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Hello and welcome to "Eco-Hut". This page describes the building of low-cost, eco-friendly accommodation for a single person. It is designed to save energy, resources, and money.   This means one can focus on truly important things, like philosophy, the love of wisdom.

My email is: kellyjones@naturalthinker.net


Ecohut Goals
  1. Keep it simple and small. The simpler it is, the easier for one person to build and maintain.   The smaller it is, the less materials, time, effort, and money is required to build.   The simpler it is, the more conducive to meditation and an unfragmented mind.
  2. Many-purposes is cheaper, since less objects are required to look after.   For example, a kotatsu is a heater and a table.   A greenhouse lean-to on the north side of a house grows food, increases indoor warmth, and protects the skin of the house.   A shelf can be a safety barrier.   Wall cladding can be a noticeboard.   Under-floor space can be storage space.
  3. Be self-sufficient in energy, water, waste, and food. This reduces your life-supporting efforts and costs.
  4. Think (DIY attitude). Use your own skills and effort.   Use materials easily obtained nearby, like rocks, clay or sand, reeds, weeds, grasses.   Reuse and redesign.   Part of this long-term approach is balancing efforts of ongoing maintenance with the reusability of components at the end of their life-span.   Do not reuse or recycle materials that are near the end of their life-span.
  5. Adapt. Take what is there as a guide, not an enemy.   For instance: every building design ought to be different, to respond directly to local conditions of rainfall, frost, winds, bushfires, flood, cold pockets, and other inhabitants' needs and habits.
  6. Inspire, by being an interesting and thought-stimulating place to observe. It should be easy to use, and accommodate major life changes. It should not create psychological barriers, but bring inside and outside into the same sphere.

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Economics
My tips on saving money
Kelly

I am strongly against the "common sense" but insane notion of investing in property as a major source of income.   The result of this, is that accommodation costs most people twenty years of life slaving in an unedifying job merely to afford accommodation!   How absolutely stupid.

Even one year of being mentally stressed and incapacitated for deeper thought, is a year lost forever.   And such a life has demoralising effects on others, as well as oneself.   You start telling others that you had no choice.   You start blaming society, when it is your own choice to give in to this stupid system.   So, I believe that investing in properties as a major source of income is one of the most powerful causes for the philosophical ignorance rampant in society today.   Most people, if they have heard of any philosopher's name, haven't a clue what their ideas were, or, if they have, whether the ideas were valid or not.   This is shameful, given that philosophical matters are about understanding the nature of Reality, and one's existence in relation to Reality.   Not knowing Reality leads to disaster (Lao Tzu).

How to build cheaply


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Ecohut Designs

An ecological dwelling adapts to its local environment.   My design responds to my site.   The following section explores my local area, to show how my design developed as a direct response to it.

map showing location of Zeehan in Tasmania

About Zeehan:     The block is located in the small mining township of Zeehan (altitude 172m, population 728), a town on the West Coast Range in Tasmania.   Winter averages are 3 to 11°C and 9 to 20°C in summer, with extremes of -4°C in winter and 40°C in summer.   The annual rainfall is high, at 2.3m peaking in the long, cold winter.   The latitude is 41°south, with summer days stretching to 16 hours.   The main industries are mining (zinc, tin, nickel), and tourism.   Land is cheap here, because new deposits are increasingly more difficult to find, causing mines to close and workers to move away immediately, and because of the remoteness and rainy, cold climate.   Quarter-acre blocks sell for under $20,000K in 2013.

Here are some photos of the area, showing the changes over time:

1900 hospitalPost OfficeGaiety Theatre1945 CC16 train
1900 Post office Gaiety Theatre train
2008Post officeSilent filmsSpecial G16
2008 post office films train
Mt ZeehanMt ZeehanBastyan DamReece Dam
Mt Zeehan Mt Zeehan Bastyan dam Reece dam
Spray tunnelOld cemeteryOld cemeteryOld cemetery
Boarded section at MariposaOld smelter siteSprayer room (silver, lead)Burning Gorse
smelter sprayer old tramway burning off gorse
Aerial picAerial picAerial picAerial pic
aerial shot

 

Links to other interesting photos

 

Some of my photos on exploring the area:

Zeehan gymZeehan museum (Old Mining School)Train at museum
Zeehan gym Museum (old minerological school) Train at museum
Rusting mining equipmentAnother trainPine tree behind museum
train another train pine tree behind museum
Hilltop winze above the museumPost OfficePine tree
Old winze on hill top Post Office Pine tree

 

How I took a basic ecohut design, and adapted it to the site and local environment
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The Zinn is 99 square feet (14' x 6.9') and the loft is about 2 metres from the ground floor. Here are a few thumbnails from Jay Shafer's book.

