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Nº 150 DECEMBER 2008/JANUARY 2009

Issue #150 – we celebrate with extra pages and full colour!

The T H E AU S T R A L A S I A N H O M E B UI L D E R S M AGA Z IN E $7.95 (NZ $9.90 incl. GST)


a pa I N! b u i l c k of booding ks

Owner Builder

Pole-framed octagon The Owner Builder magazine over the years

Basics of laying mud bricks Staged mud brick family home Lime and earth-based finishes Post and beam cordwood cabin TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 1

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ISSUE Nº 150 December 2008/ January 2009

6 STAGED MUD BRICK This home in the Adelaide Hills was designed to expand with the family needs.

12 WATERPROOFING OF WET AREAS Fairly simple and relatively quick ways to prevent any future problems.

21 AN UPHILL BATTLE – TOB 10 Building on a steeply sloping block was only one of the challenges faced.


27 USING NATURAL FINISHES Lime and earth-based finishes can be used on a wide range of wall materials.

33 JAJARAWONG REVISITED – TOB 35 This quaint timber and mud brick sauna has stood the test of time.

36 BUILDING WITH STEEL Part 2: Now you’re under way – construction aspects.



A high quality pole-framed concrete block infill octagon built without a mortgage.

49 SAL’S PLACE – TOB 69 ‘You can’t just sit around waiting for a man to build you a house.’

56 A DECADE OF OWNER BUILDERS Sharyn Munro reflects on the inspirational owner builders she has interviewed.

60 RENOVATORS INSURANCE It is vitally important to consider building insurance when renovating.


63 JUST FOR FUN – TOB 100 Bringing a deserted farmhouse back to life, including a garden full of interest.

66 CORDWOOD CABIN A post and beam frame with cordwood infill walls creates a cosy forest retreat.

70 ADOBE BASICS A handy guide to laying mud bricks, extracted from ‘Building with Awareness.’



Rob Hadden and The Owner Builder have been constant companions over the years.

REGULAR FEATURES In house . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 Expos and events . . . . . . 17 Coming events . . . . . . . . . 18

Line ads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Specials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Back issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

Subscriptions . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Coming soon . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Earth building update . 54

Directory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 Bookshop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 From the back porch . 82

Editor: Lynda Wilson


Publishers: AfriCat Pty. Limited (A.B.N. 24 106 576 881)

Nº 151 Feb/Mar 2009

COVER PHOTOGRAPH Patience and persistence produced a pole-framed octagon to be proud of. Story starts p.40. Photo: Sharyn Munro.

Telephone/Fax: 02 4982 8820 (10am–2pm Monday & Thursday) Fax: 02 4982 8820 (anytime) Email: Web:

Art Director: Toni Lumsden

Editorial – 2 December Advertising – 9 December

Printer: Graphic Impressions

Nº 152 Apr/May 2009

The Owner Builder

Postal address: PO Box 9000 Paterson NSW 2421 AUSTRALIA

Distributed to newsagents by: Gordon & Gotch Ltd

© Copyright 2008 • ISSN 0728-7275

Editorial – 3 February Advertising – 10 February

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 3


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re. Save Mor e. ™

There are a number of contributors to The Owner Builder, not only providing articles but also behind the scenes support. We will feature a few of them in each issue, introducing the faces behind the names.

It has been an incredibly interesting 27 years of owner building that has been showcased in the pages of the magazine. In the very first issue (1981), founders John and Gerry Archer said, ‘We hope that our magazine will help provide the knowledge and technology to make building your own home easier and cheaper and that its pages will also provide a forum for owner builders, designers, councils and State and Federal bodies involved with housing. We invite contributions from anyone interested but particularly from owner builders. We would like to know your problems and help find practical solutions. We would like to share your solutions with others who may need the benefit of your experience.’

Over the years this has definitely been achieved, even through the changes of ownership to Russell and Valerie Andrews (TOB 25, 1987) and finally to Lynda Wilson (TOB 120, 2003). This special bumper 150th issue is a tribute to all the owner builders who have featured over the years, to the contributors who have provided much needed variety, to the advertisers who have supported the publication, and most of all to you – the reader – for buying the magazine and thereby ensuring that it is still going strong after 27 years. We have included a selection of articles from the archives; these are a reflection of both the changes over the years, and the fact that much of the information is timeless. We have left them virtually exactly as they first appeared, so some details may be a bit out of date, a few photos a little fuzzy and many measurements are in imperial. Of course there is lots of new material as well, and it is all enhanced by full colour! Let us know what you think…

We thoroughly support the continued sharing of ideas amongst owner builders. However, you should be aware that any particular solution may not suit your situation or even be tolerated by your council. Always be aware of on-site safety; just because a photograph shows someone performing a task one way does not necessarily mean that it is safe or suggested best practice.

DIRECT PAYMENT IS AVAILABLE Account Name: AfriCat Pty Ltd BSB: 062 815 Account Number: 1023 4337 Please ensure that you use a unique reference, and inform us of the payment and reference, when placing your order. As a reference, use either: • the subscriber number that is printed on the label of your magazine envelope (first number in top LH corner e.g. 0000733) OR • The first 3 characters of your surname + first 3 numbers or characters of your address line + postcode. For example: Lynda Wilson at PO Box 9000, Paterson NSW 2421 would have a reference of WIL9002421

PAYMENT BY CHEQUE: Make payable to The Owner Builder magazine

SHARYN MUNRO is a freelance writer who lives in a solar-powered mud brick cabin in a remote mountain forest. Her favourite job is OB stories – ‘because it is easy to have rapport with people who are so creative and connected to their surroundings.’ She is also an award-winning short story writer. Sharyn has been writing for TOB for over a decade and reflects on this on page 56. She also shares a new find with us, a poleframed octagon, on page 40. Author photo: Robert Bignell Based in central Victoria, GARY RUSSELL is an obsessive carpenter and builder with extensive ‘hands-on’ experience. He also managed a building company for 8 years where he oversaw the construction of more than 450 houses spread between 3 states and the ACT. Now semi-retired, Gary wants to share some of his knowledge in an industry that he considers exciting and forever diversely interesting. ROB HADDEN is a serially obsessed builder and probably should feature in ‘Psychiatric Weekly’ as a case study. He began building in 1981 and hasn’t stopped since then. Going where angels fear to tread and always pushing his limits produces some odd buildings. Some would say that is very apt! He hopes to still be going strong at ninety with hammer in hand – on yet another project. Rob first appeared in the pages of TOB back in 1986 (TOB 19 p.15), and has been both a regular feature and contributor ever since. He provides us with a short summary of his association with the magazine on page 75. Author photo: Barbara Cuffley. TONI LUMSDEN made her first cubby house at age three and has been fascinated by owner building ever since. She now produces TOB from the home she shares with Rob in central Victoria and appreciates the irony of using enough technology to put woman on the moon, being located in a building that looks like it was transplanted from the 15th century.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 5

Staged mud brick A home that expanded with the family BY LYNDA WILSON

As a young married couple back in the mid 90’s, Helen and Ryan decided they had the time and energy to devote to building their own home, if not the finances. While they had not yet started a family, it was in their future plans, so they decided to design their ideal family home and build it in stages. Helen created the overall design for the house and Ryan drew some rough plans from these. A family friend then drew up the floor plan, and Ryan finished off the detail plans required. Designed to be built in two stages, they had the overall plan approved up 6 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

front. Stage one consisted of an open plan living/kitchen/eating area, one large room that was intended to be the formal living/dining in the final layout but would serve as a bedroom in the meantime, a second bedroom, and a bathroom cum laundry.

Stage one They sourced the mud bricks and mortar mix from Chris Howe of Earthwerks in Mount Pleasant, about 25km from their house site near Oakbank in the Adelaide Hills, after visiting and checking out the operation

Above: A replica antique station clock looks right at home amongst the heavy timber. Right: Seemingly ‘free floating’ staircase.

themselves. As they had never worked with mud bricks before, or built anything, they employed builder Ross Brewer while Ryan acted as his labourer. Ross built all the outside walls while Ryan watched and learned, and then Ryan completed the inside walls. Two courses of fired bricks were laid on strip footings, with a cavity between for the wiring to run in and with power points mounted. The mud bricks were then laid above these. Cables for light switches were woven in between the bricks as the walls were built – a lesson well learned and a mistake not repeated in the second stage. A timber wall plate was laid all the way around, and was highlighted to become a feature rather than disguised. With the help of a few friends, the massive 5m posts were raised by hand, stage by stage using the walls as props until they were upright. A pin in the bottom of each post was then lined up with a hole in the strip footing. The posts have an interesting history – some are jarrah posts out of the old woolstores at the port, one is out of a shearing shed at Strathalbyn, and another from a river wharf. Before commencing, they worked out an escape plan and everyone knew exactly which direction to run in if something went wrong. Ryan nearly put the plan into action accidentally – looking up while holding one of the posts he thought it was falling over, but it was just the clouds moving across the sky. Ross also helped put the roof on. Cathedral ceilings in the living area are timber lined, with exposed beams. Exposed timber lintels were placed over

all windows, with sloping fired bricks used for external windowsills. The main living areas have a brick floor, laid over Forticon (builders plastic) and brickies sand, with no concrete slab underneath. It feels good, is warmer than concrete and looks great – but it was a lot of work! It also acts as a really good heat sink for the heater. An internal stone wall was built, using stone from two old bungalows (white from Tusmore and yellow from Prospect). After having moved the stone twice with previous moves, they decided to use a stonemason for this.

Moving in The footings went down in early 1994, and they moved into stage one in early 1995. While not complete, it was liveable and they were proud to be in their own home. The finishing off was done at leisure, including the impressive kitchen. Helen thinks she must have read millions of kitchen and bathroom magazines, trying to pick the best aspects. A half-height stone wall separates the kitchen from the living room, and the kitchen includes a walk-in pantry and centre island. Ryan hand built all the TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 7

This page, anticlockwise from above: stage two completed; the home blends into the established gardens; feature stone wall; outdoor entertaining area; cosy living room. Opposite page: it was hard work laying the brick floor; timber beams and exposed rafters complement the mud bricks.

cupboards; the fronts are recycled jarrah floorboards from the old woolstores and the carcasses are melamine. Swing-out wire baskets make full use of the corner cupboards. They paid the professionals to do the benchtop and tiling. They used the mortar mix to render the outside of the walls and left them unsealed. Internally, the timber slowly got darker and combined with the rich mud colour of the bricks, the rooms were too dark and gloomy, especially in the winter. The internal walls were painted to lighten the space; the paint also highlights the outline of the bricks nicely. In the meantime, life intervened! A huge garden needed landscaping and two boys, Brady and Cooper, joined the family. Between work, gardening, after school activities and family time, the available time for building dwindled. The large bedroom was divided to allow the boys to have their own space. Twelve years passed before the start of stage two, in July 2006.

Stage two Stage two incorporates an extra bedroom so that the boys don’t have to share – they are having great fun decorating. There is also a main bedroom and a study, which acts as a fourth bedroom when guests visit. A large family bathroom with a spa bath and a separate toilet is central to all the rooms. Unusually, most of the bedrooms are located to the north and the living areas to the south. This was to take maximum advantage of the views and privacy offered. 8 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Stage 1

Stage 2

outdoor entertainment area





family bedroom 3






entry hall WC formal lounge & dining

wir entry


bedroom 2


bedroom 1 bull-nosed verandah


Bridge. All these trades were efficient and professional, meaning that work progressed smoothly. Once again they purchased mud bricks and mortar mix from Earthwerks, but by this time Chris Howe had moved his business to Mildura, so transport costs were somewhat dearer than previously. Added to that, the years and regulations had resulted in a change to the bricks – they were a different size, were made from a different soil mix, and did not contain straw as the first lot had. Both batches were bitumen stabilised, but Helen and Ryan feel that the original bricks were more stable and held together better, as they seemed to have more clay. Ross was not available to work on stage two, so Ryan worked alongside Alan Godwin of Woodside to complete the walls. Once laid, all the bricks were then wire brushed to create a soft edge before rendering internally. Ryan also completed the ceilings, cornices and general finishing. Tiling, electrical and plumbing was subcontracted out; they could now afford to get someone else to do it, plus the professionals could do these jobs so much quicker.


The plans had to be redrawn, and the new regulations adhered to, as the 10-year timeframe for the approval of the first application had elapsed. They had also decided on a few changes, like the upstairs loft room, which needed to be incorporated. The new energy requirements were easily met even though they were building with mud brick – solar hot water, verandahs, north facing design, and rainwater collection all added to the mix. It also helped that the council has experience of mud brick and an open attitude. The big ‘car park’ was finally going to be transformed into stage two of the family home. The design meant that all the additional work was carried out at one end of the house, accessed via a single door that used to lead outside. As a result, it was very easy to block off the house from the building works. Steve Maslen of Vision Built SA in Woodside supplied carpenters who built the roof frame and the upstairs floor structure and balcony; Golder Building Services put on the roof very quickly; and the framing and roofing timbers were supplied as required by Lower Murray Timbers at Murray

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 9

In order to keep the same theme throughout the house, they had originally bought enough heavy timbers for the whole job. Thinking they were doing the right thing, they wrapped the timbers in plastic to protect them from the weather, and stored them off the ground. Only the ends were exposed. When they wanted to use the timbers, they discovered that the exposed ends were the only parts that had not suffered moisture rot. It was a hard lesson – their lovely treasures had become a crumbly mess. Following the difficulties with cabling in the first stage, in this section they routed cabling around the door frames and used pull cords so that the electrician could pull his cabling through as required. The electrician, Matthias Edler of Edler Electrical, also gave them plenty of ideas as to how to do things more efficiently. They also did a lot more careful filling in of the gaps, especially where timber meets brick, using silicon for its flexibility. This summer, due to ongoing drought, some superficial cracks have appeared in the corners and where timber meets mud brick in the early part of the building; these are the first that have shown up 13 years. The main bedroom has an exposed timber framed walk in robe that leads to a small ensuite incorporating a toilet and basin. The front wall is a terrific feature; stone laid by Rob McConnell of Coobowie, with antique carved timber doors, which they hunted for ages to

L–R: Swing-out corner baskets increase the space available; inviting entrance with history; many treasures have been relegated to the entertainment area ‘shed.’

find. The original laundry included a shower and toilet, and will be retained as is. However, Helen says they will be pulling up the slate in here as it is too cold, and replacing it with light sandstone tiles. The late addition of an upstairs loft family area with balcony was a stroke of genius – the views over the surrounding fields and dam are wonderful and the cool breeze in summer will be welcome. Peter Harwood of Timber Frames of Australia designed and built a heavy timber staircase of jarrah that winds its way up to this room, seemingly without support as there is no post down to the ground. Instead, they have used a door lintel and wall post for support. The formal lounge/dining area in stage one will now be resurrected for its intended purpose. Soundproofing has been installed in the floor/ceiling between one of the bedrooms and the upstairs family room. A double glazed skylight was professionally installed, as that maintains the warranty, in the stairwell area. Good design and thermal mass means there is no need for airconditioning. In summer, windows are opened at night to let the breezes in from the Hills. If there is a long run of hot days and nights without breezes, the house slowly heats up. Opening the skylights

10 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

and the upstairs windows helps create convection, and the high ceiling means the heat sits up above head height. In the winter, the solid fuel heater provides more than enough warmth, and a heat shifter pumps warm air from the top of the living room into the bedrooms. Ceiling fans are also switched on to push warm air down.

