Seasonal advice

Heat busters

Cameron the Handyman summer cooling solutions
image: Kim V. Goldsmith

Summer in Central NSW is most certainly making its presence felt this year. We’re even heading for 44 degrees by the end of the next week.

When you have several consecutive days over 40 degrees Celsius, there’s very little reprieve no matter how well planned your house and energy use. I’ve been trying to stick to inside jobs over the past few weeks, preferably where there’s air conditioning. But with late afternoon and evening temperatures being so high, it’s nice to know I’m coming home to a cool house even if I have been working inside most of the day.

We’re lucky we live in a passive solar house that was ahead of its time when it was built during the mid-1980s. On top of its north orientation, some of the features allowing us to minimise the use of the air-con even during the hotter weeks of summer include:

  • a 2.5m verandah around the entire house shades the slab, windows and walls from direct sun, with the addition of a well-watered trellised vine/shrub buffer and pergola on the south-west/western side of the house ensuring there’s no direct heat on the western side. It’s where the dogs like to hang out on hot mornings.
  • large trees on the outer edges of the house yard shade big areas of the garden;
  • the light coloured roof reflects heat;
  • small areas of lawn planted close to the house are watered most nights (using dam or recycled grey water);
  • the benefits of cross-ventilation are utilised by opening the house up at night to capture cooler evening breezes when they’re around, circulated through the house with the help of ceiling fans;
  • and the key feature – a long central hallway with a high ceiling and three roof-mounted whirly birds drawing cool air through the centre of the house. Vents and high, open windows in rooms either side of the hallway draw hot air into the hallway and out through the roof. The whirly birds, vents and windows can all be closed up in winter.

Despite this, we’ve still had to resort to using our air-conditioner more this summer than we’ve had to previously. With the exception of a few nights when it’s been 30 degrees plus at 10pm and minimums haven’t dropped much below 25 or 26 degrees, we often don’t turn the cooling on until mid to late afternoon, turning it off again at bedtime.

I work in all types of homes across Dubbo and some are better designed than others when it comes to cooling and heating. Yet, there are some very basic things we can all do in our homes to ensure we minimise the cost of air-conditioning.

  • Use ceiling fans where possible to create air flow;
  • Service your air-conditioner to ensure it’s working well;
  • Ensure you have adequate insulation and roof ventilation;
  • Shade windows and western walls with window coverings (awnings and curtains) and outside plantings;
  • Close up the house before things heat up in the mornings and open it up again at night;
  • Cool yourself down before you decide to cool down your house – it’ll hopefully delay the need to turn on the air-conditioner.

If you need a hand with installing whirly birds, insulation, awnings or window coverings, planting lawn, shrubs or vines give me a call. I even build pergolas. Call a sparky to install ceiling fans or to install or service your air-conditioner.

For more information on passive cooling check out this site.


Container conversion: Part 4

Cameron the Handyman container conversation

This will probably be the last update on the container conversion project for 2015. There are still a few things to do, including lining and fitting out the store-room/bathroom of the studio, as well as all the exterior work.

Since the last container conversion update

However, since the last update the plastering and painting has been finished, the power has been switched on, the kitchenette is 95% installed (silicon seal yet to be done and water not yet turned on), the flooring is in, the plumbing has been done to a point I can now finish it off, and the Artist has moved in and made herself at home.

There’s not a lot of technical detail to share in terms of getting the space looking more like an artist studio than a shipping container, as the skills required in plastering, painting, laying flooring and plumbing can be done by anyone with that experience or willingness to learn. If you’re unsure though, always get a qualified tradie…or a handyman with those skills.

A tip

One tip at this point though: if you’re considering doing a job like this, put time aside for it. This one has dragged on because I’ve been busy and the weekends have been scarce. Either that, or pay someone else to do it.

