One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.
Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.
The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.
We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.
I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.
We finally got around to putting the toilet on the biogas system. Mostly because the old pit toilet is VERY full (no pictures), and I developed a tummy bug over the weekend. These two factors in combination drove me to push everyone to throw together at least a temporary fix for the increasingly urgent problem of the full pit toilet.
The pit toilet has been great for about five and a half years. It took a month to build, and it was a great relief to have it finished at the time. If you click the links, you can read all about that adventure. Since the worms seem to no longer be living in the pit, and there are very few flies around (a worry of a deeper kind), the pit has filled to the point of being in danger of over flowing. We never did get the toilet building built, instead we continued to replace the tarp stretched over the top on a yearly basis.
The new biogas toilet will have a similar privacy situation, and the plan is to build a solid structure over it (but given our past experience, I don’t know when/if that will happen). The kit came with almost everything we needed, so instead of taking a month of labor (on and off) to build, it took me a frantic two hours (and a bit of help with lifting and drilling) to put the basics together.
First, I found a solid pallet in the useful pile in the sheep pen. This pallet will need to be replaced fairly soon as it is not made from hardwood, but it serves the purpose for the moment. The pedestal is bolted onto it using four roofing screws and another piece of timber under the screw holes to give it a bit of security. The pedestal feels solid and reliable, and the extra height brings it up to the western conventional position.
Secondly, the flush side of the plumbing was set up. I just pushed the inlet hoses onto the inlet spout on the toilet and put the filter on the pipe, then dropped the free end into an old bucket (with water in it). The bucket holds some precious second use water from the sink where we wash our hands. Usually we use this water on the garden, but we are forced to put some of it through the biogas system now.
The last step is to connect the outlet pipe to the toilet and feed about two metres of pipe into the unit to be sure the poop goes where it needs to go; to the bottom of the unit where the most bacteria live.
The toilet is operated by setting a switch to either a 1 or a 2 (I figured out that this is 1 for pee or 2 for poop) and pumping the handle up and down until everything goes away. It is comfortable and easy to use.
My next job is to connect the effluent pipe to a transpiration or mulch pit. Since we have been using only horse and occasionally dog poop in the unit (along with some food scraps) and the effluent is filtered through a chlorine tablet, I have been using it on the garden to feed all my plants. Now the human poop element has been added, I will have to divert the effluent to a mulch pit or another underground absorption situation. The tummy bug that made this job so urgent also means that I am introducing some not so human friendly bacteria into the unit and I don’t want to risk those bugs getting loose among the other humans of the house. Since my fairly useful partner is in town getting fittings for this phase of the job, I will make that the subject of another post.
The biogas situation at the moment is wonderful; I feed the unit about half a bucket of horse manure and any food scraps or dog poop I collect through the day (most food scraps go to the chooks though) and we can burn the methane for about two hours a day. I expect to get better gas once we are feeding the unit fresh manure (ours) rather than days old horse poop.
The loggers have been and gone, leaving a lot of tree heads lying around and a pervading sense of guilt (for me anyway). They were very careful to preserve the areas we identified and even identified some habitat areas we didn’t know about and I am really very grateful to them for that, but I still feel guilty about the amount of disturbance we have created on our block. So many animals have lost homes and many species of plant have been affected. We only plan to log the block once and all income will go to building our house.
The good news is that we have a house site cleared and some money to go on to the next step of building; getting our design approved by council and beginning the building. We also have a good fire break cleared around the humpy and house site and I do feel a good deal safer because of this.
The house site looks like chaos; there are some stumps in the cleared area and a lot of disturbed soil. The loggers used their earth moving machinery to dig out the stumps and roots inside the actual house site so that digging the foundation trenches will be easier, they cleared all the vegetation in a 30 metre radius around the house site and pushed the tree heads back to 40 metres. Looking at the space now, I can see the house and garden there in my imagination.
We plan to plant fire retarding plants and trees around the fire break and many fruit and nut trees inside.
I went out at dawn one morning this week (in my all too thin nighty; it has been cold) and stood where my kitchen sink will one day be. I stood there imagining what it will be like to wash up while the sun rises in my own house. How will I feel to know I am living my everyday life in a place I have personally built? Will I remember the long years of struggle, planning and set backs? Will I be thankful for the beauty and comfort around me? or will I just be cursing people who choose to get another coffee mug each time rather than rinsing and re-using the first one?
Next, we will be sending in our application to council. Things are moving…slowly, but surely.
While we were putting in the new door recently my enterprising partner whipped up some hanging racks for me to streamline our washing system.
