R #1

It does not take much to become “world famous in New Zealand,” and even less in Wanganui. We love Wanganui because it is a city of 45,000 but feels like a small town because everyone (nearly) is so friendly and everyone (nearly) reads the Chronicle.

After one short article (Couple hopes green renovation inspires), we could not enter a shop or get on the bus without someone saying, “I saw you in the paper. Good on ya!” But that was three weeks ago and our quarter hour of fame has faded…or so I thought. As the last of the stainless steel fibre cement nails were driven into the Hardy plank yesterday afternoon, I rushed into Mitre 10 Mega on my way to the police auction and annual holiday spot prize giving at Haywards Auctions. I hardly had time to gag at the price ($30 for 500 grams) when a voice rang out behind me. “I read about you in the paper. I see you in here all the time.”

Following a brief interchange, he said, “You must be a real greenie.”

I took a deep breath and replied, “Actually, I’m an economist.”

Brief silence.

“Look, oil is at 90 dollars a barrel and petrol is pushing 2 dollars a litre. Being green is only going to save you money in the long run. Everything we are doing in our house is to save money in the long run. And as energy prices go higher and higher, we’ll save more and more.”

“Yeah, I know,” he shrugs. “I drive a V8 supercharged.”

Brief silence.

“Thanks bro, I gotta go.”

The point of this story is to introduce the first of our Rs: Reduce. It is hard to explain this concept in the context of Western consumer society. It is like explaining the desert to a whale or the ocean to a cactus. It is like the negative image of a photograph.

Additionally, reduction is not really something you do so much as something you don’t do. You don’t…waste. You don’t waste anything: time, money, energy, materials, water, etc.

By designing efficient systems, buying second-hand goods, investing in energy efficiency, and embracing creative reuse, we have reduced: our construction costs, our carbon footprint, our power bills, our waste disposal bills, and our grocery bills. With those savings we can reduce the time we work for money and increase the time we surf!

Peace, Estwing

Oh Willow Tree

Did you know that willows can be coppiced? Did you also know that when placed in water or damp soil, a willow will resprout roots? We like to use the spanish term for this “pega-pega” (“stick-stick”), mostly because its fun to say.

Anyhow, my desire for a christmas tree this year led me to do a bit of experimenting with coppicing and pega-pega on the willow tree growing in the back corner of our yard. Of course you can’t cut down a tree without a lumber-jacket on (I think I just invented a new word), even if it is 20 degrees Celsius.
I headed out bravely into what more closely resembles a junk yard than a wilderness. And after quick rendevous with a particularly overgrown willow branch…

I emerged triumphant. I allowed my trophy husband to pose with me and our harvested tree, because I think he’s cute. I was feeling all merry, and humming christmas carols. Its a bit hard to get into the Christmas spirit when its hot and muggy out, but we were trying our best.

Earlier that day I had made some bundles of lavender harvested from the bush outside our front door.

I added these to a garland and angel I bought at Trade Aid and the bride and groom cake toppers my sister made us for our wedding.

Then we set the willow branch in a bucket of sand, and lacking placement options in our home-in-progress, decided to set it in a wheel barrow, for easy transport. Then, while belting out that song from “Love Actually” and listening to that rock and roll Christmas CD we used to listen to growing up. (You know, the one with Sting and Cyndi Lauper singing Christmas Carols). We decorated that bad boy.
And look! It’s already filling up with presents.
As the kids at my day camp say… “Only 2 sleeps ’till Santa”.

-June Cleverer

The 3 R’s

In the midst of the holiday shopping rush – often called ‘Silly Season’ here in NZ – we have taken a non-traditional approach to…just about everything.

While others fill their yard with festive light displays, we…

While others buy artificial Christmas trees at the Warehouse, we…

While others carefully wraps presents in gift wrap, we…

It seems that in the week leading up to the biggest consumer orgy of the year that I introduce our next three design principles: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. As you may be aware, the order of this trio is as important as the meaning of each one.

With regards to waste management, we want to first reduce the size of the waste stream, then reuse as much of that waste as possible, and finally recycle whatever is left over that we absolutely cannot use on site. We have already diverted over 90% of the waste stream of this project in this way.

My next posts will cover specific strategies for reduction and examples of creative reuse.

Peace, Estwing

Foux Da Fa Fa- Les Portes

It is always disconcerting when someone cuts a hole in the side of your house, even if (especially if?) that someone is your husband.

As I mentioned in my last post, clearing the toilet out of the dining room allowed us to move along with the next step of the project, installing new double french doors that open to the back yard.






Sweet! We are really starting to get a sense of what the final product will look like. It is amazing how much more light is coming into the house and how much bigger the space feels. These doors are a major component of the passive solar design of the renovation. Maybe now would be a good time to give an overview of the whole plan. Stay tuned for that. Breakfast is calling my name.

