Monday, November 23, 2009

Beat the heat!

I figured it was one thing to talk about alternatives to buying air-conditioners and fans, but another to provide resources for people to consider. Em brought up the excellent idea of building a pergola on the western side of her house. I've got two trellises on my western side, but the sun still gets in. Maybe I have to wait longer for the luffa seeds to cover it, for maximum effect?

One trellis with a luffa attempting to climb it

Anyway, here's some links to get your creative minds thinking:


Pergola ideas no plans with these ones, just awesome pictures
Pergola with planters, plans from the Better Homes & Garden website
Simple pergola plans from Mitre 10 website
Another pergola download PFD document from the Bunnings website
Pitched roof pergola download PFD plans from Magnet Mart website
Pergola construction a pictorial tour from start to finish, of one person's project


Rustic arbour ideas no plans but some great pictures
Entry arbour plans and instructions from Black & Decker website
Square arbour plans from the Better Homes & Garden website


Large trellis which could be used as a stand alone garden feature, or entry way for a house.
Garden trellis download PFD document from the Bunnings website

After all that, you may be wondering what's the difference between a pergola, arbour and trellis? Frankly, I think it's whatever you want to call it. I would consider a trellis anything you can train a plant to grow up, but it can be incorported into the design of an arbour or a pergola too. So what's the difference, LOL?

Have fun looking at all the great pictures and plans - maybe you'll be inspired to look at improving the natural cooling design of simple structures and plants, outside your home.

Just remember you should check with your local building codes (via your shire council) to see if you require planning permission first. If your structure falls under a certain height or floor space you may not need planning permission. If you are intending to attach it to the structure of your house however, you will need planning permission.

If you're afraid of how much it will cost, try using some second hand building materials - not bolts, nails and screws however, as it could compromise the structures integrity. And just think the money you spend on the initial cost, could be saved on less cooling requirements inside the home.

Multi-pronged attacks against the extreme elements, are better than a single option dependant on electricity supply.

EDITED TO ADD: if you use the images links and notice a page about subscriptions pops up. Just use the "back" feature on your browsing window, and press the page link again. I noticed it only did this to me, the first time I wanted to click the next image.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bringing the elements together

If you're living in South-East Queensland at the moment, you cannot escape the extremes of temperature we're having. It's no different for us either, only we made a decision never to buy an air-conditioner again. So we're now experiencing the fruits of the alternative measures we've put in place.

What fruit though? We're barely keeping the tree alive, LOL. Thank goodness for fans! But it just goes to show the flaws in our house design are still huge. We thought insulation in the walls and roof (extra sarking too) would buffer us against temperature extremes. Even choosing a light coloured roofing iron was meant to benefit us by not drawing excessive heat into the roof cavity.

But it's very simplistic to stop at just one or two measures. You need a whole raft of elements to have any real impact. This current heat wave for Spring is a reminder we still have a long way to go.

I consider the dwelling we build on our land, part of our land management practices. So often we've been taught it's a separate entity. When we put our house plans together at the builders, for example, it was all about the house - not the elements surrounding it. Consequently, now the house has been built, we have to find other man-made solutions to rectify the problem.

Above, you can see the picture of our house as it was reaching it's finishing stages. What I loved about it was it's classical design. In this heat-wave though, what do appearances have to do with anything? If we had our time again, we would've gone down the path of earth building in some form. We had a perfect slope to utilise and plenty of raw material on site. What we lacked however, was the confidence that it would work.

So I'm now going to show you a wonderful blog all about earth bag construction. These people really engage with their dwellings as part of the landscape. Please check it out.

I'm getting a lot of ideas reading this blog. I'm not intending to duplicate anything here, but it's given me inspiration to start viewing my dwelling as more than just a man-made construction. It can be more, I just have to figure out ways that utilise more natural elements to compensate.

Currently, we're looking for air ventilation systems in the roof, as we don't have any installed. All that heat gets trapped in the roof and radiates into our living areas. After all my research however, I found the perfect unit for our situation. The smoothline. It doesn't utilise any moving parts, it's bushfire resistant and you only have to install them on your roof to get them to work. Other ventilation systems we looked into, required installing additional (internal) vents in our ceiling for the outside units to work effectively.

