Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Site Analysis

Principle 1: Observe and Interact

A small birds nest made with spider webs in a plum tree, just outside the bedroom window.

The house site faces the road on the south west. The house itself is in poor condition. Of note the building has no insulation, the walls and ceiling lining need replacing, no windows on the north (sunny side) of the house, no gutters and the building needs restumping. The bathroom is basically an after-thought that is built onto the eastern side of the house. Also the building itself is situated right on the north-eastern boundary, so as it stands it would be very difficult to make solar passive.

Colleague and builder / architect Peter Lockyer suggested that it may be a good idea to resite and reorientate the whole building. At the same time the building could be extended to incorporate solar passive design principles, like windows on the north side of the building and thermal mass in the floor. I have worked with Peter on building sites in the past, and have become a competent labourer. With Peter's advice and support I got excited about the proposal - this, by the way, was discussed before I bought the house.

Above is a sector analysis of the property. This considers the various environmetal impacts that will affect the site.

The original carport was about to collapse, and was pulled down very early in the piece. From the deconstruction most materials have been salvaged and stacked for reuse.

The next big consideration that I needed to make was what to do about the Red Gum. While it is a beautiful and majestic tree, it's placement causes great concern. The options are:
  1. To leave it as it is - with the danger of falling branches in the future, but if left will eventually provide habitat for creatures in the hollows. Big problem here is that I would be liable for any damage fallen limbs may cause - as well as the risk to people and infrastucture on my property. The tree also shades out afternoon sun and dries the soil.
  2. To prune the tree - reducing the risk, this would need to be done by professionals and would be quite an expensive on-going cost. Would provide some timber in short lengths and smaller branches for mulching. Otherwise a similar situation as the first option.
  3. To fell the tree - a very big, expensive job. Would increase solar access and ability to grow other plants, and provide timber that could be milled, poles, branches, mulch and firewood.
I decided to get quotes on what it would cost to fell the tree. As an incentive, my 2 nearest neighbours offered me $300 each to either prune or remove the tree. The first quote I got was for $5000, leaving the main part of the tree on the ground, but taking the rest away. The second quote I got was for $2000, with the tree felled and leaving all of the material on the ground.

After considering all of the factors, including that there are many Red Gums along the creek reserve across the road, I decided to have the tree felled. This would allow me to have good solar access for a passive solar design and provide building materials.

Note: I wanted to point out that I do have a deep appreciation of the many values of old trees, and spent a week in a tree platform of a Karri in near Nannup, SW Australia, in protest to the clearfelling of old growth forest for woodchips.

Cutting branches overhanging the neighbour house in small sections.

Branches and guided by a 2nd person on the ground using ropes.

The main trunk of the being prepared for felling.

I specifically asked that they leave as long a lengths as possible, which would give me more flexibility in what the lengths could be used for. If the tree was just 'blocked down' (in small chunks) it would make it less useful than longer lengths that can be used as poles or milled up. I was surprised that it took two men only 6 hours to bring the whole tree down, without any fancy machinery. Luke and Sam made the job look easy, but one slip up could be very costly. Better to leave a job like this to the pros I think.

I also began the process of removing the lining from the interior of the building. The lining is a mish-mash of chipboard, masonite, horse-hair plaster-board and some concrete sheeting. There is also a layer of thick paper above the ceiling, which was covered in a thick layer of dust.

There is no insulation in any of the walls or ceiling, with large gaps in the weather boards.

There were thousands of stone fruit shells in the ceiling, which must have been home to rats and/or possums.

A layer of silt in the wall cavity suggests that flood waters did enter the house, but I could not see any indication of the flood level.


McCabeandco said...

A big job you have in stall but sure you will rise to the occassion. And I feel for your predicament regarding that tree... to cut or not to cut... and yes, i can vouch for your activist orientations...and the night you lost half your beard... Great to hear you're putting your thoughts to the blog... I would love to see what your wife and child are up to, how they are finding their way into the premanent culture of your locality... Go well beautiful man!!

McCabeandco said...

That nest was a special find...

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