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.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Opportunity missed

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

When the local newspaper arrives I head straight for the readers' bargains. You never know what people are getting rid of that may be useful. I found an advertisement for a demolition job in town and rang up the guy to check out what was available.

I was interested in the framing timber. Seasoned hardwood framing timber is very hard to work with, as joinery needs to be pre-drilled - but it's perfect for decking. I asked the guy if he was interested in exchanging labour for materials - and he was. I called up a couple of days later and he had changed his mind. The reason? I should have a 'red card' (see below) to go onto a building site.

I asked about accessing the building site with a registered builder after he had removed all that he wanted from the site, but he refused. I guess there was nothing in it for him, except the risk of something going wrong... fair enough.

I did some research and found out that a 'red card' is now called a 'Construction Induction Card'. It's a day-long course that trains you in safety on a building site and costs about AU$150. I've decided to do one - if another opportunity like this one presents itself, I'll be ready to act.

Meanwhile, none of the framing timber was salvaged - it was all chewed up by big machines and sent to the tip. What a waste! The proverb for the second principle of permaculture - 'make hay while the sun shines' - points out that opportunities of abundance are only available for short periods of time, and you need to be ready to take advantage.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Make mulch while the sun shines

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy and
Principle 6: Produce no waste

Understanding the value of embodied energy, or emergy, is very important in permaculture design. Often value is only considered in $ terms, but when we look at the amount of energy that is used to create a product, and how much energy it holds, we can value it in different ways.

Most people that I have spoken to have told me that I should get the house demolished, or even burn it down! But I see the existing buildings on the site as valuable resources. Lots of energy has gone into cutting the trees, milling the timber and transporting it, via middlemen (women?), to this house site. The timber sequesters carbon which, if burnt, would be released into the atmosphere. I'd rather use what I can of it, even though it takes my time and energy to prepare and store it, and keep the carbon locked up. Also, by reusing existing resources I place less demand on the production and transportation of new resources, and I don't have to pay for them.

When the Red Gum was felled there was a mountain of twigs and branches, along with the larger stuff. Fortunately I have a friend with an 8 horse power shredder who allowed me to borrow it so that I could turn the mountain into a molehill.

Shredding up the branches from the Red Gum that was felled on site

The mission took 2 half days, with 2-3 people and consumed about 5 litres of fuel. The result was as a massive pile of small branches, and a pile of mulch. I was thinking after we finished the job, what would they have done in the 'olden days'? Burnt it, and in fact, that's often what is still done.

The original contractor that I got to quote on the job wanted to take the whole lot to the recycling depot - where they would shred it, and buy a load of mulch from them for the garden (which is apparently quite cheap). I have a few concerns with this; the excessive use of fossil fuels, the added $ cost (I have time, not much $) and I lose some great resources.

When I consider paying for services that I could do myself, I don't just think about the $ cost, but also how much work I would have to do to pay for that service. Say I paid someone to clear up the site for me for $1000. I would have to earn about twice that to pay for it, and use lots of resources in the process. Why? When I earn money I have to pay tax on that income, so I need to earn more. I have to cover the costs associated with earning that money, transport to work, food and drinks, buying stuff because I want to reward myself for doing work I don't enjoy... it all adds up. On top of that, it would take me a lot longer to earn $2000 than do the job. Instead I got a couple of friends to help me and got some exercise in the process (so I don't need to go to the gym). I also get another benefit from working with local friends: it helps build community - I'll make myself available to help them when they need it.

Now I have these resources, that I truly value because I had to work so much to create them, I need to think about the most productive way to utilise them. Some ideas are that the branches could be used to make a funky fence, or perhaps some bush furniture? They could always be used as firewood, but I'll try to find another use for them before it gets burnt. The mulch could be used on the garden (when I get around to making one) or maybe I'll use it in the composting loo? I'd like to retain as much of the Red Gum on site, where it came from.

Job done! Brian (one of my helpers) looking over the cleared site with a pile of branches behind.