FrontAnother frontFront elevationFoundationFloor
Zinn Another front front elevation foundation floor

My designs began with the Zinn box bungalow, by Jay Shaeffer, because these were free. I held onto this basic design, for its simplicity of structure. The images below show adjustments of a few things.

  1. Bigger floor area.   Because the local climate has a very heavy rainfall in winter, it would be difficult to be indoors most of the time, in a tiny house.
  2. Moved toilet to an annexe, not accessed from indoors.   The Australian building code prohibits a toilet directly off a kitchen, and requires a composting toilet to be two metres [2m] from the main building.
  3. Increased ceiling height of loft area.   Bedrooms in Australia must have a ceiling height of 2.4 metres.
  4. Added a wrap-around deck and a greenhouse.
  5. Removed the dormer entrance window.
  6. Mixture of roof trusses and rafters.
  7. Cyclonic architectural element of a central ladder integrated into a roof truss and anchored on concrete piers below.
  8. Larger windows on the north and east.
  9. Separating the shower and toilet for hygiene reasons.
How the design evolved
1 July 20136 July 20133 August 2013
front elevation front elevation2 angle
7 October 20132 February 20146 March 2014
back Japanese Japanese2

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Site Designs

My block is flat, grassy, sandy-peat soil and 961sqm in size.   There is one other building at the opposite side of the block, a residence about 200m away.   There were three main items for the site design: (1) Improve water drainage owing to the heavy rainfall, (2) Prevent bushfire danger owing to the gorse on neighbouring crown land, (3) Treat greywater onsite.   Here are some photos of the block in October 2013, after stormwater drains were cleared on the north edge.

SoutheastSouthWest
east south west
Heemskirk RdFront of block, northFront of block, east
west Heemskirk Rd south end of block
Rear laneway and drains clearedNorth end of blockWest laneway drain partly cleared
rear north west

 

The block is zoned "Rural Resources", with residential building as permitted at the discretion of council planning officers.   This "discretionary use" meant a planning permit would cost more, and the building setbacks would need to be adjusted, since Rural Resources had a building envelope set back 20 metres from the front and rear boundaries.   To apply that to my block would make building impossible.

When applying for planning and building permission, I enclosed my arguments in support of my building plans.   An early version is provided here.

Other aspects included in the site design were: access, bushfire prevention, location of buildings, tanks, vegetation, site contours, water courses and drainage lines, waste, solar easement, and setback lines.

Below are several of the draft-stage drawings for the planning permit.   Click on each for full size images (~1MB each):

Site LayoutBuilding LayoutN & E ElevationsMezzanine
site layout elevations elevations

 


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Building Technology

I stuck to the timber stud-frame construction method, because it would be easy enough for me, and lightweight enough not to require a concrete slab.   In my cold temperate, high-rainfall region, the stick frame would need to be raised off the ground to prevent rising damp, to prevent heat loss through the walls and roof, and still allow for natural ventilation in the very hot summers.   Also, the greenhouse would require special consideration of ventilation, to prevent moist air building up inside the building.

Description of materials:


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Heating

During my adult life, I've relied mostly on passive heating, like sealing off air inlets in buildings, heavy curtains on windows, and occupying the sun-facing rooms of a building. In winter, I tend to use small personal heating devices, and will continue to use these in the ecohut: USB typing gloves, hot water bottle, hot drinks, kotatsu (using a reptile heater cord of about 50W), warm clothing, and being active.

For hot water, I plan to use an evacuated-tube, close-coupled solar hot water system that couples the evacuated tubes to the storage cylinder, with a heat exchanger within the storage tank mounted on the roof.   In winter, this will be boosted by a hydropower L.P. gas heating unit, that is ignited by water pressure.   I decided to connect to the mains water to provide enough pressure for the water into this system.   Drinking water is collected from the roof and stored in 10,000L poly tank.   In future, I'd like to build a cordwood sauna that could also act as an indoors clothes-drying room, guest bedroom, and food-drying room.

