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.

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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 1

Southern side of studio (entrance)
Southern side of studio (entrance)

Just before Christmas last year we had a 40ft hi-cube container delivered to our block where it was installed in the bottom of the garden with the intention of converting it into a workshop/studio space for the resident artist. While said artist had some flash CAD plans prepared and was already visualising a New York loft-style space, at the end of the day it will be a glorified shed and storage space, which will hopefully reduce the amount of things piling up in my workshop.

Mounted on concrete piers, the long sides of the container face north/south and two sets of double doors (2.05×1.63m) and window spaces (1.06×2.3m) have been cut into the walls in preparation for French doors and louvred windows to be installed. There will be about 2m x 8m of workable space inside for a table and seating and a kitchenette (an old $10 school desk with a small sink cut into it). A 2mx2m store room will be positioned on the eastern end where the existing double doors are – one of these will remain useable so it can opened for airflow and to manoeuvre large items into the store room. We’re looking into a self-contained composting toilet for this space too.

Aerial view of container design
Aerial view of container design

The container will be wired up and insulated then lined with plasterboard. A roof will be built over it, extending on to the southern side to provide an outdoor, undercover area which we’ll pave with recycled pavers from an existing pergola construction currently sitting alongside the container. This, along with the space provided underneath by the piers, will provide air flow both under and over the container, helping with the climate control that will be required, given the artist is insisting she doesn’t want heating or cooling in the space. The first summer might test her.

There are plans for a recycled timber deck on the northern side looking down the paddock. Plumbing will be minimal, just enough to supply the kitchenette and to make a cuppa from time to time. As we often do here when it’s dry, waste water will be bucketed from the sink into the native garden surrounding the space. Water needs won’t be high with a composting toilet, and the artist is more into high-tech art making these days rather than painting.

It’s been a bit of a learning curve working out the how-tos for this conversion and I’ve been getting advice from various sources along the way, but we’re now into it and it’s really starting to take shape. We’ll keep you updated as it progresses…and when the resident artist finally takes over the space. Meanwhile she’s selecting lighting, flooring and working out paint colours…

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