Outdoors Brick floored, bullnose verandahs and timber posts add character, while a timber framed covered entertaining space off the living area provides a peaceful spot for outdoor dining. Stage two has not yet been rendered externally, as was stage one, so the transition from old to new is currently quite evident. External waterproof power points have been included, placed in the fired bricks and coloured to match. Outdoor landscaping blends the house into the surrounding fields, with many quiet areas and quirky features. A ‘shed’ out back is a popular summer entertaining spot, and houses many salvaged items that didn’t make it into the house. This is a truly comfortable family home, built with materials that impart a history and character. When I asked about the beautiful old timber front door, a few giggles were heard from the boys. Apparently Helen had been asking for it to be sanded for a long time, and Ryan finally decided to do it one day. Well, he ended up sanding the wrong side… I

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Waterproofing of wet areas Gary Russell has many years experience in the building trade and has contributed to a number of trade magazines. Over the next few issues, he will share building tips, techniques and trade secrets with us. BY GARY RUSSELL Water, or the lack of it, is something on everybody’s mind these days. Low reservoirs, water restrictions, droughts, rivers drying up, record low rainfalls etc, etc, etc. We stand in the rain (when it finally comes) with heads skywards thanking our creator, or if you’re silly enough like me, wash the car in the pouring rain because in areas like mine, washing cars at home is banned. But to buildings, water is the enemy. Thus a major proportion of building regulations relate to water penetration both from the inside and outside. It can quickly rot or rust building components (especially timber framing) causing not only premature deterioration of a building, but health and safety problems. For example, I remember once renovating a bathroom after the lady of the house stepped out of the shower and fell through rotted floorboards. She could easily have broken a leg but thankfully only ended up with lacerations. She was however obviously shaken. ‘I thought the floor

was just a bit bouncy’ she told me – ‘not rotted through.’ A wet area is defined as any area inside the house with piped water flowing to it – e.g. bathroom, laundry, toilet and kitchen. Wet area structural and cosmetic damage from wayward water is by far the most common defect I’ve come across in my building career. It’s also apparently the highest category of insurance claims for both new homes covered by the builder’s insurance and the standard general home insurance, particularly shower enclosures. The irony is that with some fairly simple, relatively quick, and proportionally cheap measures detailed in this article, waterproofing wet areas to prevent any problems occurring for many decades is not that difficult. Nevertheless, you should always first check the regulations with the local building authorities as they can vary between areas and states, determined mainly by climate. Working plans for permit jobs generally don’t specify or show any details. At best, they

12 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

might refer to Australian Standards publications, of which there are many. These are expensive to buy and often confusing to interpret. Essentially, much comes down to normal common sense providing you keep in mind that the aim is to stop water from penetrating timber wall and floor frames, or coming into contact with any fixture or fitting prone to rotting or rusting. Any flexible sealants used should be the type made for bathrooms, as these contain a mould inhibiting agent, or otherwise as recommended by manufacturers. The following tips and techniques are based on a combination of my own hands-on experience and that learned from the Building Code of Australia, Australian Standards and local building authorities. Not all are regulatory requirements. Some are methods I’ve developed over the years to prevent future problems, and to date, I can honestly say I’ve never had a call back on any wet area related

jobs that I’ve done even before stricter regulations were enforced. Note that there’s not enough room in this article to cover everything, so I suggest it may be worth purchasing or borrowing the most relevant Australian Standard ‘AS 3740-1994 Waterproofing of wet areas within residential buildings’ or getting detailed installation instructions from manufacturers.

NOTE: detail not to scale

Wall lining

Stud Silicone bead

Ed’s note: A Waterproofing membrane is only required on ‘porous’ substrates like timber and plasterboard. If your wet area has a concrete floor and masonry walls, tiling can be adhered directly to them.

Skirting – fix to wall above flashing. It’s wise to pre-paint before installation. Angle flashing

Floors In bathrooms and laundries, the bottom corners of the room must be flashed with right angle flashing (usually galvanised iron about 50mm x 50mm) and the whole floor must be coated with a flexible waterproof membrane, including over both the horizontal and vertical legs of the flashing. This is commonly referred to as ‘tanking,’ I assume because theoretically the floor then becomes a shallow tank to contain water if the room gets flooded. Although professionals specialise in doing this job, you can buy the flashing and waterproofing compound from building suppliers to do it yourself. It’s just applied with a brush and roller. This procedure should be done after the walls are lined and before any fixtures such as baths and shower bases are installed. When placing the angle flashing, don’t nail or screw it to the wall. The resulting holes could allow water to seep through the flashing and frame settlement may cause the flashing to buckle, compromising the waterproof coating. You can however, drive some temporary nails in at the top of the flashing and bend them down to hold it place whilst you apply the waterproofing compound. ‘Tanking’ is required on concrete floors as well as any underlay (whether hardboard or fibre cement) before floor coverings are installed. Note that if you intend to use vinyl tiles or sheets as a floor covering rather than ceramic tiles, consult the manufacturer before buying the compound. Some types leave a rough texture not suitable for direct-laying vinyl, thus you could end up with more expense having to install an underlay. As an additional safeguard, I always apply silicone along the bottom and

Bottom wall plate

Silicone bead

W/proofing compound

Underlay Tile glue Tiles

Leave gap Silicone

Particle board flooring

Diagram 1: Waterproofing floors

Floor tiles

Tile glue

Floor grate – locate approx. in centre of room

W/proofing compound


Particle board flooring Floor joist

To sewer or just beyond external wall P trap – can use 90° elbow if not connected to sewer


Diagram 2: Floor drains

top of the skirting boards and the edges of underlay (if required) as shown in diagram 1. You can also install a floor waste in laundries and bathrooms (in addition to the shower drain) as shown in diagram 2; this is mandatory in some states. I do think it’s a good idea though, except sometimes the water in the trap dries out allowing drainage smells to waft back into the room. Pouring some water down the floor waste to refill the trap easily rectifies this.

Wall linings Wall linings behind or around baths, showers, washing machines, laundry troughs, kitchen sinks and bathroom vanity basins (essentially anywhere water is likely to splash enough to cause damage) must be water resistant. The usual choices are water resistant plasterboard (WR board) or fibre cement sheets. The latter is more expensive but a better product. Many builders fully line bathrooms and

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 13

W/proofing compound & tile glue

Wall lining

Wall tiles Gasket – not always available or practical. Still need to fill wall penetration with silicone

Wall stud

Fill fully around penetration with silicone

Water pipe

Diagram 3: Tap and outlet penetrations laundries with WR board, including the ceilings. Although this is not mandatory, these rooms are prone to high humidity and condensation, so it’s considered good trade practice and the extra cost is minimal. Note that it’s usually not required to use water resistant lining where toilets are in a separate room or behind the pan and cistern if they’re in the bathroom. All wall linings should be fixed slightly above the floor, even in non-

Angle corner flashing

wet areas; most plasterers just place a couple of 10mm scraps of plasterboard on the floor to rest the sheets on whilst fixing. Skirting boards will then hide the gap while allowing an escape route for moisture. I personally prefer to use the more durable fibre cement sheet on any walls where showers or baths are to be located, and WR board on the rest. WR board can deteriorate quickly if water gets into the inner plaster core,

which can happen if the cut edges abutting the bottom of showers and baths in particular are not sealed properly. The manufacturers can supply a compatible sealant, but if it’s not applied correctly or a different type is used then problems can occur, and over the years I’ve come across many in the course of renovations or remedial work. Where there are penetrations in the wall lining for taps and outlets, the hole around them should be filled with flexible sealant to prevent water entering the wall cavity (diagram 3). If the water supply hasn’t yet been connected to the house, the pipes should be pressure tested to ensure there are no leaks before wall linings are installed. Special equipment is usually needed to do this, which most plumbers have, so it may be difficult to do yourself.

Bathroom hardware It is important that the wall lining extends below the top of the rim of baths, spas and precast concrete shower bases as shown in diagram 4, but it must not rest hard against the units. Leave at least a couple of millimetres and fill with a flexible sealant. This

Wall lining NOTE: Procedure is reversed for external corner dwarf walls under baths & spas

W/proofing compound & tile glue

Corner studs


Wall stud

Wall lining Ceramic tiles


Plan view of angle corner flashing

Mandatory nogs at bottom of wall lining Top of rim Cut-out to support rim

Cut-out extends to floor for precast shower bases

Fill with silicone

Silicone to evenly support unit

Bath, spa or shower base

Dwarf wall Angle flashing, also extends along floor

Bottom wall plate

Wall lining W/proofing compound & tile glue Tiles Angle flashing, also extends along floor Silicone bead

Floor tiles W/proofing compound & tile glue

Diagram 4: General detail for baths, spas and precast shower bases 14 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Concrete floor

ensures both that water can’t find its way into the wall cavity (water can rise against gravity), and if there’s any frame settlement or expansion of the wall lining it won’t press down onto the units, potentially causing problems like cracking wall tiles. Angle flashing (usually galvanised iron) should also be installed in any corners behind the wall linings and extend below the top of the rim, again leaving a couple of millimetres gap. This includes any corners (both external and internal) from the top of the bath or spa to the floor. Fix the flashing with short clouts to both the corner studs at about 250mm centres to ensure the corners won’t separate if structural movement occurs. Angle flashing should also be installed on the floor where dwarf timber frames have been built to support baths or spas.

Waterproofing walls Australian Standards specify the minimum extent of waterproofing required on walls. Theoretically, once the compound has been painted on you have complied with regulations, but it won’t look very pretty. Decorative coverings like tiles are then installed. The minimum levels for waterproofing are as follows: Showers – 1800mm above the bottom of a shower enclosure or a bath with a shower over it. Note that if there’s no shower screen, the waterproofing must extend to at least 1500mm horizontally of an imaginary arc from the end of the shower rose. Baths with no shower – 150mm above the top of the bath extending 150mm past the ends, and the complete vertical sides of the lined bath frame. Handbasins, kitchen sinks and laundry troughs – 150mm above the units for at least the width or length of them. The 150mm can be measured from the top of the benchtop and not an integrated splashback if it’s higher.

Wall tiling Ceramic tiles are the most commonly used material in designated wet areas, as I’m sure you’d know. Other materials can be used such as vinyl, or to completely circumvent a lot of waterproofing requirements, galvanised iron can be used. I’ve occasionally installed both of these as an alternative, but complying with regulations can get

Smear top with silicone before placing unit on top Precast poly hand basin top Silicone bead Particle laminate typical coating Particle laminate typical coating Silicone bead Particle or MDF carcass


Top of floor

Smear bottom with silicone before installation

Diagram 5: Cupboard carcass waterproofing

Foam gasket – can easily leak or deteriorate

Sink, basin or ‘drop in’ laundry trough Exposed particle board or MDF core subject to rot or swelling

Plastic laminate typical coating

Hold down clamp/bracket

Diagram 6: Conventional method for sink edge finishing

Lightly wedge or use weights if necessary

Silicone under lip


Plastic laminate typical coating Particle or MDF typical benchtop

Sink, basin or ‘drop in’ laundry trough

Seal exposed core with silicone or paint

Diagram 7: Recommended method for sink edge finishing complicated and beyond the scope of this article, however, with some research they can be a cheaper alternative. The water resistant wall lining behind the proposed tiling areas has to be coated with a waterproofing compound as previously described for floors before tiles can be glued in place. Silicone, not grout, should be used at the bottom of a body of tiles where

they abut a bath or shower base; the expansion of the units from hot water will eventually crack and disintegrate grout. Any internal corners such as those in shower enclosures should also be siliconed to prevent separation from potential structural movement. You can often get silicone in colours compatible with the tiles rather than use translucent (clear).

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 15

Cupboard rotting Mainly for economic reasons, most kitchen and bathroom cupboard carcasses and benchtops are made from particle or MDF board covered with plastic laminate or lacquered timber veneer, which are both waterproof, but the carcass material isn’t. Thus I’ve seen many rotting or swelling problems from water getting into the more susceptible core either from the bottom where the units sit on the floor or around the cut-out in the top to take the sink or hand basin. Before installing stainless steel sinks or enamel coated steel basins into benchtop cut-outs, smear the exposed bare edge with a silicone or external grade gap filler to prevent water soaking into the sheet’s core should it get under them. The same can be done to the bottom of the cupboard carcasses before installation, or alternatively run a bead of bathroom silicone along the bottom after installation. I often do both. If your bathroom vanity cupboard has a pre-cast poly top and basin as shown in diagram 5, it also pays to smear silicone on the top edge of the carcass before placing it. Although the top extends past the sides, water stills seems to be drawn under, and again I’ve seen many rotting problems. The most common rotting problem I’ve seen is around the edges of kitchen sinks, mainly I think because more water gets splashed around them than with basins. Both usually come with a rubbery, foam type gasket and screw – brackets to hold them in place, supposedly forming a watertight seal. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work, especially if the brackets aren’t tightened sufficiently (or periodically re-tightened), and gaskets often deteriorate after some time. What I do is throw away the gasket and brackets and just stick the sink or basin in place with silicone, which apart from being waterproof and flexible also makes a great glue (diagram 6 & 7). You may have to put weights on top of sinks to hold them down until the silicone sets, or alternatively lightly wedge them down with some lengths of small section timber between the unit and ceiling. Silicone will spew out when you do this, so just scrape the excess away and wipe clean with turpentine-soaked rags (or water for water-based products) before it starts to harden. If the sink ever needs to be removed in the future, a retractable thin-bladed utility knife will quickly cut the seal. I 16 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009


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Sustainable Living Expo Armidale 13–21 September 2008, Armidale NSW A week of events aimed at accelerating the uptake of ecologically and socially sustainable practices, which included: the Sustainable Living Tour; a Sustainable Farms Tour; Australia’s Open Gardens Scheme; and culminated with the 3-day Live.Garden.Farm Expo at the showgrounds. Around 90 exhibitors were there to provide information to a very interested and focused crowd, including house design, solar hot water and power, doors and windows, timber floors, non-toxic paints, water tanks and plumbing, wastewater treatment, cleaning supplies, natural farm and crop products, permaculture and nurseries, schools and community organisations. The weather was superb, and the crowd friendly. The heart of the Expo was Brendan Moars’ Slexxy Garden – a sustainable display garden created on site over two weeks, incorporating a number of recycled elements gleaned from the local area (photo at right). There was also an excellent selection of forums over the three days, including a wastewater workshop for plumbers and consultants, offered by the Armidale Dumaresq Council. In fact the council was one of the driving forces for the entire event, and it is refreshing to see a council become actively involved with sustainability in this way.

Seymour Alternative Farming Expo Fri 20 – Sun 22 February 2009 Kings Park, Seymour This will be the fourth year that The Owner Builder is hosting the increasingly popular Building Seminar Programme. A range of informative and inspiring talks and demonstrations will be held. These start at 10am, with eight sessions each day of 45 minutes. Seminars are free to attend (after paying entry to the Expo), on a first seated basis (around 50 seats). It is your chance to hear from some of the experts in the field, as well as having a chat to them on a more informal basis. The final schedule will be published in TOB 151 Feb/Mar 2009, and will be included in all the official programmes for the event. It will also be posted on our website during January ( as well as on the Expo website (

Small Footprint Initiative 12–14 September 2008 Pacific Palms NSW The event kicked off on Friday night with dinner, art display, local dance and music at The Reef Bar + Grill in Forster. Wine tasting from Tamburlaine Organic Wines proved very popular! Saturday was devoted to the house tour, with five houses and two gardens open to 150 visitors (photo above). The Forster Community Garden has only been established for a year, but is a thriving hub for community activity. The garden design allows for easy access by people in wheelchairs, and boasts a sensory garden for people who are visually impaired ( Sunday was market day at the Pacific Palms Community Centre. Visitors had the chance to enjoy great food, wine and entertainment. There were also workshops and information stands from community groups and sustainable product suppliers. This year the event raised over $10,000, which will go towards building a children’s playground complete with native waterwise garden at the Pacific Palms Community Centre.

