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.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Northern light

Principle 3: Obtain a yield
Principle 2: Catch and store energy

When I went to check out the second-hand water tank that I was looking to buy I came across a large window on the site.  It was made from Western Red Cedar, a soft timber that is naturally resistant to decay. The panes and doors were in good condion, but the supporting frame was not, as it had been stacked straight on the ground and left out in the weather for years. The glass was single glazed (probably laminated) and it had a double sliding doors. I thought that it might be useful as the northern window and asked a friend what I should offer for it. I offered A$300 and paid A$400. I thought it was a good deal - and it came with two sliding fly screen doors (Principle 3). It would cost about A$5000 or more new.

 Second-hand windows I purchased for A$400

It took four guys to lift the thing and load it onto the tri-axle trailer. When we got it to the site we decided to separate the panels and make up a new frame. It was also much easier to handle and store in smaller sections. We stacked the panes on the concrete slab for several months before using them, helping to take out any twisting that may have occured.
One of the big worries I had about the windows was that they would not comply with the current building regulations. It either needs to be laminated or safety glass. If the glass doesn't comply then I can't get the Certificate of Occupancy that I need for the First Home Owners Grant. My mate Dylan (who is a glazier) had a look for me and noticed that the laminate was starting to come apart in a small section. The only other way to tell whether is was laminated or not is by removing the glass and looking for the join, which would be very difficult as the glass was siliconed in place. Be very careful when buying second-hand windows. Make sure they comply to standards before purchase, don't rely on luck like I did.
I sanded the frames and painted them with Sikkens Cetol HLS. This product was recommended to me by the window maufacturer who made the cedar kitchen window. What I liked about this product was that it has great UV resistence, repels water and can be recoated. On the down side, the chemical data sheet reveals that the product is quite hazardous. A more environmentally friendly solution would be BIO paints which are non toxic. Lesson: research before purchase pays off.

North window pane being sanded

Window panes during staining

One of the hold-ups on getting the framing inspection approval was that the building inspector wanted engineering approval for the framing of the northern window. The large opening on the north required a structural frame that could support the roof, hold the windows / doors in place and look good too. We decided to use locally sourced 190x45mm Mountain Ash timber for the job. The timber was sanded before we contructed the frame, which is much easier to do then when it is assembled.
The engineering drawings specified that we use hoop iron to tie down the roof beam to the window frame. We decided to make up some bolts to do the same job that could be hidden, rather than exposed. The bolts were made up from all-thread which was flattened at one end with holes drilled through it. Holes were drilled through the frame and a recess made for the bolts. The bolts were fixed at the top with nuts / washers and screwed into the frame below. The frame was fixed to the concrete slab using masonry anchors. This passed the framing inspection.
Once the frame was in place it was stained with one coat before the windows were cut to size and installed. The sliding doors were fixed into place temporarily so that the house can be locked up. The sliding mechanism and flyscreen doors will be fitted later.

North window frame under construction using 190x45mm Mountain Ash

Bolts made up from all-thread and flattened at one end

The modified bolts are fixed to the beam above with nuts and washers and screwed into the frame. The frame is fixed to the slab floor using masonry anchors.

Windows cut to size and installed, covering the bolts

With the northern windows now roughed-in the passive solar design becomes much more effective. You can see in the picture above (taken at summer solstice) that the sun does not enter the building during the hottest time of the year. The insulated concrete slab captures and stores (principle 2) the cool temperature of the earth during the summer, and does the opposite in the cooler times of year as the sun heats the slab. One of the reasons that the windows are only single-glazed (not double glazed) is that I have decided to install heavy curtains with pelmets to reduce convection currents from altering the temperature inside. The curtains will have a reflective backing that reflect radiant heat out, and be thick enough to allow the control of light levels inside. This is something that double glazing cannot do.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Plumbed in

Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

The plumbing rough-in happens before the floor goes down (preferably), which is easier and cheaper to do. It starts with the 'waste water' pipes. During the process I got to thinking about how to make best reuse of water before it went down the sewer.

