Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Renovation

Selling a Dream: Outstanding Permaculture Property

Could this be the best value permaculture property in New Zealand?

Lovingly renovated seaside villa combines old and new to achieve a sunny, warm, dry and comfortable home while retaining distinctive retro character.

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Over the three years we lived here our power bills averaged $26 per month while running a refrigerator, freezer, washer, hob, jug, wifi, etc, and enjoying abundant hot water.

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Much of the interior features native hardwood built-ins such as this three and a half metre rimu shelf unit.

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And this bespoke totara and rimu vanity.

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The kitchen features hardwood shelving with antique lead light doors and vintage light shades, along with a new Tasmanian oak floor and cosy old school Shacklock cooker.

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With great indoor/outdoor flow, the living spaces are bright and airy throughout the day.

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A pizza oven and vege gardens are just outside the French doors.

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The private back yard is lined with fruit trees and natives while retaining enough lawn for a play.

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Over 30 productive fruit trees fill the 700 square metre section.

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Grapes and Jerusalem artichoke fill the spaces in between.

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New roof, new cladding, insulation and solar hot water are among the features of this highly resilient home.

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This property has been featured by the national and international media and represents a gold standard in suburban permaculture. The renovation is the only case study outside of Australia to be included in David Holmgren’s current project: RetroSuburbia.

All of this can be yours for 85% less than the average bog standard Auckland home.

Enquiries through the blog’s home page. Or comment.

Peace, Estwing

The Vegetarian Butcher

“Now that you’ve cleaned a chicken’s bum, I think it’s time to write your first blog post,” he says.

“Makes sense,” I say.

The Vegetarian Butcher

In the span of two days, I assisted in skinning a sheep; watched its butchering; plucked, gutted, and prepped a chicken. Farm life, am I right? That’s a lot of flesh and blood for a vegetarian celebrating five meat-free years and a year of being vegan-ish.

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I’d wanted to be a vegetarian since a very young age, in hopes of being more like 8-year-old environmental activist Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. I didn’t take the plunge though, until I was 17 and decided I was done supporting factory farms. I did so somewhat begrudgingly because I had (have) a soft spot for meatloaf and chicken tenders and still claim that I’d cave for either, so long as it was smothered in ketchup. I’ve stayed strong, though, and even moved towards a vegan lifestyle last December, excited about the added challenge to cook without the use of animal products. My college running coach wasn’t so thrilled—through university, I was averaging 100km, three weightlifting sessions, and assorted cross training every week—but I felt incredible! I was eating cleanly, feeling fueled, and morally sound.

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Here, as is typical of a farm, the animals are workers. Where Kaitiaki differs, however, is in the tasks expected of the animals. In permaculture, the long-term health of the land must be considered in every decision made. By housing the majority of our poultry in tractors that are shifted daily to new grass, the ducks and chickens are providing a service without degrading the land. In a stationary poultry run, the birds are compacting the soil, stripping away grass, digging ruts, and accumulating poo that’s fertilizing nothing. Eventually there’s no fresh grass or insects for the birds to eat and the land underneath is unsuitable for future cultivation.

dsc_2631There is the added task of moving the tractors each morning, but this tiny pec/delt/shoulder workout is hardly a nuisance when considering the range of good done by our feathered farmhands. While chickens and ducks are for meat and eggs on any other farm, those are merely added bonuses here—rather than demanding eggs from the birds, we graciously accept them as gifts.

So when misfortunes fall upon our animals (i.e. broken limbs or little dogs), it’s time to put my tofu-centric views aside and utilize Holmgren’s third, fifth, sixth, and twelfth permaculture design principle: obtain a yield; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no waste; creatively use and respond to change. In permaculture, we are quick to learn that looking at the big picture and the long term can surmount what seems desirable (or undesirable) in the moment. In this instance, an animal lost is a meal gained. I’ve always said that I’d rather eat meat than see it thrown in the trash; I might soon have to eat my words.

-Liz (Illinois, USA)

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!

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My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.

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Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.

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At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)

Insulated Door: Easy as 1-2-3

Glass doors are common in New Zealand homes.

Glass doors are cold doors.

South-facing glass doors are especially cold.

Here is a cheap and easy way to retrofit a four panel rimu glass door into a warm and cosy door. First, find yourself a comfortable working area and lay out the door.

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Next, cut insulation to cover each glass panel on both sides.

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Finally, cover with thin ply, hardboard or other suitable material. I used the waterproof wallboards that we removed from the old laundry when we extended our kitchen. They were just sitting in the shed.

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Hang the insulated door and paint the lot.

(Note the second door handle is for our three year-old daughter.)

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Not 100% flash, but a very high performance door at a low price.

 

Peace, Estwing

Quick-Up Sleep-Out

I designed this structure in December to serve two purposes: 1) act as a quick/easy-build emergency shelter in post-disaster situations; 2) act as a DIY-friendly sleep-out/garden shed. The underlying purpose was to develop value added products for Reclaimed Timber Traders, a social service and environmental organisation in Palmerston North.