Provisional seminar programme for Seymour Alternative Farming Expo 2008 An introduction to straw bale building – Q&A session

Anvill – straw bale consultants Insulated concrete forms: benefits and properties, construction Danish Constructions methods, owner building Energy efficient windows and doors: maximising thermal Paarhammer performance and noise reduction Wall insulation in existing non-brick homes Save Energy Group Concrete aerated wastewater treatment systems: the Taylex Sales advantages and processes involved Traditional heavy timber framing: benefits and attributes of the Timber Frames of Australia timber used The EconoSpace Project: low cost mortgage-free building Peter Cowman, Living Architecture Centre Appropriate timber species choices: costs, durability and Golden Cypress Timber Sales consumer expectations Insulating your home with double glazing: maximise energy Everglaze Industries efficiency Permaculture at home Alanna Moore Building with elevated efficiency: the many benefits of building Peter Lees a loft style home Cobbing over the years: an ex-pat returns from the USA James Henderson The advantages of using an environmentally friendly building Timbercrete Campaspe product The relevance of earth building in today’s environmental and AMCER Earth Building Technology economic climate How Building Biology can be useful Building Biology Network of Australia How householders can reduce energy consumption, rebates Sustainability Victoria available to regional Victorians

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 17

VIC SEMINAR & WORKSHOP BENDIGO SUSTAINABLE HOUSING SEMINAR 7 DECEMBER A seminar for those wanting some practical direction through the maze of sustainable building information. Topics to be covered include: • Passive solar design • Energy Efficiency beyond 5 stars • Material selection – environmental and health considerations • Water use and re-use Cost $170 per person, $300 per couple. Lunch and smokos provided. OWNER BUILDER WORKSHOP 24 – 26 JAN 2009 (AUSTRALIA DAY LONG WEEKEND) Sick of looking at pictures? Want some hands on experience? Learn from an experienced registered builder how to: • Build sub-floor • Build wall frames • Hang a door • Fit a window Cost $550pp. Lunch and smokos provided. Limit of 12 people. Wild Homes is a local building business focusing on sustainable building that has been awarded at a regional and state level by the Master Builders Association for Sustainable Energy Homes. Director Brendan Wild is a registered builder with over 20 years experience building homes of timber, steel, mud brick, straw, rammed earth and brick. Brendan and his wife Vanessa now design and build sustainable homes and extensions and provide building and design consultancy. Contact Brendan or Vanessa, 03 5439 3990,



GAWLER JANUARY 2009 With David Holmgren (co-originator of permaculture), Graham and Annemarie Brookman and guest presenters. 10 days starting January 2009 at The Food Forest, a 15 ha, award winning, certified organic permaculture property. Contact Annemarie Brookman 08 8522 6450, VIC


SOUTHERN CROSS PERMACULTURE INSTITUTE LEONGATHA SOUTH GIPPSLAND SCPI: 6-12 Mar 2009. Tasmania – Huonville: Jan 2009. Tasmania – Flinders Is: Apr 2009. With Rick and Naomi Coleman. See display advert on p.39 for more details. AUS


OCT 2008 – APRIL 2009 INTRODUCTION TO LIVING ARCHITECTURE 2009 14 Mar – Castlemaine Vic 18 Apr – Nimbin NSW (TBC) SUSTAINABLE HOUSE DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION 13–14 Dec 2008 – Adelaide SA 4–5 Apr 2009 – Castlemaine Vic ECONOSPACE FRAMING 6–7 Dec – Castlemaine Vic 7–8 Feb – Castlemaine Vic 28 Mar – Castlemaine Vic TALKS The EconoSpace Project including Peter-post demonstration 22 Feb 2009 – Seymour Alternative Farming Expo, Seymour Vic Learn the secrets of sustainable house design & construction bookings: 03 5473 4284,

18 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

AUS COB BUILDING NZ WORKSHOPS Shannon Dealy returns to host a number of cob building workshops. Basics of Cob 4–10 Jan 09 – Firefly NSW Contact Kim 02 6559 1871, 0412 402 289, 17 Jan 09 – Nimmitabel NSW Contact Grant 02 6454 6228, Rocket Mass Heaters 24–25 Jan 09 – Nimmitabel NSW Contact Grant 02 6454 6228, See, Workshop Schedule for more details of other workshops in Australia and NZ. VIC


HEALESVILLE JANUARY 2009 You are invited to attend a two day practical straw bale building workshop. Beginners welcome. For more information please call Jeremy 03 5962 2963 or email VIC


SEYMOUR 20 – 22 FEB 2009 Visit the popular Alternative Building section, and attend one of the many seminars hosted by The Owner Builder. 03 5799 1211, VIC


FEDERATION SQUARE, MELBOURNE 20 – 22 FEB 2009 Showcases a huge range of exhibitors, talks, workshops, art, films and performances celebrating and inspiring sustainable communities. 03 9249 1888,

EARN WHILE YOU LEARN: Home study. 400+ courses at Hobby, Certificate & Diploma level. Bookkeeping, Landscaping, Organics, Healthy Buildings, Specialist Plant Courses... Close support by highly qualified and experienced tutors. Study by correspondence, CD, or online. ACS Distance Education (Est. 1979), or ph 07 5562 1088. MAFFRA AVON OWNER BUILDERS: Meets in Briagolong, second Wednesday of even months. 03 5145 4268. SOUTHERN FLINDERS OWNER BUILDERS GROUP: Welcomes new members. 176 High St, Port Germein SA 5495. 0447 822 672. RECYCLED OREGON BEAMS: ex Woolstore, Williamstown. 350mm x 200mm. 5 lengths – sizes 4.6m, 5.3m, 5.4m, 6m, 6.5m. Available for collection in Gippsland Vic. $900 ONO. Phone James 0418 350 107, 03 5145 5552. BENDIGO HOME BUILDERS CLUB: Meets second Friday of each month at 7.30pm. Carol 03 5435 3986. FOR SALE: Clivus Multrum toilet system tank. Commercial size, secondhand. $1800 ONO. Tony Pisanelli 08 8342 4353, 0412 550 116, email WINDOWS: Traditional casement windows made from eco-friendly recycled oregon. Coloured glass, leadlight, etc. Standard sizes or made to order. Phone Gary 02 4975 4111, 0427 914 622.

MUD BRICK HOME FOR SALE: Singleton NSW. 78.8 hectares, 500m2 mud brick home. 5 bedrooms, formal lounge/dining, modern bathrooms and laundry, country style kitchen/ family room, slow combustion fire and airconditioning. Upstairs studio/ TV room. Tennis court, spa, large undercover pergola. Great family home. 10 minutes from town, 2 hours Sydney. POA. Phone 02 6577 5505. FOR SALE: Unfinished project, owner built house on sloping site in Upper Ferntree Gully, Melbourne. House has steel frame to floor level, large shed on property. Water connected, all services available. Call Peter for details 0413 133 892. LARGE SLIDING COMPOUND SAW: ‘SawMaster’ brand. Mounted on heavy duty workbench, with feed roller. 32 teeth 14-inch tungsten blade. 3-phase. Good condition. $700 ONO. Ph Brisbane 07 3374 3898.

SE TASMANIA: Eaglehawk Neck, coastal nature reserve includes a large dam, alternative power, 10 minutes to surf and fishing beaches. Sunny NW aspect with views of bays. Approx. 19 hectares of pristine covenanted bushland and 2 hectares of residential bush gardens. A pole framed small spiral house with mud brick infilled walls and local timbers featured in the hexagonal lounge, separate ‘Granny flat.’ Currently selling privately ($320,000) and available for short term lease.($150 per week). for more photos and description, listed as a yoga retreat situation. For further enquiries phone Roslyn on 0439 995 655


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20 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

An Uphill Battle This article first appeared in TOB 10 (January 1983)

Building on a Steep Site

The Davis house amongst the trees.

John and Felicity Davis and their children live in the house they built on the steeply sloping side of the Bilgola Plateau on one of Sydney’s northern beaches. Their building project was quite an epic. “We bought the land here thirteen years ago. The block was only $8,000 which was cheap but more than we could afford, so we borrowed the deposit on overdraft. Land prices in Sydney were going up so quickly. I had the feeling that if we didn’t buy land that week, we’d never be able to afford it again. I was probably right. Anyway when the time came to build we went to see our bank manager and found that the land was worth double what we had paid for it, so that even

though we had only paid off $2,000, we had an asset worth $10,000 clear ($8,000 in appreciated value plus the $2,000) for collateral. The bank lent us the money in 7 stages. We would build until we’d spent what they’d lend, then they’d inspect it and when that was passed they’d pay up, but on materials only. It struck me as unfair really because if I had a builder doing the job, the bank would be lending double (materials plus labour) whereas an owner builder is only

asking for money for materials and he puts his own labour into it. Yet they’re so strict with owner builders even though generally they do a very thorough job. We also had to have enough capital to finish the first stage, which was about $3,000, and after that was inspected we got the next $3,000 from the bank. Our original idea was to have a project home and we had the quotes and estimates from the company we’d chosen. I noticed that they’d put down $130 for the foundations so I rang them and pointed out that we were on a 35° slope. They replied, “$130 is our estimate but we’ll charge you whatever it costs.” I felt that amounted to signing a

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 21

blank cheque and I said no I’d do the foundations myself. One Saturday I hired some pneumatic jack picks and a compressor, organised as many friends as I could to help, and we tackled the rock. I’d watched council blokes chipping away at roads and it looked simple enough. However the rock here is ironstone and after a day’s work we’d got out only about a cubic foot from this large rock, which was right where we wanted to build. Everyone was very dispirited. On Sunday morning I sat in despair and looked at it. All the trouble and expense and I’d got nowhere. In desperation I drilled holes all over the rock (I’d hired a pneumatic drill as well) hoping it might break but nothing happened. Then my neighbour Bill came over, took one look at it and said, “You need plugs and feathers.” I said, “Plugs and what?” He explained that feathers were split cylindrical wedges which were put in the hole first, and then a steel pin or plug was driven in between them gradually forcing them apart, and splitting the rock. Bill lent me some that he had and we put them in 5 holes in the rock, hammering each plug in turn. Every time we hit them they made a higher note as the tension increased. We stopped and waited awhile, then suddenly we heard this deep crunch underneath and a crack

‘I decided to build a railway for hauling material’ appeared on the rock that was as magical to me as the sky opening in a fairy tale. Gradually the rock fell in half. It was wonderful. Now I knew how to do it, I was alright. There’s only one rule – you have to cut the piece in the middle each time and then cut the resulting pieces in the middle. You can’t just cut slabs off the main block – you keep halving it till you get pieces of a movable size. The holes are drilled about 600mm apart and with 5 sets of plugs and feathers I could split a rock 6 metres across. Plugs and feathers are hard to buy because they’re almost antique. I bought mine from Atlas Copco. There are two sizes – one which fits the hole made

by a 30mm drill and you hammer this in by hand, and another size, I never used, which fits a 50mm hole and these are driven in by a pneumatic pick. [Ed’s note Oct 2008: Atlas Copco still sell either a feather pair for 29mm hole, or a feather pair for 34mm hole. 1300 366 880.] I spent a lot of time cutting up rocks and making a path for the railway. Because the site was so steep and the access road was about 30 metres below us, I decided to build a railway (for hauling materials) along the side of the hill across the vacant land next door. If I had gone straight down it would have been over 35 degrees. We got the railway line and the cane tram from the canefields in Queensland. I paid about $100 for the lot – the freight cost considerably more – but I sold it when I’d finished with it to someone else who was building in a similar situation. The truck driver who delivered the stuff wouldn’t bring it in here so I stuffed the 6 metre long rails into the back of our Holden station wagon and they dragged along the ground up the hill. Then the railway car had to be got up here too. I towed it up the main road and it made a frightful noise on the bitumen. We got the railway assembled and used it first to move all the pieces of split rock away from the site. There were people living below us so it was impossible to risk rolling them down the hill. You see I’d thought, in my inexperience, that this was the only

22 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

The cane tram being hauled along the railway line.

answer, but a professional excavator would have taken one look at the site, put 20 holes in the rock, blown it up, moved a bulldozer in the next day and cleared the whole lot. I’d done a lot of hand digging before I discovered that there was a tracked bulldozer called a Drot which could get up onto our site. This is a fairly light dozer with an opening bucket that can pick up logs and rocks. When we hired it the cost was about $9 an hour – it would be much more now – but it was very cheap compared to $2 an hour spent digging by hand, and very fast too. The only problem with bulldozers is that they make a mess and you must be there to watch out for your trees and plants. I threatened to sack anyone who damaged a grass tree. We had one special plant which was about 2 metres high with a double head, down at the front of the block, but one day after we’d had a lot of rain, the Drot got out of control and slipped down the hill frontwards – straight through the grass tree. Anyway, finally we got the site ready and the 6 holes dug for the concrete piers to support the frame. These were a metre each in diameter and about 3 metres deep. The railway was a big help here, bringing in concrete blocks for the back footing wall, sand, cement, reinforcing steel – all the things that

weighed a lot, including the readymix concrete for the piers. We asked Wreckair Hire [Ed’s note 2008, now Coates Hire] for some advice on how to transport the concrete. They sent someone out and we showed him the set up. We decided to hire a kibble bucket which is a large metal container with an opening at the bottom and a

‘I was building without any prior knowledge’ chute, made for moving concrete by crane. We thought we’d tie the bucket to the railway tram, fill it with concrete from the truck at the road, and pull it to the site using the car which was on the private road pulling 220 metres of rope through a 2:1 block and tackle. The hire chap said, “If you’re game to try it, we’ll lend you the bucket for nothing.” It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. When the concrete truck driver saw the arrangement he was really shocked – he kept saying he’d never seen anything like it in his life before – but he was

committed. His concrete was going off so he had to stay until we were finished. I’d been teaching science at a high school to raise extra money and I had some of my students working with me on the site and they worked really well. I always assumed that labourers worked as hard as they could, so I worked like that and so did the boys. Months later I hired a real professional labourer and I thought, ”I’ll never be able to keep up with this bloke.” Was I in for a surprise. He didn’t even want to get dirty and he asked for all sorts of perks including overtime. I was building without any prior knowledge of this sort of thing and my philosophy on overtime was that you should only pay half wages for that because they’re tired by then and only making half the effort. This view didn’t prove very popular. Anyway after the footings were poured I got to work on the concrete footing wall at the back of the house and I’d just got that finished when we had 300mm of rain, bits of the hillside above us started to slip, and 3 large boulders began to move down the hill. One

weighed about 6 tonnes, another about 9 and a big one about 12 tonnes. The smaller one was a spherical shape with more potential to roll and it was going to go through a brand new house below us. We evacuated the house and got chains around the spherical boulder which was about 1½ metres in diameter. The chains were connected to a tirfer hand winch with a 5 tonne capacity. Just as we got it hooked up, the last bit of mud underneath slipped away and the chains took up the tension. But the boulder must have been heavier than we thought because in spite of the winch, it continued to slip, smashing down my retaining wall and everything I’d built so far. We got a Drot in to work for a week clearing away all the walls, then we straightened up the 25mm reinforcing bars that went from the footings into the wall. They looked like the hair on Medusa’s head which is made of snakes, but we got them straight with oxy under engineers supervision and laid the wall again. The frame as seen from below.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 23

However our building sand had gotten mixed in with soil with all our activity. I decided to use it anyway – but never again. When you get bits of grit and little stones in your mortar, the concrete blocks won’t sit down evenly and your

‘I decided to go on and build it myself’ joints are uneven. It’s just not worth it. After that experience I made sure that everything I did was level and exact. When I got the footings and block walls and piers all finished, I went back to the project home people and told them it was ready. They took one look at it and refused to carry on because they said the site was too difficult. They were in the business of mass producing homes and it was obvious that this was not going to be easy. I could see their point of view but I was already committed. So I decided to go on and build it myself. They let me use the original plan which I then redesigned so that it hardly bears any resemblance to theirs anyway, and went on to the next stage. This entailed getting up 5 x 8 metre long 14 inch steel universal beams, each one weighing half a tonne. We used the rope and triple block pulleys attached to trees, which gave us a 6 to 1 advantage. I’d wrap chains around each beam, Felicity would drive the car and we’d snig each one up into position from the road below. It took about 2 days to get each beam exactly in place. For instance, given our 6 to 1 ratio, if I wanted to lift the beam 200mm, I’d shout down to Felicity to drive forward 1200mm and that would be about right. I set those beams exactly level. Once the beams were bolted into place we had to stop because we’d run out of money and employment. During that period the steel rusted. When I’d ordered the beams, the factory asked if I wanted them hot dip galvanised, for an additional $200. I thought it was a waste of money, but when I had to paint them years later I regretted it. I had to scrape off the rust, paint on the rust inhibitor, then the primer, then the paint. It was a ghastly job, particularly wire brushing off the rust. I hung chains underneath and from these I supported planks. I then used an electric drill and wire brush, goggles and ear muffs. It took days.

Finally we got quotes for the timber. Softwood was very expensive but precut hardwood was quite reasonable. I liked the idea of hardwood because of its strength – being up in the air I was determined that everything would be solid. I didn’t want a flimsy house. So I ordered green hardwood which meant I had about 6 weeks from the time of delivery to get it up. After this the timber would be dry and nail holes must be drilled. I bought the timber from Allen Taylor and Co., Timber Merchants [Ed’s note Oct 2008: Taken over by Boral.], and they were very helpful.

24 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

When the timber arrived from the mill in northern N.S.W., we had to talk the driver into coming down our bottom road which is pretty steep. He’d come from Kempsey and was in a hurry to get back. After inspecting it, he told us that he was a dirt track racing driver in his spare time. This was the sort of flair we needed. He put his truck in low gear and started down the hill. He skidded on all The Drot on a steep part of the slope. Note: this is a slightly different photo to that which appeared in TOB 10.

