Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Water Audit - 2015

I'm in the process of preparing for a full day teaching session as part of a PDC run by David Arnold based in Violet Town. He's decided to focus on a permaculture principle for each of the sessions, and my focus is on Principle 4: Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback.

As part of this I'm running a workshop on a self-audit, so I decided to take a look at water, consumption and collection. I thought it important to also look at rainfall over the past year, to give a point of reference.

BOM recorded rainfall for 2015 at nearby Mangalore airport: 344mm
Our records show 297.5mm for our home - may not be entirely accurate. 
Mean annual rainfall for Seymour (1981-2010): 584mm.

Our household consumption was quite low compared to typical household - around 150-170lt per day for a family of 4. A big part of the reason is that we only use tank water - and it was a dry year. On top of that; we don't wash ourselves everyday, we use a composting toilet system and we are careful with use. When water is in abundance we tend to use more of it - in winter we will often have baths if the tanks are near full. If low we will have short showers less frequently.

I've been using more water in the garden during the warmer seasons than I have in the past, averaging 230lt per day. This is predominantly used from October till March, with little use outside of these months. I've noticed that it takes quite a while for the water to penetrate into the soil, and during the summer I'll spend about 1.5 hours watering most days. A good time to listen to my favourite podcast - The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann.

All in all we used considerable less than a typical household of the same size, which is surprising considering that we grow most of our own vegetable and fruit. See some facts and figures below...


Mains water used for irrigation 2015

Total land area not under cover or paved is about 350m2 (total land area is 584m2)

Jan - April: 35,000lt
May - August: 1,000lt
September - December: 47,000lt 
Total mains consumption in 2015: 83,000lt. Average of 227lt per day.

Household water consumption for 2015

Consumption from water tanks (no mains water used) has not been accurately measured. The main tank was about 1/3 full at the end of 2015, reserve tank was near full. If we assume a rainfall of 344mm, we had the potential to collect about 56,000lt of potable water and probably consumed about that in the household - maybe a bit more. I estimate between 150lt and 170lt per day for a family of 4.

Our total water consumption for a household of 4 was about 400lt per day. Melbourne average is around 550lt for 4 people (2011/12).


Potable Collection (drinking quality)

Total potable collection area: 163m2
Total potable storage volume: 31,000lt

Cellar corrugated iron water tank (approx 8,000lt)
Collection area from house = 66m2
Rain needed to fill from empty: 121mm
Overflow: To main tank
Main uses: Washing hands, drinking, watering nearby plants occasionally.

Main corrugated iron water tank (approx 23,000lt)
Collection area from house = 97m2
Rain needed to fill from empty: 237mm
Overflow: Storm water
Main uses: Household water use; kitchen, laundry, bathroom. Some nearby plant watering and water for chooks.

Non-potable Collection (livestock quality)

Non-potable tank collection area: 33.9m2 
Total non-potable storage volume: 1080lt

Bathtub collection (approx 250lt)
Area of shed: 4.3m x 3m = 12.9m2
Area of timber storage: 1.6m x 5m = 8m2
Total collection area: 20.9m2
Rain needed to fill from empty: 12mm
Overflow: Soil infiltration
Main uses: For filling watering can and watering nearby plants. Often compost teas / worm castings added.

Plastic drum collection (approx 190lt)
Bathroom / greenhouse = 13m2
Rain needed to fill from empty: 14.5mm
Overflow: Soil infiltration.
Main uses: Topping up pond in greenhouse, watering nearby plants and washing hands.

Greenhouse pond - storage only (approx 620lt)
No collection area
Area of pond = 1.53m2
Depth: 410mm
Overflow: Soil infiltration.
Main uses: Aquaponics and watering pot plants.

Non-potable Collection (contact with ground)

Main infiltration basin - front yard (approx 920lt)

Area: Approx 11.5m2
Depth before overflow: Average approx 80mm
Overflow: Stormwater
Main use: Soak into soil on path around garden beds. It takes about 10 hours to soak into the soil from when it's full.

Cellar (approx 835lt at 200mm, 2600lt at 600mm)
This was an unintended water catchment source, but has proved quite useful. Usually pumped out after the water has soaked into the infiltration basin.
Area: Approx 4.3m2
Depth: 200mm not unusual after 25mm of rain, up to 600mm which is quite high.
Overflow: Out of stairwell at 1400mm
Main use: Pumped to infiltration basin via laneway channel
Laneway channel, diverted to infiltration basin

Sunday, November 8, 2015

House and Garden Tour - 21st November

Do you live in or around the Mitchell Shire? If so then you might want to take advantage of this opportunity to came and check out our place - a FREE tour!