Okay, so we started off being a little idealistic about our house design, but we're being taught by the weather now, to be more savvy with any additions we make in future. I think airing out the roof cavity has to be a good place to start. The units I have priced aren't as cheap as other systems on the market. But I've done the research on their longevity. No moving parts means no replacement parts. No electrical or solar panel, means no replacement parts or operational costs in to the future either.

While I will pay more initially for these units (around $600 for 4 units) the lifetime is extended infinitely. That's because it relies on natural elements to do the work.

I would encourage everyone to start thinking about alternative solutions to a "natural" problem. The more we rely on machines (ie: air-conditioners and fans) the more dependent we become on their design working. Once we buy these mechanical units as a solution, the operational costs are on-going.

In this scorching heat however, the temptation is there to run up to the first salesperson who can change it quickly. But I've done that before in our previous house in town. We ended up with a cooler house, but the electricity we used became an added burden. And what happens when the power goes out? You're back to having to tolerate the natural elements on their own terms again

Nu-uh, I don't want to sign us up for more on-going debt to solve a problem with weather extremes. Especially when it's the design of the house which is the problem.

I look forward to sharing any modifications we make in future.

EDITED to add another link if you're interested in building an earth bag home. This blog gives plans and layouts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Garden mesh in the kitchen?

When Dave did the shop recently, he collected the wrong size garbage bags for our kitchen bin. They were too small! What to do? Well I searched high and low, in every nook and cranny, for a tall thin container to put the new bin liners in to.

Reduced to looking in the garden shed for solutions, I found the answer in a rolled-up piece of garden mesh. I just secured the liner with a couple of pegs.

It's doing a fantastic job and it's even higher than our regular bin, so it's easier on the back too! I never thought I'd see garden mesh in the kitchen, but there you go.

It does the trick for the time being, and I didn't have to spend an extra cent. Weird but works!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Believe in your dreams

The one thing we sacrifice as we get older, is the innocence of belief. We seem to become cynical of what we know (or don't know) yet. Perhaps this is the burden of knowledge?

I've realised with all these new changes in our lives recently, the hardest challenge of all has been "keeping" the belief in what we're doing. You see a lot of easier options all around you - just spend a little more money than you've got because instant consumption is addictive. It seems easier. Sending my daughter to school, seems easier too, but I know in reality it comes with it's own unique downside.

Why is it that in the world of adults, belief seems like such a dirty word to use? We resist the thought belief is really quite easy and indeed necessary, in the midst of uncertainty. Maybe because we think only radical people, perhaps even mildly delusional people, believe in something they can't see, touch or hear yet? We like certainty - it's safe.

When I look back at the history of my life though, belief in what I was doing made me become what I was doing. Maybe I didn't realise what was happening to me at the time. Perhaps my innocence of how the real world works, made me capable of believing I could do anything? Sadly, it seems the more knowledge we possess, the more limited we become in accepting belief (without certainty) is a natural state of being too.

Belief without certainty - now isn't that how all dreams come to light in the first place?

I just wanted to put these thoughts out there for those following difficult steps in their lives at the moment. Maybe you're doing something really hard and you can't see the end result yet? The world with all it's easy plunders, could be tempting you away from fulfilling your dreams right now. Start looking for the innocent pleasure of uncertainty again. You were quite capable of doing it when you were younger, and remember how liberating it was then?

How much time did you spend thinking about what you didn't know, and how much time did you spend thinking how much you'd like to do - if only you had the freedom? The gift of knowledge is a great thing, but don't lose your ability to dream because of it. Sometimes the things you can't see are still worth pursuing nonetheless.

Keep believing in your dreams because "you" can do it. I can do it too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sewing room

If you're fortunate to have a dedicated sewing space, chances are, all manner of junk will find it's way in there, sooner or later. My sewing room is no different. Knowing I'd have to create and repair stuff to make our no-spend year more enjoyable, I started organising the room better. And for the most part I have - but a few inexpensive changes to furniture was also required.

Firstly, the before shot. This was my only dedicated sewing space...half for sewing and half for putting stuff together.


