Monday, August 31, 2009

Interest rates

Here's an interesting post from CNN International. Apparently, the Swedish central bank, the Riksbank, has reduced interest rates for saving accounts to negative 0.25%. Lending rates are also below 2%, all as a plan to increase liquidity in the Swedish economy.

With that kind of fiscal policy, it seems silly to move money from the US or the UK into Sweden. There might be a better way to finance those finishing touches on our little house...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Roofing costs, part 1

In the past, I've been a bit cagey about the exact costs for our house-building project. However, I'm going to be open about the finances of our roofing decision.

First, when I say 'roof', I mean of course 'roofs' because we have two houses, the big one at almost precisely 100 square meters, and the small one at 24 m2. For the sake of simplicity, though, I'm just going to say 'roof', which will refer to both roofs at a total of 125 m2.

Janne has told me a simple corrugated metal roof costs about 90 kronor per square meter. The rule of thumb is to double the cost of materials to account for labor, transportation and incidentals, so let's make the installed price 180kr per m2. This gives us a benchmark cost of 22,500 kronor, which is why I had originally budgeted 25,000 for the roof.

As I posted previously, my original thought was the Ruukki, which is a high-quality, handsome, and easy to install metal roof. Janne had estimated it would cost around 45,000 kronor, not including installation costs. A Ruukki roof is very easy to install, so if we pretend I'm available to help, it would just take a day's skilled labor to put up. The average workman's rate is 350kr per hour, so 10 hours would add 3500kr, making the best-case total cost of the Ruukki around 50,000kr.

Given the dwindling amount left in my budget, and the fact the roof really isn't visible from the house, we're going to pass on the handsome Ruukki and go to plan 'B'. That plan is developing, and there'll be more news this week.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Snow on the roof

One thing to think about is the potential weight of snow that may accumulate on the roof. Historically, there's been a good amount of snow on Aspö in the winter, but Janne says there's been very little in recent years. (We visited in February 2008 and it was almost balmy!)

In any case, we need to be prepared for whatever snow that may fall. It's fairly easy to determine the weight of snow on any surface. The metric system is fantastically elegant in this regard: one millimeter of water covering one square meter weighs one kilogram. Using a standard snow water content of 10:1, that means 1cm of snow equals 1mm of water.

Our roof is 100 square meters, so a snowfall of 8 cms (or 3 inches) would weigh about 800kg, or 1760 pounds. A water ratio of 6:1, which is more typical of the wet snow we're likely to see, makes the weight 1330kg/2930 lbs!

Roofs in snowy climates are typically highly pitched (like the Colorado example above), to ensure snow runs off and doesn't accumulate into very heavy loads. The roof on our house is pitched at 14 degrees, which is well within the building codes, but isn't near the 45 degrees of an alpine chalet.

We want to be sure snow slides off as easily as possible, which is one advantage metal or even tile has over a tarpaper or shingle roof. This is worth keeping in mind as we decide on what kind of roof we will install.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sooz's health

We now know why Sooz hasn't been feeling well- she has been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid.

We're deciding the best course of action going forward, which may include surgery or radiotherapy. Sooz has started taking medication, which should treat her symptoms pretty quickly.

I will update on significant events, but I promise not to turn this into a medical blog!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The new roof

As I've posted before, we need to put a permanent roof on the house before the upcoming winter. We have three layers of tarpaper but that is really intended only to last for one winter.

I had originally posted about a Finnish roof system, but after further investigation, this type of roof seems like overkill for our needs. The design and location of our house makes it very difficult to see any of the roof, so there aren't any aesthetic concerns.

The other options are a simple corrugated metal roof, or perhaps a high-tech tarpaper roof, which goes on in giant rolls and is purported to last 25 years. Each of those types have advantages and disadvantages. And finally, there's the question of who will do the work. Wille is back to Leksand pretty much permanently now, and Janne is booked up for months, if not years, to come. So we'll have to turn to Anders and Tommy, or perhaps find someone new to do the work. In any case, we have about two months to decide and get it installed, as rooftop work after November 1 is not a good idea.

So there's a lot going on regarding the roof and I'll be posting in more detail over the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the bus from Stavsnäs

...and it is packed. I've never seen it this full. Same goes for the boat leaving Aspö.

The weather's been great today and I had a productive morning of little chores, plus more moving of scrap wood to be burned. I visited Olle and saw his deck, which is really beautiful. Then it was to Margaret and Janne for a great lunch. They've painted and refurbished their kitchen and living room, and it looks super.

A quick jaunt home to tidy up and decommission the house, and I was on my way. A few photos are available in today's webgallery.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's been a long day

...after a short night at Marcia and Rutger's, Wille picked me up at 6AM and we headed through the rain to Stavsnäs. (Marcia still managed to be up before me and had a cup of tea all brewed before I left. Wow.)