16 wheels coming down the slope even though it was dry. Anyway he made it safely to the bottom then looked around and said, “Where’s the crane?” “You’re looking at it,” I replied, pointing to our old Holden station wagon loaded with rocks. It was sitting on its axles. The only crane driver in Sydney game enough to tackle our site had been killed that week in an accident. He was a bit upset when I told him we could either break the bundles or winch them off with the car. He didn’t want to break the bundles because there would be 30 tonnes of timber everywhere so we decided to use the car. I said to the driver that we’d pay him the money that the crane would have cost to compensate him for the waiting time. This cheered him up and he settled down to it. With two triple pulleys and an overweight car, we lifted loads up to 5 tonnes off that truck. Unknown to us, Taylors had cut everything exactly to length and cut mortices in the plates. It was about half the price of oregon. They gave me a plan of the numbering and lettering system they’d used, so all we had to do was sort through and find the right bits. Every piece was numbered for its exact place. I didn’t have to cut one – every single piece was right, and it all went together perfectly. I didn’t realize though, that every floor joist has a slight bow of some sort, and that these should be laid facing up. I just laid them as they came – some were down, some up -so that when I came to nail down the floor there was a lot of planing and packing involved to get it level. We broke the large bundles of timber down into smaller ones and lifted them up with the car. It was a great thrill to see the floor taking shape. After crawling around in the mud for so long we began to believe it was actually going to happen. To attach the joists, I first bolted wooden bearers to the steel beams then nailed the joists to these using triplegrip connectors. At this stage I had a full time job so I’d come home from work, Felicity would be Top: John and Felicity Davis with one of the big rocks. Right: A large tree passes through the wide verandah. TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 25

waiting at the door with the babies and food for tea, and we’d all drive up here and work. I calculated that I spent about 44 hours a week building, besides my job. We built a rough little shed and a shelter for the children and we would usually work by candle or moonlight till 10 o’clock then gather up the tools and babies and drive half an hour back to Neutral Bay. We were desperate to get it finished. Altogether it took 6 weeks working nights and weekends to get the frame up. It was fun once we had the floor down. Lots of friends came to help and we assembled the walls on the floor and set them all up in a weekend. The outside cladding was bloodwood planks while the inside we lined with plaster board. Then we couldn’t afford furniture, so we made it out of Tasmanian Oak. Most of it is copied from designer furniture in interior decor shops – we’d just measure it and draw it up then come back here and build our own. We’ve saved thousands and probably got a better job into the bargain. Now that it’s all done I can be a bit critical. I’m not all that happy that the house looks a bit like a box from the outside. I think a house should be sensitively designed so it blends into the bush. I assumed that if I built it as well as I could, that it would do that, but it doesn’t hide itself as much as I’d like. In a way I wish I could have worked with a Japanese landscape architect. I like the megaliths – the huge rocks – and I’ve tried to design around them where I could, but often you’re under so much pressure just to get it done that there’s not much time to think about changes in design.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of some of the more difficult things – like moving impossible loads with hydraulics and pulleys and levers. While I was doing it, I was thinking how cunning man is – not me, but the accumulation of thousands of years of knowledge that allows me to split huge boulders with tiny wedges. I was standing on the shoulders of giants. It was a big adventure – man versus nature – and all the time I was worried that I was moving in to a beautiful area and wrecking a part of it. Gradually we’re reconstructing the bush, settling into it, feeling at home. I like the treehouse feeling of this place – the tall trees so close around us, the possums living in the ceiling, the rainbow lorikeets nesting beside the verandah. It’s like our own little island.

John feeding one of the possums.

26 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

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And now... We asked John and Felicity for some feedback. They obviously still have great memories of building the house and sent some other early photos and these comments:

Mud Brick Renders and Finishes “The building of this home was a huge adventure. We all thought it was the obvious thing to do so thought nothing much of it. It was simply what we needed to do. The kids thought their environment was quite normal. I’m sure if DOCS or some child welfare agency ever saw the drops with no safety fences, they would have had a heart attack. However the kids never fell off the edge, and simply saw themselves as possums who could climb anything without falling off. Russ is now a builder, and Sophie, an outdoor and rock climbing instructor.”

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Using Natural Finishes In TOB 148 (Aug/Sep 2008) we featured a review of this book. Authors Adam Weismann & Katy Bryce have kindly allowed us to publish an extract, which should give you a good idea of the quality of the information they provide. References to other sections of the book have been left in. ‘Using natural finishes’ is available from our Bookshop (p.78).

Wall systems Modern adobe construction designed by Tony Atkins and built by Crocker Ltd.


his section introduces different walling systems that are compatible with lime and earth-based finishes. It also outlines the suitability of applying the various finishes to different substrates.

Earth walls Earth walls can be constructed in many different ways. Building with earth (clay-rich subsoils) is the most ancient of all building methods. Many variations of earth building have been used throughout the world since man began building shelters. Most earth building methods consist of mixing together a clayrich subsoil with other ingredients. These are most commonly some form of fibre (straw) to provide tensile strength, and aggregates to provide strength and stability to the mix. Most buildings made out of earth must be raised off the ground at least 450mm (18"), and should have large roof overhangs to protect the walls from rain. Many of the earth building methods are currently enjoying a revival because they provide a sustainable way of building. This is because most forms of building with earth have an incredibly

Adobe block

Compressed adobe blocks

Adobe with earth plaster

low environmental impact, especially when locally resourced materials and simple techniques are used. Earth building materials can be indefinitely recycled, and biodegrade easily. They have tremendous health benefits, such as temperature and humidity regulation, high thermal mass (they can absorb and store large amounts of heat), good toxin and odour absorption, and excellent sound insulation properties. Some of the earth building variations include:

Monolithic earth walls, such as cob, clob, wychert, clom, mud, clat, clay & clunch A load-bearing walling system – an ancient building technique and material that is used throughout the world, with regional variations, such as ‘cob’ in the southwest of England. It is composed of clay subsoil, aggregate and straw. These ingredients are mixed together with water to produce a homogenous, malleable and sticky material, which is laid in ‘lifts’ of 300-600mm (12-24") in one building session. Once the previous one has hardened, consecutive lifts are laid until full wall height has been reached. The cob is built up without


Light clay

Fired clay bricks

Light clay

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 27

Extract from ‘USING NATURAL FINISHES’ cont’d forms or shuttering, but is compressed in place by foot or with a garden fork. It is then trimmed with a sharp spade to maintain a plumb line.

Unfired earth blocks, such as adobe, cob block and clay lump A load-bearing material used throughout the world for thousands of years. This is a system of creating building blocks out of raw clay-rich subsoil, aggregate and sometimes fibre. The material is either moulded in a plastic state into forms, or compressed by machine in a dry state. The blocks are laid in bonded courses, with either a mud or lime mortar, or simply wetted down and bonded through suction if the blocks are made with dry material.

Rammed earth & ‘pise de terre’ Monolithic earth walls built up between temporary shuttering. A load-bearing material, which is sometimes mixed (slightly moistened) with aggregate, or it can be used in its raw form if the right proportions naturally exist. It is tamped by hand or with a pneumatic tamper, between wood or steel shuttering. The shuttering is moved up until full wall height is reached.

Light clay & light straw clay ‘Leichlem’ (pronounced ‘lie-klem’) A non-load-bearing walling material. Straw is coated with a clay-rich slip which is compacted between temporary shuttering, set within a timber structure.

Wattle & daub A non-load-bearing walling system of tightly woven sticks (usually a green and flexible wood, such as hazel, willow or maple), set within a timber-framed panel. This lattice (the wattle) is then coated with a ‘daub’ mixture: a thick clay-rich subsoil mixed with chopped straw or hair, and sometimes animal dung for extra weather resistance and durability. This is squeezed into place between the sticks. The daub can either be finished with a limewash or coated in a lime plaster/render for extra protection. It can be used for exterior walls or interior partition walls. All lime- and earth-based finishes are ideally suited for all types of raw earth construction. Cement and synthetic paints must not be used. Rammed earth

Light clay

28 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Straw bale wall construction Straw bale wall construction originated in the USA around the end of the nineteenth century. It coincided with the development of baling machines. The straw bales are used like large building blocks, stacked on top of one another in staggered courses. They are usually speared onto pins – often sharp rods of hazel or steel. This ties them into the foundation and provides structural stability for the walls. There are many different methods of building with straw bales, but these can be broadly categorized into (a) load-bearing, where the bales take the full weight of the roof, and (b) non-load-bearing, where the bales are set within a timber structure and used as a wall infill between the posts. As with walls made out of earth, it is essential that the bales are built onto a raised plinth so that they do not come into contact with water. They also require large roof overhangs to direct moisture away from the wall face. Straw bale construction generally has a very low environmental impact, especially when materials are sourced locally. The use of large amounts of plant materials in buildings has the added advantage of being able to create ‘carbon sinks.’ This is due to the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere as the plant grows, and turns this CO2 into oxygen. The more plant material that can be used in building construction, the more potential there is for decreasing the damaging levels of CO2 currently present in the atmosphere. Straw bale walls are highly breathable and have excellent insulative properties. This gives straw bale buildings the potential to provide a very healthy living environment. Straw bales are fully biodegradable and will last for hundreds of years if protected with breathable coatings and utilised within a well designed building. Straw bale walls must be protected from moisture, and need to be sealed to keep out draughts and protect them from hungry animals. Straw is a breathable material, and hence must not be coated with any non-breathable renders, plasters and paints, such as cement and synthetic paints. These could lead to moisture getting trapped in the bales, which will eventually cause them to rot. Lime- and earth-based finishes are ideal. Straw bale walls that are exposed to extreme conditions, such as on the weatherfacing wall, may require additional protection from the elements such as timber cladding.

Lath & plaster Lath and plaster is made up of thin, narrow strips of wood which are attached to wood battens, joists or studding and then Straw bale

Reed mat

Extract from ‘USING NATURAL FINISHES’ cont’d plastered. This system can be used as an external and internal wall structure when set within a timber frame. It can also be used to create ceilings. Alternatively it can be used as a system on solid walls which are unable to receive plaster/render directly, such as impervious materials or damp substrates. The substrate is battened and then lathed with a suitable air gap for adequate air circulation. The wood laths can be split by hand (riven lath), or mechanically sawn. Straight-grained wood is necessary, and hand-split laths are considered to be stronger. Sweet chestnut, oak and Scots pine are the most suitable woods to use. The laths can vary in size, but the optimum size is 30mm (1¼") wide, and 5-6mm (¼") thick, at lengths up to 1500mm (4' 6"). They must be attached with nonferrous or galvanized nails to prevent rusting. The laths are fixed parallel to each other and spaced at regular intervals of approximately 10mm (3/8") apart. The vertical wood supports are spaced at 300mm (12") centres, and break joints are provided every 10-12 laths. The ends of the laths must be butted at a distance of approximately 3mm (1/8") to allow for potential swelling of the wood, as it absorbs moisture from the wet plaster. A well-haired lime mortar (not earth) is then applied onto the lath. The spacings between the laths allow the mortar to squeeze through the gaps, creating a ‘hooking’ action to attach the mortar solidly in place. Lath and plaster can have a low environmental impact as long as sustainably harvested wood is used, and especially when handsplitting (riven laths) methods of production are employed. They are non-toxic, breathable and fully biodegradable.

Reed mat Reed mat consists of sturdy lengths of reed, bound together with a zinc-coated wire. Reed mat usually comes in rolled bundles of 10 metres (11 yards) in length, 2 metres (6' 6") high and 8mm (5/8") thick. These mats are attached (similar to lath and plaster technique) horizontally onto wood uprights with sturdy staples. They can be used to create internal partition walls and ceilings, and are well suited for creating curved surfaces, due to their flexibility. Reed mat can also be cut into smaller sections (with secateurs or a jigsaw) and used to prepare wall substrates for plastering or rendering. Examples include covering differential materials within a wall, such as lintels and timber uprights, or sections of repair. Reed mat provides a good alternative to lath and plaster as it is more economical, but it does not provide as solid a backing. Reed mats are perfectly suited to receiving lime and earth plaster/renders. Lath & plaster

Cob block

Reed mat has a low environmental impact during its production, and is easily biodegraded with the exception of the minimal amounts of zinc-plated wire that binds the reed together. It is also highly breathable.

Masonry Masonry buildings are constructed out of individual building units which are laid in and bound together by mortar of varying types. They must always be built up in staggered courses with no vertical joints, in order to tie the wall structure together.

Natural stone There are many different types of stone used in building. This is a reflection of the varied geology across the world. Broadly speaking, stones can be categorized into the softer, more permeable stones, such as the sedimentary rocks of limestone and sandstone, and the harder, less permeable stones, such as the igneous rocks of granite, gabbro and basalt. Even within these categories, however, there are regional differences in strength, porosity and weathering between stones of the same type. For example, there are some varieties of hard limestone and sandstone, and some porous, soft granites. Locally sourced, naturally occurring field stone has a low environmental impact, and can be eternally reused as long as suitably soft bedding mortars, such as lime, are used. Soft mortars can be easily chipped off without damaging the stone. The environmental impact of quarried stone depends on the methods of extraction employed, as well as the distance the quarried material is transported. Quarries can also disturb the natural environment. On its own, stone is a poor insulator, but has high thermal mass. It is non-toxic and generally breathable, with the exception of very hard, impervious types. The determining factor for making a decision on which plaster/render is suitable is down to the hardness and porosity of the stone. Softer, more permeable stones will partner well with earth plasters and the weaker building limes, whereas a harder, less permeable stone will be better suited to the stronger, hydraulic building limes. Some less permeable stones will require a priming coat of some sort before they are suitably placed to receive a lime or earth plaster/render. However, the priming coat should not inhibit the vapour permeability of the stone.

Honeycomb block

Natural stone

Stone & lime render

Clay board

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 29

Extract from ‘USING NATURAL FINISHES’ cont’d Fired brick Traditional bricks are made from clay, which is fired at high temperatures. The firing process drives off the water and creates an irreversible chemical reaction such that the clay will not be returned to a plastic state with the addition of water. These bricks remain relatively soft and very permeable. Many modern bricks are made from sand or flint mixed with lime. They are not fired, but are moulded under steam pressure. This method produces a much harder brick, with strength and permeability characteristics more in line with concrete (a reduced permeability). As with stone, traditional porous bricks will work best with the softer, highly breathable finishes of earth and the weaker building limes, whereas modern bricks are more compatible with the stronger, hydraulic limes. They may require a priming coat before receiving a first coat of lime plaster/render. Producing bricks is a very energy-intensive process (especially modern bricks), but they can be recycled many times over as long as a soft lime bedding material is used. Bricks will also last for a very long time if laid and finished with suitable mortars, such as lime or earth.

Fired clay honeycomb insulating blocks These consist of a fired clay block with a honeycomb crosssection. They are suitable for use for both external and internal load-bearing walls, and have been widely used on the continent for many years. The honeycomb structure of the block means that it is only necessary to create a single skin, because the block itself provides excellent insulation properties. They can replace conventional cavity wall construction. Mortar is only necessary for the horizontal joint, due to a tongue-and-groove vertical edge which locks the abutting blocks firmly together. They are ideally suited for use with earth and lime mortars and finishes, and make highly breathable buildings.

Concrete block In their most basic form, concrete blocks consists of cement, sand and aggregates. Concrete blocks are relatively cheap to produce, and are one of the most widely used construction materials for external walls in the UK and throughout most of the world. Other types of concrete block include lightweight concrete blocks, such as breeze block. There are also aerated concrete blocks, which are made from cement, sand and lime. They both have better insulating qualities than the standard blocks. Concrete can also be cast on site in shuttering. Cement Hemp-lime

30 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Clay board

finishes are most commonly used with concrete materials, but earth and lime finishes can be used, with suitable preparatory measures, to enhance the look, feel and internal air quality of a building. Concrete blocks are not appropriate for use in any type of conservation or restoration work involving traditional buildings. This is because they are hard and impermeable, and will move differently from the traditional materials. All concrete materials are very energy-intensive in their production, and are often transported long distances. Using concrete blocks made with secondary aggregates will go some way to reducing this impact. Concrete blocks can be recycled, or crushed up to be used as infill or road base. However, many of the additives used to make cement are potentially toxic and damaging to human health and the environment.

Hemp-lime construction Hemp-lime involves hemp hurds being mixed with building lime, cement and water. It makes a lightweight, breathable construction material that can be applied in a number different forms. Hemp-lime can either be tamped between or sprayed against temporary shuttering. It is a non-load-bearing material, and must therefore be used as an infill, formed around a framing of timber and other structural materials. Hemp-lime can also be formed into air-dried, lightweight building blocks or panels, which are similarly built up between a frame structure. Hemplime is suitable for both earth- and lime-based finishes, and is ideally finished with a hemp-lime plaster/render. Lime is fairly energy-intensive through its production, but goes a long way to offset this: as it carbonates (sets and cures), it reabsorbs some of the CO2 it has released during its firing process. The cement element is highly energy-intensive in its production. Hemp, a natural plant fibre, has many excellent environmental benefits, such as its ease and rapid growth without needing chemical herbicides or insecticides. Its use similarly absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, creating a ‘carbon sink’ (as described earlier in the straw bale section). Hemp-lime as a walling material is highly insulative and breathable.

