Monthly Archives: June 2011
No Dig (Part 2): Pocket Garden
No-Dig Garden Beds (Part 1)
Update 2: The front half of the house
Here is the second of three posts designed to bring you up to speed on the scope of this project so far (here’s the link back to the first post). This post will focus on the southern four rooms of our house. These rooms actually make up the original part of our house, built around 1910. The northern lean-to, which I will talk about in my next post, was added on about 10 years later.
The original house consisted of four rooms and a central hallway. These are the bottom four rooms in these layouts. They are the ones that have received the least amount of demolition and rebuild, but that’s not to say that the transformation is not dramatic.
The first time we walked into our house, we saw a hallway that stretched the length of the house. It was filled with dust, rubble, and long lengths of Hardiplank.
We have since sealed up an old doorway that was halfway down the hall and have hung a door in it. This has effectively sealed off the southernmost two bedrooms, and created an airlock in the hall entryway. Now when you walk in the front door you stand in this entry, and are greeted with our coats and boots.
When we moved in, the two southernmost bedrooms were filled to the brim with rubbish. I hate to disappoint, but they are still filled with rubbish. Only now its our rubbish. One of the rooms is serving as our indoor tool shed and the other as our indoor bike/ surf shed. They are too messy to picture. Maybe another day.
Moving down the hall (through the new doorway) you arrive at our bedroom on the left hand side. When we arrived this is how it looked:
It was stuffed full of windows, cabinet units, bathtubs, even a kitchen sink! Now it is a cozy little nest with gold curtains and a down comforter. Yummmm.
Across the hall is a room that we called “the dungeon” when we first arrived. It was dark and gloomy with dirty old carpets, moldy curtains, a massive boarded up window, and a giant hole in the floor. We didn’t do any work in here for months. I think we were afraid.
But now, thanks to some demo work, we have converted the dungeon into a great open-plan lounge off of the kitchen. There is still tons of work to do here (like flooring, wall coverings, and doors), but it is already a nice sunny place and joyful space to live in.
I think what amazes me most, is how light can play such a critical role in the transformation of a room. The rooms in our house that were originally our favorites to be in are now the ones where we spend the least amount of time. And ones that we avoided initially, have become our living spaces.
Our intention was to design based on the principals of passive solar, making the most of the sun’s energy to heat our home. But through the remodel we have ended up with a house that is not only warmer and lighter physically, but also more comfortable and joyful emotionally.
So what do you think? Are you surprised by our progress? Did you think we’d be further along by now? Any words of advice as we get to the “finishings”?
I reckon life is all about finding balance. And because we live in a dynamic world, the balance point is always changing. On this project we are looking for balance not only between eco and thrifty, but also factoring in the New Zealand building code and the potential for wide applicability across society and across the world. In other words, we are looking for the intersection of eco, thrifty, legal, replicable, beautiful and attractive to people other than already committed Greenies.
To my knowledge this is a unique endeavor. This project represents an everyman’s/woman’s approach to permaculture. There are lots of examples of eco-villages and perma-farms and expensive bespoke eco-homes. But in the foreseeable future, the vast majority of people will never live in such places. Most people in OECD nations live in places like this.
Well, much nicer than this actually. But we did not want to be accused of cherry-picking.
In response to Richard’s comment on the last post, I’ll give an example of the intersection mentioned above using insulation. Pink Batts are widely available, recognized by almost everyone, cost-effective, meet the NZ building code and contain up to 80% recycled content. Meeting (and exceeding) the NZ building code is essential to this project. So the options of insulation included Pink Batts, polypropylene batts, and wool batts. (We did not consider blown in cellulose too closely because we wanted to do the job ourselves to ensure quality installation and to keep costs down.) Polypro batts are made from recycled plastic and the wool batts are made from…wool. Both are more expensive and less available than Pink Batts.
Some people like polypro batts because they are so soft and easy to handle. But in terms of insulation, handling should be (!) a one off. I do not mind handling Pink Batts. Once they are installed, I don’t plan to touch them ever again.
Some people claim that wool batts are the most eco option possible. I question that thinking. Have you seen the unsustainable ways sheep are grown in NZ? A holistic look at the ecological footprint of wool batts must include soil erosion, herbicides, and nitrogen fertilizers. Some might argue that the ecology, soil health and water health of NZ would be much better off with fewer sheep.
