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The Minton – Post Renovation Two Years On – Part 2

Second part of our post two years into staying at The Minton, and this time round, my notes on what we’re planning for our mini-renovation project next year.

To be fair; much of our apartment is still swimmingly fine and without any real major issues. Well, apart from that half of our initially installed LED Downlights failed, though thankfully the replacement units we bought from a different vendor have worked just fine and we’ve been able to dismount the faulty ones and mount the new units without too much difficulty on our own. And there’s also the slowly de-coloring grouting in the living/dining hall that would likely cost a lot to replace, never mind the having to move all our furniture somewhere while it gets rectified.

So – that aside, here’s what we’re currently planning.

Re-purposing our Study Room

This is the ‘+1’ in our apartment. The room as delivered is just long and wide enough for a study table that can run along the full length of the wall. But our initial renovation intention from 2014 was to treat this as a mini-library. Basically, we had our ID design and fabricate strong and reinforced book shelves. The book shelves almost 30 months later have borne up incredibly well – zero sagging despite bearing the weight of a lot of our books – paperbacks, very large coffee table books, and even heavier photo albums. The remaining space held Peter’s cot after we moved in.

A couple months back though we decided to move him out of the cot to join Hannah in their bedroom (something about wanting the kids to enjoy each other’s company more), gave his cot away to a Minton neighbor who was just about to deliver her baby – and now we have a room that looks like this:

Empty room - what to do with it?

Empty room – what to do with it?

We can’t fit a full-sized upright piano in the room, so that was tossed early on. Alternatively, the room can maybe hold a 50-60 cm deep study table on the opposing wall – we’ll likely have a designer fabricate one so that it can run the length of the wall, though there’s really enough table surfaces elsewhere in the house for us to do work – with books or multiple notebooks.

The last possible function: toss in a bean bag, and just treat it as a lounging area.:)

And we’ll likely have to find a different fan configuration for the room too. The current Crestar Idol 30″ ceiling fan is attractively looking, but is also severely constrained in its ability to move air around because of the room’s size and keep persons in it cool.

Paintwork

Not the entire house for sure, but little spots especially in the external parts of the apartment. There’re a few hairline cracks on the balcony wall – nothing serious of course though a little unsightly:

Very minor hairline crack.

Very minor hairline crack.

And maybe just a mite more serious are these paint bubbles that have started appearing on the front balcony wall. We reckon it’s that there’s some water seeping into the underlining paint layers, and we’ll have to watch if it gets more serious in the next months. And if it does, whether something needs to be done about it.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it's really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it’s really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Fans

Our unit’s facing means that we get terrifically frequent breezes and outright strong winds about 4 months a year – usually from around October to February. On the other hand, the front-balcony also gets a royal roasting from direct sun between April to October. It’s great for Ling’s plants of course, but it’s also gets terrifically hot that apart from the occasional laundry and also for the several rows of Ling’s plants, we really can’t do anything else on that balcony. This was one thing we didn’t fully anticipate in our main renovation project. Specifically, we should have fitted one of those industrial-sized ceiling fans from the get-go.

Since we can’t enclose the entire balcony in glass and just air-condition the thing up – and mind you, I am ready to fork out that expense if such major alterations were permitted – Renovation Project 2017 will see a new fan mounted on the ceiling.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

And we’re also thinking of installing a fan into the kitchen too. Crazy idea eh? We really like our Minton home, but if there’s one thing I can name about it being deficient compared to our first home @ The Rivervale, it’s that the latter’s kitchen was large and so airy that we routinely had to close the kitchen windows to cook, as the frequent breezes was causing havoc on the gas stove flames. Our Minton unit’s kitchen is smaller, more claustrophobic, and just doesn’t move air well. I don’t know how Ling manages it when she cooks, but it’s terrifically uncomfortable for me, the Must-Have-Air-Conditioning-Everywhere-I-Am person I am.

Messy kitchen.

Messy kitchen.

Though whether we can even find a ceiling fan for this setup is going to be a long shot even. We might have to make do with a wall-mounted fan.

The Minton – Post Renovation Two Years On – Part 1

It’s been more than two years since we’ve moved to The Minton and I figured it’s time to do another annual post on little things we’ve observed about our home, and our plans beyond that too.

Adults are too busy to use amenities

That’s in specific reference to us, and not as a general rule. One of the main selling points of the condo was the wide-ranging facilities. As in, what other condo can boast of having a full-sized and air-conditioned badminton dome. As it turned out and funnily, we’ve still yet to use that dome – and it’s not just on account that we’re not badminton players. The dome is also used for other selected sports activities – e.g. Yoga, Zumba. We’ve been invited several times now by our neighbors to join into these fitness groups (and they sure look fun!), but Ling is too busy at this point, and me – no thanks. I have too much flab, and would rather just jog in the gym! And the latter is just about the only facility that we use.