My mother has occasionally stated that my washing line gets more like a wardrobe every day because I am prone to using the line as a secondary storage place for clothes and also because of my habit of hanging my newly washed clothes on coat hangers and hanging them on the line to dry. I do this because I do not have to spend much time folding and putting away clothes; I can simply pick up the clothes, hangers and all, and hang them in the appropriate wardrobe. It also saves space on the line.
In order to do this at weekly washing time I need to have a store of coat hangers nearby. I now have a rack for storing these coat hangers and another (removable) rack to hang washing on until it is taken to the line.
Using this system I can wash, hang and peg out the washing in no time at all. It’s amazing how these little savings in time and energy can make me feel all efficient and productive.
This weekend my partner suddenly burst into action and installed the long awaited front door (we are talking years here). This door marks the last piece of the puzzle for our humpy; we are now officially able to lock the entire building up.
The geese were very surprised to see us coming and going through this new door and honked around it every time it moved.
Having a door there at the front of the humpy (well…the side that faces the front of the block, about 1km to the North of the humpy) is a very useful addition in terms of efficiency of movement. Originally I planned to have the door there so I could reach the conveniently placed washing line and chook pen quickly. Then, as the building activity slowed, the hole that would become a door became blocked off by tin and a thick curtain (to block Winter breezes) and we resorted to carrying washing and chook food around the humpy from the Western door.
The washing machine sat in front of where the door would be for the last year or so as the temporarily tacked on tin was a good place to run the water drain through. Now I am trying to reconcile having the washing machine right beside the front door because the drain is attached to the outside of the humpy and it is a fairly large job to move it.
This was a fairly quick and simple job; we simply removed everything in front of the space and raked the area clear. Then we found some of the ever-useful pavers lying around and made a fairly level base for the door frame.
The door and frame was picked up from a garage sale for about $10 at some point in the last two years, it has been leaning against the wall in the humpy since then. I had ceased to notice it sitting there. My ingenious partner found some aluminum framing in the useful pile out the back and made a frame for the door frame (if that makes sense?). Some scraps of corrugated iron screwed to the frames means that we now have a wall with a door in it.
My daughter is aiming to paint the door and it’s frame to protect it from the weather as we think it is an internal door (not complaining for $10).
It is amazing how much difference it makes to the feel and look of that end of the humpy; it sort of feels finished. I love being able to step out into the front yard and walk straight to the washing line or chook pen and I am even thinking about how to arrange a little table with two chairs so I can sit out there for breakfast in Summer.
With everything that has been going on for the last few months we haven’t done much on the house building for a while. Things have started to move again though…slowly. This week several things came together to get things moving again.
Firstly the loggers are at our place. I have very mixed feelings about this; we need the money this will bring in to build our house, we can’t do it without this big input of cash…but, I hate ripping our ecosystem apart and creating so much destruction (especially in the face of news about our current mass extinction). I drive through the chaos every morning on the way to work and apologise to the land in my head. The loggers are very good and are sticking to the rules, they are good people who do care about the animals and plants sharing our space; my mixed feelings come from my own guilt about making that decision.
Secondly, and on a more positive note, Hayden from Curvatecture (the company we are working with to get the building off and racing) happened to be in our area when I emailed to let him know we would soon be making moves towards building again. He decided to pop in and see our site and get a feel for our lifestyle on his way through.
We introduced him to all the animals and he was very good about patting Freida when she demanded it. He shared a cup of tea with us (coffee for me) and we got to know each other a little. Hayden is a very interesting person who has some great ideas for our house, and I think we were able to sort out some general understandings. He has been a source of great information and advice so far.
As soon as the loggers have finished we will be finalising our house plans and hopefully starting to build. The first stage will be the house foundation, we are hoping that the funds from logging will get us through the council approval stage and (with luck) build the foundation. After that we will have to get creative to fund the next stage of building; the walls.
We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.
Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.
Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.
The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.
They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).
As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.
The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.
We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.
The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…
The time has come to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. At the moment we have an aged gas fridge gifted to us by my partner’s uncle. It is at least 30 years old and doesn’t really keep anything cool any more. It is capricious about keeping things frozen and seems to find amusement in allowing greens to turn to slime overnight.
We need to do something about the fridge; which leaves us with two options. We can buy a new gas fridge at the cost of around $2000 plus ongoing gas costs…or we can spend around $15000 on an upgraded solar system and get an electric fridge. Our current solar system can not produce enough power to run a fridge.
The gas stove seems to be the cheaper option, but the solar system upgrade also has other advantages. We have needed new storage batteries for a very long time as the old batteries are over 15 years of age and like to give the fridge a run for it’s money in the capriciousness grand finals. The extra electricity can be used to run our various pumps and filters on the ever increasing fish tank collection and means we can literally turn on the fan whenever we want to…without checking the battery charge levels first (an almost mythical luxury here).
