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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Winter is upon us

Baby, it’s cold outside! They might call it autumn, but winter is almost here and we’re flicking switches or stoking fires to keep the chill at bay. With the focus on the indoors and “cocooning” on cold winter’s nights, we need to be mindful of some of the safety aspects of heating and fires and general winter home maintenance.

  • Make sure you get your appliances checked out by a qualified electrician, particularly electric blankets.
  • Don’t waste money and let the hot air out – check for drafts around windows and under doors.
  • Check your fire alarms and for good measure make the first day of winter the day you change your batteries, if you haven’t already done so.
  • If you have a wood heater, make sure you check the flue is clean and there are no obstructions there that may have built up over past winters or occured over summer.

I’m not a qualified electrician – but there are plenty around. However, I can help with fixing drafts, checking fire alarms and cleaning wood heaters. Then there are those other little jobs that build up and make life a little more uncomfortable over winter – like doors that don’t close properly and taps that drip all your hot water down the drain. Give me a ring and I’ll get those things fixed for you!

By the way, Fire & Rescue NSW have a really handy little website up called A lot can happen in 3 minutes and there’s a great Home Fire Safety Checklist that is worth having a look at.

Image: (c) 2011 Kim V. Goldsmith, wire sculpture on wood heater (c) Merryn Spencer

Autumn leaves are starting to fall

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the autumn leaves are falling!

Above average rainfall over summer and in these early weeks of autumn, highlight the need to ensure your gutters don’t get cluttered with leaves. Whether you have deciduous trees in your yard, or native eucalypts, gutters block up quickly at this time of year.

Give me a call regarding an obligation free quote on checking your gutters, or any other jobs you want done before the cold sets in.

Summer is almost here!

Summer is almost on us and there are a few jobs you should do so you can enjoy the longer days and warmer months:
* Clean and check your guttering
* Remove rubbish from around your home
* Ensure your taps don’t leak and your hoses are in good repair
* Check and clean your flyscreens
* Make sure screen doors close properly
* Get your air-conditioning checked
* Clean the dust from your ceiling fans
* Make sure your smoke detectors are working
* Tidy up the garden, re-mulch beds that need a top up

Running out of time to do some of this? Give me call! In the meantime, stay cool – check out the great tips from Sustainability Victoria on keeping your home cool this summer – see the favourite links in the right margin. I’ve included some other useful tips and contacts below – the links of which are in my favourite links list as well:

For emergency help in floods and storms call:
State Emergency Service (SES)on 132 500

For ideas about how to prepare your property for summer check out information from the NSW Fire Brigade and NSW Rural Fire Service.