Here is a kotatsu: kotatsu

Cooling is simple for the ecohut: open windows to create a cross-flow of air.   Cooling of food happens using a 35L 12V Waeco refrigerator.


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Water

By regulation, the minimum water storage for a rural residential site of 1000sqm in Tasmania is 10,000L, if they are not on "mains" supply. This is for defending the property in a bushfire.  As I am also connected to mains water, with a hydrant across the road, it is not legally necessary for me to have the fire-fighting water tank, but it is there as a back-up in case of mains pressure failure.  So there are two 10,000L poly tanks, one for fire-fighting, one for drinking and gardening, and the fire tank must have a metal skirt to shield it from grass fires.

Water tanks for use in bushfire prone areas can be poly (no longer necessarily metal or concrete), but no poly pipe connections are permitted exposed above ground, as these can easily melt in the approach of a fire.   Also, tanks are to be placed on the fire-side of the house, as with all wet areas like gardens, greywater absorption / evaporation trenches, orchards, dams, etc.

A fire-fighting truck needs to get within 3 metres of the water tank, and the tank outlet must have specific 2" Storz fittings (see the Tasmanian Fire Service website for details).   Tanks need to be placed on a concrete slab or a stabilised gravel bed, and the overflow from the tank piped away from the tank base.


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Plumbing

Water is pushed by mains pressure to the evacuated hot water cylinder on the roof, which thermosiphons and feeds down into the shower, kitchen sink, laundry tub and hand basin.   In winter, I can turn a valve allowing mains water to the gas hot water unit, which ignites on water pressure, such that hot water from the gas unit will then enter the solar evacuated tubes and then enter the shower (etc.).   Wastewater drains via kitchen grease trap and laundry lint filter into a 450L pump well, then is pumped up to a raised modified greywater bed of 10 metres in length, 2 metres in width, and about 60cm high.   There is no effluent disposal but rather humanure is collected in the Ecolet NE Slimline composting toilet, which has two buckets that take about 2 months to fill.   When filled, an empty bucket is swapped in, while the full bucked sits for 2 months, then is composted onsite in a worm farm, to be later used as fertiliser on fruit trees.


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Waste

I aim to generate no pollution. This means, if I buy things packaged in metal, plastic, glass, paper or whatever, then I need to find a long-lasting use for the packaging. Not to mention, to ensure the item is long-lasting itself. To reduce waste, I aim to buy bulk food in reusable sacks, go fishing instead of buying tinned fish, preserve fruit and vegies in glass jars, and not to buy things in unrecyclable plastic packaging.

All food can be composted, including digested food. Food scraps can go into a worm farm, while humanure is composted after being shat into a dry composting toilet.   There is a special mix of enzymes and sawdust that go into the composting toilet with humanure.   To aid in helping the humanure dry out, I don't pee into the toilet, but dilute it 1:10 and pour it onto trees as one of the first tasks of the morning to avoid ammonia being generated.   The composting toilet room needs to be maintained at a temperature of 18°C, and then the batch sit at the same warm temperature for a couple of months, before being further converted by worms.   When ready, it is mulched around fruit trees and vines, like apples, berries, pears, etc.

Dry composting toiletGreywaterWorm farms
Ecolet NE brochure
Eco Let NE
Sustainable Living Tasmania info about greywater recycling
Worm farms are easy to set up.

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Hazards

The hazards for the Zeehan block are: bushfire.

Bushfire GuideBAL
Designing houses in bushfire prone areas Bushfire Assessment Levels

The key problem for the site was to have a 14 metre fire buffer all around the building, when the block was only 20 metres wide.   This led to needing to have a formal, written agreement with my neighbours on both sides; being Crown Land, I had to lease both blocks of Crown Land.   This entailed paying a lot more money than I had imagined would be part of the ecohut project.   In addition to crown lease fees of $220 per year, were legal fees for the crown solicitor to draw up the lease (almost $700), and annual council rates (approximately $330 for each block), and quarterly water authority charges for the water mains (about $400 per year for each block) despite never connecting the water mains.   3-6 months after the lease was approved, there would also be revaluation fees ($150 to $300) and probable increase of the lease.   If this seems unfair to you, it is because it is unfair.   But Crown Land doesn't clear fire hazards on their land in Tasmania neighbouring residential housing, unless the housing was there before there was a fire hazard.

I gained the BAL of 12.5 through the Crown Lease. Bushfire-related changes to the design included choosing fire-resistant timber for the deck, flyscreens on all windows, an ember-proofing skirting to the lower perimeter of the greenhouse, and using Laserlite 2000 for the greenhouse cladding.

