the different film types and specifications to inviting different contractors down for measurements to deciding who to go with and finally actual installation – include:
Competition in this industry seems extremely intense. We heard and read of stories of companies badmouthing their competitors products.
The more affordable films seem compacted around the same price range (about $4 to $6 per square foot).
Most films we saw all offered 99% UV rejection, and Solar energy Rejection was routinely between 45% to 55%. The other characteristics (Visible Light Transmission, Warranty, Infra-red Rejection) varied significantly however.
Some characteristics of the film are (a lot) more important than others. The important ones are Total Solar Energy Rejected and Visible Light Transmittance if you’re also concerned about how much darker your room might be once films are installed.
With regards to the last point, there are quite a few online resources that debate on the often-cited Infra-red rejection film characteristic how what it really means, including here, here and here. The long and shot of what those resources all say is that IR rejection statements needs to be read with caution.
As for the other characteristics; after having been convinced about the importance of the selected film characteristic indicators, we invited several film contractors down for their sales pitches, measurements and quotations. Not quite easy deciding between the lot, but we eventually settled on LLumar solar control films, and with a contractor who was its local distributor. The film manufacturer seemed well-established and having been in the business for decades, and their films well-reviewed and received too and used across different purposes. The cost per square foot of their solar control films were just a little higher than their competitor products, but we were persuaded to take up their package largely on account that their films seemed in our exploration to be most premium of the bunch.
The installation took 2 afternoons, and we had different film types installed for the living/dining halls and the bedrooms. The two films’ Visible Light Transmittance was 48% and 60% for the Living/Dining halls and bedrooms respectively, and both offered 53-54% Total Solar Energy rejections. Total damage was almost $1.9K. Ouch!
Catching up on another post of our children in the last fortnight. Another recent thing we’ve gradually realize of our new home is that the Tranquil World-facing bedrooms of our unit – which includes Hannah’s room – gets a seasonal blast of direct sunlight. We didn’t observe this earlier in the year at the time we collected our keys, but possibly also in good part that the weather has turned hot and humid again, their room gets a good toasting in the early to mid-afternoons every day. As a result, We’ve been looking closely at solar films and will have some notes to write on very soon.
We’re still thankful that Peter sleeps soundly every night, but boy – can he make a royal din in the day time. It might be the effect of his room facing inwards against other neighboring blocks and how sound bounces around coupled also with his very healthy pair of lungs, but when he yells, we’re pretty sure everyone can hear it. Yep; he yells for attention, not merely cries for it! Hannah loves playing with him still, but when she’s busy with something else (like her art n’ craft), our boy gets all moody and will holler when he’s left alone in his cot.
Ling was sharing too the other morning that our girl has reported being occasionally called names by her friends in school. Nope we’re not going to step-in at the moment, since this is part of growing up and she doesn’t seem too bothered by it. But if that’s indeed happening, it doesn’t surprise us too much either – on account that Hannah is just a little bossy and has no compunctions telling other kids off when they engage in acts she believes are wrong. She has the makings of a a social butterfly for sure.
And of late, she’s returned again to carrying sheets of stickers that she brings along with her when we’re out of home, and passes them out to other children that she walks past. “Mommy/Daddy/whoever’s nearer, can you cut this sticker out? I want to pass it to that 妹妹 (little sister)!” In fact, we’ve had to reign her in a little one time when she wanted to run off to the other side of a Metro store to look for a girl that walked past her several minutes ago LOL.
Aside from the carpentry work that we included into our workroom at our Minton home – which was a lot – the only other renovation item we put in was to draw two additional LAN points, one on either side of the room. But we just discovered before the public holiday yesterday that our electrician had made a bloop when the cables were laid a few months ago. We’d requested for Cat 6 cables, but what we got were actually Cat 5e’s. Our ID was shocked when we appraised him of it, apologized sincerely, and promised to get to the bottom of it. Though at this point, we’re not sure what can really be done aside from the usual refund of work that was not quite what we wanted – since the two cables are running through false walls, up to false ceilings, across a good part of the house, and ending where our apartment’s main junction box is.
Adding on to another issue we discovered of our electrician’s work (basically that he took a few short cuts when installing those very tricky LED downlights), Ling is so very not-pleased with this subcon’s work. To be fair though, the Cat 5e cables are already reasonably good for our current needs since they theoretically support Gigabit Ethernet networks – but putting aside that we really should get what we paid for, the Cat 6 is simply the higher spec-ed and more stringent standard. And not forgetting future-proofing our home too for better connectivity standards in years to come too. We’re waiting for our ID to get back to us on this and what he’s going to do to make good, so more updates to come at some point, probably.