Hannah is a different story though. She has swimming lessons now every week at the pool. So, it’s not quite a total loss against the quarterly condo maintenance fees we pay for.

Commercial and retail establishments

Apart from the wide-ranging facilities, our condo also has several units designated for commercial and retail businesses. Briefly: the mini-mart is still there and quite convenient when we need some household appliances or common food items double-time (e.g. “Ahhhh… we forgot to buy onions from NTUC!!!”). We also had Peter enroll in the condo’s childcare center this year for several months, until they had to suddenly close down, leaving parents scrambling. Quite displeasing, but at least Peter is now as happy (if not more so!) in the other childcare center we found him. There was also a pizza joint ran by a bona fide Italian person, but they had to vacate after about a year. They made pretty yummy pizzas for residents to buy, but I wonder if the business volume was ever sufficient to sustain their ongoing operations.

More recently, there’s a in-condo hair salon which also serves kids (super convenient), and also a new cafe which dishes up home-cooked styled food and a daily changing menu. The cafe has been quite a big hit among residents, with genuinely tasty food, reasonably-priced, and run by a very pleasant and friendly lady and chef. In fact, one of the longest-running threads in The Minton Residents Facebook group are the daily reports from residents on what the cafe is serving for the day LOL.

Just a very small sampling of the daily stuff that’s whipped up for residents to try out:

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Fried pork cubes

Fried pork cubes

Honey-baked Chicken

Honey-baked Chicken

Japanese curry

Japanese curry

Sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish

Poolside vs Amazonian Lily Pond

This is one of those almost accidental decisions that we didn’t realize the significance of until well into the fact. When we decided to purchase a unit @ The Minton almost 5 years ago, we had an inclination for a quiet apartment. Our previous home @ The Rivervale was peaceful for the most part, until the previously nominally-used road our unit faced became a major connector for the just-about then completed Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway. As luck had it, the Minton apartment configuration we wanted – a 3+1 bedroom type – against the actual units remaining when we were committed to purchase resulted in us having to choose a unit that was facing the very Tranquil World. A happy coincidence we thought at that point.

Well, more than 2 years living here now, I reckon that our unit’s facing is one of the most lucky coincidental outcomes we’ve had. The Minton main pool is an extremely popular area for kids and partying adults young and old alike. And early on, there were feedback from residents whose units faced the main pool complaining about the noise generated. Because of how sound can bounce around the compound or get especially amplified by the surrounding blocks, we can occasionally even hear kids screaming out their lungs at something fun at the pool from our end of the compound, and it’s probably even worse for the pool-facing units. Still, at least the pool users are mostly well-behaved, and the condo’s guards are fairly strict in keeping the peace in the night hours. So past about 10PM, the pool returns to its serene state.

And before one thinks that the Amazonian Lily Pond-facing units are heaven, we ‘enjoy’ a potpourri of barbecued and grilled food aromas from the three BBQ pit locations. Every. Single. Weekend… without fail.

Getting In and Out

While the condo is situated along a main road, we’re also lucky in that the end of the road – Lorong Ah Soo – where the Minton is situated is actually not too heavily used. So, the traffic junction that resident vehicles have to turn out from moves vehicles pretty quickly. And the three different vehicular exit points also help loads.

Though we still get occasionally comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points.

Though we still get occasional comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points. Required the estate guard to untangle the mess.

It’s quite a different story just further down the road in the early morning though. Two popular schools sit right along Lorong Ah Soo, and it can be a bit chaotic every morning when school-going children get dropped off in the two-lane road.

Well; next post to come soon once I think of more things to say about our home. We’re also planning for a mini-home renovation project in 2017, so a post somewhere in this series will deal with that!

The Minton – Post Renovation One Year On – Part 3

The third – and probably last post on our Minton renovation one year on – unless there are more things to say later in the years to come! Previous post here.

Children’s Bedroom double-beds: this was one of the key design features in our renovation project 18 months ago, and while Peter hasn’t moved into the room yet (he still sleeps each night in his cot currently in the Study room), the upper bed here is at least one of his frequent play areas. The invisible grills in the room have given us relative peace of mind since without them, it really wouldn’t take any effort to climb from the upper bed out of the window. The multiple storage bays built into the bedroom have also been really helpful in keep both children’s clothes out of sight too.