 

 

 


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Regulations & Hoops to Jump

When I registered as an owner builder in 2014, I was required to do two courses: one for building management, and the other to obtain a "white card" showing an understanding of safety issues.   In late 2016, changes to the building industry were announced, making it far more difficult for owner-builders to get building permits, since their work is now classified high-risk and therefore more expensive to undertake.

In 2014, to obtain building permits, I had first to obtain a certificate of compliance from my private building surveyor, to indicate the building plans meet federal and state building codes.   To register as an owner-builder, the building surveyor submitted my registration form, along with building trade levies, to the state authority.   Then I was granted permits by the local council, including a building permit, planning permit, plumbing permit, and special plumbing permit for the greywater bed.

All these permits, certificates, registrations, and so forth, cost me a lot of money.

When permits have been granted, I then had to submit forms relevant to different components and stages of the building, e.g. "start work", to show to council their works are approved by the building surveyor. The plumber submits his or hers to the council.   There are many of these forms.   The building surveyor inspects progress at least three times during the building: once to check foundations, before concrete is poured; once to check framing is according to current Australian Standards, before enclosed by cladding; and once at the end of the build to certify completion, which is a formal end to the process and approved by the council.


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Construction

The structural timbers, foundations, and bracing, had to be specified by a structural engineer.   Most of the construction detail I gleaned from books like Allan Staines' series of books for owner-builders, information from a Construction Technology unit studied at Curtin University, books and videos on woodworking skills, roof construction, Klaus Zwerger's book on wood joints, and the like.

I had some trouble in a few structural details, that were actually the fault of the structural engineer.   He specified dimensions for a ridge beam at 170 x 35mm.   Note: A ridge beam cannot be cut and joined, but must be a single length, or else it has to be very carefully supported.   However, the dimensions specified indicate a ridge board, not beam.   A ridge board may be cut and joined.   So, when I ordered the timber, and was told the full length of 11 metres was not available, I decided I could cut and join two timbers at the half-way mark using a zig-zag splice within a fish-plate.   This is a very solid join.   However, because it is not technically permitted by Australian Standards, I had to go back to the structural engineer (the original one having left by then), to get a new design solution.   The new engineer specified a supporting pole with struts, which blocked the ladder entrance to the mezzanine, so I offered a design of two poles and struts, like a door frame, with the ladder slotting in between.   Another end-strut was also required, and the supporting posts had to go down to rest on floor joists directly adjacent to concrete piers.   A lot of fuss that could have been avoided with better dimensions by the first engineer!

Another issue I encountered was lintel construction, where I needed to add more bearing support and ensure laminated timbers were end-on.

Another issue was that the original rung ladder design was vertical (at 90° to the horizontal) which, while permitted by Australian Standards, is not the safest option.   There were a few issues with the design, that the building surveyor had passed, that I later discovered were not legal.   So I altered the design to create a step ladder with hand-rail, at 70° to the horizontal, and added tread support to the rebated treads.

Following are some photos of construction, starting with a garden shed slab, and levelling the crown land by hand (pitchfork, shovel and wheelbarrow).   Periods with no photos mean I am slowly working at projects on site, dealing with illness, working off-site at various jobs, or discontented by the appallingly and unusually long, wet winter of 2016.