The Mitchell Shire Council staff, including the CEO, came on a private tour of our property in July. I received some very positive feedback, and was asked to run a tour for residents in the shire to show how we have reduced our environmental impact. The tour will run on Saturday the 21st of November from 1pm to 2:30pm. If you are interested in coming along, please RSVP:

You can download the flyer here, or read it below.

Mitchell Shire Council staff come on tour at Abdallah House

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Open for Tours on Permaculture Day
Richard and Peter with HIA GreenSmart 
2012 finalist certificates in 2 categories

Tours run on Sunday May 3rd 2015 at 9am, 11am and 2pm - each running for about an hour. Just $5, children free!

Owner builder Richard Telford and Builder / Architect Peter Lockyer (morning sessions only) will be running tours at Abdallah House, an urban rebuild and permaculture demonstration site on 580m2 (1/7th of an acre) in the rural township of Seymour, central Victoria.

Features include:

  • passive solar design, with raised living room slab
  • reuse of original building along with many loacally sourced 2nd hand materials
  • integrated cellar / tank stand / cool cupboard
  • low energy consumption home (around 3kw/h p/d) with 1.5kw solar array
  • rainwater capture in tanks and earthworks
  • chooks and small netted espaliered orchard
  • fossil-fuel free heating and hot water system
  • use of large Red Gum which was milled on-site
  • greenhouse with experimental aquaponics
  • vegetable gardens and multi-grafted fruit trees
  • humanure composting system
A range of permaculture books will be available for sale on the day. Cost for tours is $5, under 16 free. No booking required. Proceeds tithed to Permafund.

For enquiries phone Richard on 0402 503 763 - View or share the Facebook Event

For more see the overview of the project

The recently completed greenhouse with 200lt tank and raised tile garden bed

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 'glass cube' solar cooker design Pt1

My mate Dylan and I have been talking about making a solar cooker for a year (or two) now and we finally made some time to put our ideas into action. Rather than stick to a standard design we decided to experiment a bit.

There's basically two types of solar cookers. The box cooker and a parabolic reflectors. The box cooker is an insulated box with a transparent lid and light directed towards it. These are generally slow cookers, usually used for roasting or stewing.

A low cost wooden box solar cooker. Source: Solar Cookers International

The parabolic cookers all work on the principle of reflecting light to a concentrated source. These are quick cookers - good for boiling water or a fry pan.

Gustavo Ramírez, a co-founder of Ecovilla Gaia in Argentina demonstrates a parabolic solar cooker. Photo taken by Richard Telford in 2006
We were wondering about the box cooker idea, but the box being made out of glass - to increase the amount of light and heat that it could collect. With the addition of reflectors we thought that theorised that the box would get pretty darn hot. The original idea was to create a double glazed box and lid - to help keep the heat inside. With our first prototype we created a single glazed box with a double glazed lid.

Dylan, being a glazier, amongst other things was the right man for the job! We found a day to put our ideas into action.

Making up a double glazed sheet for the lid - 530 x 530 x 23mm high, using 6mm glass

Making the box. Glass, silicon and tape - 460 x 460 x 300mm high.

A bead of silicon is covered with acetate (silicon does not stick to acetate), and then a sheet of glass placed on top with a weight to create a flat surface and a reasonable seal. Acetate strips were removed when dry.

The finished experimental box delivered to Abdallah House.

Initial testing. The glass cube cooker with insulated polystyrene / foil lined walls (2 sides) and base with a 260mm dia x 40mm high steel plate for thermal mass.
This example only got to about 55-60ºC at the base on a sunny day - which was similar to what it reached with no insulated sides.

Second Test: Glass cube solar cooker with steel plate for mass, polystyrene with foil for the base (inside) and reflectors directing light / heat on the outside.
The method reflected a lot more light into the cube and it got significantly hotter. With the thick steel plate in the base, and an enamel pot (red) with 1lt of water in it the box got to a maximum of 105º (about an hour after the suns zenith), measured at the bottom. The water got to 85ºC after 2 hours. Top temperature of 26ºC on a clear day.
NOTE: These temperatures are not very accurate, and are measured from the bottom of the cube - the top would be considerably hotter.

Time Box temp ºC Water temp ºC
12:30 85º 22º
1:00 90º 57º
1:30 100º 72º
2:00 105º 81º
2:30 102º 85º
3:00 90º 84º
3:30 80º 82º

As a standard box cooker can get to 150ºC (not sure where measured from), these are not very impressive results. We probably need to set up a standard box cooker to compare. If the glass cube was double glazed I think that results would improve somewhat. Our feeling is that once it gets to a certain temperature inside the cube the single glazed glass cannot contain the heat.