In the end, the insulation intersection for this time and place and the goals of this project was Pink Batts. For the equivalent cost of polypro or wool we were able to exceed the building code at a higher r-value. In other words, we have a warmer house at the same cost. By using an innovative installation technique (see Bridge to Nowhere), we reap the benefits and can share this under-utilized approach with others to replicate from Auckland to Alberta.
Still the One
We have had an amazing run of mild weather this autumn and early winter. Even up through Matariki – the winter solstice (fewest hours of sunlight for the year) – we have not needed any supplemental (electric or otherwise) heating for hot water or our living space. This has allowed us to keep our electricity use around one kilowatt hour per day for the last eight months. Our last bill was remarkably low. We used only 23 kilowatt hours in 30 days.
But those “cheap as chips” power bills are likely to hibernate until September, as we face two cold months ahead, and most immediately cool, cloudy weather and rain for the next 10 days. But I thought I’d share some of the best approaches we’ve chosen to save energy and money. From big picture to detail, they include:
Passive solar design: Increased glazing on the north side (toward the equator) for free heating.
Insulation: Holds that heat in at night.
Thermal drapes and pelmets: This is another form of insulation that happens to open and close daily. Mindfulness makes these much cheaper than double-glazing if you are conscientious about opening and closing them at appropriate times.
Solar hot water: Electric water heating is one of the biggest additions to a power bill.
Under-the-bench-fridge: Our refrigerator sips power while many others gulp it.
Compact flourescent light bulbs: This hardly needs to be said, but CFLs use 1/4 the power of incandescent bulbs for the same amount of lighting.
We use heaps of other strategies for saving power, but those will be highlighted another day. Which of these can you implement in your home? What other great energy saving strategies do you employ?
Oh, the sun just came out. Gotta go open the drapes… – Estwing
Update 1: The Exterior
We are getting to a point in this project where a lot of the major work is done. Since October, we have knocked out walls and built new ones. We have re-wired, re-plumbed, and re-inhabited this 100 yr old abandoned house. Before we get onto the finishing details, I thought you might appreciate a look back at progress so far.
The first of these update posts will take a look at the exterior. From the beginning until now.
The back of the house:
And the weed infested lawn turned garden:
If you think those are dramatic, wait until you see the inside!
Success Breeds Success
Google Analytics tells us that our readership has been increasing about 30% every month for the last 4 months. Beyond that, we’ve had great feedback from the school programmes we’ve developed and the YMCA Connecting Families Day resource recovery project. It appears that our network is now building through the blogroll on permaculture.geek.nz, and BioPak Australia’s newsletter and Facebook page. And finally, we are in the process of applying for funding to replicate the huge success at the YMCA event at other community events in Wanganui.
It is not easy being green, but sometimes it feels awfully good.
Following up on the post of 12th June (Perfection), here are more details on our methods of composting organic matter. You may recall that we diverted over 95% of materials from landfill at the Connecting Families Day run by YMCA Wanganui. Alongside paper recycling and drink bottles recycling, the bulk of material came in the form of compostable organic matter: napkins, sausages, bread, apple cores and paper cups.
In anticipation of this organic matter coming onto our land, I “feather a nest” by forming a large rectangular bowl with grass cut on a neighbor’s property and “donated” to us by the landscaper. Into this bowl I easily dumped the organic matter collected at the YMCA event.
Then I added half a coal bag of sheep manure we bartered for with a surfing friend. The nitrogen in the manure will balance the high carbon content of the paper cups and napkins.
Then I covered the lot by raking grass over it to prevent wind from blowing the cups around and to allow the compost to “cook.” By turning the pile once every 48 to 72 hours, it will hold temperatures between 50 to 60 degrees Celsius (122 – 140 F) and be completely decomposed in about a month.
Then we’ll have roughly a cubic meter of beautiful, healthy compost ready for our spring planting.
So Happy Together
Warning. Mooshy romantic post ahead. Read at your own peril.
Due to a volcanic ash cloud covering a large band of the southern hemisphere, my return back from the USA to New Zealand was delayed for 4 1/2 days. While I did enjoy my time in Sydney, something was missing from my days.
That’s my man. And while I was away having a month of vacation time with our family and friends, he was here. Working hard. Making our home prettier, comfier, and keeping the Eco School going. He is amazing. And I missed him.
Imagine how the world could be
So very fine
So happy together
Glad to be back in the en zed. Even more glad to be here with my honey. I look forward to getting back on the blog more regularly and updating you with our winter projects.