Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fixing our Worm Farm Waste Water Treatment System

At about the worst possible time (between Christmas and New Year) one of our electrical safety switches activated, switching off power in the house. After a few minutes of plugging appliances into various power points, we narrowed the problem down to the circuit that supplies the back half of the house.
Further investigation showed the problem was in the submersible pump that pumped waste water out of our worm farm waste water tank. This system processes all our effluent from the kitchen, bathroom and toilet. The waste water filters through a compost heap, where the solids sit until they decompose and the pump empties excess water that builds up in the sump.
There is no odour in the worm farm tank but the waste water entering the sump does have a mild smell. (Mild compared to that in a traditional septic system.) Still there is an odour and it is not the best time to be working with it, in the middle of our hottest summer for many years. This timing was also unfortunate because during this period most plumbers, plumbing suppliers and pump repairers were on their annual holiday. We decided that our only option was to have a go at it ourselves.
After checking the power point it was clear that the fault lay in the actual pump. It was time to get our hands dirty and extract the pump. It is fairly heavy at 15kg and a reasonably tight fit with the attached floats, but we managed to disconnect the wiring and piping and haul the unit up to the surface. We worked through many of the obvious possible problems trying it out again and again after each time. We even left it for a few days in the hope that if moisture was causing a short circuit it would dry out and at least work for another week or more. No luck!
Then we got on the phone and managed to find a pump repairer who worked from home. He did a few tests and told us that it was indeed faulty and would cost more to repair than buy a new one. The next day we went to Water Pros, an irrigation supplier in Lilydale (by now the holidays had finished). They were very helpful and to our amazement had a new pump for us within 2 days at a better price than I could find on the internet. We highly recommend them for their service and price on irrigation and pump equipment.
Once home we removed the piping, floats and wires from the old pump and transferred these to the new pump. After a few trials and tribulations we turned it on and it worked (no tripping of safety switches) and as the water level rose, it activated the shut off float and turned itself off. We were back to normal at last!
Altogether it took over a week to get the system working again. That was a week with minimal showers and working out ways to dispose of kitchen and laundry water onto the lawn (not a bad idea in summer anyway). The main worry was the fact that if water levels built up in the tank, the composting worms that process the waste, would all drown. Therefore emptying the waste water in the sump by hand (using a plastic ice cream tub screwed to the end of a pole) became a daily ritual. It took around 30 minutes to lift out about 200 litres.
The pump has now been working well for around six weeks, so we are hoping it will do so for many more years yet. However, both the pump repairer and the irrigation shop staff said you are lucky to get 5 or 6 six years out of a submersible pump in our situation (the old one was 9 years old). When we get time we will take the old one apart and see if we can repair it and keep it as a spare for emergencies.
Over the years we have found that it is possible to give things ago ourselves. As owner builders we frequently come across issues that are beyond our existing knowledge. We are by no means technically minded, but often find that doing some research on the web, asking around for information and taking things step by step helps. The process takes longer, can be a bit frustrating but it saves money and we learn new skills at the same time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Back at work on the Cottage

Even though it has been a hot dry summer with regular temperatures in the thirties, we have been steadily at work on “Tenderbreak Cottage” (formerly our barn). Several helpers have helped us get the mud brick walls started and they are close to a metre high already.

Our latest helper is Andrea from Italy and he has helped us do one of the trickier parts of the retrofit, which is to strengthen the roof frame to make it strong enough to support a solar hot water system. This involved installing heavy duty beams to support the extra loading on the roof and bolting these into place.
The next step was to use recycled chipboard to make a temporary floor on top of the existing collar ties so that we had a stable working platform to walk on. Once this was in place we cut the extra rafters to size, installed them beside the existing ones and bolted them in place.
This job would have been quite difficult to do alone, and it was great to have an enthusiastic helper like Andrea.  He was happy to help to lift the long timber beams and work in the reasonably confined space (which was quite hot up under the roof).
He cheerfully contributed his muscle power, helped work out methods to overcome problems that arose and made a good working companion. In fact he was so keen, that on his last day when we suggested we could take him for a drive and look at some of the local sights, Andrea said he would prefer to finish off the roof frame because as he said “when he starts a job, he likes to do a good job and finish it”.
Thanks to Andrea our little cottage has moved one step closer to completion!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Simple Pet Carry Crate made from Recycled Materials

Our family has a new member called “Cobber”.  Cobber* is a Red Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog puppy.  The lady who sold us Cobber suggested we buy a puppy carry crate so he could ride in the car. We were not keen on spending money on a commercially made crate, which we may only use once, so we thought out a much cheaper (free) alternative, using an old grass catcher from a lawn mower.

The grass catcher was perfect for the job because it was reasonably light, had a built in handle, was secure and strong, had good air circulation, allowed the puppy to see out, was safe without rough edges and easy to clean.

The door was made from an old refrigerator shelf. It was strong being made from stainless steel, easy to clean and without rough edges. It was cut to size with bolt cutters and bent to shape to fit over the grass catcher opening.

We bolted a piece of wood to the top of the catcher as a base for a door hinge mechanism.

To enable the door to open freely we used what we had on hand, which were  “U” shaped staple nails, but could have used wire or “U” bolts to make a neater job.

We made a simple toggle locking mechanism out of a piece of scrap wood, which rotates to lock or open the door.

The whole job took less than an hour. The carry box could be used to transport a variety of small animals such as cats, puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs, large lizards and small poultry.
Well how did it work in practice? Cobber travelled happily and of course we made regular stops to give him a toilet break and a walk around. We are unlikely to use it for Cobber in the future though, as he has already grown bigger in the past couple of weeks.
*Cobber is an Australian colloquialism meaning "mate" or "friend".

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