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, January 30, 2009

Making plans

Principle 7: Design from patterns to details


You can see the evolution from Peter's original drawing (above) to the more detailed plan below. We have now included a bathroom in the house (rather than use the existing external building), a greenhouse to the north of the bathroom, a carport to the east and shifted the extension to the west. All of these changes will add to the final cost of the project.




The water tank to the right of the plan will sit above a cellar, made from the bricks that I have collected. The tank will assist in the cooling of the cellar by providing cool thermal mass from above. The cellar will sit 1.5m into the ground and .5m above the ground, giving the tank a small head for gravity fed watering. Inside the cellar will be an inlet for the cool cupboard. An underground pipe will run from the cellar to a cupboard in the kitchen, drawing cool air from the cellar through the cupboard. This will reduce the need for a large fridge and cut down on energy bills.

The bathroom will have a solar hot water system situated directly over it, so that less piping is needed and heat loss is reduced to a minimum. The pitch of the roof over the bathroom and greenhouse is at 30 degrees, so that the solar panels can mount directly onto the roof without the need for a mounting frame.


The house will be raised 800mm above the ground (a requirement because of the risk of flooding), giving a good amount of head for the reuse of greywater. I have been investigating a DIY system whereby all the greywater is fed into a worm farm, then a reed bed, and later a pond in order to clean and store it for reuse. The worm farm may sit under the bathroom or to the east of it. While a toilet already exists in the existing building, I would like to include a composting toilet in the new bathroom in the future. Because the building is raised off the ground this should be quite easy to install.

A treatment system that looks very interesting (if I had the money) is Biolytix, which uses living organisims to break down 'waste'. It can convert all black and greywater into nutrient rich water that can be re-used for irrigating plants. I think that it would be great to sit a toilet seat straight over the inlet.

The greenhouse, to the north of the bathroom will help to regulate the temperature of the building, with window / vents that can be opened and closed as needed. It will also provide an interesting view from the bathroom and a microclimate for growing plants outside their normal season / environment.




When I lay the site analysis over the plan (which illustrate some of the patterns of nature) you will notice that the direction of the cool winds 'funnel' into the entranceway. This will be used to help ventilate the house during hot weather, and will be addressed in the cold weather by having a lower ceiling in the entranceway, matching the low roof of the carport (not on current drawings). There is also a large pear tree that will offer some protection from those winds.

The house does make the most of the winter sun with windows on the north allowing in the sunlight, heating the insulated concrete slab in the living area. Eaves will prevent the sun shining into the house during mid summer, and the slab will draw coolness from the earth below. The deciduous apple and elm(?) trees to the north of the living area will be retained, offering summer shade and the light to penetrate in winter. A cherry plum will be retained to the east of the bathroom for aesthetic reasons (it was the home of the nest with the eggs).

The 'primary noise sector' is buffered by the living area, in which windows will be double glazed. Hot summer winds will be deflected somewhat by the fence and 2.7m high brick wall of the neighbouring block on the northern boundary.

The view of the creek will be taken advantage of by the small sitting area at the entrance and the windows from the two main bedrooms, but the house is not really making the most of this asset in this design, as the living area faces the north.

While it is important to keep costs down in the building of the house, I'm also thinking about the running costs of the house. I want to create a space that makes the most of the natural elements that surround it, embracing them. This house will become a living, breathing entity.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

A chip off the old block

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

I remember when my dad used to work on building sites with my uncle when I was very young, I remember walking around half finished buildings and thinking of how fun it was to walk through walls. An so it is, all these years later that it's me working up a sweat. I brought my 16 month old son over to help me sort bricks, but he didn't last long. This job is best done alone, like a meditiation.

David Holmgren said of the principle 'obtain a yeild' that it's difficult to know if the reward from a job is worth the effort, sometimes you need to do the sums to find out. So I've been doing some sums.

I'd usually only spend an hour and a half or so at a time working on the bricks. It's been very hot here recently, 30 - 40 degrees, so I've been working in the mornings or late afternoons. I got into the swing of things and worked out a bit of a system - pulling a stack of bricks out of the rubble, then chip the mortar away with the hammer and stack them into piles of 20. I timed my work one day and cleaned 220 brick in 96 minutes. That's about 2.3 bricks per minute and at 57 cents per brick, that's nearly $80 per hour (tax free).