The big Waxholms boat had only 5 of us onboard, which was odd for August, I thought. Wille finished the garderobes and a number of other little tasks. He left at noon and I hauled trash from noon till 3. I think I took seven wheelbarrow trips in all. Man, was I tired after that; I hardly remember ever being so wiped out.

I cleaned up the little stuga in the afternoon and tomorrow will bring the remaining scrap wood down to be burned in preparation for our October visit. This evening I watched the athletics live from Berlin on my laptop, which was cool. But now it's bedtime!

Friday, August 21, 2009

En route onboard SAS

I'm writing this on my iPhone as we're about an hour from Stockholm.
It's a clear evening as Scandinavia passes below us.

I always get a little emotional flying to Sweden (I originally wrote
'back' to Sweden). Maybe it's the two cans of Pripps consumed
inflight, but I do feel tremendously lucky to have found this
beautiful place with so many good friends. And to have designed and
built a little house here seems like scarcely believable good fortune
right now.

I also feel compelled to report (the effect of the Pripps again) that
as i compose this post, I'm listening to one of my favourite
recordings, a reconstruction of 'Smile' by the Beach Boys, the story
of which is just like its music: by turns beautiful, mysterious, and heartbreaking.

I'll probably regret posting this, but what the heck.

To Stockholm tonight

I'll be leaving this evening after work and Wille is going to pick me up at Marcia and Rutger's tomorrow at 0600 (!) to catch the 0725 boat from Stavsnäs. I'll head straight back to London from Aspö on Sunday evening.

Anders called yesterday and he won't be able to come over Sunday as originally planned. He sent me a combined bid to do the roofs and the deck between the houses. It's more than I can spend right now, so he's going to separate each portion of the work in his quote. I'll also talk to Janne and Willie for their opinions.

Lastly, in medical news, Sooz received results from her blood test and she does not appear to have Borrelia or Lyme, or any other tick-borne diseases, so that's good news.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


That may sound slightly dirty in English, but it's actually an artisan food fair in Stockholm this weekend. Unfortunately, I'll be hauling trash on Aspö, but maybe it's for the best. I could do with a bit less food intake these days!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two-Year blog anniversary!

I found it fun to look at this first post, two years ago today. And then this one from a year ago.

A lot has happened in that time, hasn't it?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little update

  • Sooz talked to her doctor this morning and told them of her weekend doctor's visit, and they moved her blood test up to noon today from the original appointment of Wednesday. She's feeling better today, too.
  • I talked to Wille and he'll meet up with me at Marcia and Rutger's this Saturday morning and we'll head out to Stavsnäs together. He has a last few things to tidy up, and I have a lot of trash to haul.
  • And I talked to Anders about the roof. He will come out and see me on Aspö Sunday afternoon, so I'll have a good idea about when and how we will proceed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Here's a timely opportunity to write about nationalised health and island life in the same post.

Sooz hasn't felt 100% the past few weeks. She especially didn't feel well while she was away in the US, and in fact cut her trip short to return last Thursday night. Her complaint was mostly a headache, feeling tired and achy, and a low-grade fever that came and went.

As I mentioned the other day, Sooz had a doctor's appointment to discuss her symptoms, and she was set up for a blood test and a visit to an ENT specialist later this week. But she had a rough night last night, with a bad headache and another fever. I did some googling and it seemed Sooz had many of the symptoms of borrelia, which is the Swedish equivalent of Lyme disease. (Although she had only one tick bite, and no signature bulls-eye rash, it appears that's no guarantee of not having the disease.) Margaret also weighed in with some practical advice.

So we called the NHS and Sooz went through her symptoms with a nurse on the phone. A doctor called back and arranged for her to come to our local hospital for a quick check and prescription of antibiotics, just in case it is borrelia. We'll know better after her blood test, but there's no harm in antibiotics for now.

And, no money changed hands for today's medical services, except £7.20 for the prescription.

UPDATE: Sooz feels better this morning. She is also worried this post will dissuade visitors for fear of infection. So I remind my readers that we don't know if she has borrelia, and even if she does, it's easily treated. Also, visitors (with the exception of Rutger) won't be put to work in the woods. It's hard to attract ticks sitting on the deck with a G&T!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care

I've recently read here in the UK of the escalating debate in the US about health care reform. Apparently, some politicians there are attacking the NHS as an "Orwellian" system that would diminish health care provision, and at great expense to boot.

Actually, life in London is plenty Orwellian, for other reasons, but in this case, I can report we've all had good experiences with nationalized health care.

Here in the UK, one's doctor's office is determined by their address; we've been going to the same place for 10 years now. It's easy to get an appointment to see your GP, and they're the ones who see and treat you first. If needed, they'll authorise a visit to a specialist, or for tests, therapy, etc. For example, my local office was very good at finding and administering our TBE vaccinations last year.