+1/Study Room configuration: we’re waiting for Peter to ‘graduate’ from his cot so that he can vacate the +1/Study Room. After which the first thing that’s going in is one of those large bean bags.:)

Decking: we didn’t write about our decking considerations and final decisions made during our 2014 renovation project, but deciding on the basic material type, material color and also vendor to go with was one of the harder renovation decisions we made last year. Briefly, there are two broad types of decking material: natural wood (e.g. ironwood, Chengal, teak) and wood plastic composites, which basically is a synthetic wood type.The considerations we had in mind included:

The amount of direct sunlight that would hit the decking

The amount of rain that will hit the decking during each year end’s monsoon

The kind of furniture and also usage that decking would be put through

How much maintenance we were prepared to keep up with the decking’s outward appearance

How the decking would be installed

Cost (of course)

From anecdotal observations, most people seem to prefer natural wood decking since it doesn’t have that odd artificial look that’s inherent in WPCs – you know, analogous to computer-generated faces against real human faces that we see in the most Terminator film – and with natural wood, you can at least re-sand and varnish periodically and the decking would look like new again. Still, we read and also saw through pictures worrying on either side, and don’t think we could really finally say which material type is better all-round. We finally decided on an Australian-branded decking type sold and installed by a local reseller, on account of the very long warranty the reseller was providing, the overall package price, method of installation (no drilling involved), and also that the method of installation permitted wider than normal gaps. A note on the later: we went with a larger than normal gap of 5mm between planks. It resulted in a somewhat less pleasing look visually, but also provided a much better water drainage system when the inevitable monsoon rain cycle begins.

Gap between deck planks.

Gap between deck planks.

More than 18 months, and the decking has fared pretty well with a few caveats. None of the planks have warped, chipped, broken etc. but there has been surface scratches and plant acid burns into the material as a result of our usage – basically the children’s toy vehicles running forcefully over the decking, and the many potted plants excreting fluids that over time burn into the deck planks. Not enough for the decking to look unsightly at all, but I guess it’s just the nature of the material.

Solar Film: the solar film still looks solidly in place, and we don’t even notice that it’s there anymore. And the apartment interior is still reasonably bright enough for us.

Visiting Bartley Residences

One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.

Hammocks!

Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!

 

The Minton – Post Renovation One Year On – Part 2

Continuing on a widely spaced thread on our Minton home, post-renovation one year on. The last post in the series is here.

If there is any one aspect of our home renovation that has not worked well, it’s been our choice of supplier for the LED downlights. We picked them up from a large supplier located in the Ubi area, and had them installed by our ID’s general electrician. As I recall it, the first units started failing barely 3 months into our moving in, and along the way, several more did. Our initial experiences of the LED downlights are here, and here.

I’ll have to do an accurate tally of the units that failed, but here are the failure numbers off the top of my head:

downlights

The 8 failures are over the 18 month stretch, and I think roughly split between the LED light emitting unit, and the driver unit. As I recall it, the first four failures (all 3-in-1s) occurred in the first year, and were exchanged without complaint at the warehouse. The remaining ones zonked out about this year – after their guarantee period – which meant we had to look for options.

Clarifying our usage too: the lights are not heavily used. In fact, two of the dead units were in a part of the living hall and were rarely switched on. One of our Minton neighbors got their LED downlights from the same supplier and experienced failures of their 3-in-1 lights too.

We scouted around for alternatives, and eventually settled on a Qoo10 supplier who has a new warehouse over in Woodlands. This supplier has a web site – which gave us a slight bit more confidence than the previous supplier which had nothing of this sort, though the web site still states their old Jurong warehouse address. We’ve had enough bad experiences with 3-in-1 types now, unfair as it might sound to tarnish all lights of this type because of one bad experience with a supplier. The new units, according to their supplier, have some components made in the US while assembly is in China.

Pictures of the new units:

xxx

The 6200K temperature of these Cool Daylight units meant that they are very slightly warmer than the units they are replacing. We ended up replacing all the 3-in-1 units in the study with these single-color types, and keeping the 3-in-1s that were still working as spares.

xxx

Output watt is the same at 12W, and size too. The panel design though is different – though one would have to be looking hard up at the ceiling lights to tell!

xxx

The output here at 24-48V DC is slightly higher than the old driver types of 21-45V DC though rated current is identical at 300mA.

This time round too, we picked up spares so that we can replace them on our own if it comes to that later. Funnily; these replacement lights at about $19 each cost less than the old ones at $28. Our neighbor – who shared the similarly bad experiences with the old LED lights – helped us install the replacements, and judging from what’s involved, I’m fairly confident that I’d be able to do the same later if I need to. Oddly though – the traumatic experience our ID’s general electrician had last year when installing the LEDs seem unfounded. Our neighbor was able to mount/dismount the old lights with relative ease.

Oh well. Hope these new ones work better this time round. And if not, at least we have spares to replace several more.:)

The Minton – Post Renovation One Year On – Part 1

It’s just past a full year since our Minton renovation project ended, and I thought it’d be fun to do a retrospective review of how the new home has been since it’s now lived-in for a year. Most things and design decisions have worked very well – surprisingly! – but there’s been a couple of others that with the benefit of hindsight, haven’t worked as well. Long post, so split into a couple of parts – and starting off with the things that have worked well.

