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, 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.

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