Third Test: Glass cube solar cooker with insulation / foil on the inside and reflectors on top
We decided to move more towards the box cooker idea to see how it would perform with insulated sides. The results were considerably better and pushed the limits of our choice of materials over the edge. The temperature readings were 110-120ºC at the base. The polystyrene deformed on the South-West side and base and the inside of the double glazed glass cracked.

The polstyrene on the south west corner melted, the steel plate made a depression in the polystyrene and the inside sheet of glass on the double glazed unit cracked - so it got pretty hot

Now we have to put our heads together and find some time for stage two. Maybe in the new year?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Raising beds - concrete tiles and reo put to use

Principle 6: Produce no waste

In an effort to get more engaged with my local community I began writing a regular article for  the Telegraph, our local newspaper. My plan is to write an article every couple of weeks about projects that I'm involved in or inspired by - I've decided to call the column: Do It Yourselfer. These articles are being reproduced on the Permaculture Principles blog.

On this blog post I thought that I'd reproduce the first article that I wrote with some more detail and links to expand on what I've been up to. If you've got any thoughts about this idea or the projects, please leave a comment - and feel free to share these posts if you find them of interest. - Cheers, Richard Telford.

The first of the Do It Yourselfer articles published in the Telegraph. Note: I didn't write the heading - which is not what I'm trying to say. Reproduced below with added pictures and captions.

Do It Yourselfer #1

I like to get my hands dirty and have a go a just about anything. It’s something that runs through my veins. When asked “what’s your profession?” in those probing forms that you have to fill out, I started answering “Do it Yourselfer”. Seems to be the best fit for a generalist like me.
So, what’s this article about? I had this idea for writing a regular piece about things to do around the home that could inspire people to have a go themselves. There’s somethings that work, and there’s others that don’t. There’s lots of ideas and knowledge ‘out there’, so I thought it would be good to share some of what I’ve learn't and been inspired by.

Raising beds

When I deconstructed the dilapidated house on the site that was later to become Abdallah House I was confronted with one material that I was really challenged to find a productive use for. Old concrete roof tiles.
There’s a lot of these in the area. As I understand it, once the protective coating wears away, they start to soak up moisture when it rains that can double the weight of a roof. This can cause the roof to sag, crack and leak.
So, what to do with 750 tiles? I ended up using most of them to build raised garden beds - there’s nothing new about that, or is there?
Initially I thought that garden beds should be low rather than high, so that the water doesn’t drain out of the soil. But, when heavy rains come, the beds can flood and the plants die (I learnt that one).
Heavy rain caused flooding of garden beds in the backyard

I dug the tiles in to about half their length and held them in place with soil. String lines were used to ensure that the beds were straight and level. The capping tiles came in handy for corners.
Footpaths around the beds have been dug in lower, providing the soil to raise the beds and acting as basins to capture and store rainwater.
A thick layer of mulch was added onto the paths, which help to maintain moisture, reduce weeds and provides a good walking surface. The mulch eventually breaks down into a rich compost that can be dug back into the beds, building them up further over time.

Sting line set up as a guide for setting tiles into the earth about 150mm for a raised garden bed.

Soil from the path around the tiled area dug in to raise the bed. The recessed area will act as an infiltration basin for storing rainwater
Thick course mulch used to fill in the recessed paths, as Peter Lockyer talks about the house design at SHD14.

What I found was the moisture from the soil wicks up into the garden, and the raised bed encourages the plants to send their roots down to access water as required. The beds do dry out in the summer, which they would anyway, but you can take advantage of those freak rain events by capturing the water that usually drains off the hard dry surface.

The path around garden bed at the front of our house has been designed to catch and store water, which seeps into the soil to be later accessed by the plants.

In a tweak on the idea, I used a light reinforcing mesh, of the 200 x 200mm variety, to create a curve that backs against the brickwork of our recently completed greenhouse. The 6 metre by 500mm wide off-cut was hammered in 200mm into the surface leaving the top one and a half rows, about 300mm above ground.
The tiles were dug in about 50mm at the base and a large amount of soil was added to raise the beds about 400mm from ground level. The pressure from the soil locks the tiles into a gently sweeping curve.
This garden bed will be used to grow corn with beans to climb up the stalks, providing some shade for the greenhouse in time for summer.

Using reo as a form, tiles are set into the soil about 50mm and soil filled in to hold the tiles in place.

Raised garden bed outside of greenhouse
Also published on the Permaculture Principles blog