Electricians and plumbers are worth the money you pay them because if you attempt to do it yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing, things can go very, very wrong. I’m fairly handy with basic plumbing, but I made a call to bring in the experts after starting the process and not being happy with how it was panning out. Warwick Edwards’ boys left me enough to finish off the job, including digging the trench from the rainwater tank to the studio…

Heat proofing

Despite being extremely well insulated, after a really hot spell at the end of September that nearly cooked the resident Artist, she promptly went out and bought blinds – both internal and external. With two banks of louvered windows (north and south), a ceiling fan mounted between the windows (over the work space) and another fan up the western end of the studio, it was decided we needed to cut the direct heat coming into the space from the northern aspect.

Shade cloth style external blinds (from Bunnings) were mounted over the northern facing windows and black roller blinds were cut down and fitted to the northern French doors (a set has yet to be installed on the southern doors as well, which will reduce the light when projecting videos on to the end wall of the studio). Eventually, there’ll be a skillion roof over the container that will keep the heat off the exterior metal, as well as timber cladding on the western end of the building. Combined, with shade from the trees in the garden surrounding the studio, it should keep it at a reasonable temperature without the need for air conditioning during most the year (January/February excepted). Since installing the blinds, the internal temperature hasn’t gone much above 27 degrees, which is workable with the overhead fan on, the French doors and the louvered windows open. There’s a distinct change in temperature between the finished space and the unfinished storeroom when you open the door between them on a stinking hot day.

Making it pretty

In making the converted container a workable, creative space, the walls have been painted Dulux Lexicon – a cool grey/white. The flat-packed kitchenette (purchased from Bunnings) in gloss white with a recycled pine bench (salvaged from the old kitchen in the house) sealed with a food safe oil, has a round sink set into it with and mixer tap (also from Bunnings) – all designed to not only be cost-effective, but provide as much storage as possible in the 122cm wide x 60cm deep space available. There are three soft-closing drawers in the kitchenette as well as double doors under the sink. There’s even enough space to have a small microwave as well as a kettle! It wasn’t a big space to work with for the splash back, so I used a basic rectangular white tile for the kitchen, buying enough to do the bathroom splash back too when the time comes. It’s grouted with a mid-grey to match the wall paint.

The flooring is a product called AquaStep in Tallowood – an eco-friendly, VOC free, waterproof, floating floor with acoustic qualities and a high commercial fire rating. Having had to traipse in and out of the studio doing jobs since the floor went down, there’s some thought that the colour of the flooring is a problem (so I’m told…), as it shows dust and footprints. A lighter colour – which I do remember was under consideration – is now being thought to have maybe been the better choice. But there ain’t no going back.

The Artist has also installed gallery tracking – moving a large amount of works stored under beds and behind cupboards into the studio.

Given the styling and stuff that’s been going on over the past couple of months, it’s hard to believe what a work site it was not so long ago. I think all parties will be pretty pleased when we can sign off on this one.

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Container conversion: Part 3

Cameron the Handyman Dubbo

It’s been nearly 12 months since we’ve done an update on the container, largely because all the paid jobs have been a priority. It’s been a busy year.

However, over the past four months significant inroads have been made progressing this project – much to the relief of the resident Artist.

Over the past summer, the stud walls and ceiling joists went up and the doors went in after the Artist did her thing on the staining. That was a pain in the bum job and whoever suggested using Black Japan stain on French doors obviously wasn’t thinking of the work involved. There were a few problems with the stain as the timber in the doors wasn’t a consistent density. However, after the fourth coat (sealer), there was no going back.

We were into March when we started to have problems with our septic system. Something we hadn’t budgeted for in the studio project was a new septic. However, given the desperate need to do something, we made the decision to relocate it so that not only would we have a septic that better serves the house and northern garden (it’s an onsite waste water treatment system), we could now easily incorporate plumbing into the studio design (see pic above). So, no more talk of composting toilets (thank goodness). The studio will have a small bathroom/store-room and a kitchenette on the other side of the wall.

At about the same time, the electrician finally turned up (a saga in itself). It only took a few hours to wire up the studio with plenty of powerpoints, light switches, an outdoor light, a ceiling fan and a split system air conditioner (the Artist was out-voted by me and the electrician on that). The power will run from the house, so the next part of that job was up to me – digging the trench for the power cable. Not long after this was finished we had some much welcome rain and weeks later the trench is still full of water.