That aside; a good part of the weekend was spent installing and configuring our home office multi-function printer. We’ve been using dedicated laser-printers for a long while now ever since they reached consumer-friendly price-points just before the turn of the century – but for our new home, decided to bump it up to a multi-function printer instead. My key requirements in the recent hunt for one such were that it would had to:
Support the three functions we use: scanning, printing, copying
Support wireless printing
Support automatic duplex printing
Support scanning to email (but more on this later)
Offer an unexposed paper tray
Use an automatic document feeder
Pretty much everything that I use at my own office printers and have come to require in order to be work-effective. Not surprisingly too, the mainstream printer manufacturers all seem to recognize how important are these printers to small home-offices, so they routinely offer at least a few models that meet all these standard requirements, largely differing only along how large these printers are, their price-points, warranty and support policies, and additional features. We’ve had pretty decent experiences using Fuji laser printers previously, so opted for the Fuji Docuprint M255z, a widely carried model in most computer and electronic appliance stores. The printer is about the most affordably priced in its range at S$309 with an additional $40 worth of everyone’s favorite shopping vouchers – NTUC Fairprice ones – and comes with a hefty 4 year warranty period too.
On the down side, the printer is a little larger at its footprint than competing models, and it just barely fit into the bay window ledge. Particularly; the enclosed paper tray sticks out at the base by a couple of inches while the back of the printer is recessed by about the same amount (duh!) – so if table area is premium for you, then you might need to look elsewhere.
Configuring the printer was a different story altogether though. Printing, copying and scanning were easy enough. Connecting it to work wirelessly, and to send content to a common shared directory in our home network were much tougher. The printer didn’t seem to work with 5 GHz wireless networks, which meant I had to also use the routinely more congested 2.4 GHz wireless network for our home. Nor can I get the scan to email feature working properly yet. Bummer.
Many homeowners when putting together the furnishings for their new apartments will routinely check out Ikea. We’ve had pretty varied experiences with Ikea furniture at our Rivervale home. Basically ‘good’ for their baby changing table and baby chairs, ‘so-so’ for lighting fixtures and sofas, and just ‘godawful’ for their book shelving (they started sagging after 6 months). The fact that their self-assembled furniture though are priced so low has meant we still check their two large stores out to find items that we can get that won’t be too painful even if they don’t work as well as expected.
Bathroom clothing hooks
Bathroom towel rods
Bedroom full-length mirror
Children bedroom shelves and clothing hooks
Living room photo frames
Bathroom full-height open shelf
Foyer shoe bench
Outdoor furniture: rocking armchairs and sidetable
The last three items were packed flat and unassembled – one of the well-known characteristics of Ikea’s offerings. We had the option of having the store deliver and assemble it for us, but like many Singapore families, we brought the furniture back in our trusty family sedan and assembled it at home. I was able to assemble the whole bunch of items pretty easily without hitches except for the Molger shelf. Pretty sure I followed the instructions closely, but the joining screws wouldn’t go in all the way, resulting in noticeable gaps between the supporting struts and beams. Oh well.
It finally happened. We were at Isetan department store @ Nex just before the Labor Day public holiday when store patrons heard the following over the PA system:
Paging for the parents of a 4 year old girl who got lost; her name is Hannah Foo and she has a Pluto plush toy. Please come to the customer service counter at level 3!
We were at the store to pick up a Panasonic microwave oven (I finally reconciled against my long fears of eating microwaved food). Hannah wandered off to look at toys after I joined a long queue to pay for the appliance while Ling was looking for some face towels, and somewhere in between our girl couldn’t find her way back to us. Hannah was completely red-eyed and sobbing when we picked her up clutching onto her constant companion Pluto, and in uncontrollable tears. But just 30 minutes later when we were driving our way back home to Minton, she was rattling off to the both of us that she wasn’t lost, but it was mommy/daddy who were lost, and how we should know better!
Our two kids have adjusted very well to our new home @ Minton, with Hannah easily having the best view in the house now. Her bed overlooks Tranquil World, and it’s quite a pretty sight with the nearly a hundred path lights lining the many walkways and ponds. Every night, we’ve taken to spend time to look at the sights with her on her bed before she turns in. Peter has also a larger floor space now to crawl around too.
The adults though are still gradually easing into the new home. Perhaps because that the space is now larger with a lot more partitioned areas, we found ourselves having to walk a lot more and turn around corners to get to everything in the house! Frequently heard of late also – especially from me – is the line “Dear, where did you put the spatula / Hannah’s milk carton / table spoon / plastic bag / dishwasher capsule / masking tape / Hannah’s socks / Peter’s towel / coffee powder…??”