By the way, I am disappointed in the lack of cultural pride these French doors are displaying. They have yet to provide us with a beret, baguette, or even soup du jour.

– June Cleverer

Waste Removal

There once was a toilet. She was a nice toilet. She was a functional toilet with one major problem. She lived in our dining room.

Enough of this. Toilets do not belong in dining rooms. Let us set you free.

After some brief toilet aerobics.

And some forceful wiggling.

She was set free, if not a little worse for the wear.

And after a short relocation…
She is now free range.

I have to say, I was hesitant to be anywhere near the dining room when Estwing was working his magic with this one, but it was really a mess-free and stink-free demo. Before we disconnected the bowl we wiggled it to get as much of the water possible down through the S-pipe and into the sewage drain. We also poured a few liters of water down to make sure that any water we were dealing with was clean.

Of course, if you are living in a house that actually has running water you could just flush the toilet a few times, but don’t forget to turn off the water before you go disconnecting things.

And, I don’t know if I would recommend our method of pry-bar jimmy-ing. We didn’t want to go through the hassle of hack-sawing a particularly feisty screw, and thought it might just pull out of the wood with a little encouragement. But, it turns out that toilets crack easily. Even though we didn’t want to reuse this toilet, somebody might have, and it would have been nice not to wreck it.

So, overall, getting the throne out of our dining room was pretty easy and disaster-free. Which finally sets us up for the next step. Cutting a giant hole in our house to install some beautiful french doors.

We worship you porcelain goddess.

-June Cleverer

Active Solar

As you may recall, our first 3 design principles all had to do with passive solar design: solar gain (Let the sun shine in), thermal mass (Massticate on This), and insulation (Design Principle #3). Just this week we have decided on the solar hot water system that we will be installing. It is an active system, as opposed to our previous hot water system that was patently passive.

As you may have discovered in the previous posts, a certain level of vocabulary is required to speak accurately about eco-design. Passive and active solar are certainly two concepts central to eco-thrifty designing and building. The difference is quite simple, but if you find yourself talking to an architect, engineer or contractor one day about building a green home, make sure you know the basics so you can ask for what you want.

‘Passive solar’ refers to anything absorbing sunlight energy by simply sitting in the sun: a cat, a parked car, our house.

In new construction, passive solar strategies will pay for themselves in energy savings immediately. In renovation, the payback may take a little longer.

‘Active solar’ refers to a system with some moving elements. In terms of our active solar hot water system, the water is heated by the unit on the roof and flows into the house under pressure. It is actively being moved from outdoors to indoors.

The best data we can find is that the payback period of this system will be around 7 years. That represents a 10% return on investment. Which bank is offering a rate like that?


Design Principle #3: Insulation

Before I got side-tracked by our postal and electrical adventures in Neverland (From off te grid to off te radar), I was working my way through our 7 design principles for this project starting with solar gain and thermal mass. As June and I explain in our short video, Introduction to Passive Solar Design, it is essential that insulation work in conjunction with sun-facing (toward the equator whichever hemisphere you’re in) glazing and adequate mass inside the building envelope.

Not rates envelope, building envelope!

If you are familiar with the greenhouse effect you may see a parallel here. Ultraviolet light comes streaming through our windows in the same way it enters Earth’s atmosphere. When it strikes the ground surface of the planet – or the mass inside our home – some of that UV light is transformed in infrared light, i.e. HEAT. We all know that heat rises, and in the case of the Earth it is the carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane and other greenhouse gases that ‘hold’ the heat in and make the planet habitable. Good on ya, CO2!

But the problem we all face now is that too much CO2 and other greenhouse gases are essentially over-insulating this planet and causing a laundry list of potential less-than-desirable consequences. That’s why the proactive and responsible governments of the world are in Cancun, Mexico sorting it all out for us. Good on ya, politicians!

While the results of that meeting are likely to be nothing more than hot air, it is precisely hot air that I am hoping to hold within our home. I wish insulating the attic was as easy as filling it with carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, we have to settle for Pink Batts.

There are pros and cons to each choice of insulation depending on whose advice you seek, and I’ll try to write about that in the future. But today’s lesson is ‘location, location, location.’ Getting the most savings for your insulation investment (being eco-thrifty) is about identifying the low-hanging fruit and picking it first. In the case of insulation, it just so happens that the low-hanging fruit is up high and the high-hanging fruit is down low. In other words, insulate your attic first, your walls second, and your floor last. In this case physics and economics work hand-in-hand.

Relative heat loss through roof, walls and floor of an uninsulated home.

For our do-up down-under, we are insulating the entire attic, all external walls where Gib board has been removed, and under the floor in the northern 2/3 of the house? Why only the northern 2/3? Find out in a future post.

Peace, Estwing