Building boards All of the alternative building board options listed below have been developed and produced with the environment and human health in mind, and they all provide breathable walling systems. Bear in mind, however, that many of these products are currently produced on mainland Europe, and hence carry with Reed board

Wood wool board

Wood fibre board

Extract from ‘USING NATURAL FINISHES’ cont’d them the implications of long-distance transport. Conventional gypsum plasterboard is energy-intensive in its production, although recycled industrial gypsum is often used. However, this may potentially contain toxic elements, such as heavy metals and radioactive particles. Gypsum plasterboard also involves the use of toxic jointing compounds containing formaldehyde, although safer, more ecologically sound alternatives are available.

Reed board Reed board is a rigid building board consisting of untreated reed, bound together with galvanized steel wire. It comes in varying thicknesses of 20mm and 50mm (¾" and 2"). It can be used as a rigid backing for lime and clay plasters, for ceilings and walls. It can also be used up against a solid substrate, such as concrete block, to provide a suitable backing for lime and earth plasters. When used in this way it can be attached by pressing it into a bed of earth or lime mortar, and then mechanically attached with 15-20mm (½ - ¾") zinc-plated washers, and large headed nails or screws (stainless steel, zinc-plated). Reed board can also be fixed to a timber frame with galvanized screws, with 15-20mm (½ - ¾") zinc-plated washers, or wood wool screws. This provides an excellent alternative to plasterboard from an environmental perspective, as well as the fact that it provides a fully breathable wall surface. It is also a very flexible material, making it ideal for creating curves in a wall. Reed board is perfectly partnered with either lime- or earthbased finishes.

Wood wool board Wood wool board consists of wood shavings or fibres bonded together with magnesite or a small amount of cement to create a solid building panel of varying sizes. It can create a highly breathable internal and external wall system, and is attached to timber supports. It also has good thermal insulation properties. If made without cement it contains no toxic products or synthetic chemicals. It is suitable for directly receiving an earthor lime-based plaster or render.

Wood fibre boards Wood fibre boards are made out of 100% waste wood from timber production. Softwood chippings are pulped and soaked in water, then pressed into boards by mechanical means. They are then dried and cut to

shape. The boards contain no glue or wood preservatives, but are bound together with the natural tree resin contained within the wood, which consists primarily of spruce or pine chippings. Wood fibre boards are highly breathable and provide an alternative to conventional board insulation. They can be used internally or externally on to masonry or a timber frame. They have excellent thermal performance and are vapour-permeable and hygroscopic (able to absorb and release moisture), making them efficient at regulating internal moisture levels. They are suitable to directly receive lime render or plaster.

Clay board Clay board is a rigid building board for internal use. It is made out of clay, silt, sand, straw, hemp, reed and jute. It provides a perfect alternative to gypsum plasterboard for drywall construction, from both a health and environmental perspective. Clay boards can introduce all the benefits of clay construction into a build, such as temperature and humidity regulation, odour absorption and sound insulation. They can be affixed to a solid substrate, such as masonry, or supported within a timber frame (not attached to structural timbers). They can also be used for ceilings and lining the interior of sloping roofs. Clay boards are suitable backgrounds for both earth- and lime-based finishes.

Conventional gypsum plasterboard – drywall, gypsum board, sheetrock, gib Gypsum plasterboard is a rigid, internal dry lining board comprising of a gypsum plaster core encased with a heavy paper lining or fibreglass mat. It also contains fibreglass fibres, foaming agents and various additives that increase mouldand fire-resistance. Plasterboard is commonly used in the conventional construction industry on stud frames for creating internal walls, partition walls and ceilings. The use of gypsum plasterboard replaced the traditional technique of lath and plaster. Plasterboard can be primed to receive lime- and earthbased finishes to enhance them aesthetically, environmentally, and to contribute to creating a healthier internal environment (see Chapter 2). G

The large roof overhangs on the buildings (right) protect the external earth finishes from the elements (buildings by Econest).

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 31

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By Russell Andrews

This article first appeared in TOB 35 (May–July 1988)

Over the past few years Sandi and Ron Rumbelow have been building up a small holiday complex at Yandoit in Central Victoria. We wrote about Jajarawong back in issue twenty-seven but couldn’t resist a return visit to check out the progress. We found that plenty had been done. Sandi and Ron have recently completed a sauna house and are nearing completion of a third two bedroom cottage.

The Rumbelows had thought they’d like to provide their guests with a spa to relax in after a strenuous morning fishing or bird watching. The problem was that spas require electricity to drive pumps and filters. They also require quite a deal of cleaning. Being away from mains power. running a noisy nerve jangling generator just to run the spa seemed to defeat the

purpose. They discarded the idea and built a sauna instead. For those of us who thought that only rich people could own a sauna, this little building demonstrates that such a facility doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Just in case readers get inspired and want one, we have sketched a few basic details of Sandi and Ron’s sauna.

The overall size of the actual compartment is 2.7m x 2.1m with a further 2.0m wide verandah and change area. The floor is a concrete slab and could incorporate a drainage outlet or at least be graded to the doorway. There are timber slatted loose panels on the concrete which are more comfortable under bare feet. The panels can be removed for cleaning. TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 33

High on the wall opposite the inlet vent there is an outlet vent of about the same area. This vent can be closed off with a sliding cover until the required temperature has been generated.


3078. If you live further north another likely source of a kit is Hot Drum, Freepost 1, Box 3B Maleny, Qld. 4552. [Ed’s note Oct 2008: Melbourne Aluminium and Iron Lacework may still have limited stock, phone 03 9489 5100. We have had no success contacting Hot Drum.]

Walls are mostly timber formed and insulated with fibreglass and reflective foil. Linings are T&G pinus internally and sawn cedar externally. A section of walling in one corner is of 250mm thick mud brick. Into this is built a 44 gal. drum which acts as a fire box. There are kits available to convert such a drum into a heater. The kit usually consists of a flue, legs and door which is cut into the bottom of the drum. A few centimetres of sand in the drum acts as a bed for the fire. Sandi and Ron purchased their fire kit from Melbourne Aluminium and Iron Lacework, 452 Heidleberg Road, Fairfield

The fire is fed from outside the sauna room but the bulk of the drum, including the flue, is inside. A home made basket of chicken wire is filled with fist sized lumps of bluestone and is draped over the drum as pictured. A little water spilt on the rocks when hot creates the steam for the sauna. Tiered pinus seating allows the users to move from cooler low levels to the hotter benches above. For after dark saunas a gas lamp under the verandah provides a soft light into the steam room via a small window. Beside the sauna is a shower base with a tap and rose attached to the timber wall. This is to provide that invigorating cold dowsing after a good steaming. Two other small but vital details should be mentioned. Low in the wall beside the heater there is a 90mm diam. by 250mm long piece of pipe laid into the brickwork. This allows an inlet of fresh air. The outer end of the vent has wire mesh over it to keep out any nasties that may wriggle in.

34 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

A short walk over the hill from the sauna is the newest cottage. This is an interesting combination of two different walling systems. All internal walls are load bearing mud brick. The external walls are made up of 300 x 80 treated pine slabs placed horizontally between 150 x 150 treated pine posts. The slabs were selected with particular attention to moisture content and straightness. They are approx. 1.8m long and fixed at posts with a 35 x 35 treated pine batten each side. Each plank is dropped over a 12mm diam. rod which runs full height of the wall. As the inevitable shrinkage takes place the nut on this rod can be tightened. In each horizontal joint between planks Ron inserted an 80mm wide by 12mm thick strip of rubber. Sandi said that, once they had worked out a system, the wall panels went up very quickly. A 1.8m long by 2.4m high panel took about one hour. As usual, the photographs and sketches best describe the construction. We’ll have to keep in touch with Sandi and Ron. It seems that they are committed to trying all sorts of alternative building methods. Who knows what they’ll be up to next?

Jajarawong in 2008... Sandra and Ron are still at Jajarawong. They have the following to say about how the years have treated them. ‘We will look out for the 150th issue – congratulations and thanks for thinking of us. We have had a long association with The Owner Builder magazine and to this day still buy a copy or two. It was the magazine that, way back in the early days, gave us our inspiration to escape the city rat race and start an alternative life style… one we have never regretted for a minute. After almost 20 years of use, the sauna is still performing very efficiently. The only change we would make to the original construction would be to line around the heater drum with fire bricks, although we have been amazed at the strength and resilience of the mud brick being in such close contact to the fire box. Over the years the mud brick has cracked and crumbled a little but could still be easily renovated. Because of the high temperatures obtained inside the sauna, one has to be careful of protruding nail heads as these could burn sauna users. Even though we used kiln dried pine lining boards, we still had some degree of shrinkage and movement, so it is necessary to keep an eye for any such occurrence. The five cottages built on our property by us have well and truly stood the test of time. In the main, maintenance has been kept to a minimum because of the use of natural materials, such as mud brick, stone, iron and timber, saving us time and money over the years. The external mud brick walls, some of which are exposed directly to the elements, have only needed re-surfacing once in all that time. This has clearly demonstrated to us the amazing resilience of building in natural materials. After 23 years of developing and running our accommodation business on our 29 hectare property at Yandoit in Central Victoria, it is time for us to sell up and move on. We would love to see our house and business sold to someone who appreciates the natural environment and who has a love of unique handmade buildings. If you would like to inspect our property, please contact us 03 5476 4362.’ TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 35

Building with steel Part 2: Now you’re underway In the second of our three part series, we discuss the practical construction aspects of building a steel framed home. This is meant as a general guide only – you should always follow your designer’s specifications and frame supplier’s instructions and seek expert advice and help along the way. Humans used to live in caves and similar geological formations. Caves are natural structures and may be over- or under-designed, with whatever features nature has provided. Houses, on the other hand, are engineered structures. Everything in them is there for a purpose, whether it be structural, functional or aesthetic. The frame supplier normally takes responsibility for the structural engineering of the frame. When it comes to the structure, nothing should be left to chance; it should be properly designed, installed, finished, protected and maintained. Everything depends on the structure – the security, comfort and amenity of its occupants as well as its investment value. Building the structure correctly is never an extravagance, and cutting corners is always a mistake.

Footings Accuracy is always beneficial in construction – remember that your ability to compensate for previous inaccuracies is not guaranteed

Run string line between end joists

throughout the project, so getting it right at every step will save you a lot of time and angst later on! The most common footing types supporting steel framed construction are concrete slab-on-ground, and steel or concrete stumps or brick piers on concrete pad footings. Concrete slabs are designed to support building weight (dead load), provide hold down and resistance to overturning, resist termite entry and provide a trafficable floor for occupancy. We won’t cover concrete slabs here, except to say that slab design and construction is basically identical for all types of construction. Concrete strip and pad footings with piers or stumps (posts) must perform the same support, hold down and overturning resistance as a concrete slab. They are used with suspended floor construction, i.e. where there is a subfloor space. Footings of this type are normally set out to a grid with a regular spacing, based on the spanning capacity of the floor bearers used in the design. The steel stump supplier will provide recommended installation details for

Fix end joists to bearers

stumps, including the required accuracy of set out where stumps are not adjustable in height.

Floor framing With the footings in place, the next step is to install the floor framing. The most common steel floor framing system consists of C-section bearers spanning between posts with C- or tophat section joists laid over the bearers. Floor system manufacturers will provide all required installation instructions. To save time and effort later, it is a good idea to mark out the positions of the floor joist on the bearers before lifting into place, particularly if the top of the bearers will be above eye line after they are fixed to the supports. Sort the bearers for size, length and location. Lay them beside each other, keeping the ends flush, and mark out the positions of the floor joist on the first bearer. Transfer these positions to the other bearers using a square. The bearers can now be laid out beside the posts in accordance with the manufacturers or fabricators drawings.

Support edges by nogging between joist if the product does not have tongue and grooved edges Lay the first row to a string line

Diagram 1: Joist fixing 36 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Diagram 2: Flooring

Stagger end butt joints in alternate rows and centered on a joist

Depending on the particular system, the bearers may be bolted or screwed to the posts. The bearers are placed onto the support posts one at a time, checking that they are correctly positioned as shown on the structural plans. For bolted systems, mark the positions of the bolt holes in the posts onto the bearers, and drill the appropriate size holes in the bearers. Place back on to supports, insert the bolts (including any required washers) and tighten. For screw fixed systems, check the positioning as described above and fix with the specified screws. Repeat these procedures until all bearers are fixed in place. Joist fixing is generally quite straightforward. Sort the joists for size, length and location and place them, on their flat, into their approximate positions. Joist spacing is determined by the spanning capacity of the joists and of the strip or sheet flooring that will be fixed to them. Starting with the end joists, check that both ends of the joist are flush with the bearers or have the required cantilever. Using the specified connections fix both end joists to the bearers, and run a string line between these joists. Continue fixing the other joists using the string line to keep the ends in line. See diagram 1.

Flooring Steel floor framing is an ideal substrate for all kinds of flooring material such as strip timber, structural particleboard, fibre cement and plywood. See diagram 2. These materials come in different thicknesses to suit different joist spacings. Most fixing is done with a combination of adhesive and screws or nails. For specific information on


fixing a particular flooring product, always follow the flooring product manufacturer’s recommendations.

Wall framing Wall locations are set out on the slab or platform using a chalk line, starting with the external walls. To compensate for possible differences in slab dimensions, it’s best to mark the inside of the external wall frame positions. Continue on to the internal walls, checking constantly for squareness. Where perimeter wall frames are placed on a concrete slab-on-ground, a durable impermeable membrane should be placed between the bottom plate of perimeter wall frames and the slab and extend up the weather side flange of the bottom plate. The membrane is not required beneath internal wall frames. The membrane may be the same as that used for damp-proof courses, a paintable bitumen product or a selfadhesive polyethylene. To save time and effort later, it is a good idea to mark out the positions of the roof trusses on the top plates before

standing the frames. Any holes in the bottom plate that may be required for fixing to the slab/floor frame can also be made. To make the removal of the bottom plates in doorways easier after the frames are erected, cut the web of the bottom plate either side of the doorways using an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc or preferably with a power saw with a coldcutting metal blade. See diagram 3. When all wall locations are marked out and the frames prepared, place the frames near their required location as shown on the layout plan. Stand the frames commencing with an external corner, fixing them together as recommended by the frame supplier. This is typically done with self-drilling screws. Continue to work around the building adding one frame at a time, checking that each frame is aligned with the set out marks and plumb before proceeding to the next. On longer walls, temporary bracing is essential to stabilise the frames until the wall and roof framing is complete and fully braced. The frames are then fixed down to the slab or floor using methods and spacings specified by the frame supplier.



Cut through web of bottom plate

Diagram 3: Preparation of bottom plates for openings

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 37

Temporary bracing Use temporary props at ends of walls

Loosen brace on frame (or fix a temporary brace) Fix corner together and plumb corner. Re-fix bracing when plumb

Pack under bottom plates if required

Temporary brace

The specifications will vary depending on the type of floor, type of roof and wind region. Particularly important are the fixings beside openings, at wall ends and corners, and where bracing straps or sections meet the bottom wall plates. Screw bolts are a common fixing method to concrete slabs as they are fast and reliable. Where a steel floor frame is used, self-drilling screws of the correct size and length are commonly used. In cyclonic areas where hold down requirements can be very large, your frame supplier will pay particular attention to the continuity of the load path from roof structure to foundations. This may involve specialised fastening arrangements for the wall frames.

Bracing Bracing strength is critical to the structure both during and after construction. Bracing usually consists of a combination of methods such as metal strapping, sheet materials such as steel, fibre cement or plywood, and plasterboard lining. You will need to provide and fix all bracing as specified by the frame supplier. See diagram 4. The final step in wall framing is to remove the bottom plates in doorways, a job made much easier if the plate webs have been pre-cut as described earlier.

Diagram 4: Bracing

ceiling joists or roof rafters. Truss systems are more familiar, with geometry generally similar to their timber counterparts. Truss systems are installed by placing each truss at its ‘station’ on the wall plates, working to the roof layout plan provided by the fabricator. The first truss is temporarily propped and stabilised, and each subsequent truss is stabilised back to the previous one. See diagram 5. A temporary bottom chord brace is installed to ensure the trusses remain in place during construction.

Roof battens For safety and to save time and effort later, where a sheet roof is to be fitted it is a good idea to mark out the positions of the roof battens on the top chords of the trusses before lifting the trusses into place. With the roof structure in place, the battens can be set out to suit the roof cladding.