Last year, I spent a night in the hospital for an urgent problem, had a couple of tests, an ambulance ride, a 'procedure' or two, and a bunch of drugs. (It wasn't as much fun as it sounds.) The upshot, though, is that I'm perfectly fine, and I never paid anyone a penny for my care. I'm sure the same experience in the US would have been thousands of dollars, plus hours of paperwork and haggling over the phone with my insurer, assuming I was lucky enough to have an insurer.

To bring the topic back to Sweden, Sooz had a short hospitalization in Stockholm when we lived there, and she received excellent care at the Karolinska Institute. These are the people who decide the Nobel Prize in medicine, so they're no slouches. And again, paperwork- none; cost to us- none.

Of course, we do pay in the form of higher taxes, as per my previous post, but the key element is everyone here gets the same access to care, which I think is the biggest failing in the US.

As far as island health care goes, there is a doctor boat on call in the summer for both pressing needs and general medical care, such as vaccinations. (I should ask Margaret to share her superb story about Ann's visit to a doctor boat). There's always the air ambulance as a last resort, too. It landed near us once during our summer visit.

UPDATE: Criticism of the NHS is becoming a cause célèbre today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I haven't yet heard from Skatteverket, but I thought I'd have a look at my papers to see what I've paid already. The easiest thing to total up is VAT; it's shown clearly on every invoice.

Looking at the invoices I've kept (big ticket items like the house and labor, the bathroom, electrical wiring, helicopter, and smaller ticket items like the kitchen, furnishings, appliances, tools, stain, etc.), I've found about 285,000 kronor paid in VAT. Using the exchange rate at the time, that comes to about $45,000 (or £25,000).

Next, I'll add up taxes and fees paid to the kommun. But I need a stiff drink first!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happy Tax Freedom Day Sweden, that is. Today, the average citizen finishes paying the government, and can now keep all of their salary for the remainder of the year. (In the UK, it's June 3; the USA, April 30.) Tax revenues are quite important to the Swedish government, as they represent 54% of its GDP; in the UK it's 37%, and the US, 29%.

I've been looking into information on tax rates in Sweden as compared to other countries. There's a wealth of data out there on the interwebs; I've found it surprisingly interesting.

My favourite stat so far is Sweden's total tax burden for a single worker: 48.6%. The US is 30%, and the UK 29.7%. (Belgium is over 55%. Whoa.) On top of that is VAT, which at 25%, is the highest in the world, adding a quarter to the cost of any good (like an incinerating toilet) or a service (like building a bathroom).

Once I receive my response from Skatteverket, I'll try to total up all of the taxes and municipal fees I've paid to build the house. I'm sure it will be a depressingly large figure.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


We are almost there!

[Ed. Note: Sooz and Grant are in the US, visiting grandparents and looking at universities. Yesterday was Earlham, tomorrow, Wooster, and Monday, St. Olaf. Stand by for random posts.]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Email from Göran

Göran emailed me last night. He's going over to the house this Thursday to finish up a few small items, mostly in the bathroom, connecting the heated towel rack, the sink cabinet, and wiring the washing machine permanently. I also asked him to look at the load of the circuit the Cinderella's on, because we blew a main fuse while operating both it and the oven one day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Swedish taxes, part 1

I've been checking Google to see what shows up during a search for "Sweden". No surprises, really: it's cold; the people are blond, and, shall we say, welcoming; IKEA, ABBA, the Nobel prizes and Björn Borg are also high on the list. (I'd add Ann-Margaret but she's probably high on just my list...)

My googling also found that the Swedish health-care model is getting a lot of exposure in the US press these days, which is a good topic for another post, but for now, it leads me to the topic at hand, and something else Sweden is known for: high taxes.

Let's face it, Scandinavia is pretty darned socialist when compared to the US, and even the UK. The level of benefits and services are high, and they're paid for by commensurately high taxes. Here's a little chart of tax rates:

       Corporate  Personal  VAT
Sweden    26.3%   0-57%    25%
England     28%   0-40%    15%
U.S.A.    15-35%   15-35%    0%

I realise this is by no means the whole picture, but in general, it shows that taxes in Sweden are a lot higher than my other two countries. And taxes are much lower today than they were previously. My tax rate when I lived in Stockholm in 1990 was 71%. There's also a story, probably apocryphal, that at the height of ABBA's success, they were asked to pay 106% tax for all earnings over a certain amount. No wonder Benny had to be creative over his business dealings, and Skatteverket is still chasing him even today.

So, based on all this, you would think I'd be fearful of what the tax authorities have in store for me. However, I'm really not, and I'll explain more in a later post, but the key is to remember that we've built a summer home, or fritidshus. In Sweden, that's important.