Tuesday, 14 April 2009

22 - Another Picture Break

A friend of mine who sews things (her blog is mentioned off to the left... oh and here it is hopping through branches) recently came to stay with us and took some photos. I think you will agree that they are rather stunning.

Also about 5 weeks ago we moved into the house. The barn was driving us crazy and we wanted to be setup in the house before the new baby came along. The kitchen and bathroom have adequate temporary measures in place. When we get them done we will go for final council approval. Keep reading, those that still do, and I'll let you know what happens there.

The house now

Misty morning view from the breakfast nook window

All of us, just north of the house, with the barn in the background.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

21 - The Solar Hot Water System

While I am shamelessly plugging products with free abandon, I'd like to record my admiration for the Apricus evacuated tube solar hot water system we had installed some months ago. This thing is an absolute gem - so far. We got the 250 litre 20 tube system. We were used to living with a 50 litre electric system in the shed for the last three years. So 250 litres should be ample.

The style of laborious deliberation we have honed throughout this entire house experience was deployed when we were considering the solar hot water system. Hours of reading, questioning and misguided assumption fueled heated discussions with each other went into this decision and I think I can safely say that in the end we did the right thing.

To sum up this research in a few words, we went for the evacuated tube system because of its efficiency claims and its trouble free frost proof-ness. The flat panel systems that were frost free were potentially unsafe to roof collected water supplies such as ours. There is some additive in their that could leak if the unit was damaged in any way. One would have to isolate that part of the roof's water collection. We weren't prepared to do this. Now on to efficiency, I guess in the end all those diagrams on tube promotional material depicting arrows being emitted from the sun and hitting tubes at various angles won me over. Testimonials claiming the lack of need to turn on the water system's boosting despite 'grey days' also cheerfully chimed in until I was sold. We found a fairly local plumber who specialises in Apricus installation and it was up and going in half a day.

We have been using hot water in the house now for 6 weeks and so far I have not turned on the electric booster. It has been great. Over the last few weeks we have had a lot of rainy days with none or very little direct sun light. The water went down in temp to just warm enough for a shower on the third grey day. With winter coming along soon I am interested to see if this performance will change. Now, yes, perhaps I will stubbornly insist that we have cold showers before any boosting is done in this house, but I am still keen to find out if we will make it through.

The one downside to this system is cost. I thought before purchasing that we would be eligible for a raft of rebates that would take the pain out of the $3978 punch in the pocket. The installation cost was $800 and was perfect. We got RECS back of $989 which helped. So all up the system cost $3789. I thought we could get a further $1000 from the Federal Government and about $600 from the NSW state government because in theory we were upgrading an old system. It came with the house. However in many respects what we are doing here is considered a new house and does not attract certain upgrade rebates. Oh well. At least we still have the first home owners' grant up our sleeve.

We chose the Apricus over the Hills brand simply because it was cheaper and it came with a 20 tube sytem rather than 22. We have a lot of sun where we are and anything over 20 is really overkill. Apricus has wonderful after sales service with technicians on hand almost 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns. Fantastic.

Here it is on the roof

Thursday, 9 April 2009

20 - The Composting Toilet

Whoa that plumbing post was a bit dense on second read. Sorry for that. I will resist the urge to slice great chunks of detail from its girth in the hope that someone somewhere will find its intricacies useful at sometime. However, I will endeavour to rein in the ambitiousness of this post, as it could get out of hand considering the topic and my well established infatuation with it.

I have already talked about our purchase of the Nature–Loo composting toilet and my reasons for wanting one. I remember blabbing on about taking responsibility for one’s own poo and what not. All this is still relevant and I stand by it. I took longer than first anticipated to get around to the installation and I am taking much longer than expected to represent that experience here in writing. Nearly four months after the first long drop was heard ending with a thud I am now recounting the events leading up to it. I do apologise for the delay, but I have discovered that penning this blog’s paragraphs is a pass time that, though very enjoyable, cannot be forced. I am enticed to the keyboard by an unpredictable chain of events, moods and inclinations. All of which combine in similar but very different ways to produce the words you are reading now. Sigh. Now to put these to the best use I best be describing the toilet. Chop Chop … or more aptly… Drop Drop, let’s go.

