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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Laneway trellis

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal

I wanted to make the most of the laneway that runs down the east side of the property. The laneway is regularly poisoned by the local council with Roundup, so using runoff water from there needs to take that into consideration. Roundup, produced by the company Monsanto, is one of the most commonly used herbicides on the market. It has falsely been claimed as 'safe' by the company, and has never been submitted for testing by the EPA.
Thankfully, the council workers began poisoning the laneway up from my property, as they could see that I was growing plants nearby. Still, I'd prefer if they would mow the laneway instead. I spoke to the workers about maintaining the laneway around my property myself, so to avoid direct contamination. They were fine with that, so long as I kept the grass / weeds down.
Following on from my keeping water out of the cellar post, I want to ensure that water runs away from, and not into the cellar. I experimented with some small earthworks around the cellar that diverted water to a channel in which two kiwis were planted, but found that it was too close and water seeped in through the stairwell wall.

Small channel to divert water away from the cellar to kiwi plants nearby
Growing vines near the cellar will help keep it cool, so I decided to build a trellis / fence along the boundary. A suggestion from my friend Brian was to use reo (reinforcing mesh) for the purpose. It acts as a barrier for unwanted traffic, is much cheaper and easier to build than a fence, gives the feeling of space and provides a great medium for vines to grow up.
Galvanised iron poles were held vertically using clamps before being concreted into the ground. Two sheets of reo mesh (6m x 2.4m high) was screwed straight onto the poles, while a corrugated iron fence was used for the section beyond the workshop.

Clamping the poles so that they remain vertical during the concrete pour
Boysenberries were planted beside the workshop, which may deter intruders, followed by a sultana grapevine, a female and a male kiwi (you need both to produce fruit) and some more Boysenberries at the front of the carport. Planting vines along the laneway gives good access for maintenance and picking, while providing a tasty snack for passers by when in season.
A trench was dug in the laneway along the boundary for the length of the trellis. It acts as a stepped swale, with small walls built along it resulting in a section needing to overflow before the water can continue. This gives any water collected the opportunity to soak in rather than run away. The trench is mounded on the laneway side to prevent any excess or contaminated water entering from the laneway.
After some big rains water again seeped into the cellar. While pumping the water out we tested the stepped swale and found that water was seeping in through gaps in the mortar, helping identify which areas need attention.

Corrugated iron fixed to the north end of the fence, Boysenberries planted along trellis near workshop
Earthworks to divert water away from the cellar entrance
Boysenberries planted in front of the cellar / tankstand, with kiwis and a grape planted along the side
Stepped swale being tested out with water being pumped out of cellar after big rains
Water seeping back into cellar after swales were filled, helping to identify where the problems lie

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sustainable Homes Tour

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

Peter (builder/architect) and Richard Telford (owner builder) talking to the group on the Sustainable House Tour
One of the ideas behind the building of Abdallah House was to share the experience and inspire other people. Earlier in the year I was contacted by Cathy Koning from the Sustainable Communities Program and invited to become part of the Sustainable Home Tour, the first of its kind in the region. Of course I was delighted to be involved.
There were three houses on the tour, Abdallah House in Seymour, a stone cottage in Tallarook Ranges, and a strawbale house in Kilmore. You can see the case study of the tour here.
I was sent this letter in thanks for my participation in the event, with some feedback from the attendees.
I would love to be part of other similar events in the future, and have been thinking about running tours of our own, along with workshops on 'low impact living'... sometime in the future.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Getting the Grant

Principle 3: Obtain a yield
As an owner builder I needed to get an Occupancy Permit from council before I could apply for the First Home Owners Grant. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved in this process, along with a final inspection. Of course, whenever you try to do anything a bit differently than 'the system' is designed for then you run into some interesting challenges. I didn't actually get some of the certificates required, instead I sent them letters confirming that I conformed with the standards. This is how I did it.
Electrical Certificate of Compliance 
supplied by Electrician

Plumbing Certificate of Compliance
supplied by Plumber

Glazing Certificate of Compliance
Letter written by glazier below, he laughed at me when I asked for a certificate, he said none exist.

"This is to certify that the glazing of 1a Abdullah Road Seymour complies with the Australian Standard for Selection and Installation of Glass in Buildings (AS1288). All glasswork carried out by Avenel Glass and Glazing conforms to this Standard."
Certificate or receipt for thermal insulation installation
I supplied a letter with the following information as well as photos and receipts for the purchase of insualtion products. See the label insulation for more info from previous blog entries.

"Insulation installation was installed by the owner and qualified builder above and beyond the current standard.
Reflective foil is fitted to all external walls and ceiling. R2.0 polyester batts are installed in all external and internal walls (so that sections of the house can be closed off and efficiently heated). R5.0 polyester batts (2 layers of R2.5 criss-crossed over each other) are installed in the ceiling.
DOW Styrofoam LB (20mm) insulation was installed around the foundations of the slab and all hot water pipes were lagged."
* I forgot to include that we also fitted underfloor insulation.

House Energy Rating Inspection Compliance Certificate:
I wrote a letter with the following information. See previous blog entry for more info.

"I am writing to confirm that the completed dwelling at 1a Abdallah Road in Seymour complies with all requirements listed in the Energy Assesment report that was submitted to council for building permit number 12254/09 issued 7th of May 2009."
Termite Treatment Certificate
I supplied a letter that Peter (builder) wrote regarding termite managment as well as a notice that I attached to the electrical meter box. See previous blog entry for more info.

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).
Termite Management Requirements (notice posted in meter box)

A termite inspection of all edges, stumps and service connections must be undertaken at least once every six months. Access to under floor is located below this electrical meter box and below the kitchen window on the north side of the house. Inspection of the area under the bathroom can be accessed via the greenhouse at the north east corner of the house. It is recommended that these inspections take place on the Spring and Autumn Equinox each year (21st of March and 23rd of September). 
Alkaline material is acknowledged as a termite deterrent and has been used in the form of a limewash paint (milk and lime) on the brickwork around the slab edge and with wood ash filled into depressions around concrete stumps under the house. This may need to be maintained from time to time.
The wire mesh that runs around the edge of the stumped part of the building prevents biomass accumulating under the building (termite food), and also provides light and ventilation which deter termites.

The final inspection went very well, with only a couple of minor things pointed out for me to address.  The Occupancy Permit was issued to me on the 2nd of September 2010.
Next was to apply for the First Home Owners Grant. See the label grants for previous posts regarding this. My timing for the grant couldn't have been better. I needed to supply certified copies of receipts totaling more than the grant amount, a mission in itself, along with evidence for the laying of foundations. The contract date listed in the table below (reproduced from the SRO website) applies to the date that the foundations were laid. We timed it so that I could apply for the most generous of grants, A$36,500, which was announced not long after the Global Financial Crisis took hold. We received the full amount on 5th October 2010 (what a relief!), most of which will be used to pay off our loan. I'd like to use some to install a header tank stand and perhaps get a solar PV system installed.

Contract Date (1 July 2009 - 30 September 2009)

Conditions First Home Owner Grant (FHOG) New First Home Owner Boost First Home Bonus First Home Owner Regional Bonus Total
Established homes only $7,000 $7,000 $2,000* $0.00 $16,000
Newly constructed homes in Metropolitan Victoria only $7,000 $14,000 $11,000* $0.00 $32,000
Newly constructed homes in Regional Victoria only $7,000 $14,000 $11,000* $4,500* $36,500
*For contracts entered into between 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2010, the value of the property must not exceed $600,000.

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