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.


  1. we're a little wilted in the heat today too Chris - pwah, it's a shock!! Still holding out against the aircon and drinking lots of water. Not sure if it was intentional but this house does have great cross flow ventilation which I love. Still more to do with making it more solar passive; I'd love to run a bank of modular water tanks along the western end as a heat sink/insulation, but that's probably a dream. Really want to put a pergola along the north western end and grow deciduous vines on it.

    Must go have a look at that link - another little daydream is building a granny flat dug into the slope below the house.

    So much to learn isn't there?

  2. A pergola sounds like the ticket. It would fit right in at your place. I could probably rustle up some links with plans for building them. Dave and I would even come around to help construction if you needed.

    By the way, can I send you a cheer squad applauding your decision to hold off, on the air-con? That takes courage in these stinking hot days we've been having lately, LOL.

    Not everyone can hold off and I thoroughly understand the temptation. Health can be an issue so sometimes it's quite justified to purchase air-con. If you can hold off though, better solutions can present themselves.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. There *is* so much to learn. :)

  3. Those slimline units look good. And probably better than whirlybirds. One of the ones on our shed was hit by a stick, and doesn't work anymore, so they do have definate disadvantages. I think I'll look into them too when we have the spare cash.

    I'd love to go no air con, but hubby won't hear of it, LOL. He was raised with air con, and has really adjusted to it. I make sure we only use it on extremely hot days though, and often turn it off because I'm too cold.

  4. Hey Chris, thankyou so much for the links and ideas - adn I'd love you and Dave to teach me how to build something!! Have to get our renovation out of the way first and work out what shape the house is after that ;)

    Love the earthbag home plans, very tempting.

  5. Rinelle, I'll let you know how they perform. We're hoping to receive them before Christmas. Can't come soon enough in this heat though, LOL.

    I've sent you an email Em. Good luck with the renovations! :)


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