Some posts back I outlined the beginnings of a transformation for the house’s bathroom. Remember. We moved the bathroom to the laundry off the back deck and are in the process of converting the room it left behind into a study or third bedroom. During this move we considered including the toilet in the new bathroom, but thought it best to give it its own space. This decision was mostly preference and practicality but a little bit was uncertainty. I had read about the no smell claims of the composting toilet but wasn’t going to bet the offensive odour free life that I mostly enjoy now on them. So a semi outdoor toilet in its own room seemed like a safe idea at the time. In hindsight this concern need not have been one, more on that in a bit.

The bits and pieces that arrived with the toilet are many. A lot of them are bits of conventional plumbing fittings that have been altered and fashioned into some toilet facilitating form. There are various size PVC pipe fittings with slits and holes and additions. These were not on any promotional material I perused before purchase. I guess if they were my thrifty, industrious, though clumsy mind would have conjured ways to build my own composting crapper for much less than the 2000 plus clams I parted with. Then again, mine would not have met certain standards and wouldn’t pass the final house inspection. Nature-Loo is approved in all, or nearly all, Australian States, I think. Anyway I got the bits, read the instruction booklet and set to work. There was nothing particularly special about the installation, it went smoothly enough. The hard part for me was the vent pipe. The high set nature of the back of the house meant that the 100mm pvc pipe was over 7 metres long. This was a tricky feat for a man who is new to plumbing and grossly deficient in local mates dishing out labour flavoured favours.

The basic set up is a pedestal attached to a chute. This chute is about three metres in our case. The chute leads to a chamber with a false bottom for liquids to drip through and leave via a flexible hose. This liquid can run into a mini gravel trench and then seep into the ground or, for us, be plumbed into the drain pipe leading to the grey water system. The solids are stored in the chamber until about 4-5-6 months when it is full. Then you swap the chamber for an empty one and leave the full one sit and compost for another 4-5-6 months. Then you empty it by burying the contents or spreading them somewhere as per your local council guidelines.

Both the in service and out of service chamber are plumbed in for excess liquids

Alright so the question on everyone’s nose upon hearing an intention on composting poo is usually, “but what about the smell?” Well there isn’t any. In fact it smells better than a normal flush toilet. You can go in straight after someone who is notorious for leaving an enduring toilet presence and smell absolutely nothing. This fact rests high on the solo shoulders of the small fan which sits in the base of the vent pipe. This fan draws air through the chamber and pushes it up the vent pipe beyond the roof line. At first my pipe was not long enough (ahem…) and every now and then we would be greeted by a fruity waft while sitting on the back deck. I added a metre and all is now fine. The manual states that the vent pipe should be 600mm above the highest point of the roof. At first I thought this was overkill. Later I found out that drafts and circular currents are produced when breezes hit obstacles like roofs. therefore, when talking toilet vent pipes, the smell can be pushed downwards. This must have happened to us. Considering the fan is run on electricity and it needs to be on all the time, blackouts could easily bring a whole new dimension to inconvenience. Without the fan smells can leave the pedestal and fill the toilet room and beyond. Keeping the toilet seat lid shut helps, so does having a good compost process and, in our case, having the toilet away from the main house.

The vent pipe


While capturing my love for the composting toilet here with sentences, we have encountered a problem. Vinegar flies have taken over. They have been getting into the chamber and are now in great abundance. This should pose no real threat to the effectiveness of the toilet it’s just they fly out by the dozen when we open the toilet lid. Fortunately for us the toilet is outside the house. The manual offers a few suggestions but does not convey complete confidence in any one of them. I’ll keep trying a few things and keep posting. This slight inconvenience has taken a little sheen of my admiration of the Nature-Loo but, considering its ultra elevated position in my held esteem, it didn't move much.