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, July 26, 2009

Pipe dreams

Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

There's nothing quite like an earth moving machine to find a pipe - especially when you don't want it to...

It seems to me that the bigger machine you use, the easier it is to stuff something up, badly. Not that I stuffed anything up too badly, but it's real easy to. We dug through the original sewer line (just nicking it) when we were excavating for the cellar. I assumed that the toilet line would run to the sewer line along the laneway, the closest connection point, but I was wrong. I contacted the water authority and got a copy of the original sewer plan. I really should have done that before we began digging.

Original Sewer Plan, installed in June 1967. The house was built in the early 50's, I assume that the sewage was collected from the laneway (ROW) by truck or horse and cart before the plumbing was installed.

I decided to replace the existing sewer line after consulting with my plumber. The old terracotta pipes are prone to root invasion and need to be cleaned regularly. Modern PVC pipes are completley sealed, so there should be no leaks or blockages from roots. We needed to connect into the sewer line at the same point as the original one, so I used this plan to help find it. It was very accurate, 38 feet 6 inches from the corner boundary, 3 foot 6 inches down.

On reflection I think that we should have repaired, cleaned, extended and connected into the exisiting line - as I want to try and use all greywater and compost all manure on site. This would make the sewer line obsolete. However, having the new sewer line in place gives more options with less maintenance - at a greater cost.

Dave digging the new sewer line

To be safe, I marked the new line to be one metre from where the stumps were to be dug. I used a laser level to ensure that Dave was digging to the right depth. We needed a 100mm fall every 6 metres.

We managed to dig up the new electricity lines that I put in for the cellar and shed, so I used tiles over the replacement cables to reduce the chance of digging them up again

Savva, the plumber, pressure tests the new sewer line - to ensure there are no leaks

I got Tony, the local 'Kanga' operator to help with some more delicate earth moving. He used three different attachments: the three-way bucket for filling in the trench and cleaning up the site; the trencher for creating a trench for the water tank line; and the 350mm auger for digging post holes. All in less than two and a half hours. A great small, and not so slow solution to earthmoving in confined spaces.

Half an hour on the Kanga saved many hours with a shovel

Making light work of a 20m long trench, which will connect the two water tanks

39 post holes - with one of them finding the cool cupboard pipe, damn! Can't lose concentration for a second when directing machines - no matter how big they are

Quent fixing up the cool cupboard pipe after the 350mm auger went straight through the middle of it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Collecting and using local resources

Principle 5: Use and value natural resources and services

There are two parts to this principle: the using and the valuing. It's important that we address both. For instance, we can value rain, but unless we use it, we'll need to rely on more energy intensive methods to have access to water. Conversely, if we use water without valuing it, we will one day run out and wonder where it all went.

I heard about a second-hand water tank that was for sale that suited my needs. It was manufactured in Seymour, but needed to be picked up from Broadford, about 20km away. Fortunately for me, my mate Brian has had some experience moving such things and has some great knot tying skills; he gave me a hand. Soon we will be able to collect rainwater (after we build a roof to collect it) to use on site.

The 23,000lt galvanised water tank loaded and ready to go

We unloaded and rolled the tank into position. On top of the stone covered pad, we laid a corrugated iron base for the tank to sit on, which will help extend its lifespan

The tank was then filled with 5cm of water so that it doesn't blow away in strong winds.

I've been collecting all manner of natural resources on site. Piles are growing, moving and being used. Here are a few of the things that I've been collecting:

Red Gum slabs (milled at the house site), stacked for air drying

Red Gum boards (milled at the house site), stacked for air drying

Red Gum branches, for posts, poles and firewood

Red Gum, plum and pear branches for poles, screening and firewood

Red Gum mulch for building top soil, reducing evaporation and paths

Red Gum sawdust for composting

Top soil for garden beds

Sub soil for landscaping

Tiles from deconstruction (not exactly a natural resource, but a resource all the same) - still trying to figure out a good re-use for these

Also sourced on site, concrete path sections which may later become a permeable driveway

Packing sand, mined from the nearby river

A couple of wheely bins sourced from the creek across the road - to be used for composting

and second-hand bricks, sourced locally

Friday, July 10, 2009


Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

You've got to use energy to store energy, and the slab making process has taken quite a bit of energy to produce. While a lot of the materials were sourced locally (sand, aggregate and second-hand bricks), some materials like the cement, reinforcing steel and plastic are quite energy hungry to produce and travel great distances. By using these effectively, one can justify the use of such energy intensive materials. The slab will be used to catch and store energy, hopefully much more than was used to create it.

A concrete floor can be pretty unattractive on its own. Investigating flooring options is a real eye opener; it's pretty expensive whatever you choose. For the slab to be most effective in its passive solar job of storing the sun's energy, it's best to leave it exposed, rather than cover it. I decided to look into getting the slab ground back, liking the natural patterns in polished stone, but got put off by the cost of a professional job. After asking some questions about what is involved, I decided to hire a grinder and give it a go myself.

Immediately after the pour, Quent and Scott scatter small aggregate over the wet slab.

By grinding back the top layer, the aggregate (both the small and the larger in the concrete) gets exposed, adding a whole new dimension to the floor. The slab will be polished when construction is complete, and then sealed.

I ran over the slab 8 times with the concrete grinder, taking a little layer off each time. A messy job, but not as noisy as I expected

My Mum helped out, wetting the slab down and sweeping the slurry off (see previous picture also). The process uses a substantial amount of water - unless you want to use an industrial vacuum and work with dust.

The top part of the picture has the aggregate (river stone) exposed. Quite a nice effect.

Hire of the machine was $200 per day; the grinding took about 6 hours to complete.

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