38 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Housekeeping On completion of each stage of construction, the area should be cleared and waste material disposed of safely and responsibly. Any excess materials should be stacked and stored to allow for use at a later date. Self-drilling screws create steel ‘swarf’ as they drill. Whilst not hazardous in small quantities, when swarf gets into the wrong places it can mar the appearance of coated steel surfaces. It’s a good idea to sweep away swarf progressively as you work, along with any discarded screws and small off-cuts, to minimise any adverse effects. The channel shaped bottom plate of steel wall framing panels will tend to accumulate construction debris and should be kept clean during the works. String line between apexes to align trusses

Roof framing There are two types of steel roof framing system in common use in Australia: panel systems and truss systems. Panel systems consist of ceiling panels and roof panels, and can be likened to ‘inclined walls’ in which the studs act as

Wall panels, roof panels and trusses help to stabilise each other in the finished frame structure. During construction, they may need temporary propping to prevent collapse and to ensure secure footing for installation workers. You should ensure that there is always sufficient support for the freestanding structure – wall panels and roof trusses – by adding temporary props or bracing as required. If in doubt, add more! Typically every wall panel or truss should be individually propped until it is secured to the permanent, fully braced structure. This is particularly important for long runs of walls, gable end walls or large truss spans.

Diagram 5: Roof framing

Safety All electrically conductive sections of steel structural frames should be earthed in accordance with the requirements of the local electricity authority. As soon as practical in the frame erection process, a temporary earth should be established until the permanent earth is installed. There are good battery powered screw guns and other tools that largely remove the need for using power leads. On all construction sites and with all forms of construction, electrical power leads should be kept in good condition and regularly checked. Wherever possible, leads should run overhead and not along the ground. Guidance on safe methods of construction is available from your local workplace safety authority.

Required tools As mentioned in the first article, the tools required for steel frame construction are familiar and readily available. This is what you’re likely to need: • A good quality battery screwdriver • A small angle grinder • A pair of articulated snips • Several toggle clamps • String lines and chalk lines • A masonry drill (if building on a concrete slab) • A good quality level at least one metre long • General hand tools. I Part 3 of this series will cover finishing: fitting windows, doors, roofing, cladding and linings. Thanks to National Association of SteelFramed Housing Inc (NASH) for the editorial and diagrams, and to Technosteel Australia for the photographs. • NASH A good source of information on suppliers and technical information. Visit their website for up to date information on residential and low-rise steel framed construction. Training is offered at some TAFEs for tradespeople wishing to gain expertise with steel framing. These courses may be suitable for owner builders with some experience in building. 1800 656 986, • Technosteel Australia Manufacturer of steel house frames, roof trusses and floor systems, mainly for the owner builder. 1300 553 457,

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This octagonal life Where angles rule and owner builders persist BY SHARYN MUNRO

If you aim to build something different, of high quality, but without taking on a mortgage, then a slow, owner built, pole-framed octagon fits the bill. Which is what Reg and Paula achieved, taking 7 years (and 4 months) from the first hole to the day they moved in to the house at lock-up stage. It might have taken longer, but one day after Reg had left for work, Paula simply decided that 8 years living in the unlined shed was long enough. She felt that at Reg’s perfectionist but part-time pace, their owner builder project had almost become a hobby.

So she moved as much as she could manage in wheelbarrow loads across from the nearby shed. When Reg came home he was astonished to find they were now living in the house, not the shed. There were no floor coverings, internal doors, architraves or skirting boards, or fittings and fixtures like kitchen cupboards, but it was a fait accompli: they had moved in to their new home. Nine years later they insist there are still bits to do, but nobody else would notice: it’s an extremely well-finished house. As Paula had been planting trees

40 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

and landscaping their 4 hectare block from the start, the house has a longestablished air and is hardly visible from the rural road nearby. It might have taken even longer had they pursued their original idea of infilling between the poles with mud bricks. Reg had made several brick moulds, and over the three years it took to build the frame and the roof, the waiting pile of dirt loomed larger. They decided that ‘we might be dead before the house was completed’ if they had to make all those bricks, so chose split-face concrete blocks instead.


One advantage of slow building is that you can alter plans and materials as things change regarding what you want and what you learn about what’s possible – building-wise, budget-wise or body-wise. When they bought it, the block had power, phone, two dirt-floored sheds, two old caravans and a pan toilet. Reg fixed up the main shed to be liveable enough for the couple of years he thought it would take to build the house. Their three teenage daughters, Becky, Dani and Beth, initially moved with them, but the two older girls only lasted about 6 months in the van before moving into a flat in town. Reg thinks it was the pan toilet that did it! But youngest daughter Beth stayed there until she went to Uni. Golden rule for prospective owner builders: triple the amount of time you think it will take you to build!

in NSW, he’d seen many old buildings where the ironbark poles were as sound as when they were first put in the ground, undamaged by damp or termites. It made sense to use that local experience, given the serious termite threat. In their live-in shed, every week Paula had to sweep the fresh termite channels from the upright poles. Having worked out that he needed 25 poles of 200–300mm diameter, eight of which had to be 11m long, he approached a company who supplied power poles. This size being smaller than their usual, they put aside and

stockpiled for Reg as the right logs occurred; coincidentally their debarking planing system also attractively facetted the poles. The mill supplied the blue gum beams too, ranging from 200mm x 75mm all the way though to 75mm x 75mm, which Reg had estimated to cope with the decreasing spans and weight as the roof poles tapered towards the centre. These came rough sawn: Reg went through two electric planers in dealing with them. The plan had a centre pole, an inner ring of poles around what would be



bedroom covered & screened courtyard


Pole planning In deciding on the plan for the house, three circle sizes were trialled, with the final being the mid-size 16-metre diameter, with the additional encircling verandah taking it to 20 metres. Working out the internal break-up was harder, given that each room would be a trapezium. Standard furniture tends to stick to right angles! In the kitchen where the need for squared surfaces was greater, Reg designed an angled built-in pantry to achieve that. He drew it all up and made a scale model. The final house feels grander than its actual size of 150m2 (without courtyard and verandahs), due to the spacious open central area. In their region, the Upper Hunter



kitchen bedroom

WC pantry



Laundry bath.



TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 41








the living room, and an outer ring at the external walls; smaller poles would be added later to support the verandah roof. They considered leaving the centre pole in place, but decided it would restrict living space. However, until most of the roof poles were up, Reg needed that centre pole as a reference point.

Pole placing Once the 500mm wide and metredeep holes were drilled in the clay soil by a tractor’s PTO auger, 100mm thick concrete pads were poured in each. Reg painted the bottom metre of the poles

with Brushable Hydroseal, then wrapped this section in two layers of PVC to keep moisture out. The first to go up was the centre pole, towed into place by their Kingswood station wagon. Reg, a mechanic by trade, would be mostly erecting this mighty pole structure on his own, so he’d made a mobile steel tripod fitted with block and tackle and chain. It had removable horizontal bars across the legs, to allow the pole to be gradually raised through the tripod frame. Finding the right spot along the pole to grip and balance it was a matter of trial and error, and critical, says Reg.

42 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

The taper of the poles, whose butt end would go in the ground, meant that the weight was uneven and the balance point was not in the middle. With the pole roughly vertical in its hole, he nailed on four low timber braces attached to pegs in the ground, then shovelled dry concrete mix into the gap. Reg got the levels right with two plumb bobs and banged in timber wedges to hold the pole in place while he tamped the dry mix. The dry mix took weeks to set so allowed Reg flexibility to re-align poles slightly if needed when attaching the roof poles to them.



9 frame with a preserving oil stain which has lasted well even on exposed pole sides. For various reasons, for about two years the structure went no further; sitting on the neat lawn for so long, it puzzled passing locals, who decided it must be a really big pergola.


12 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.


When all the upright poles were in, he used a simple clear tubing water level to mark the tops of the pole for cutting. This proved to be very accurate. Two saddles at the correct angles for sitting the roof pole on the verticals had then to be cut and chiselled out. That hardworking little Stihl chainsaw is still going strong, although Reg went through three bars and umpteen chains in the building process. He’d lift the pole up with the tripod and chain it in position before fastening with two 150mm coach screws, countersunk to get the depth needed. Eventually the weight of the roof itself would be sufficient, but meanwhile, as these roof poles weighed around half a tonne each, he wasn’t taking any chances. When all but the last two of the eight poles were on, he removed the centre pole. The cantilevered high ends of the roof poles are the thinnest and could just sit there, but Reg made a steel ‘spider’ to connect their ends together. This roof isn’t going to collapse, and with a total finished weight of 10 tonnes, it will need a major hurricane to lift it, if at all. Over the top of this central hub Reg built a ‘turret,’ for light and ventilation. Daughter Becky, home on a visit, painted the finished timber octagon

Then Reg started on the roof. First the 1.8m diameter octagonal turret, with double louvre windows and Colorbond roof. Using an angle grinder, this small structure required far more cutting and wasted more tin than he’d imagined. ‘All the discrepancies of the structure came to fruition in that turret,’ says Reg. Each window frame had to be custom measured, similarly each roof triangle. The main roof was on within the next 6 months. They used 12mm thick Ecoply lining panels, which are grooved to look like lining boards. Over the winter, Reg had stained and double Estapol-ed all 57 of these. They were laid from the top, blue foil over, then


TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 43


6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Gardens, goldfish, and the sound of water. The courtyard that became a room. Clever accommodation of angles. Open living area under the central octagon. Facing the glazed wall to the main living area, the roofed and screened ‘courtyard’ reflects itself. Note ‘sunrise’ beading on upper window. Where eight poles meet… Exotic sculptures by Paula’s brother, Tony. Open verandahs on utility sides. The central turret that took time! Front octagonal facet latticed as entry. Charming Australiana tiled dado strip. Eight verandah facets ensure there’s one for every season. The pole-raising team: Reg, a tripod, and a block and tackle.

Top to bottom


each beam to dead level, coach-screwing it to the side of the brackets. A hardwood plank was then bolted along the wall top, ready for the verandah roof. The internal faces of the block walls were rendered unevenly with plaster, smoothly and gently undulating, with rounded edges. At first glance it looks like a mud or straw bale home interior. It’s a lovely touch that suits the poles they adjoin.

Lighter work

wiring, then 75mm x 50mm battens, then the Colorbond. He had chosen not to use batts or blanket insulation because he felt vermin would get in and would be too hard to remove. They had nearly lost the stored lining boards, discovering just before they went on holiday that the edge-stacked pile in the shed had been invaded by termites. At the speed of the local termites, all $2500 worth would have been useless by the time they returned. Reg had to drill down and run electrical wiring inside the poles to emerge ready to be connected within internal plasterboard walls by the electrician later. The admirable barter system was used then, as with the plumber and the concreter. Everyone needs a mechanic at some point. The next stage was the slab. The ground had to be filled slightly to level, then footings dug between the poles, revealing the original dry concrete mix to be rock hard around the post bases. The concreter had no problem working around the poles for either footings or slab. Budget stopped them including the two eastern bays of the courtyard, or the extended verandahs, although they wished they had. Reg had laid lengths of wood down where the wet area walls would be so he could work out the positioning of pipes for the concreter. He only got one wrong, the toilet, making it too close to the wall, so ended up jackhammering that section up later to re-position. He didn’t do the internal plumbing himself but did outside work; for example, he dug the hole for the septic tank – by hand.

Blockwork lessons The split-face concrete blocks arrived. These are hollow blocks, but made in pairs and then broken in two, so the faces are roughly textured. Reg laboured for the blocklayer but found it much harder than with bricks, as he could only carry one at a time and the blocklayer would have it laid in a jiffy. As he hadn’t planned the distance between the poles to suit these blocks, every course required a block to be cut, and the slanting roof line demanded a great deal of cutting. Reg went through fifty four grinder cutting discs! Where walls would meet the poles, Reg had cut a flat face with the chainsaw; each run of blocks would be tied to the adjoining pole with brick ties. He learnt a lot about concrete block walls, such as that doorways were reinforced. Reo starter bars drilled into the concrete slab fixed the first run of blocks and concrete was poured into the block cavity. At the top of the doorway, concrete poured into the edging blocks made them into solid concrete pillars. Above doors and windows, special lintel blocks with U-shaped hollows were laid, upturned, in a frame, extending a block and a half beyond the space below. Into this were laid 3 reo bars and then the run was filled with concrete. When the frame was removed, there was a solid reinforced lintel. The block work came up outside the beams, so Reg made up steel angle brackets and fastened them to bolts set in the top of the block wall. He jacked up

44 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Reg built the cypress stud frame and plasterboard clad internal dividing walls, bringing the wiring through as directed by the electrician. He has kept a meticulous record of everything like this, in lists, diagrams and a photographic account of every step of the building, the most detailed I have seen. The first kitchen was a $200 secondhand one in the lime green that was popular a few decades ago; they now have a new second-hand one, much gentler on the eye and very posh at $800! All the western red cedar sash windows and frames were made by a joiner friend, but as they weren’t ready when the walls went up, temporary frames were built for the blocklayer to work around. Radiating timber spokes are set high in the glass wall to the courtyard area; they call it the sunrise window, typical of the detail you only get in owner built homes! When the courtyard slab was laid, completing the octagon base, they had to decide what to cover it all with, as they wanted it uniform. With the large surface area of 210m2 tiles could have been overwhelming, but the Indian slate they chose looks great: interestingly varied in texture and colour. Paula says it is warmer than tiles in winter, when their trusty 17-year-old Coonara slow combustion heater is going. She sealed the slate with Tasman Paints Slate Seal, which she says was easy to use and holds up well. As she hasn’t done anything to the slate for four years, I’m impressed. In the bathroom and toilet the cream wall tiles have an unusual dado strip depicting Sturt Desert Peas. The spacious shower fits behind the door, an extended hip bath and corner vanity unit tuck into the opposite angles. The pedestal basin in the toilet didn’t fit quite so neatly into its sharp angle so Reg made a triangular ironbark shelf to fill the gap behind it.

Above: Neatly edged, the varied colours of Indian slate tiles suit the natural look of the poles. Opposite page: Soaring pine ceiling, exposed poles and creative glazing invite looking up and looking out.

All their water is from tanks, even for Paula’s lovely gardens, with fern house, fishpond and flourishing herb and veggie beds. They have 75,000 litres of storage in two concrete and two plastic tanks. Reg has fitted a base bleed pipe to release any stagnant water sitting in the line after a long dry spell, as they once had to empty the tanks when such water fouled the supply. The nearby creek is now too saline to use on the garden, as they learnt when their dozens of rose bushes died. Unfortunately this has become a common problem in the Hunter.

Fine tuning In living there, they found that certain things didn’t work as they’d intended and have altered these to solve the problem. Some were major, some minor… The louvres in the turret didn’t let out enough heat in summer, but they did let blowflies in: louvres aren’t easy to screen, so Reg replaced them with fixed coloured glass. The foil roof insulation proved inadequate for both summer and winter, even with an airconditioner or the Coonara going, so eventually he removed the Colorbond, panel by panel, and laid in Air-cell. They are very happy with its performance. Although he thought he’d sealed the roof and ceiling join well, mice were still getting in, so recently he went right around with brown silicone. The Colorbond itself faded to a shade of green Paula didn’t like at all, so it has been painted over.

The courtyard area, now latticeframed, has been totally screened so they can use it more, plus have the house French doors open. It had a Laserlite roof, tinted for UV, but let in too much heat, so when replacing after a hailstorm, they decided to put Laserlite only over the verandah strip, and insulated Colorbond over the octagon section. This made the house too dark, so Reg made two skylights, from Laserlite and Perspex. He’s just finished lining the Colorbond section with 7mm Ecoply, from beneath, using a series of props and boards to allow one-man fixing. This has become a much-used part of the house, a charming and restful spot, with the sound of water trickling into the pond outside and views of the fenced rear garden: colourful, well-tended plants, shady trees, and interesting statuary by Paula’s brother, Tony. To extend the indoor/outdoor interface, the 2m wide verandah runs right around the house, providing sunny or sheltered spots at any given time. The expanse of trees and lawn of the wider garden (maintained by ride-on mowers and kangaroos) creates a parklike effect. On the western verandah, Reg had to put up shade cloth screening to protect their two large gas bottles; they’d had a nasty scare when one heated up so much it began leaking from the safety valve. The old shed, rescued from termites, was totally re-built, as guest accommodation. Sentricon solved the termite problem, with baits that interrupted the termites’ ability to moult, and thus grow; they then installed in-ground inspection ‘traps’ of tasty timber around the area and periodic checks are made for activity, but over five years there’s been none. Their whole house bears witness not only to their hard work but also to their lives in the meantime, with photos of family and their trips. For Reg and Paula have now become keen travellers, with fabric, carvings and paintings from exotic places decorating the house. In fact, one led to the other: it is precisely because they didn’t saddle themselves with a mortgage, but built as and when they could afford to, and bartered services where possible, that they can now travel! Their unique threebedroom home has only cost them $115,000 to date.