There are three types of reused water that I will have on site. Greywater (laundry and bathroom), dark greywater (kitchen) and blackwater (toilet).
  • Greywater is ideal to use in subsurface irrigation systems, but there is a lot to consider when designing these types of systems. By ensuring that we don't put any nasties into the water in the first place we know that anything that we reuse wont be damaging to the environment, or us. 
  • Kitchen water (dark greywater) is not ideal for sub-surface irrigation as it contains food particles, fats and soaps that can block pipes and clog the soil. This water can be filtered through a wormfarm to produce a rich liquid fertiliser.
  • Blackwater goes directly to the sewer. A composting toilet is a great solution to the 'poo problem', turning 'waste' into a rich fertiliser. I'm interested in exploring this option further. I've often said that "Humanity's greatest contribution to the planet is our shit, we just need to learn how to deal with it." Joseph Jenkins has written a lot about humanure. I got the book recently for my birthday, and am looking forward to finding the time to read it.
I am planning on installing a seven metre high header tank (water tower) into which rainwater collected on site will be pumped, giving me water pressure to gravity feed to the house. This avoids the need for a pressure pump, often used in households. Pressure pumps require electricity to work and often come on every time you turn on the tap. A header tank only needs to to topped up when it is near empty, and can be filled by a varity of methods including; an electric transfer pump, a windmill, bicycle power and direct solar piston pump. All of the water pipes in the house are 19mm (3/4 inch) instead of the standard 12mm (1/2 inch) which will allow for higher water flow.

All of the hot water pipe are insulated, which means less heat loss and less water sent down the sink while you wait for it to heat up. The water will be heated using 3 methods. Solar, wood fired and gas boosted. More about that later...

Laundry greywater pipe (in background) with kitchen dark greywater in foreground running on a separate line. The kitchen pipe runs outside the building so that water can be diverted to a possible future wormfarm, or straight to the sewer.

 Laundry and bathroom greywater run on higher line (middle of photo) than kitchen and (possible future) toilet line (diagonal), keeping greywater separate from dark greywater and blackwater

Greywater diverter (left) that diverts bath and laundry water to either the sewer or a sub-surface irrigation system (not yet installed). All internal water lines run at 19mm (3/4 inch) to allow for better flow rates using a gravity fed system. All hot water pipes are insulated (see left of photo).

19mm (3/4 inch) insulated pipework for woodfired stove wetback. Minimum lift to solar is 1 in 10, so that air pockets don't form in line. Air pockets can cause pressure to build up and vibrations in the line, reducing effectiveness of system.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wetland works

Principle 7: Design from patterns to details

The concept of catching and storing water in the front yard wetland worked well from the start, but it needed some fine tuning. When the rains came back to fill up the depression I could see where high and low points were, so I leveled them out. Having a level area gives the water a greater surface area to soak into the ground. Ideally the water would soak in within 12 hours.

 Wetland tinkering, leveling out and building up / defining edges

Wetland during downpour

Water run-off from laneway entering wetland and overflowing

The water took longer than anticipated to soak into the ground, about a week. I think that it was taking a long time because the soil was in poor condition and compacted. As the life comes back to the soil I would expect quicker water infiltration.

One of the problems when water takes so long to soak in is that mosquitos get a chance to breed. Adult mossies take 5-14 days to emerge (depending on the species & temperature). We had heavy rains, followed by more heavy rains a few days later, which meant that the water didn't get a chance to soak in and the breeding time for mossies increased.

Mossies larvae in stagnant water after nine days, just begining to emerge as adults

Wetland drying out, just in time

Fortunately the water soaked in before the adults emerged. I bought two and a half cubic metres of locally sourced mulch and spread it out over the surface. This gave about a 50-75mm cover, which is enough to prevent water stagnating, and mossies breeding. Logs were added to provide a visual barrier, some shelter for plants and habitat for critters.

I blocked the inlet channel from the laneway with some minor earthworks to give the wetland a chance to dry out a bit. This is easily reversed if I want to bring more water in (and it rains). Extra soil was added to define the edge of the channel and stones used within it to reduce the boggyness.

Wetland mulched to cover / soak up excess water with addition of logs for a barrier, plant shelter and habitat

Inlet channel defined by raising sides and covering base with stone

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

I believe that I have had a pretty good run when it comes to vandalism. The house was empty for about six months before I really started working on the site. During that time the house was broken into once and the place was smashed up a bit. A glass pane broken, some walls and cupboards damaged, a door broken... I reported it to the police and spoke to my neighbours. I also left a note for any unwelcomed guests, suggesting that they find something else to do, and that the property was being watched.

