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, 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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why produce the 2015 Permaculture Calendar?

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

I've been working towards making a living from doing what I love. This has been a long process which has been helped by the fact that we live a simple lifestyle. Reducing our overheads so that our family of four only requires around AU$10,000 a year to cover our normal living expenses.

For the first time I have generated enough income through the ongoing development of the Permaculture Principles website to cover our living costs - the majority of that has come from the sale of the Permaculture Prinicples Calendar - which is now being distributed from partners in the UK, USA and NZ as well as from here in Australia at Abdallah House.

The sale of other permaculture publications, many of which I've been involved in producing, also contributes to the running of the website. Since July 2013 I've committed to putting a portion of this income aside, along with that of the calendar, to support the wider permaculture community.

Permafund

It was important for me to ensure that I embodied the values that I highlight in the website and calendar. I've applied the ethic of Fair Share, in part, by donating (or tithing) 10% all profits that I generate from the Permaculture Principles business to Permafund. This financial year past my contribution was $1013.77 - The donations given to the Permafund are used to promote Permaculture projects to assist with resilience in the developing world, in places of extreme need and in projects promoting permaculture.

The 2015 Permaculture Calendar

Since taking over the co-ordination of the calendar in 2012 the 2013 and 2014 editions have sold out. I have high hopes that the calendar will continue to be supported in the same way and have increased the print run slightly to 3,000. It's not a lot in the big scheme of things, but challenging enough to produce, market and sell. I feel that this project is worthwhile on many different levels.

The main purpose of the calendar is to help people learn the design principles. It does this through the familiarisation with the principles using the name, icon, an image and short story - one featured each month. Enough time to absorb some of what each one is about and how it might be applied.

Each of the photo descriptions brings to light and important project or observations that could easily get swept away during our high paced lifestyles. They illustrate how the featured principle has been applied, that may inspire the reader to think about applying them in their own project or lifestyle.

The principles are the building blocks of permaculture. To this is added a basic moon planting guide which I've found valuable in motivating me to plant certain types of seeds and get active in the garden. Our family uses the calendar every day to plan ahead and see what's coming up.

If the calendar sounds like something that you'd like to check out then visit the website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bringing Nicole Foss to Seymour

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segrgate

While we have set ourselves up quite nicely on our small block, it's not enough. There's a lot that you can do to prepare for change, to reduce your overheads and provide for more of your own needs where you live, but if times really do get tough, what happens to everyone else? There's only so many pieces in my pie.

Michael Leunig - Off the chart
What goes down must grow up. Illustration used with permission from Michael Leuing
I've been following the work of Nicole Foss on her blog The Automatic Earth for a few years. She's helped me get my head around why another economic crisis is on the way and what we need to do to prepare for it. Realising the scale of change that we confront and the speed at which it will affect us has helped motivate me to raise this awareness in my local community.

On hearing of her latest tour I met with the new BEAM committee (I stepped down as president last month) to put forward a proposed event. With BEAM's support, I've taken it on and are bringing Nicole to Seymour on Thursday the 2nd of October. We'll be having a bit of a BBQ in front of the VRI Hall (near the railway station car park) from 6pm, with the event kicking off at 7pm - $10 per person, students free.

I'll be making a short presentation about how our local communities have been working behind the scenes to prepare already and put some of what she has discussed into a local context. I'll also have some permaculture publications available for sale on the night.

If you live somewhere nearby I hope you can join us - should be a great evening that will stimulate some great discussions, and hopefully actions.

Some more about Nicole and the event:


What if housing prices took a sudden drop? If the next financial crisis was worse than the 1930's Great Depression? If fuel and food prices skyrocket?

Nicole Foss 2014_2International speaker and writer Nicole Foss, who toured recently with David Holmgren, will come to Seymour on Thursday October the 2nd to explain why we are facing an era of financial crisis and rapid economic contraction and what we can do about it. She will address the implications of the global situation and the need for us to simplify our lives and focus on building resilience in our local communities.

“Reaching limits to growth will impose severe consequences, but these can be mitigated. Acting to create conditions conducive to adaptation in advance can make a difference to how crises are handled and the impact they ultimately have.” Nicole Foss

In her solution orientated presentation, Nicole will be detailing what we can do in advance to secure our families and communities for the long term in light of a coming period of uncertainty. She will discuss alternative methods of trade and ways to organise ourselves in challenging times.
There will be advice on how to prepare for fossil fuel shortage and economic collapse, looking at the range of choices available to people at the individual, family and community levels. She’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of living in various environments; urban, rural, suburban retrofit, intentional communities and eco-villages.