Patience and persistence, great attention to detail, and the pride of doing a good job are evident in the result. It certainly beats forever debt for a quick, impersonal project home clone! I

• Brushable Hydroseal A bitumen based, fibre reinforced, rust inhibiting waterproofing sealant. 02 9638 2755, • Ecoply NZ made structural grooved plywood, made from radiata pine. 09 636 7016 (Auckland, NZ), • Baines Masonary Blocks Split-face concrete blocks. Made in Appin, NSW 02 4631 1383, • Top Deck Exterior Wood Preserver and Stain Preserving oil stain made by Brinlay Paints, a family owned business based in Sydney. 02 9521 8777, • Slate Seal Clear, fast drying, non-yellowing sealer. Made by Tasman Chemicals, manufactured in Australia. 1800 675 529, 03) 9587 6777, • AIR-CELL Reflective thermal insulation, foil/ polymer cell ‘sandwich’ manufactured without the use of toxic or reactive adhesives. 1300 247 235, • Sentricon Subterranean termite colony elimination system. 1800 700 096, • Laserlite Translucent polycarbonate roofing – lightweight, UV protected, with high impact resistance. 03 9581 9888, • Coonara Suppliers of wood and gas heaters for all Australian conditions. 03 9761 6466, • Colorbond Steel sheeting manufacturers, producing a wide range of profiles and colours suitable for many building applications. 1800 022 999,

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 45

This contents listing of available back issues of The Owner Builder appears every second issue, alternating with the detailed issue by issue guide.

The cover and contents page for all back issues are being loaded onto our website. Currently all issues from #79 are there and the rest will be added when available.

A. Getting started Building language 109, 110, 111, 136 Building process 136, 137 History Evolution of housing 89, 96, 97, 98 Historical examples 95, 115 Owner building Finance 138 Groups/community 84, 93, 123, 125, 127, 132, 134 Hints/advice/planning 55, 85, 89, 107, 114, 119, 147 House tours 119, 120, 129, 135 Insurance 147, 148, 149 Moving to the bush 81, 96 Temporary accommodation 67, 68, 141 Purchasing an existing house 101 Regulations/legal issues/permits/ contractors/ subcontracting 61, 70, 75, 99, 109, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 139, 140, 147, 149 Site work Choosing the site 97, 111 Setting out a house 67, 110, 130, 142

B. The design stage Building in stages 62, 68, 70, 105 Design methods Bathroom design 94, 137 Designing plans 85, 98, 120, 123 Examples 55, 60, 107, 114 Feng Shui / Sacred Geometry 61, 89, 123, 137, 138, 139 Heating/cooling 87, 92, 101, 103, 106, 117, 122, 124, 126, 134 House surrounds 75, 102 Kitchen design 91, 138, 139, 140 Model making 118 Principles/theory 88, 89, 93, 95, 96, 97, 99, 104, 106, 118, 122, 139, 144

The Owner Builder back issues are a great way to build up a store of useful information and inspiration to refer to again and again, no matter what stage you’re at. Whatever your interests, there’s bound to be a TOB issue with something to offer. Use our handy check list on these pages to find the available issues containing the information you’re after. Check the previous edition to see what other articles appear in your chosen magazine. See p.48 for order form.

Design methods cont’d...

Earth building cont’d...

Passive solar 106, 134, 135 Thermal properties, energy performance and R–ratings 55, 94, 100, 104, 106, 110, 114, 115, 126, 127, 133, 134, 137, 138, 142 Tools 126, 133 Tropical areas 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 130, 131, 135 Low cost ideas 148, 149 Plans available for your use Loft houses 107, 108, 110, 113, 128, 129, 132, 139 Single storey 62, 69, 73, 75, 81, 92, 96, 108 1 bed 93, 106, 107, 113, 115, 116 2 bed 108, 110, 112, 114, 118, 120, 122, 124, 127, 130, 131, 137 3 bed 107, 110, 111, 116, 117, 119, 121, 134, 136, 139 Small houses 55, 61, 62, 70, 93, 108, 115, 118, 127 Staged construction 70, 89, 110, 133 Two storey 75, 92, 107, 108, 138 Unusual shapes 113, 114, 117, 123, 124, 125, 126, 136 Materials selection 107, 121, 125

97, 98, 117, 118, 125, 141, 142, 146 See also: in situ adobe, cob, mud brick, poured earth, rammed earth Ferro cement Houses 70, 73, 75, 86, 89, 98, 101 Construction 62, 70, 101 Heavy timber framing Houses 92, 112 Construction 81, 84, 103, 133 In situ adobe 69, 86, 91, 99, 116, 117, 118, 121, 122 Log houses 101, 125, 128 Mud brick Houses 55, 60, 62, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73, 75, 76, 81, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 119, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 131, 132, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 140, 143, 144, 148 Additives to earth 104, 116 Domes, vaults 68, 84, 85 Making & laying techniques 60, 62, 66, 68, 69, 70, 87, 88, 91, 96, 97, 106, 107, 109, 112, 113, 140 Overseas use 92, 112 Plumbing in mud brick walls 115 Tools 111, 113 Other materials/methods A-Frame 120, 130 Concrete block 94, 101, 112, 114, 116, 137 FC sheeting 94, 127, 130, 135 Formblock 132, 146 Hebel 129, 131, 136, 143, 146 Insulated concrete forms 137, 138 Light earth 99, 103, 113, 114, 115, 117, 138, 145 Lime 97, 98 Slab & pug 127 Timbercrete 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 126, 128, 132 Tyres 67, 94, 122 Wattle & daub 105, 136, 149 Yurt 126, 140 Pole frame Houses 66, 67, 95, 114, 130 Construction 55, 70, 94, 130 Post & beam construction 64, 105, 111

C. Materials & methods Blacksmithing 84 Brick (fired) Houses 55, 73, 88, 96, 103, 104, 115, 121, 128, 129, 132, 135, 136, 138, 141, 142, 149 Arches 144, 145 Cavity clay blocks 147 Creative use of fired bricks 95 Reverse brick veneer 85, 127 Cob 81, 84, 108, 132, 134, 135, 137 Concrete & its use 100, 110, 113 Houses 128, 135 Corrugated iron Houses 67, 84, 88, 93, 94, 96, 97, 102, 105, 107, 109, 111, 112, 114, 118, 124, 126, 133, 137, 139, 141, 143 Internal lining 117 Earth building Earthbags / sandbags 88, 145, 147 General information 87, 110, 111, 113, Surface finishes/wall maintenance 73, 81,

46 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009


Poured earth Houses 98, 105, 117, 131, 133, 141 Construction 85, 120 Rammed earth Houses 69, 75, 81, 86, 87, 89, 91, 95, 104, 107, 109, 113, 114, 127, 134, 135, 139, 148 Recycling/retrofitting 84, 88, 93, 97, 103, 107, 108, 115, 116, 122, 145 Relocating houses 62, 73, 97, 104, 106, 123 Renovations/extensions 61, 63, 73, 85, 87, 95, 97, 98, 101, 105, 111, 115, 116, 118, 123, 131, 138, 140, 143 Roofs Corrugated iron 75 Design 92 Fascia-less guttering 104 For mud brick walls 102 Moisture problem correction 99 Polyurethane 110 Shakes & shingles 63, 64, 95 Green/sod roof 60, 73, 89, 94, 146 Trusses 63, 116 Tiles, handmade 76 Unusual shapes 108, 110, 114, 132 Steel Houses 124, 128, 134, 139, 140, 141, 145, 147, 149 Frames 73, 135, 139, 141, 149 Stone houses Composite blocks 104, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 126, 127, 128 Bluestone 91, 94, 96, 106, 107, 111 Fieldstone 55, 61, 63, 64, 66, 67, 75, 76, 84, 89, 92, 97, 100, 109, 115, 123, 126, 127, 133, 134, 136,143, 148, 149 Limestone 86, 93, 107, 120, 121, 122, 129, 131, 141 Mud brick & stone 121, 125, 129, 136, 144 Other 113, 144, 146 Sandstone 60, 101, 102, 108, 116, 118, 129, 130, 135 Stone veneer 68, 108, 133, 146, 149 Stone construction 55, 68, 89, 93, 94, 104, 106, 107, 111, 121, 126 Buttresses 120 Drystone walling 85 Simulated sandstone 69, 81 Straw bale Houses 84, 85, 89, 95, 98, 99, 100, 101, 106, 110, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 123, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 144, 146 Construction 107, 110, 124, 125, 129, 131, 146 Tips 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142 Timber Houses 64, 68, 70, 81, 86, 87, 89, 91, 93, 95, 99, 99, 101, 102, 103, 105, 107, 109, 112, 113, 117, 119, 127, 130, 134, 136, 137, 140, 141, 145

All avai C I A L ! issues i lable back nc CD – onluding 1-25 ly See pa $200 g

Timber cont’d... Bending 108 Chainsaw milling 96, 109 Choosing 101 Framing & bracing 62, 64, 66, 96, 97, 105, 111, 124, 134, 138 Radially milled timber 116 Slab construction 66, 76 Sustainable use of timber 117 See also heavy timber framing Underground/earth-covered houses 61, 70, 81, 108 Walls – moisture/breathability issues 117, 118

e 32

Garden projects Children’s play equipment 117, 118 Earth walls 84 Fence construction 60, 73, 113 Garden design 115 Gardening with mud brick soils 102 Gate construction 100, 115 Glasshouses/starter frames 76, 88 Observatory 119 Outdoor table 118 Paving 55, 101, 112, 115, 117 Ponds/water gardens 96, 126, 133 Sculpture in the garden 100, 115 Steps 98, 106, 109, 115 Sundial 125 Swimming pool 115, 148 Sheds 98, 103, 104, 108, 112, 115, 124, 142 Ideas/construction details 64, 104

D. Specific rooms & projects Bathrooms/baths etc. Construction/renovation 60, 135 Outside showers 68, 69, 76 Wooden bath construction 112 Ceilings 116, 133 Cellars/shelters 102, 110 Cabinets – earthen 148 Doors 89, 91, 93 Floors Bricks / floor tiles 61, 92, 145 Choosing which type 116 Concrete 112, 122, 123, 124, 136 Earth/mud brick 66, 86, 92, 121, 125, 136 Mosaics 86, 105, 138 Parquetry 85 Timber 121, 144 Kitchens Benches 142, 148 Cupboard doors 73 Pantry extension 63 Splashback 140 Paints Make your own 69 Natural 149

F. Sustainable living & the environment

Roof insulation 131, 134 Staircases 123, 140, 147 Windows Installation / construction 81, 104, 117 Dormer windows 117 Double glazing 120 Leadlight/mosaic 94, 104, 118, 128 Overview 130 Unusual frames 94, 107 Verandahs/decks 76, 86, 93, 100, 102, 117, 123, 134, 138, 143

E. Beyond the house Animals Outdoor cat run 112 Chook houses 63, 73, 98 Farm projects Dam jetty 67 DIY electric fence clip 111 Post and rail fence 110, 127 Rotor (pumping water) 129 Small farm design 102

Building biology/chemicals 60, 103, 125, 138 Heating/fireplaces 124 Hydronic heating 106 Permaculture 73, 100, 103, 128 Pest control/termites 55, 69, 105, 109 Recycled building products 132, 136 Solar power/appliances 70, 81, 84, 85, 88, 89, 91, 93, 95, 98, 99, 101, 103, 117, 120, 142, 143, 146, 147, 148 Sustainable living & choices 117, 135, 139 Tanks and rainwater systems 63, 66, 68, 102, 112, 128, 147 Toilets, composting & waste management 103, 113, 117, 123, 140, 142 Trees and foundations 86 Water conservation ideas 139

G. Other bits & pieces Bushfire 125, 134, 143 Health & safety Roof ladder 127 Scaffold, mobile DIY 132 Smoke detectors 81 Staying healthy while building 108 Pizza/bread oven 62, 126, 133 Security considerations 67 Tools Chainsaws 128, 129 Chisels & planes 129 Choosing 60 Saw horses 110 Trolley to move heavy timbers 110 Unusual homes 124, 131

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 47

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This article first appeared in TOB 69 (June–July 1995)

Sal’s Place

A home of her own, on her own By Russell Andrews Asked about her motivation in setting out to build a house, Sal Sullings quickly recalled a couple of incidents which obviously had great impact on her. The first was about meeting a lady who came into the shop where Sal works. “She was about ten years older than me, had just left a relationship with practically nothing but her horse and desperately needed somewhere to call home,” Sal recalled. “It helped me recognise a growing urge within me to have a place of my own.” The second thing that got to her was the reaction of the bank when she wanted to arrange finance. “They seemed to handle the fact that it was a single woman seeking a loan

but when I mentioned that I intended to be an owner builder the warning lights began flashing. The mention of mud bricks didn’t help at all and the barrier finally fell when I told them I needed a loan of $30,000.” One wonders how much longer our society will condone this prejudice against people prepared to work hard and live in modest houses they can afford. Sal purchased her six acres on vendor terms and had to live very ‘quietly’ to meet the payments. She lived in a shed on the block for several years and even took to riding her bicycle to work to save money she would otherwise spend on petrol. The land was relatively cheap and Sal could see why. It fronted the busy Hume

Highway and overlooked the interstate railway line. After confirming that construction of the new freeway replacing the Hume at that point had actually commenced, she decided to buy. Traffic has been reduced to local usage now and is not a problem. As for the sound of the trains, that’s not frequent and its a much more ‘friendly’ sound anyway. In those days both Sal and her parents (who lived down in Melbourne) became avid readers of ‘The Trading Post.’ After a while Mum and Dad had a good feeling for what Sal would want and acted as her eyes in Melbourne checking out what was on offer for sale secondhand.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 49

All sorts of things found their way north to Sal’s block. These included heavy hardwood posts, windows, doors, plumbing fittings and even a complete set of kitchen cupboards. Sal engaged Wangaratta based designer Tracey Toohey to provide the drawings for her house. Tracey had been an owner builder herself and the two got on well from the beginning. It’s most important to employ professionals with whom you can get on well. There can be enough hassles to building without paying out money to use people you can’t relate to. The floor layout of Sal’s house reflects one real concern she had. “I wanted a house that as soon as I walked into it, I could get the feeling that there was nobody else there,” she explained. There are no rooms off passages and everything opens off everything else.” Filling in a part of the back verandah space to include a separate shower room was an afterthought. The intention had been to shower over a bath. Right: Sal (left) with house designer, Tracey Toohey.

50 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

The house plan is simple and open. There are no passages or unfriendly wasted spaces.