Fans: One big difference between our old Rivervale home against our Minton place now is in our type of fans. Our current place is already a little more airy than the Rivervale one – though this is also seasonal – but after the frequent tripping over of electrical cables lying about on the floor from standing fans in our old home, we went all-out for ceiling fans in the Minton a year ago. The Crestar fans in the Living, Master and Children’s rooms are still working as well as they did when first installed and providing plenty of air circulation. The Fanco 36″ in the Workroom remains under-powered – a mistake in choice back then that’s necessitate turning on the air-conditioning a little more frequently there just to keep things comfortable in the room. The fans do occasionally make a bit more din when our part-time cleaners clean the fan-blades, but they’re not causing enough ruckus at this point to bother us – thankfully!

Clotheslines: A year ago we were wondering if this was way-overkill to install eight ceiling clotheslines in the yard balcony on top of the clothes rack we got from Ikea, but they have turned out to be tremendously useful, given the amount of laundry we do. We also realized how lucky we were to have purchased a unit with a yard balcony of decent length which could be our dedicated laundry area.

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines - not counting the

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines – not counting the rack below it.

Work Room Tables: This was another risky design requirement we made last year – how and if we should squeeze 3 of us in a room to do actual work. At the moment, the configuration has worked well enough, and we removed the rollers on our work room chairs too so there’s no chance of chairs slamming into each other. Hannah also seems versatile enough to do her homework anywhere in the house.

Invisible Grills: The grills have also been as they were a year ago; the cables still seem tense, and no signs of rust (yet?) too. We did hear of a neighbor going with the same grill vendor who didn’t have as much luck though – the grills showed signs of corrosion. The one gripe we have is pretty minor – the plastic caps to cover holes along the grill frames have been dropping off, like this:

Cap gone - duh.

Cap gone – duh.

Solar Film: Food for thought though: whether Films are of any real perceptible benefit might come down to whether you’ve experienced the house without Solar Films installed first. We did for a couple of months last year and can say with certainty that the Films will help. That said, we were never under any illusions that the films all around the house were gonna turn an apartment experiencing afternoon heat into a chilled igloo. At this time of the year now, the afternoon sun is shining directly into the wide part of the house, heating up the children’s bedroom (below), the workroom and to a lesser degree, the Master room. The films do help by bringing the general temperature a couple of degrees down – though it’s still not enough to make the rooms bearable for working and living in the afternoon heat without turning on additional air-conditioning.

The children's room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

The children’s room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

Front Balcony: We had grand and lofty ideas about how to use the fairly large front balcony space before moving in – and that included a general lounging around area and also children’s play area. But given the general humidity of the island in general, the Front Balcony has turned into our little stretch of green for Ling’s plants, and also for drying items that need direct sunlight (the yard balcony where the laundry normally goes does not experience direct sunlight for the most part).

Multi-function balcony LOL.

Multi-function balcony LOL.

More notes in the next post, soon.:)

Defect Rectification – Part 2

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.

Visible grout hole where the skirting is in the kitchen.

Visible grout hole where the skirting is in the kitchen.

Different grout colors.

Different grout colors.

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.

Kitchen floor re-grouted.

Kitchen floor re-grouted. Looks much better now!

Looking much better after the excess dried up grout had been sanded away.

The excess dried up grout had been sanded away.

Two tiles removed. One which was chipped, and another which was the result of collateral damage.

Two tiles removed. One which was chipped, and another which was the result of collateral damage.

Laying down the new tile!

Laying down the new tile!

 

Newly laid tiles in the master bathroom. Not quite exactly the same tone, but at least no chipping.

Newly laid tiles in the master bathroom. Not quite exactly the same tone, but at least no chipping.

Solar Films

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.

Lots of brochures and flyers from window film contractors.

Lots of brochures and flyers from window film contractors.

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!

Photos.:)

Workers going about it in our workroom.

Window Film Workers going about installation in our workroom.

And in Hannah's room.

And in Hannah’s room.

Oh yes. We had roller blinds installed in our front balcony too. The contractor was the same fellow who's done all of our blinds and curtains too.

Oh yes. We had roller blinds installed in our front balcony too. The contractor was the same fellow who’s done all of our blinds and curtains too.

 

Home Office Stuff

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.

Oh dear. Says clearly that it's 5E and not 6.

Oh dear. Says clearly that it’s 5e and not 6.

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.

Pretty large fellow.

Pretty large fellow.

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.

The Minton: Ideas and Renovation – 50 – Post Mortem: Lessons Learned Part B

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.

Be circumspect

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.:)