Over 12 days I cleaned 1600 bricks, which took about 12 hours. About $900 worth. I also did 5 trips into town to deliver them (sometimes to do other things as well), each taking 90 minutes one way. So all up I spent about 20 hours to get the second-hand bricks cleaned and delivered to the building project in town.


Using a hammer, protective eye-wear and gloves I cleaned 1600 bricks in about 12 hours over 2 weeks


I could load up about 370 bricks at a time, in the trailer and the back of the ute (pick-up).


I took me about 90 minutes to load, deliver and unload 370 bricks.
In this pile there are about 1600 which I did in five loads.

Unfortunately for me, my neighbour's house finally sold, and so I no longer have access to the pile until we find out if it's okay with the new owners. It reminds me of that proverb again "make hay while the sun shines". I'm glad that I did get stuck into it while I had the chance. I should have enough to build the things I had in mind, but I would like to get some more if they become available.



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Creating opportunities

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

At an end of year catch-up with our surrounding neighbours I shared the story of my renovation project. I mentioned that I noticed that my neighbour had a large pile of second hand bricks, and asked what the story was with them. He told me that they came from the nearby Puckapunyal Army base, a demolition job. He had saved them from going to landfill and had used them for landscaping around his house. He asked me if I wanted any for my project - "Sure".

He had offered bricks to another neighbour who was there and we chatted about how best to clean them up so that they can be re-used. One neighbour preferred using a hammer and old chisel, the other a hammer drill with a flat bit attached. Apparently, these bricks are pretty easy to clean because "it was a government job, they didn't used much cement in the mortar". This is important, because if there is a lot of cement in the mortar it sticks like glue and is very hard to get off, limiting their usefulness.

I went next door to have a closer look at the pile of bricks that I had previously not taken much notice of. It is huge. About 1.5 metres high and about 20 metres long. What a resource!

I was contacted by a fella called Quentin soon after who is interested in building his own place. He was keen to see what I am up to and offered to help me out for a couple of days. Great timing! We cleaned up 180 bricks using just hammers, stacked them in the trailer and unloaded at the house site. It took about three hours from start to finish. Not a bad yield. I think that I could get quicker with practice...

Salvaging bricks from a pile of rubble

I discovered that you can buy clean second-hand bricks on eBay for as little as 57 cents each, plus delivery. That's pretty cheap when you consider the work involved, but you still have to earn the money to pay for it and consider the energy used to transport the materials from 100 km away. While I have this resource next door it makes more sense to obtain a yield from that. I can clean them when I have time, and take them in when I need to go to town.

I’m thinking that I’ll use the bricks to create a tank stand-cum-cellar-cum-cool-cupboard inlet... more on that later.

On our return to the house site Quentin and I cleaned up the smaller branches left over from the fallen Red Gum, sorting them into piles for use later on, while discussing ideas for how they could be used. Ideas for fencing evolved, bush furniture concepts... with the leftover used as firewood. It's important to think about the placement of resources, because you don't want to move them more that than is absolutely necessary. We mulched branches from the Red Gum and wild cherry plums to create spaces to store the timber, thinking about locations where they may be used, and where they wouldn't get in the way of future work.

Small branches stacked where they wont need to be moved until a use is found for them

A large pile of mulch obtained from the Red Gum and fruit tree prunnings.

Quentin with the pile of 'the least useful' branches in the background, which will probably be cut up for firewood.

The clearing up of the site is all in preparation for the next big step in the project, the milling of the Red Gum.

I also got Quentin to give me a hand to remove the lining from the end room. Surprisingly, I have not found any insulation in the house at all, except for a layer of card above the ceiling. Temperature control would have been via the two air-conditioners on the left hand wall and I suspect there would have been a number of heaters. Very energy intensive and expensive. Air gaps throughout would have made the place pretty breazy too.

There wasn't much building material worth salvaging, but we did get some timbers that may be useful in the deconstruction process. I de-nailed these and stacked them for use later on.

The guttered interior



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