I have built the shelter three times. Here is the first – tucked into a corner at Reclaimed Timber Traders. The frame is made entirely from reclaimed wood.

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The second time I built it was for a story in the Manawatu Guardian. I had the frame up in under 90 minutes working by myself. Here is the journalist taking photos.

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It is based on a post and beam design, and fits easily in a station wagon.

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On the weekend we had a working bee to erect the shelter at the bottom of our property.

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I suppose making it level is important.

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The frame went together in about 30 minutes with three people. The ply and the iron roof serve as the bracing elements, alongside diagonals in the top corners.

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In an emergency situation, a weather-tight structure can be built by 2 people in half a day using only hand tools. The structure will last a minimum of 50 years.

This structure will serve in part as an emergency shelter – giving children and teachers at Kaitiaki Forest Kindy a place to go when it is blowing a gale in the middle of winter.

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A large window will face north to allow a little passive heating in winter.

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Here is the view from the window.

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This shelter will be a great addition to our developing permaculture property.

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Peace, Estwing

Hybrid Post and Beam Emergency Shelter

This is a cool project. I have been working with an amazing social enterprise called Reclaimed Timber Traders. They have a huge yard full of wood that has been diverted from landfill. Part of their mission is to provide building materials post disaster around the world. But instead of sending a shipping container full of wood, I had the idea of pre-assembling an emergency shelter that can be put together by two people in half a day using only hand tools.

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The design is a hybrid post and beam using dimensional lumber to form the mortise and tenon joins. Here is a post made from three 2x4s nailed together. (Note this has been screwed together quickly for a photo op with the local newspaper.)

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This prototype can be used as a model to ‘mass produce’ structures that can be flat-packed and shipped around the world or sold locally as a sleep-out or garden shed.

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A great day and lots of trigonometry!

 

Peace, Estwing

 

Housing Horror Stories

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

You know that point in a horror film when the demented axe murderer sneaks up on the unsuspecting teenagers and you’re thinking, “Turn around! Turn around!” Haven’t a fair number of us been saying that about the frightening Auckland housing market for the last five years?

Why is it just now – when the axe is in mid-swing – that Finance Minister Bill English has turned around?

For anyone with beyond intermediate school maths skills it is obvious that the so-called “Rock Star Economy” was mostly the result of artificial house price inflation in Auckland and the Christchurch rebuild. Even Freddy Kruger knows this.

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But now that the housing Ponzi scheme has so much momentum behind it that it threatens the nation’s economy, leadership is finally saying, “Oh, this is a little scary.” As with the enamored teenagers, government may have waited too long to turn around.

Like the plot line of most slasher movies, Auckland’s housing bubble has been totally predictable, yet the “unsuspecting victims” walk blindly into the path of danger. Additionally, the story line is a bit like a self-fulfilling prophesy: Now that the Nats have ridden the artificial rock star economy for years they can turn around and redirect policy and finances “to provide assistance to middle-income families if interest rates rose” (Isaac Davidson, 24-10-15, Wanganui Chronicle). Instead of free-market this sounds like market manipulation.

At the end of the day – aka “the witching hour” – its just another frightening aspect of housing in the land of the long white cloud, which drops a considerable amount of precipitation onto the compacted clay soils that surround far too many dwellings with poor drainage and inadequate sub-floor ventilation.

Dramatic musical interlude.

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Zombie-like, water vapour rises from the earth underneath unsuspecting households to stalk its living prey. Under normal conditions, each square metre of ground releases 0.4 litres in a 24-hour period. This translates into 60 litres per day for a typical 150 square metre house with a raised floor.

Rising damp is a major issue for hundreds of thousands of Kiwi homes yet it does not seem to be taken seriously. Very few health professionals appear to recognise the issue of cold and damp homes and what to do about it. “Turn around! Turn around!”

Just a reminder: Zombies and Mould are not normal conditions for a home.

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While I renovated my own House of Horrors – a Monster Mash-up to be sure – I spend most of my time these days visiting others. A few recent examples include one with a $1,000 monthly power bill and another with a $4,000 bill to replace mouldy blinds. Its enough to make you Scream.

Then again, both of these homes are contributing significantly to GDP so it must be a good thing, right? So too do hospital visits contribute to GDP. After the housing bubble pops, perhaps asthma and diabetes could be central to a new economic policy.

As someone who grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, it is difficult for me to adjust to Haloween as a spring holiday. I remember trick-or-treating in the cold, dark rain, not the bright sunshine. I get the same feeling when I look at poorly designed homes facing the wrong way. Perhaps they were designed by vampires who need to live in the dark.

Recently I had a look at a Jekyll and Hyde home. In other words, during beautiful spring and autumn days with light winds and fair skies, the house would be a fabulous place to live. That is the Jekyll.

But Mr. Hyde haunts the house during the rest of the year primarily due to poor design, which makes it uncomfortably cold in winter and uncomfortably hot in summer. Heating and cooling the structure effectively would mean Frankenstein power bills.

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The good news is that as a village we can choose to take up our pitchforks and torches to drive the beast of substandard housing from our midst and put and end to the Scary Movie.