We decided, eventually, after much argument and discussion (in which fan use figured heavily), to go for the solar upgrade option. This involves getting a personal loan (something we have been trying to avoid) and many hours of work putting the new system in place.
After securing a personal loan (groan) and shopping around for the best deal, we picked up our new solar system.
The solar panels, batteries and other associated bits have been stored in the shed waiting for time to put them together. Several jobs need to be completed before the new fridge can be installed.
First; the generator needs to be moved closer to the shed so the batteries can be attached to it for charging when there is no sun (they will need to be charged on the generator until the solar panels are connected too).
Second; the batteries need to be arranged in their box in the shed and wired to the regulator and other bits of technology that keep them balanced and operational.
Third; the solar panels need to be connected to each other and then to the batteries (via the regulator).
Fourth; the fridge can be put in the kitchen and turned on. This step involves putting down a cement pad to make sure the fridge is level (our kitchen floor is NOT level).
My partner has done the majority of the work on this project, between working and fixing things I break. He has done a great job getting it all going and is now able to enjoy turning on the fan any time he likes…just in time for winter. Having a fridge that seems to enjoy keeping things cool and having a LOT more freezer space has allowed us to cut our shopping down considerably and we no longer have much food waste. The chooks don’t like this turn of events, but there is a downside to everything.
As part of our house planning adventure we have had to have a soil test done on the house site. This is quite an expensive exercise, but it is essential for council approval. As well as ticking off another box for council, this test will give us information about how reactive our soil is (this just means how much it swells or moves during rain or extra dry conditions) and will help us plan the foundation design. We are hoping for class A soil (which is of course the most stable classification) because this will make our foundation designs simpler and less expensive.
The soil test guy came out to the humpy a little late (even with Google Maps we can be a bit hard to find) but happy and friendly. He was met by four dogs, a sheep and various screeches from inside, which he took in his stride. I showed him the site and he paced it all out, marking the drilling spots with a neat little orange cone.
The drill rig on his ute was fascinating to watch and he was very professional. He even made some piles of soil at different depths for me to see the difference in soil types.
He also made mud balls for me to see if we had enough clay for cob mixes.
Eventually the test came back, and guess what? We have a P rating. Yes; that is P for problem site. The most expensive rating when it comes to building, because now we will have to have a beefed up foundation. Oh well, on with the plan, slowly but surely.
I do not enjoy maths, I have a lot of trouble holding numbers in my head and I get lost in the operations needed to manipulate them. However, I came close to having to do some maths today in order to figure out what degree of slope the house site has, luckily, I was saved by the internet. Why did I need this measurement? Well… apparently, having the degree of slope of the house site will make our house plans a whole lot more accurate and allow the plans to actually work on our site when we come to building. I just hope we did it right.
First I looked for what measurements I would need. Vague memories of Pythagorean theorem and hypotenuse floated through my brain along with the phrase ‘rise over run’ but with no real understanding of any of it; I didn’t know where to start. Enter the first clue; an explanation of triangle calculations on To-calculate.com.
I visualised a right angle triangle and used the handy little calculator on the site to do the hard work for me. The only measurements I needed were the length from the bottom point of the slope to the top point and the height needed to make a right angle triangle above that. The post at the corner of the chook pen was exactly at the bottom of the slope and a convenient large grey gum tree provided a marker at the top of the slope.
An ‘on the fly’ sketch of how we did the measurement
With some help from my partner (reluctant, but biddable enough) we strung a chalk line string between the grey gum and the chook pen post (my partner did the vast majority of the work while I provided constructive criticism) and hung a little level thingy off it. The end on the grey gum was weighted to the ground while the end on the post was pushed higher and higher up the post until the level told us it was now forming a right angle with the chook pen post as the short leg (rise).
After that confusing explanation, I hope the diagram helps you visualise
The little level thingy
After I had measured from the ground to the pink chalk line on the chook pen post and the distance between the chook pen post and the handy grey gum, I took these measurements in to my trusty computer. I entered the measurements into the calculator on the web site above and it gave me the degree and percentage of slope.
I dutifully (and hopefully) emailed these details off to Curvatecture (our partners in building) and waited to see what else there is to do.
I am also in the process of filling out a fire safety assessment and have the BASIX ready to roll when I get a copy of the plans. The DA is about halfway done and the On Site Sewage Management application is being filled out as we speak. Such a lot of paperwork to build a little mud hut in the bush.