2 Nov 2014: Garden Shed slab after 21 days' curingLevelling crown land by hand
slab levelling
12 Nov 2014: Garden shed22 Nov: Site levelled and 42 pier holes bored
garden shed earthworks
22 Nov 2014: Excavator loading onto truck25 Nov: Corrugated pad forms 450mm dia x 200mm ht
climbing onto truck pad forms
Pier forms, 200mm dia x 1330mm. Dog mesh and plastic sandwich Mesh cylinders on bases, showing how piers sit above pad forms
pier forms pier forms
26 Nov: Emptying holes of water: muddy work 9 Dec: Hurdles erected to suspend reobar, plastic bag hole liners and formwork
clearing holes hurdles
Work bench26 Dec: volunteer workers Alan and Bery
work bench volunteers
26 Dec: foundations finished9 Feb 2015: wood shed framing
foundations finished wood shed
15 Feb 2015: Rest of the site levelled15 Feb 2015: Old bottles found when excavator dug stormwater drain trench
site levelled old bottles
2 March 2015: Woodshed wall made of gorse masonry26 April 2015: Gorse masonry shed almost finished
gorse masonry gorse hut
25 September 2015: Bearers finished25 September 2015: Detail of painted lap-joint at load point
bearers lapjoint
28 September 2015: Floor joists finished28 September 2015: Three trees from Kevin Solway (about a month old)
floor joists callitris
4 October 2015: West wall erected15 November 2015: Walls finished
west wall walls
20 January 2016: Plywood bracing, linseed oil, ceiling joists underway20 January 2016: Gorse masonry storage shed
bracing storage shed
29 January 2016: Ceiling joists done, verandah underway11 February 2016: Ridge beam up, rafters underway
verandah rafters
14 February 2016: Main common rafters erected1 March 2016: Greenhouse rafters completed
rafters rafters
3 March 2016: Outriggers and gable framing4 March 2016: Plywood bracing on gables
Gables Gables2
7 April 2016: Sarking and battens13 April 2016: Roof cladding and ridge capping
Sarking Roof
18 April 2016: Wall sarking26 April: Wall and gable cladding underway
sarking cladding
10 June: Floor, wall and ceiling insulation underway13 June: Storage boxes under floor (trapdoor)
Floor insulation
25 June: Window, doors, handles, locks27 June: Recycled Tas Oak floor boards underway
Windows and doors Mezzanine floorboards
5 July: Solar HW, loo vent, waste plumbing6 July: Hot and cold water plumbing
waste pipes cold and hot water pipes
10 September: Ceiling underway13 September: Shower tiling underway
ceiling tiling
15 September: Balustrade underway14 October: Interior cladding underway
balustrade walls
23 December: Shower wall mosaic23 December: Shower tiling
Shower wall tiles shower tiles
25 December: Mezzanine ladder3 January 2017: Gyprock jointing and painting, toilet in place
ladder toilet
13 January 2017: Kitchen bench and sink25 January: Kitchen / shower / toilet ceilings. Painting. Tiling
kitchen kitchen 2
31st January: Skirting boards and architraves underway4 February: Small deck and outdoor basin under construction
architraves basin
4 April: Ready for gas connection (cooktop instead)4 April: Kitchen ready for final stage plumbing
kitchen kitchen
4 April: Mains trench for house water4 April: Tank trench for drinking
Mains Rain tank
4 April: Mezzanine painting4 April: Mezzanine painting cont'd
mezzanine mezzanine 2
10 April: Seven water taps connected, and wastes plumbed9 April: Frames for solar hot water unit installed
taps solar hot water frame
11 April: Gutter bargeboards underway11 April: Mains and tank pipes to house, plus two outdoor taps
barge boards water pipes
11 April: Hydropower 13H. L: hot, C: gas, R: cold.
The cold pipe has a manual valve, but the water is the hot pipe from solar hot water unit.
11 April: Cold pipe to solar hot water tank, hot returns into gas water heater.
The manual shut-off bypasses the Hydropower thermostat
hydropower solar hot water
11 April: LP Gas pipes run outside verandah to Hydropower 13H,
and here back to house to fuel the cooktop
11 April: Garden tap on solar hot water frame
gas garden tap
11 April: Outdoor basin11 April: Solar hot water tank in place
Outdoor basin solar hot water
14 April: Gutters and downpipes underway20 April: Greenhouse wall cladding
gutters and downpipes greenhouse wall cladding
27 April 2017: Greywater bed sand and inspection port underway9 May 2017: 12 volt 250W panel installed (to upgrade later)
greywater bed solar panel
4 April: Autumn. Trees from 12 to 24 months old9 May 2017: Another picture of trees
Trees Trees
9 May: Herb box (rosemary, parsley, sage, oregano)9 May: Yukkas, wild-sown poppy, White flag iris
Herb box Yukkas
10 May: "Wear Orange Wednesday" (SES Day)Date: More architraves and cornices
SES Day: Wear Orange Wednesday architraves
Date: Gas cylinder support postDate: Another concrete step
Date: Greywater bed pipes and geotextile membraneDate: Greywater pump installed
Date: Lights and power pointsDate: Electronics board
Date: 12v dc 105Ah AGM battery installed (upgrade later)Exhaust fan
Date: LPG pipe connected to cooktopDate: LPG cylinders installed
Date: Rain tanks connected via first flush diverterDate: Tank overflow to stormwater drain