Nicole will share practical views on how to prepare for the looming threats of financial crisis, peak oil and limits to food and water supply. While collapse may or may not be imminent Nicole provides a vision for the future to make any eventual fall less severe for those who prepare.

VRI Hall at J W Elliott Reserve, Seymour Victoria (near old steam train)
VRI Hall at J W Elliott Reserve, Seymour Victoria 

Arrive at 6pm for BBQ, event starts at 7pm on Thursday the 2nd of October at the VRI Hall near Seymour Railway Station. Cost $10. Free for students. Brought to you by BEAM: Mitchell Environment Group.

Download the Nicole Foss Flyer - please share the event with your networks or in Facebook



Nicole featured recently on Radio National's Big Ideas - Listen to it here: Building Resilience in an Era of Limits to Growth


Brief Bio

Nicole M. Foss is co-editor of The Automatic Earth (TAE), where she writes under the alias Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner have been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, climate, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was previously editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Nicole ran the Agri-Energy Producers' Association of Ontario, where she has focused on farm-based biogas projects and grid connections for renewable energy. While living in the UK she was a Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where she specialised in nuclear safety in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and conducted research into electricity policy at the EU level.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK.

She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

Links to her Work

The World According to Automatic Earth

Nicole Foss on Global Financial Bubbles

Nicole Foss on Cheap Energy

Nicole Foss on Alternative Energy

Nicole Foss on Decoupling

Testimonial_from David Holmgren

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bathroom with a view (to the blue greenhouse) Part 2

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

This project has been one of the ongoing ones, that just took a giant leap forward - after some gentle nudging from Peter Lockyer, the builder architect who I worked with. Nothing like a deadline to work to, and the deadline is the 2014 Sustainable House Day - on this weekend.

Some more about the progression of the greenhouse can be seen in the Bathroom with a view post.

Since moving in there has been many competing priorities on what to do first. The greenhouse kept getting put on the back burner and it was Peter who kept moving me along, beginning with the adding of the flashing on the timber frame back in October 2011.  Since then the project stalled until I asked Peter if he was interested in running tours with me for this years Sustainable House Day. "Maybe you should finish off that greenhouse" - um, okay. Wow, no wonder I put it off for so long, it ended up being a BIG job.

Flashing the blue greenhouse


Peter begins to install flashing on the exposed timber of the greenhouse back in October 2011

Timber frames installed and painted, flashing, and louver guides fitted.

The brickwork

I'd been tossing up in my mind (for years) weather to just have brick paving and use baths for garden beds or to commit myself to brick wicking 'beds'. I'd always imagined that below the window would be bricked in and decided to put footings in for that before later deciding to include footings for the edges of the 'bed' too. I figured it would be better to do the job properly, than redo it later.

Strip footings for brick 'bed' inside greenhouse

'Bed' takes shape

As the 'bed' took shape I started wondering about the possibility of it becoming part of an aquaponics setup, as it's some pretty heavy duty infrastructure and I want to make the most of this space. Interestingly, I was contacted by Rob Armstrong of foodqube about running an article about how aquaponics can apply all of the permaculture principles. Some of my concerns about aquaponics were around the amount of plastics and pumps and unsustainable inputs required to set up and maintain an aquaponics system. Rob helped me to see things a bit differently.
As the brickwork was installed after the framing, I had an awkward gap between the last layer of bricks and the frame. I resolved this with some left over concrete sheeting that I fitted to the inside, under the flashing, and slapped in concrete on the outside with mortar to fill in the gaps. I also concreted in the base of the 'bed' to contain water for either a wicking bed or aquaponics set up - that may be sealed in the future if required.
You may also notice a pipe running through the brickwork - that's the greywater diversion pipe, another delayed project for the future.

Brickwork completed, and brick paving on a leveled sand bedding - exposed edges later concreted

Louvers fitted, paving completed and brick 'bed' base now concreted

The glazing

My trusty mate Dylan came on board to help me out with the glazing. As a professional glazier, amongst many other professions, he often gets access to glass that would usually get thrown out. He had some shop window glass sitting in his shed for many year that he had in mind for my job. We gathered it, cut it and installed it - and then Dylan ran me through the tips and tricks of finishing the job.
Of course the framing wasn't square, so the fitting was a real custom job. We used two pieces for the north side, leaving a 2mm gap that was later filled with silicon. All edges had a 2mm gap between the glass and the flashing and the back of the glass has a 1mm gap against the flashing. This gap was filled with black silicon with excess scraped away with a plastic edge and wiped away with the help of a spray gun filled with a 50/50 (?) mix of metho and water while still fresh.
I used 'L' tin flashing as beading, fixing it to the flashing with pop rivets - temporarily at first with small pieces and later with full lengths backed with silicon.