Kitchen cupboard kicked in and wall damaged by vandals in November 2008

I have made an effort to greet people as they walk past, and speak to people who show an interest in what were are doing here. There has been some fantasitc feedback - 99% of it positive. Since I have been on site regularly, and engaging with the locals, nothing has been damaged and nothing stolen.
After the cladding went up I noticed a couple of plums thrown against the wall, but didn't think much of it. Then today I got a call from Chris (from Chris's Timber), whom I bought building materials from, telling me about some vandalism. Anxiously I visited the site to find graffiti plastered across the front of the house. It seems that not everyone likes to see something different.
Fortunately nothing seems to have gone missing, except for a can of spray paint (silly of me to leave it there). Again I reported it to the police, gave them the spray paint lid with fingerprints on it (which may help identify who did it) and spoke to some neighbours. We are not far away from getting the house to lock-up. That's a priority for me now.
In resolving the current problem (graffiti) I found a suggestion on WikiAnswers that I use regular oven cleaner to remove it. Other suggestions include lacquer remover, kerosene and WD40. Interestingly, colorbond is coated with a layer of 'grease/oil' to protect it during transportation - and the surface it is said to be almost impossible to get paint to stick to. Maybe it's not as bad as what I first thought... I'll test it out and see what happens.

Vandalism on south wall, facing street 

Vandalism on west entry wall

8th December 2009 - I managed to clean the whole lot off! Using lacquer remover initially (which was a bit harsh) and later methylated spirits. It took about 2 hours. Looks almost as good as new.
10th December 2009 - The incident made it into the local newspaper.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Creative Cladding

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal

Rather than just use the most simple method to clad the house, that being single sheets, we decided to create some interesting shapes that flow around the building. Recycled battens were used to create a space between the cladding and the reflective foil (as per the roof), and give us a surface to screw to. The line of the curve follows the edges of window and door frames where practical, which was easier to do and also connects the design with the elements that it surrounds.

The window frames were painted before we installed the cladding, so that I didn't need to mask it later on. Just trying to be one step ahead...

Corrugated iron was the material of choice here because of its durability and low maintenance requirements. By running the iron vertically we could work the design on a more horizontal plane, while reducing the need of ongoing maintenance to clean dust from the surface. Using brand-new corrugated iron was not neccessary, I would have preferred to use all second-hand materials, but new material is easier to work with and is more appropriate in a suburban setting.

We started at the bottom with the blue flashing which gave us a level surface line up the corrugated iron. The colorbond iron scratches easily, so you have to be very careful when working with it. We used second-hand green colorbond iron off-cuts for the highlights and galvanised iron for the top panels (which ties in nicely with the eaves). A nibbler was used to cut the shapes in the iron, with tin snips used for finer work.

Matching up the corrugations is challenging, screwing every lap helps make it look tidy - and gives it an industrial look that seems to suit. Pop rivets (sometimes coloured) are used to fix difficult joins and laps. Rockwool insulation was stuffed into the gaps where the walls connect to the roof to prevent fire embers and dust from getting into the roof cavity.

The finish is not perfect, but it looks good from a distance. The design certainly turns a few heads, and I've had nothing but positive comments so far from the locals. I think that people like to see something different happening, someone giving it a go.

Battens installed over reflective foil in preparation for cladding

Corrugated iron being installed

Cladding on west wall (not quite finished). 23000lt tank to right.

Cladding on west wall

Cladding detail of base flashing

Stuffing rockwool into corrugations where wall meets roof for fire prevention

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cellar / Tank Stand / Cool Cupboard

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy
The construction of the cellar has been a long process, and is one of the stand out features of the building. There have been lots of enquiries as to what its purpose is from passers-by.

After the slab was poured for the roof of the cellar we began working on a stairway made from bricks. A wall on either side of the stairs was built up first, which was then filled in with a compacted sand base and mortar to lay each step. The steps were built inside the walls to prevent the walls being pushed inward. Reinforced concrete was then poured into the gap between the outer brick wall and the earth for added support.