While I had the dingo trencher, we took advantage of moving around a truckload of mulch that we’d had delivered when the septic was going in. A large slab of the northern garden was wiped out in the process of putting the septic in and the Artist has taken advantage of that by redesigning the layout of the garden, which will now incorporate fruit trees, native grasses, granite pathways and landscaping around the studio, all watered by the Earthsafe recycled watering system.

So, after a couple of months off due to work being busy again, we were into May and with the timber work up inside, I was able to get started on the insulation, starting with the Space Blanket, an Earthwool® ceiling insulation with a laminate of reflective foil to stop condensation build up. Then it was on to plaster boarding the walls, which I unfortunately started on a rainy weekend. Working with damp plasterboard makes the job twice as hard.

It took a couple of weekends, which took us into June and finally, the main studio space is now insulated and walled. In all there was about 72msq of plasterboard and Earthwool® insulation (four packs for the walls and two packs of the thicker stuff for the ceiling). The bathroom/store-room is doing its job storing stuff at the moment – I’ll get to that eventually.

One other problem that arose over the past couple of months was with the Solar Whiz solar roof ventilator and heat extractor. I liked the flatter design of it compared to the conventional whirlybirds, which was going to work well with the skillion roof that will go over the studio. I took the Solar Whiz on to the roof of the studio and was about to cut a hole to fit the unit, when it started up. The noise of the fan was incredible! The Artist could hear it from the house. We’re still trying to work through this issue.

Next on the list is the installation of the fittings, getting the power switched on, putting in the kitchenette, then painting and laying the flooring…at least another six months worth of weekends, I reckon.

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Take time to plan

Cameron the Handyman buildingAnother summer has passed, although the heat is hanging around. If you’re now thinking of doing some major improvements in time for next summer, the coming months are the ideal time to do your planning, get quotes and then book the job early enough to ensure you enjoy the finished work.

When it comes time to get a quote, here are a few things you need to make sure you cover when talking to your trades.

  • Dimensions of the structure, the area to be made over, or the size of the room;
  • Details of any particular features you want included – a plan or sketch up can help;
  • Materials you want to use, any preferences, particularly finishes;
  • A budget if you have one;
  • Decide if you want to manage your own tradies (if more than one is required) OR if you’d prefer us to subcontract the trades within the one job.

We provide obligation free quotes after looking at prospective jobs, where I talk to you about your needs. Sometimes it’ll take a little bit of time to get all the information together to provide a comprehensive quote for you, but we’re very aware that timing is everything.

The countdown to Christmas

Deck_gardenDare I say that at the time of writing this there are less than 12 weeks until Christmas. I won’t bother calculating the days, but you get it? The shops have already started flogging their Christmas decorations and it won’t be long before the big items purchased as presents will be picked up and ‘hidden’ in cupboards and sheds across the country, with the expectation that the rest of Christmas Day won’t be spent with a bag of allen keys and a set of bad instructions trying to put the damn thing together – it will have already been assembled, probably by me.

At this time of year, on top of keeping my regular clients happy and getting the bigger paying commercial call outs, there are the requests to put together cubby houses, flat packed outdoor and indoor furniture, patching, painting and paving, and lots of quotes to get done on small jobs that I may or may not get. It’s that time of year when everyone wants their renovations and garden maintenance “done by Christmas”. That includes assembling stuff, patching, painting, paving, cleaning gutters, renovating decks, pruning and mulching, and the like. It’s great to make hay while the sun shines (and boy, does it shine), but by Christmas Day I feel like I’ve earned that beer we left out for Santa. In fact, I’ve played Santa several times over by then.

If you think you might have a list of things you want done by Christmas, in all seriousness, please allow some time for us to get back to you, quote, and then get the job done. It also helps if you have a list of things for me to quote on or do while I’m there, because it gets harder to come back to a job the closer we get to Christmas. Tradies across the nation are collectively quaking at the sound of that “done by Christmas” line dropped into just about every domestic enquiry from here on in. I get it in on the home front as well! You know that container conversion? Christmas has been the deadline for the past year…I keep saying she has to specify just what year that is to be.

