Saturday, October 18, 2008

In the last post I didn't get round to telling why 600 people came to the open day at our place. Sorry about that, but I became distracted by the Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm story and how it came into existance. The story continues with this post, but I promise I will eventually get back to the Open Day.

The two major elements in our permaculture plan were the house design and the construction of a large dam. The previous owners had intended building higher up the slope to maximise their “view” of the surrounding landscape. This would have kept the house away from any suitable site for a dam and made the access driveway very long (and more expensive to maintain). We selected a spot lower down the slope. The dam was positioned 60m to the north of the house site, at the junction of two small gullies which would assist it to fill more rapidly. The dam would offer some protection from wildfire and be a convenient source of water for gardens and fire fighting.

The year we constructed the dam (1995) was unusually wet, causing many delays. Although the site had ideal topography, the subsoils were not ideal. Kevin Jones, our very expert dozer driver had to go quite deep to locate the clay needed to seal the wall. As a consequence, the dam is much deeper than we intended (7m), but since our climate has started getting drier we are very grateful for having the extra water storage capacity.

We played with dozens of different house designs (varying greatly in layout and types of construction). Initially we were intending to build an earth sheltered house using the “Terradome” technique (Interlinked concrete domes). However three main factors changed our mind – the high cost, the need for specialist builders and we were not comfortable with the thought of living inside an almost totally concrete structure.

Eventually we settled on mudbrick construction using the post and beam technique. We drew up plans ourselves, taking care to integrate as many design elements as possible. Over a period of months we gradually changed and refined these so that the final package would best meet our requirements. One day we will do a post on the main features of our house design.

Once we had settled on the concept we sent off our ideas to Rod Sheppard (Earthform Constructions), who we had contracted to assist us with building the frame and roof, and asked him for his comments. After some minor adjustments we asked Rod to draw up the specs, draft the plans, order the timber and list other materials necessary. I took three months off on long service leave (May to July, 1999). Together with Rod, his mate and Heather on weekends; the slab, frame and roof of our house and barn were put up. An advantage of us working on site was that we were able to be involved in making choices as they came up. Building a house is a complex job and very hard for novices to envisage in 3D, from two dimensional plans. As the building took shape we were able to make dozens of modifications and adjustments. Once the frame and roof was up, we basically did the rest ourselves with occasional help from children and friends.

Initially we intended to use timber off the property and our own soil to make mudbricks. Unfortunately these two ideas fell through. Our timber turned out to be unsatisfactory in size and quality, so we chose plantation grown Cypress Macrocarpa for the frame. After making 60 of our own mudbricks, we realized that it would take forever to make the 4000 mudbricks required. So we settled on puddled bricks (made with the help of a tractor) supplied by Barclay Bricks, a local mudbrick company (Hurstbridge).

We sold our previous house in May 2001 which gave us 4 months to get the new house into a liveable state. We moved in, in late August, but still had no external doors, no B.I.R. and no walls on the garage. Since then we have been slowly finishing off the inside of the house and doing what we like to do most of all -developing the food gardens and outside structures. We’ll leave details of building our mudbrick dream house to a later post.

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