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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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.

SUMMER DECKING TIP

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.

Saving every last drop

Dripping tapDrip, drip, drip…There’s nothing more annoying in the middle of the night than listening to a dripping tap!

You can lose a few litres of water an hour from a slow dripping tap and thousands of litres a day from a constantly running toilet. Dubbo City Council estimate that by fixing a dripping tap in your home you can save 5-50 litres of water/day – that can add up to more than $5! A leaking toilet can waste 5-100 litres/day.

Don’t you think it’s time you had a go at some basic home maintenance?

One of the big hardware stores has a very easy to watch video on how to change a tap washer, which is worth viewing if you’re keen to have a go.

Just note, when replacing a tap seal it’s generally a good idea to replace the spindle O-ring as well. This video doesn’t cover that part of the process. If you get stuck – you know who to call!

Remember not to turn taps off too hard and replace washers as soon as taps begin to leak.

Sydney Water have a great tip here for testing your toilet for leaks. Place a small piece of dry toilet paper at the back of the toilet bowl and check that it stays dry until the next flush. Toilet cisterns shouldn’t release any water between flushes.

Another way to test for leaks in your toilet is to put some food colouring in the cistern. Don’t flush but return at least an hour later. If the colouring is showing in the toilet bowl, the cistern is leaking. Don’t forget to look at your water meter in the process of checking for leaks.

Any major work on plumbing needs the care of a licensed plumber, but if you’re not quite sure where to start, give me call.

The birds are a twittering

Willy Wagtail eggs in nesWe’ve certainly had a warm start to spring and everywhere you look there are signs we’re in for a long, hot summer. The only thing holding back lawns at the moment is the lack of rain, but deciduous trees are either flowering or leafing up and spring flowers are coming up everywhere.

While the weather at this time of year can be a little unpredictable, it’s still a good time to start getting ready for the summer ahead. Some things you might want to have a think about for the coming months include:

  • Check your gutters – gutters that overflow back into the roof space are a common cause of damage in homes;
  • Check fly screens – most are easy to replace and stop that bug invasion that happens when the weather warms up;
  • Check your evaporative cooler* before you really need to turn it on – over winter bearings can seize up and the float valves stick shut;
  • Check filters on the internal unit of your reverse cycle air conditioner* – read the manual; it’s usually not a difficult job;
  • Fertilise your lawn and spray out weeds – use a selective broadleaf herbicide. Kamba M gives good control of most broadleaf weeds if use as directed. Spread your fertiliser at least two weeks after spraying for weeds. Tip: It all works better if your lawn is well watered before you start.

*Please take care if you’re climbing on your roof. If you’re not sure about working at heights, seek help.

For some more ideas of what you could be doing this spring to get ready for the long summer days ahead, check out an earlier post – Spring clean your way to a carefree summer!

If you have problems with any of these basic maintenance jobs, give me a call! I’m more than happy to give a quote. Don’t forget though, it’s a busy time of year for blokes like me and a little bit of notice is always appreciated.