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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.