What I thought was originally good about this arrangement, was being able to push my sewing machine and overlocker to the back when I didn't need them. Only problem when I was putting stuff together though, was have to constantly move the machines forwards (if using them) and backwards again when I wasn't.

So I went looking for a better way of using what I already had around, and this is what I came up with.


I moved the original sewing table to the other side of the room, in exchange for another little table, purely dedicated for using the machines instead. I didn't need such a large table with this arrangement, as I can use opposite sides for both machines.

New sewing table

The chairs fit nicely underneath the table too. So no need to move machines around any more, just switch chairs. I'm going to make a proper table cloth with fitted skirt later on, but this white one will do for now. The ironing board you see in the background, was originally on the other side of the room too. Seen below...


My mum made the leadlight window...we're going to find a place in the house to mount it permanently. For now, it has been moved to another room where it will be safe. Once the ironing board was moved however, we had space for the old sewing table.


I've placed the large table here to do all my cutting out on, and basically put stuff together. Of course, I still have some stuff to get rid off or store somewhere else, in order to clear the top.

All in all though, I feel better prepared to create things in our new sewing space. I wouldn't mind teaching our 6 year old daughter some toy making projects, or how to make little carry bags. She's been asking for some nice summer dresses too.

All in good time though.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reducing inorganic rubbish

I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner, but when I started saving our margarine containers for other uses, I suddenly realised how many we were going through. When my plastics cupboard refused to take any more, I began**shock horror**throwing them in the bin again. I knew there had to be a better way!

Ironically, we've always used block butter for our cooking, so it wasn't hard to simply buy extra blocks to use as spread. We continually use the hard plastic container (in the above image) which we simply place the butter block into - and the best part is, the only rubbish which goes in the bin is paper.

A very simple strategy I'm surprised I didn't key into sooner.

For easy spreading, I keep the plastic container in the pantry where it's cooler and it's right next to the spreads too. So I'm not opening the fridge every time I want to make a sandwich. In summer, with the heat, that's a good thing! It means less energy consumption too.

Win, win!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

New assignment

Forgive my absence, but I've been on a wandering journey down many paths recently which has finally arrived at (yet another) pivitol decision in our lives. The fork in the road said choose one path or the other, because you can't choose both. It's something I've been contemplating, on and off, for two years now. I've decided... homeschool our daughter. She's had one full year in prep already, and nearly completed grade one this year. It wasn't a completely wasted experience and I consider she's matured in many ways since starting school, but there are other parts beyond my (or the teachers') control which concerns me.

Firstly, the phrases and terminology she comes home with. This is stuff other kids learn from their home environment and share in the playground. She comes out with it when we're at home, like it's automatic, and I have to ask where she's heard these things before. I've grown increasingly uncomfortable in the knowledge that she's adopting attitudes and understanding which belong to older children - maybe even young adults. The kids don't fully understand what it is they're saying, but it's becoming the language of the playground. The more we explain this language is inappropriate for her to use, the more she feels alienated from her school mates.

Secondly, I find the controlled school machine, unyielding. I never "got it" when I was at school, so I'm finding it increasingly difficult to help my daughter "get it" too. Homework has to be in on time, regardless of the family's circumstances. If she doesn't conform, she misses out on stars while her school mates get rewarded. I feel this is unfair to our family, as it is "us" that has let her down because of either health or work issues at home.

So rather than continuing to feel like we're not playing our part in the school machine, we're going to take the responsibility of home educating our daughter ourselves. I don't imagine it's going to be easy, but since the 2 weeks she's been home already, I've noticed a remarkable difference in her attitude.

She's very keen to get involved in more family activities. She's talking with us more too. Picking up books, wanting to tell the time, asking questions. Instead of feeling like there's a set time for set learning, it's like a floodgate of curiosity has been opened and we're all being inspired by it.

I'm sure there will be more to share on our new venture in the future. In fact, I've already started a homeschool blog which I'll put a link to eventually. It's still in development so there isn't much to share yet. Needless to say, I've got a lot of learning to do myself into the various home school systems. I'm warming towards natural learning and eclectic at this stage. I've already hooked up with a homeschool group in our area, so we have an avenue of support.

It's a scary step to take, but one I feel propelled to explore. It feels like a step in the right direction though.