Quentin levels ground before beginning construction of the stairway to the cellar

Quentin works on the stairs for the cellar

Construction of stairs using bricks on a compacted sand and mortar base

Cellar stairs under construction as viewed from inside

Brick stairway for cellar with reinforced concrete poured for added support one on either side of the brickwork

The potential exists for the cellar to be used as a fire bunker / shelter if it was needed, but there are a number of important dangers to consider.
  • Fire needs oxygen to breathe, if the cellar is not properly sealed then the fire could enter the space and burn up the oxygen.
  • Having the cellar set below ground level is good in many ways, it also presents some problems. While generally smoke rises, gas sinks. Since there is mains gas nearby, a broken line may fill the space with gas and cause loss of consciousness or even death - that's if it doesn't explode first.
  • The cellar exit could become blocked if the house burns down, trapping the occupants.
Seven people died in bunkers during the nearby Black Saturday Fires earlier in the year.

While the stairwell was under construction I got a corrugated galvanised water tank made up by local manufacturer, 'Rural Tanks' in Seymour. While the base was a standard size (2m) I wanted to get the tank made to a certain height which was not standard. I also didn't want an outlet installed in the normal postion as the inlet for the tank enters below the normal overflow level. This was no problem for Dave, who charged standard rates for the job.

My plumber, Savva, suggested running the water out the side of the gutter (unusual!) and along the property boundary into the side of the tank to ensure that we could collect as much rainwater as possible. I found some galvanised piping that we set in concrete that will support the pipe and a future fence.

The two water tanks that I now have, a 23,000lt (5000 gal) one and the new 8000lt one can be equalized (same water level in both tanks) using a 40mm pipe that links them. The tanks can also be run independently. By having two separate tanks you can be sure that you always have water available even if one tank becomes contaminated or fails in some way. As per the larger tank this one sits on top of a corrugated iron base which allows for airflow and drainage, prolonging the life of the tank.
Having the 8000lt tank raised allows for gravity feed, avoiding the need for pumping. Water is collected from the roof, stored in the tank and can be used directly for irrigation using 19mm (3/4 inch) hoses. Using thicker than normal (12mm / 1/2 inch) hoses means less restriction and greater flow rates which is important for gravity feed systems.

Water tank installed on top of cellar

Downpipe running out the side of the gutter to the water tank

Outlet from cellar tank showing stadard (1/2 inch) tap connection, this will later become a 3/4 inch hose conection for irrigation. The small ball valve to the right of it allows the line to be cut off for repairs to the tap. A large ball valve (1 1/2 inch), which is currently switched off, connects the 8000lt tank to the 23,000lt tank - equalizing them. Having a large ball valve means that there is no restriction in the 40mm line, allowing for good flow rates using gravity feed.

One of the problems that I have come across has been excessive water entering the cellar. Not surprising really since it has been in construction during winter. The main reason why water has been entering the cellar has not been because of water running in from above but because of water coming up from below. A hole was put in the bottom of the sump bucket (thinking it would let water to drain out) which allows water in when the water table rises, but doesn't allow it back out - as there is not enough pressure. It is hoped that by sealing the hole (in drier times) that water will not seep up into the cellar. A small bilge pump will be installed to pump out any excess water in the future.

Cellar flooding caused by a hole in the sump (I think) which allows water in when the water table rises. I plan to address this by sealing the sump and installing a sump pump

The air duct from the cellar runs through to the kitchen. We made a metal box up that links the cool tube to the base of the future cool cupboard. While working on the box during a 39 degree day the space was notably cooler, as air was blown throught the tube. The cupboard will later be sealed and have a vent above it that will help draw cool air from within the cellar. Foods will be stored in wire drawers that allow the cool air to flow around them, allowing us to catch the cool air from the earth and store it in the mass of the food in the cupboard, helping preserve it. It will also reduce reliance on and reduce the size of the fridge required.

