Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Renovation

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.

Maybe the “Rock Star” in question was Marilyn Manson.   Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.28.10 am

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.

Architecture Imitates Sport: Pushing the Limits and Showing the Card

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

“I don’t see a punch, I just see a fist in the face.”

With those words, Nigel Owens has created a meme that I hope will stand the test of time, and one worthy of such an outstanding rugby referee and human being.

I could easily write an entire column about him, but that’s not my niche here in the Weekend section. I write about housing, which has a whole set of memes unto itself. So instead of writing about the outstanding Welshman I’ll write about memes and houses.

According to Wikipedia, a meme is: “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.

The most popular memes that most of us are familiar with come in the form of catchphrases – think “Nek minnit” popularized by New Zealand skateboarder Levi Hawken.

Owen’s comment on the mild collision between the fist of French number eight Louis Picamoles and the face of All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw is just another way of saying “it’s a matter of degree,” but I think it’s an important reminder that life and architecture are all just matters of degree. It’s also a reminder that limits will always be pushed and we need impartial referees.

When it comes to designing homes, there can be a considerable amount of “pushing with a fist” rather than outright punching. In other words, architects and designers frequently push the lower limits of the Building Code Claus H1 – Energy Efficiency. There are various ways in which this is done, but at every turn a building control officer acts as referee.

When the limits of the rulebook on energy efficiency are pushed there can be three outcomes: red card, yellow card, or no penalty. Since building officers strive to be helpful with building professionals a common outcome is a yellow card, which simply means that the plan does not comply and that certain aspects should be reviewed before resubmitting. While this is nothing like being sent to the sin bin or being penalised, it is like a yellow card in that it provides time for reflection before rejoining the game. Needless to say, most architects hate this.

A great example of how Claus H1 can be pushed to its limit was illustrated in the Grand Designs NZ premier episode in which Southland farmer Lachlan McDonald builds his modernist concrete home in…Southland.  Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 9.53.06 am

From my perspective, it is hard to see how the design was signed off by a consenting officer, but somehow it was. I suspect there was a bit of pushing with a fist going on behind the scenes.

As a huge fan of Kevin McCloud and the original Grand Designs, I noticed a striking contrast in cultural memes in the first episode of the Kiwi version with its host Chris Moller. The most glaring contrast is that McCloud would have said something like, “Building in concrete has a huge carbon footprint.” Instead there was no mention.

We can also be sure that McCloud would have made mention of any and all green aspects to the building or lack thereof, with special emphasis on the extraordinary quality of the high performance windows which would have been custom made somewhere in Belgium and shipped to England with a team of expert installers. These types of comments were absent from Episode 1, and I suspect that the energy performance of the windows was best left unmentioned.

To be fair, Grand Designs has been going for 16 years in England and the cultural memes around housing are very different there. I read a report recently describing the New Zealand building industry as a decade behind Europe. From what I see on TV, that’d be about right.

The good news is that we have great role models to follow in McCloud and the English building code. Its just a matter of how fast we get there as a culture.

Anyone heard of pushing on a string?

Peace, Estwing