Couple of pictures using the 17mm and 25mm primes:
Continuing from the last post.
Be firm yet polite
There’s a poster at the NTUC Fairprice supermarket check-out counters that remind us that even as store customers, we should try to be polite to the checkout cashiers and that they reserve the right not to serve us if we are abusive. They are, after all, only trying to do their jobs.
While our unit as far as we could tell was in a reasonably good state already upon handover and our defect identification and rectification was handled both by a (very!) responsible customer service officer (CSO) and also defect team lead, we observed many neighbors who weren’t quite so blessed. That, alongside the very long key issuing process and the overly optimistic key release projections that were circulating around last year has meant lots of homeowners have had to keep postponing their own plans, or at least keep it nimble as their key collection dates were changed or pushed back. Unhappy residents either way as a result, and that’s in turn seem to lead to heated disputes. A couple of residents have also talked about getting their lawyers to send notices to rectify without further delay to the developer.
On one occasion, we witnessed a heated exchange between a resident and the Managing Agent officer. While we don’t know what the argument was about, observing that exchange did made me reflect that while situations might not be ideal and we might be at the end of our tether, whether unloading on a poor customer service officer is going to make one feel better.
I found that I had more luck being nice to people all round who were also stakeholders in our new home project. Whether it was the CSO – and I had a lot of emails and phone-calls with her reminding of outstanding defects that had yet to be rectified – or the normally jovial defect team lead, whom I also had to persuade that certain defects should be made good – or the Managing Agent officers, when I persuaded them to expedite some request or another. And my being nice to these various persons have also meant (so far!) that they are equally nice to me.
Enlist help in defect checking
I think there are at least three levels of rigor in defect checking. First up is us as the homeowners. Ling was certainly a lot more eagle-eyed than I was in this. Next are your interior designers and contractors. During the onsite measurements and visits in January, both our shortlisted designers also helped us spot things that would have never occurred to us – e.g. uneven grouting between floor tiles. The professional defect identification companies will of course do the best job at this. It’s their primary line of business, but it would have cost us about a thousand moola for their services. And lastly, there are also online resources and checklists on common defects and things to check for in new homes in Singapore.
Checking progress diligently
We were lucky in that our designer went out of his way to impress us in our home renovation project. He was easily reachable by phone throughout, kept us posted, and his workers seemed to have a healthy degree of respect for his working and communication style (i.e. we required, he conveyed, they obliged without complaint or argument). Even then, we made frequent checks on the state of work done for both the defect rectification phase, and also main renovation project that followed. Part of it has to do of course with my wanting to record through imagery and notes as much as possible this big milestone event of 2014 (our preparing and moving into our new home). The other part of it came from that this was our first ‘real’ and intensive home renovation project, and we were also a little paranoid, after reading all the horror stories on renovation portals and the like. The both of us took turns to make almost bi-daily trips down to the Minton – we were averaging around 4 trips each week – to make notes, spot more defects, try to catch our defect CSO and lead for verbal follow-ups, check on the work done during the main renovation, and to review suggestions made by our designer during which too.
As tough as this will sound – a good portion (not all) of the defects homeowners get anxious about won’t get noticed once the apartment gets lived in. From my point of view:
Scratches and light dents on the parquet flooring: once our furniture went in, we didn’t have nearly as much bare parquet flooring left to look at. A lot of it was covered up by bedframes, storage, shelving etc.
Light stains on walls/floor/guard railings/windows: can be easily cleaned during defect rectification, but will likely get dirtied again during the main renovation.
Dirty shelving in cabinets/wardrobes: will get dusty and dirtied again during main renovation
As another neighbor pointed out; one could bang the table and demand that the defect team made good scratches and stains on parquet flooring by getting them to resand/revarnish. But it’ll could get undone by main renovation. And if you get the main renovation to resand/revarnish another time, there’s no guarantee that your Movers won’t damage it. And even if you get ‘perfect’ Movers, your kids might do what kids do to flooring at homes – i.e. damage it very quickly.
There are defects though that should definitely be sorted out though, and these would include grouting issues on flooring (these will be very tough and expensive to fix later once the unit is lived in), ponding in toilets (since the tiles might need to be removed and adjusted) and planter boxes, those deep chemical stains that were found on some toilet seats (since these can’t be easily scrubbed off), cracklines, chipping, and appliance (e.g. kitchen) issues.
That’s it for our post-mortem series of reflections for the moment. Once we’ve lived in our unit for a good while longer, we’ll probably return to this thread and share more of our experiences living @ Minton.:)