Cool cupboard connection to house being made using salvaged galvanised sheet metal

Cool cupboard vent under floor insulation before the installation of floorboards

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Termite deterrents

Principle 6: Produce no waste
As discussed in an earlier post, I consider termites to be the greatest threat to the house. I've done further investigation and applied some of my discoveries. I'm not sure how this will proceed through council, but Peter (the architect / builder) sent this letter to council to help address their concerns:

Termite Management
-->Richard Telford chooses NOT to have chemicals in/around his home.
Chemicals for termite prevention remain questionable to health safety, and are not permanent. They require intermittent further applications, and this creates problems.
The Termite Management approach for this house is a visual inspection and physical barrier regime, as provided for in the BCA Part - Acceptable Construction Practice. A clear and permanent NOTICE identifying the termite risk and management requirement is to be placed on the completed building. This location is TBA (Building Inspector may advise).
The Termite Management System includes
  1. Concrete slab-on-ground- poured with aid of a vibrator to form a clear and unbroken edge of 75mm minimum (;
  2. Suspended floors- termite shielding. All stumps fitted with a durable galvanised steel Ant Cap and all timbers 400mm clearance from the ground and good natural ventilation is provided (;
  3. Primary Building Elements of timber are either reclaimed hardwood (termites are not readily attracted to old hardwood unless in direct contact with moist ground) OR T2 treated pine. (3.1.3)
  4. A regular inspection (of 6 month intervals) of all edges and stumps and plumbing intrusions is to be undertaken. The sub-floor access provides for this (area is clean and accessible).
  5. Further, the application of alkaline material to timber and areas most susceptible to attack is acknowledged in practice as a termite deterrent, and this approach is being adopted on this house (especially around the junction of the two floor systems).

With the understanding that termite like certain conditions for habitation, as well as cellulose for food, I have attempted to deter them by not inviting them in or readily feeding them.
The raised slab is the most vulnerable access point in the building. In order to create a clean, clear observation space around the perimeter I filled in all small gaps using motar and silicon and painted the face with a lime/milk wash. A channel was dug around the slab, where it joins the timber floor on stumps; it was filled with wood ash. Both lime and wood ash are alkaline, which termites seem not to like.
I decided to avoid the use of chemical treatments for a number of reasons:
  • health risks; contamination of soil to grow food, and direct contact during inspections
  • it's not long lasting, needs continual treatment
  • it's very expensive
  • gives a 5 year (or so) window in which regular maintenance (which still needs to be done) may be avoided, and may be forgotten until it's too late.
Careful semi-annual inspections are needed to ensure that if subterranean termites enter the building, they will be detected before serious damage is done. Appropriate measures would need to be taken - which could mean chemical baiting. Time to call in the professionals?

Mortar mix of 9 parts sand, 3 parts lime and 2 parts cement, used to fill gaps in brickwork. Silicon used to fill smaller gaps between slab insulation and cement sheet / brickwork.

3 coats of limewash (4 parts lime, 3 parts milk) painted over filled gaps in the 75mm inspection zone and slab insulation. The white surface reflects light (termites like dark spaces), seals the surface (termites like moist environments) and will clearly show up any mud tunnels built over it. I have also applied wood ash in a trench around the base of the slab to stump connection as an added deterrent.

Around the part of the house on stumps I have installed 6mm wire mesh, buried 50-75mm into the ground, along with wood ash around the base of the stumps. From a termite perspective this is a good deterrent because it creates a well ventilated, dry environment that is well lit and with alkaline conditions around major access points. While termites could theoretically climb the wire to access the house, I consider this unlikely - they would make themselves vulnerable to attack and don't like those conditions.
An added benefit the mesh is that it is strong enough to deter rodents, snakes and other animals from creating homes under the house, while also stopping leaf material and debris from collecting there (termite food). The 6mm mesh will not prevent small fire embers from passing through (3mm needed), but as there will be no easily combustible material under the house, an underfloor fire is not considered a major threat.
Some negatives using mesh include:
  • creating more access points around the building for insects
  • reduces the effectiveness of the underfloor insulation
  • it will eventually need to be replaced as it corrodes over time
Applying wood ash to the stumps around the perimeter of the building before installing the 6mm mesh. Apparently termites don't like alkaline environments, it is hoped that this application will deter them.

6mm mesh installed and about to be buried 50-75mm underground around the stumped perimeter of the stumped part of the house. The mesh will allow light and airflow in and prevent debris blowing underneath the house. It will deter termites, rodents and snakes as well as reduce fire risk.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Making the most of the situation...