Now, if only I can slow down time between now and December 25, there might be a chance of fitting it all in – even the container. I’m already looking forward to that beer.


If you’re working on getting your deck ready over summer and you want to have a crack at it yourself, keep in mind that if your deck has a polyurethane finish you’ll have to strip it right back. When it comes time to recoat, think about using an oil finish a it’ll be much easier to maintain going forward. Every finish has a life span and while some polyurethane products might say they’ll last four years, you then have to completely remove it to start again. Decking oil doesn’t last as long (12-18 months), but it won’t leave any kind of surface that can peel or lift. So, when you come to renovate your deck it’s a simple matter of a quick clean and a new oil coat.

Spring time blues

Spring budsI’m borrowing a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins here:

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring – When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush…”

And don’t they get away after only a few millimetres of rain? We could do with a lot more rain at this stage, but there seems to be just enough to get the weeds growing.

It’s a busy time as everyone seems to decide at once that they want things cleaned up for the warmer months ahead (and the clock is ticking down to Christmas) – everything from garden clean-ups to small renovations.

The key to making the spring clean not quite so big a job for me or you, is to do things more regularly. A tough gig when you’re busy and not always fun, but it certainly saves time and money when the weather warms up.

Anyone in trades will probably be finding that the work becomes more constant from here on in as everyone wants their job done today…or at the latest, tomorrow. Patience is a virtue, or so my mother told me, but it doesn’t always wear so well when talking with potential clients.

So, if you’re looking to do a spring clean at your place – be it oiling the deck, a fresh coat of paint, a garden tidy up or changing batteries in your smoke detectors –  think about what you can do and then give me a ring about the rest. Get a list happening of all the things you want done and prioritise it. And if I can’t do it, I’m always happy to give you some idea of who might.

In the meantime, enjoy the warmer days and have a word to that person of influence about sending down some decent rain before summer gets here.

Container conversion: Part 2

This a windows and door post…no pun intended.

There are certain design aesthetics at play here, or so I’m told. While I knew it would be trouble, the resident artist wanted a wide bank of louvred windows north and south in the container studio…and French doors – double and facing north and south. The window space chalked out on the outside of the container prior to ordering, turned out to be three panels of aluminium louvres for each side, which I had a gut feeling would be tricky to install.

Initially, the problem was probably a lack of experience, but the other main problem was the louvres are 110mm thick and the walls 120mm. Generally the reveals (the timber around the outside of the interior side of window) make up the difference between the wall thickness and window thickness, with 10mm to spare. So, I thought it would work.
When the windows arrived I discovered that the outside dimensions of the window did not include the reveal and the section of the window frame it attaches to. A beginners mistake! But now the window looked like it was going to protrude into the room because the louvre frame was stopping it from sitting further out in the opening. Aagh. It was only 10 mm – but just enough that I thought the internal window frame and architrave would look bulky.
After some swearing and head scratching, the solution, I’m hoping I’ve worked out, should be simple. I fixed the louvre to the external window opening frame so I can do away with the reveal and architrave and  use the frame of the louvre to slide the plasterboard behind to get a neat finish. Generally, you’d attach the windows to the internal frame, but given the container wall is probably stronger anyway, they’ve been screwed into the steel frame.
The other issue with the louvres is weatherproofing. I put some silastic around the louvre frame as a secondary barrier, but I’ll also put some aluminium angle and silastic on the external frame to stop water penetration. We wouldn’t want a damp resident artist, now would we?
Now I’m just waiting on said artist to stain the two sets of double French doors in Black Japan – another design aesthetic, so I’m told. It’s a fiddly process making them weather-proof too as Black Japan stain is generally used indoors and requires sealing before staining, and then a weatherproof coat to finish. In the meantime, one of the biggest challenges is finding time between the paid work to get back to the conversion job.



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