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 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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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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Brrrr…keep the heat on the inside

fire in winterWinter is upon us. As the temperatures plummet outside, it’s really unfortunate when they drop inside as well.

No one has enjoyed the hike in electricity prices and unless you’re completely off the grid or well set up with a solar panel system, you’re going to be looking to find ways of maximising the dollars you spend on heating this winter.

So, a few basics to keep in mind over the coming months:

  • Installing ceiling insulation can reduce your annual power bill by 40%* (Energy Use in Your Home, Environment NSW);
  • If you’re in an older house, it might be time to consider renewing your insulation. Don’t forget to check corners of ceilings, walls and floors are properly insulated too, as heat will leak from these areas;
  • If you added up all the cracks and gaps, it would be the equivalent of having a 1 metre by 1.5 metre window open all the time. They can account for 15 – 25% of heat lost in your home* (Environment Victoria). Use weather stripping under doors and around windows to reduce leakage;
  • Polished floor boards in old houses are lovely – but you really will need something underneath to stop heat from escaping;
  • Let in the light! If you have north-facing windows in your house, leave your blinds up through the day to draw in as much free heat as possible;
  • Ensure you have heavy curtains you can draw in the evening, preferably with a pelmet above, so when the sun goes down you can to trap heat in the house;
  • Here’s an easy one…close off any rooms you aren’t using;
  • Insulate your external hot water pipes by wrapping with insulating tape to reduce the heat loss from your hot water tank to the taps, and reduce the energy needed to get your hot water;
  • Finally, watch the temperature and put on extra layers of clothing to reduce the temperature needed to keep you warm inside.

If you need help checking your place for drafts and doing some of the more basic winter maintenance jobs, give me a call on 0429 87 92 62.

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