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

Our society wastes so much. I'd written about an opportunity that I'd missed out on in December last year when a house was being demolished and I couldn't get access to the site. Houses get demolished quite regularly in our society and most of the material gets smashed up and sent to landfill. It seems that it's 'uneconomic' to deconstruct and reuse materials, but I proved that wrong in the deconstruction of the original building on site - it works on a small scale. Going through all of the red tape to access the site is another matter entirely.

Before I decided to buy the house in Seymour I was involved with a group of people interested in collectively buying the "Town and Country Hotel" which was erected in 1865 as the "Canadian Hotel". The original verandah was removed and replaced in 1939, giving it an art deco feel. It backs onto the gorgeous Goulburn River, with its magestic Red Gums and walking track. We were interested in transforming it into a community / local food / restaurant type venture.

Town & Country in Seymour, December 2005

We managed to make it to the auction, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) it sold for more than we were prepared to pay for it at the time. It was purchases by a local entrepreneur who demolished it with the intention of building a new venue. This never happened, presumably because of planning issues and the fact that it's on a flood overlay. The site has since become a rural supply store.

Town and Country Hotel demolished, February 2007

While missing out on the opportunity to transform this amazing building into a great venue was disappointing, the tragedy is that the historic hotel was smashed up, and all of the material wasted. The same thing happened when the magnificent old priests' house, across the road, was smashed up to make way for a McDonalds junk food pen. The town exhibits little in the way of heritage conservation and enhancement - typical of many rural areas.

When I heard about the fate of the old doctors' residence, the grandest house in the most charming plane tree-lined street, my ears pricked up. My friend / builder / architect, Peter Lockyer, objected in the strongest terms to council about proposed demolition and replacement with a chain supermarket (Aldi). He writes:
"Tallarook Street has the charm for a sustainable future grown on a cafe and tourist focus. The Plane trees are a big part, and the scale and character of its buildings is notable. Domestic scale, shopfronts, footpath interest. This is the street (with perhaps Emily Street) that presents the big opportunity for restoring visitor attractiveness to our town. This benefits us economically, and to our own amenity in eating out. A couple of businesses have identified this opportunity. The role of Council in strategic planning is to identify and support the growth of this opportunity.

Few streets or precincts have such heritage merit as Tallarook Street. This is a street undeserving to losing its grandest house, and the neighbouring cottage, and replaced with an ugly carpark and windowless arse-end retail building. This is a pedestrian area first and foremost. This is no place for an ALDI- a car-orientated business that could operate anywhere else.

Tallarook Street is THE link between the old and the new town centres. It is also the link to an attractive and thriving future for visitors and businesses in the passive recreation/entertainment genre. It is a special street demanding some careful consideration."
With regards to the loss of historical buildings the response from council was as follows:
"Although the buildings may have local historical value they are not protected by the Planning Scheme.

The applicant has agreed to the erection of a ‘historical significance plaque’ being erected on site to describe the buildings that used to occupy the site. This has been required as a condition of permit. Subject to such a condition, it is considered that this concern has been addressed."
A token gesture if ever I saw one.

Instead of waiting to see another landmark building get trashed, some friends were keen to capture some of what was to go to waste. The rights to the deconstruction were sold to an out of towner who picked the 'eyes' out of it. Getting permission for the remaining materials was challenging to say the least, very murky water indeed. Access to the site was limited to a day and a half, and only a small proportion of what was worthy of removing was taken off site. Much of the materials used in the building are no longer available, now extinct. Many locals were keen to get a piece of the action too...

Old doctors house being deconstructed, before demolition

Notice the stumps in the house were actually whole (and part) of logs, fixed directly into the ground, with no ant caps. The building is probably 150 years old, in a termite prone area, with no signs of termite attack - go figure.