Dylan helps me instal reused shop front glass that he had tucked away in his shed

Detail of glazing installation - note gap around edges and back using black plastic (removed later), temporary beading to hold in place and black silicon on inside to fix glass.

The cladding

The materials that I had left determined a good part of the cladding. I hate having stuff sitting around, but I love collecting stuff. Use it or lose it I reckon.
The green tin, near the small louver winder was recovered from the local demolition.  The window allows warm air to enter the kitchen when it's needed.
The cladding of the bathroom / toilet wall is a different feel to the rest of the exterior of the house, but I figured that it wasn't really the outside of the house, it's a sort of inside outside space. I have used weatherboards outside above the carport door and large northern window, so it does tie in somewhat. Inside, of course, it links with the hallway wall that runs the length of the house.
I wanted to block in under the house, to prevent vermin from entering the greenhouse and also to contain as much heat as possible. I managed to glean a very large quantity of corrugated iron from a neighbour recently, some of which was offcuts from a new roof that he had installed - perfect. I helped him out on his renovation for a little bit as an exchange.
I also had a couple of garbage bags full of old wool that wasn't good enough for Kunie to spin. Perfect for insulation though, with a bit of left over foil for added insulation and to hold it in place.

Before cladding

Scrap alpaca and sheep wool used as insulation in wall cavity held in place with reflective foil during installation.

Recycled green tin installed around louver window to kitchen, oiled weatherboards from original house reused for bathroom / toilet wall and tin recovered from a new neighbour used to fill underfloor space.

 The finished blue greenhouse

With the addition of a step made with the offcut from the Red Gum slab used for the kitchen bench the room from the room with a view (our bathroom) was complete - well, this stage anyway.
The brick mass helps store the heat absorbed during the day, and release it at night. I've certainly noticed a difference inside - the bathroom and toilet don't have that chill factor that they once did. It's also great to open up the sliding door of the bathroom on sunny cool days to help heat up the eastern side of the house, that has no thermal mass. My office is down that end, and it gets bloody cold in winter - any little bit of heat helps.

Brick floor and 'bed' add thermal mass to regulate temperature in the greenhouse with red gum step to bathroom

Our blue greenhouse is now ready for the next stage. Wicking bed or Aquaculture, that's the next question.

What's next?

In this build I've also created a door behind the toilet within the greenhouse to access our sawdust toilet system - I'll write more about that later.

Probably the first think I want to do is set up a frame so that I can work in multiple layers in the greenhouse. I need a relatively small space for raising seedlings, with the majority of the space for super productive plants or plants out of season.

In doing that I need to clarify how to proceed with the aquaponics system. I continued my research last night, mainly on Rob's foodqube site (excellent blog posts there) and the Backyard Aquaponics site, which found a great way to get my head around the possibilities of setting it up. I'm currently thinking a flood and drain system (see video below) might be the way to go, with a custom bed set up above the brickwork, maybe even a double story bed, since I have the space.
Some of the things I'm wondering about are:
  • Will I need to seal the brickwork, or will it hold water without sealing?
  • Water temperature in the greenhouse, and suitability for livestock (is that what you call them)?
  • Are yabbies / silver perch / gold fish a good combo?
  • How much livestock can be comfortably kept in the 450 - 600lt capacity that I have?
  • How much of the needs can be provided for where I live? (closing the loop)
  • Will I need to block out sunlight to the water to prevent algae growth?
I might see what Rob thinks would be the best way forward, I much prefer to worth with people who know what they are doing rather than make lots of mistakes myself - and trying to find answers in forums can be a complete nightmare, unless you know exactly what you are looking for. There's also Dave the tank guy, here in Seymour who has been experimenting with aquaponics and I'm keen to see more of what he has been up to. I'm excited !



UPDATE: Same day, but later on...

I dropped in to visit Dave Palmer, from Rural Tanks in the industrial estate in Seymour. He showed me his latest creation, after experimenting with aquaponics for a couple of years. Dave makes old style galvanised iron water tanks, I have two of them here, and he's been creating new product lines with the changing market. He's got garden rings, wicking beds and now tanks design specifically for aquaponics. In this recently made demonstration setup, which is still under construction, he has painted the inside of the tanks with bitumen paint - which he has experimented with. I tasted the water, and there was no bitumen taste. He's also used locally sourced volcanic scroia and had local contacts for local(ish) fish suppliers. A good man to talk to, that's for sure.

Dave Palmer talking to my mum about his aquaponics design