Houses like these used to be deconstructed, providing employment and resources for the local community. Now, apparently, it's uneconomic. My friend was telling me that if he had his way, he would start at the top and deconstruct the entire building, leaving a small pile of rubble behind (mainly mortar and plaster) - even taking the stumps for firewood. That is unlikely to happen, legal mumbo jumbo and liability issues bury intelligent resource use and sustainability issues. I'd say some big machines will smash it all up so we will have to make new stuff to replace it - consuming more resources and producing more waste. Very frustrating indeed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting floored

Principle 2: Catch and store energy
Principle 3: Obtain a yeild

Baltic pine floorboards recovered from the original building were put aside for use in the two bedrooms. Baltic pine is quite soft, and damages easily, making it inappropriate for high traffic areas. I figured that I would have enough boards for both bedrooms as the boards covered two rooms about the same size and the original kitchen (now a study / 3rd bedroom). It turned out that it was a very close call with all useable boards used.

For the remainding rooms in the building we decided on recycled hardwood floorboards. The timber is a lot more durable, easier to work with and fairly cheap (at around $3.10 per lineal metre when bought in bulk). Being narrower though, 105mm instread of 150mm, they can take quite a while to install. Each room took about 16-20 hours to install (including insulation).

I planned to have insulation under the floor because of heat losses in winter of 10-20%, as well as heat gains in summer. The options that I considered for underfloor insulation were:
  • sawdust (using masonite under the joists to hold it in place) - this technique was used in old homes, but only generally in ceilings. Problems with it include a fire risk (it can spontaneously combust), and if it gets wet it can attract insects. Also installing masonite would be difficult.
  • raw wool straight from the sheep (using masonite under the joists) - being sheep country, cheap daggy wool is probably available locally. Benefits include: it is grown locally, is biodegradable, does not irritate and naturally flame retardant. Unfortunately it needs to be sprayed thoroughly with borax (which has a low toxicity) to avoid it becoming a breeding ground for moths, washed as it exudes grease and sheep sweat which can make your house very smelly and it needs to be enclosed in a cavity. Another thing to consider is that the sheep may have been treated with chemicals (dipping).
  • pure wool batts (using masonite under the joists to hold it in place) - a good alternative, but are expensive. Local R2 batts are $A13.50 per m2 and not available until for six months - because of the Home Insulation Program that the federal government is offering.
  • rockwool - 'optimo' a new underfloor product which wasn't available at the time. I also have concerns about the amount of energy used to produce it (it's molten rock spun like candy floss), and the safety concerns as it can be inhaled (similar to fibreglass and asbestos).
  • 'foilboard' - a ridgid product that could be difficult to install as joists are second-hand and not all evenly spaced.
  • polyester batts (using masonite under the joists to hold it in place). Considered birdwire, but thought that it would become a breeding ground and nesting material for rats / mice. Lcally available, low toxicity, long life (50 years plus), low off-gassing and cheaper than wool batts at $A5.60 m2 for R2. It's a non-renewable resource (made as a by-product from crude oil processing), but highly recycleable.
  • cellulose insulation (using masonite under the joists to hold it in place) - lowest embodied energy of the mainstream optioons, uses the most recycled content, often needs experienced installers to get the material fitted correctly. Not aware of any local installers.
  • permifloor 500 - a double sided reflective foil with a thin layer of foam in between with small holes throughout allowing it to breathe. Unlikely that rodents would breed if they got in as there is no nesting material. Become less effective if dust accumulates.
  • Rice Hulls - while researching this blog I found some interesting information about using rice hulls as insulation (download pdf here). It appears to be very cheap, with some great qualities (for more info see "The Rice Hull House" article). It's insect resistant and virtually fire proof (see report). It has an R3 value per 25mm according to this report.
The idea of creating a base for the insulation to sit on did not appeal. Working on my back under the floor to nail on sheets and having to cut them all to the correct size would be a real pain - which rules out most of the options available. I chose the permifloor because it looked easy to install, was available locally, effective and was recommended to me. While it's probably not recyclable, and probably has high embodied energy, it's very durable and could possibly be reused. There is a need to ensure that all of the underfloor is enclosed, as the accumulation of dust reduces it's effectiveness, as does air gaps.

Bedroom one and two being prepared for floor installation

Permifloor 500 floor insultation installed easily using a staple gun

Using floor clamps to compress boards together before nailing

Hardwood floor boards being transported from Heathcote via the Tooborac Pub & Brewery

Flooring completed of the study using recycled hardwood (foreground) and two bedrooms using baltic pine from the original house.

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