Note that the internal mud brick walls stop short of the ceiling. This further enhances the open feeling. TOB 150 â&#x20AC;˘ December 2008 / January 2009 â&#x20AC;˘ 51


And now... Tracey Toohey provided the following update Sal’s house still sits quietly in its rural setting and has grown only slightly. It has new owners who have built an additional room under the carport roof, and no doubt they enjoy sitting on the verandah watching the sunset as Sal did. Sal now farms beef cattle and John is still in the earth moving business. They have a daughter, Sarah who has a lot of energy and I know where she got that from! After marrying John, together they purchased a farm on the river flats. She loved her little place but the property was too small for farming. I thought she might have some misgivings about selling, but no – the little mud brick house was her stepping stone. She told me ‘the first person who looks at the house will buy it.’ She was right. Owner building is still in her blood. Where many would have torn down the small three-bedroom cottage that was on the new property to build a large homestead, Sal renovated, turning three bedrooms into two bedrooms with an open plan living area. ‘The house was good enough to bring up a large family previously, it will be big enough for the three of us.’ She painstakingly sealed every gap and crack in the weatherboards, the silicone gun was her friend for months. Walls were re-lined and insulation added. The inefficient chimney and heater were replaced with an efficient freestanding solid fuel heater. Being the ever-practical person that she is, she added an attic ladder and a light in the roof space. Something all houses should have. ‘You don’t need to get up there much but when you do it can be a real hazard on a ladder.’ To accommodate visitors a shelter shed was relocated from the local school and converted into a guesthouse. Their property has transformed over the years. The word can’t just doesn’t feature in Sal’s vocabulary; if she wants to do something she just sets out to do it and learns on the way. Something we can all learn from. Sal’s attitude to life impressed me the first day I met her. I thought then, ‘I want this person to be a friend.’ Little did I know how that friendship would evolve into the very close relationship we have. At the time of writing this Sal’s father, who had helped her in many of her projects, had just passed away. He lives on in Sal and Sarah. I


After injuring her leg at one stage, Sal experienced great difficulty in getting into a bath let alone showering over it. The alteration was achieved without great drama and without alteration to the roof line. Sal’s parents provided a lot of support and practical help on site as well. Her dad has a bit of an inventive bent and made an amazing crane capable of lifting the biggest of timbers used. The posts under the ridge for example, were picked up from the top and lowered exactly where they were needed. They were then bolted to steel plates fixed in the concrete slab. “The crane was on wheels and we used to stack railway sleepers on it to act as a counter-balance.” Sal recalled. “Dad was quite selective in what he did at times though. He’d always refuse to hold the business end of a tape measure and he’d never make the final cut. I guess he was making sure if anyone mucked it up it wasn’t going to be him.” Sal’s Mum was also active on the job. “The drawings showed the roof slope of course but I couldn’t visualise it. I can still see mum standing with her back against one of the ridge posts and the end of a rafter in each hand. She would raise and lower them until the pitch was what I wanted.” Sal laid most of the mud bricks herself. Many a time she would work on after sundown by the light of a lamp hanging from the roof. “Living in the shed there wasn’t much else to do at night and in winter it was a way of keeping warm although I think passersby probably thought I was a bit strange,” she said. Walls separating the bedrooms from the living room have never made it all the way up. Now that she has moved in she sees little need for them to do so. This has been a very ‘hands on’ project for Sal. She has been responsible for most of the building and has housed herself for ‘thirty something’ thousand dollars. And she doesn’t have to pay the bank back having paid for it as she went along over a 2 – 3 year period. Sal and Tracey have kept in touch. In fact it was Tracey who introduced John to Sal. John is a local earth moving contractor and the couple are getting married in July. According to Sal, husbands (or wives) and houses don’t necessarily happen in that order. “You can’t just sit around waiting for a man to build you a house. If you need a house, build one!”

Look out for these features in upcoming issues of The Owner Builder: • • • • •

Natural swimming pools Temporary bathroom Steiner-inspired straw bale home Demountable gutter system Sympathetic stone barn conversion

Issue Nº 151 (Feb/Mar 09) will be on sale from 1 Feb ‘09.

Don’t miss out – order now from your newsagent or subscribe direct! 52 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009


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Ph: 03 9714 8688 • 96 Mine Road Nutfield • Email: TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 53

Earth building update This is the first in a regular series of updates to be provided by the Earth Building Association of Australia. BY RAY TRAPPEL


I recently received an email from an architect/lecturer from Saudi Arabia who had found the Earth Building Association of Australia (EBAA) website, liked what he saw and was interested in becoming an active member. I appreciated reading about his enthusiasm for the promotion of earth construction. I am also an architect and am continually learning new things about this wonderful building material even though I have been working with earth in design and construction now for 35 years.

Regulation Around half of our design work at present is in earth construction and we are doing more than ever. There is a lot of interest in this low embodied energy building option. In NSW the Department of Planning has vigorously supported earth construction by giving it an exemption from requiring extra insulation mainly because of its low embodied energy. This represents the first initiative of government in Australia to make a positive contribution (beyond report stage) towards lowering the embodied energy inherent in the construction of our buildings. Many of the so-called ‘low energy’ building solutions presented today are very high on embodied energy with the over use of concrete, glass, aluminium and steel. We have recently demonstrated how earth bricks can be made with negative embodied energy through the use of intercepted waste material. Typically though, 1% to 2% of the embodied energy of fired bricks (or concrete) is commonly quoted, which represents enormous untapped potential in

this country for reducing our energy consumption in producing building materials. While better thermal modelling software (AccuRATE) is now available that is able to assess some of the positive impacts of mass (and hence earth construction) more effectively, public perception has been slow to turn from the negative impact of the earlier, more primitive and insulation based software (NatHERS, First RATE) that was first used as a legislative tool. This is particularly the problem in the southern states. So strong has been this earlier misperception that even EBAA members in NSW, where we have an exemption within the BASIX system (under DIY) from the Department of Planning, until recently have thought there was still an issue with the thermal performance rating of earth walls. The thermal performance of earth buildings is improved by COSMIC design that considers: • climate – ventilation and the cooling of earth walls in summer, particularly at night • orientation – day living areas with main windows to the north to maximise winter solar gain • sun – the shading of western walls and solar access to northern walls • mass – also using earth walls internally • insulation – needs to be adequate in the roof particularly • colour – darker to north, lighter to west. The economic sustainability of the current building system is a concern and has also caused us to consider more affordable building options. With the

54 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

potential of unfired earth brick walls to be less than 1% of the cost* of double fired brick for the ‘hands on’ owner builder, there is an economic good reason to use earth construction even in our high technology driven society. How earth construction is managed makes a huge difference and the experience gained from attending a workshop, particularly one on an earth construction site or just giving a hand to a local earth builder, is highly recommended. The camaraderie built not only increases your knowledge and skill base, but also brings an enthusiasm (sparking with others) and humour that takes earth and community building to a more interesting and effective level. The management of the process is crucial because the low costs can escalate quite quickly if an opportunity is missed; using the experience of others can help a lot.

Building code The Earth Building Association of Australia has recently produced the second edition of the booklet ‘Building with earth bricks & rammed earth in Australia,’ which is now available. It was hoped that The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) would accept this booklet as a timely replacement for the recently removed reference by the Building Code of Australia (BCA) to the CSIRO Bulletin 5 Earth-Wall Construction (Fourth Edition 1987). The implications of this need to be clarified. Bulletin 5 Earth-Wall Construction contained a lot of useful information. However it became increasingly difficult for the ABCB to support all of what was included; a revision or a new publication was required. Under the Alternative

• EBAA Formed to promote the use of unfired earth as a building medium throughout Australia, members include builders, specialist contractors, tradespeople and owner builders, specialist manufacturers and suppliers, architects and designers, consultants, educators and students, all with a common interest in the use of unfired earth. Become a Member (Individual $60, Business $145), a Friend ($25), or make a research donation. 0429 321 104, Solutions provision of the BCA, the EBAA booklet ‘Building with earth bricks & rammed earth in Australia’ can be used instead. EBAA is seeking to have it directly referenced by the BCA as was Bulletin 5 Earth-Wall Construction.

Wet and work One other earth building discovery for me in recent years is the ability of mud bricks that are made with clay as the binder (rather than cement) to be capable of providing their own finish with a wet and work technique. Our own mud brick house we moved into 15 years ago had a slurry finish to the interior with a light, silty sand and skim milk, but we had left the exterior uncovered. Over the years the weathering was acceptable and also quite attractive as small stones were exposed, so the need to apply a finish was not seen as necessary. On a garage I had built 20 years ago I had used a clay and cow dung slurry finish. Although lower sections of the finish had weathered, because I had used the same clay as the bricks, there was only a slight texture difference and the appearance was quite acceptable. The cow dung also interestingly contributed to a matrix that limited the swelling and cracking of the clay and made a tighter finish to the brick. After attending an earth building conference in Berlin extolling the virtues of the use of clay, we thought that the best approach to finishing our house was to use the clay found within the mud brick itself as the ‘glue’ to hold it together. The clay is the only thing that does the connecting and bonding, and this is strongest when the weakening effect of its

L–R: Cream coloured brick (internal wall) after being wet and worked; external wall before being wet and worked; external wall after being wet and worked.

shrinkage or cracking is minimized, by the optimised preparation of the optimised matrix. After lightly wetting the mud brick with a soft broom, excess clay material from the original mud brick is worked into the sandier mortar making it tougher, similar to the way grout is removed from tiles but left in the joints. There is then no excess clay on the surface of the brick to crack and the concentration of clay is increased in the mortar surface. However, we have found that heavier clay mud bricks need the addition of siltier clays, silt or fine sand in the surface matrix because they can still tend to swell and crack in more exposed locations. This finishing technique also works well inside, which we discovered when finishing the walls of a workshop. There is no dusting if done carefully and the patina produced is outstanding. The character of earth bricks can be retained without being lost to renders and slurries. The constituents of a mud brick – clay colour, stones, straw – can be revealed in all their glory. Clay is surprisingly good at holding things together when in more balanced proportions. It is also good at moderating humidity, one of the best building materials available for doing that, and better able to do that with this finishing technique as it is non-sealing. No extra material is required except water. A soft broom is the only tool required once all the joints and gaps are filled. If the wall marks or scratches it only has to be wet and reworked. I

• An optimised matrix of gravel, sand, silt and clay means that there is something in all the spaces left by the larger particles, that touch or almost touch each other, right down to the smallest clay particle which is then able to surround all other particles to make them stick together but with the least thickness of clay so shrinkage cracking can be minimised. In other words, an optimised proportion of gravel to sand to silt to clay for that to happen. • Optimised preparation means that the clay is not in excessive lumps, is wet and worked appropriately to be well distributed thinly around the silt, sand and gravel. The clay is activated in preparation when it is worked sufficiently to cause the plates in its micro composition to slip so that they can bond again when dry in the required shape. * The 1% of the cost is working on what it cost us for our mud brick walls. 4000 mud bricks – 300mm load bearing and 250mm infill – cost $400, and I provided the labour. To purchase fired bricks and employ a bricklayer to lay double brickwork – 24,000 bricks – would now cost $40,000. My costs today would be a little more because of cost increases, but not significantly as I didn’t bring in much material. The potential is in the fact that on site earth can be won during site excavation (generally lowering a slab 150mm and using footing excavation provides the volume required) or intercepted waste material used, therefore not incurring excessive excavation and transport costs. We had an appropriate mortar material on site but didn’t separate it well enough during excavation, meaning we had to buy some material in. On site tank water was used. Making bricks on site reduced transport costs. The mud brick labour component is also less exacting than conventional brickwork, so it is easier for the owner builder to do it.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 55

A decade of owner builders As a regular contributor over the past 10 years, Sharyn has visited some inspirational owner builders. BY SHARYN MUNRO

Over my ten years of writing articles and taking photographs for The Owner Builder magazine, I have been privileged to visit hundreds of owner built homes and meet many fine examples of that wonderful human species, owner builder australis. My first story appeared in TOB #84 (Dec 1997, p.17, ‘Twin Worlds and Suntraps’), as did my ‘From the Back Porch’ contribution, which had prompted editors Russell and Val Andrews to ask me to write for them. I had been a sporadic TOB reader since the magazine started, sometimes borrowed, sometimes bought, subscribed to when I was flush. Then, as now, it was a trigger for ideas and dreams, for trying to imagine oneself in such and such a situation, and for storing up practical pointers. I

still have all my own back issues, the earliest being TOB #16 (1985), when founders John and Gerry Archer were still the editors. The magazines remain a fantastic reference source, not least as an historic record of how owner building has changed in these 25 years. In those early days it was a totally black and white magazine, and remained so until TOB #100 (Aug 2000), when Russell and Val and layout whizz Toni Lumsden celebrated by introducing colour covers and four colour pages in the middle. It was then always a nail-biting wait to see if my stories’ photos got some precious colour coverage, to do the most justice to ‘my’ owner builders. In December 2003, Russell and Val ‘retired’ after 16 years at the helm, and handed over this veritable institution to

Lynda. Three years later she and Toni cured my nail-biting by including 12 additional colour pages in the magazine, so every story gets some and I need make no apologies to my subjects!

In the days of have-a-go Being a writer for this magazine leads some people to assume that I live in a model owner built home, embodying all the lessons I have learnt. Given that my mud brick cabin was begun in the late ‘70s, it is very redolent of that era’s hippy-style freedom to have a go, and to build, mostly on rural or bush blocks, small shelters out of whatever was at hand, with little money and rarely a reference to regulations or codes. Often all they had was an article in a magazine like this one to show the way; the idea was that if so-and-so could do it, with no building experience, you probably could too. Not much has changed, as many people tell me that reading others’ stories helped them gain the courage to ‘take the plunge’ and buy their block or start their place, as they realised that much of the ‘expertise’ they thought was needed is simply commonsense and planning. My then-husband and I and two small children lived in a tent while we built, as did plenty of others then. Or else they were lucky enough to have a shed on site in which to make do, in

Penny and Hadyn’s wonderful Japanese– inspired sanctuary (TOB #130 p.14 ‘Pole-framed bush temple’). 56 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Changes to the cover of TOB over the years...

First edition TOB #1 1981. Published quarterly

TOB #28 Aug/Sept 1988. Change to bi-monthly

what might now be called substandard or primitive conditions, but were perfectly adequate – and fun! Outdoor cooking, bush showers and pit toilets did no harm that I ever heard of, and brought people much closer to nature (including their own!). As a self-appointed unofficial ambassador for mud brick, I feel a bit embarrassed when new people visit my rough and ready place. ‘Please don’t think this is typical of mud brick!’ I implore, and begin dragging out issues of TOB to show them fabulous mud brick homes, all beautifully finished. This was why I wrote my ‘Confessions of a bad muddie’ for TOB #109 (p.26); yet 30 years later my house is still doing its job of providing shelter, plus offering a perfect example of what not to do when building in mud brick. In the owner built homes I’ve written about, the degree of hands-on involvement has varied greatly, but it is always there, ongoing, important and personal.

Small is smart Earlier I saw more places where money was limited, time was plentiful and what wasn’t second-hand was off the block: timber, mud, stone, or all three. Most of those homes began small and simple in scale, and ‘growed’ like Topsy, as Ross and Julia’s shed did (TOB #102 p.40 ‘Starting with a shed’). Many places were special, as handson as you can get, and it showed in the unique results. They may have had to get the electrician or the plumber in to satisfy Council, although sometimes

TOB #99 June/July 2000 The last issue to have a black and white cover

TOB #100 Aug/Sept 2000 First colour cover and four page colour insert

this simply was to inspect and sign off on already completed owner work, but the structure and the finishing was all owner built. Over and over again I was shown that small is manageable on your own, costs less, and gets finished more quickly. Part of the appeal of small cabins may be that every kid wanted a cubby house and adults still relate to that desire for the one-on-one scale in building. As examples of one-person building efforts, I recall Robert’s cute 35m2 cabin by the lagoon (TOB #99 p.6 ‘The Phoenix philosophy’), Haydn’s one-man stone tower (TOB #123 p.28 ‘One-man basalt tower’), or Chris’ fairytale loft cottage, (TOB #120 p.29 ‘Growing with building’) built for $1000. Others, like Peter, worked on having two pairs of hands, having observed that the dimensions of old buildings were determined by components that were able to be cut, carried and erected manually by two men: five metre spans maximum. Peter held to that rule, in sandstone, starting with his house, and then in multiples, creating a small cluster village of ten charming stone buildings and courtyards at his vineyard complex (TOB #118 p.6 ‘Peppers Creek’). In a similar way, but in mud not stone, Mike and Sue (TOB #103 p.15 ‘The earth will provide’) chose to build in modest circles, with their round mud brick house, topped with a sod roof, as are the other smaller round buildings which house the composting toilet, Sue’s weaving, and guest accommodation.

TOB #132 Dec ‘05/Jan ‘06 Change to current cover and 16 pages of colour

From arty to quirky Some homes were large and yet the attention to detail did not flag, although they may have taken a long time to build, often absorbing years of weekends and holidays. I think of a house like John and Terry’s muddie (TOB #107 p.17 ‘Perfection takes time’), perfectly and aesthetically finished by these two potters, with nothing rough and ready about it! Others were painstaking transformations of recycled materials into highly individual dwellings, like Laurie and Nieves’ Spanish suburban solar home (TOB #104 p.32 ‘Sense & Simplicity’), or combination mud and magpie collections, like Richard’s Lord of the Rings fantasy home (TOB #92 p.20 ‘Magpie turns mudlark’). Artists make great owner builders, although short of time like everyone else, and I loved Penny and Hadyn’s wonderful Japanese–inspired sanctuary (TOB #130 p.14 ‘Pole-framed bush temple’), and Chester and Jan’s collaborative creation (TOB #136 p.16 ‘When artists build’). Like most of the houses I have visited, they weren’t, and probably never will be, able to be said to be totally completed. Owner built homes evolve. For most projects beyond the tiniest, stages where time was critical — like pouring the slab or fixing the lining, insulation and tin to the roof — needed friends or family to be called in, or else a labourer paid.

A sliding scale More frequently these days the owner builders may only be able to take a certain time off work, such as

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 57

Anticlockwise from above right: John and Terry’s muddie (TOB #107 p.17 ‘Perfection takes time’); Chris’ fairytale loft cottage, (TOB #120 p.29 ‘Growing with building’); Peter and Kate’s tablelands home (TOB #121 p.28 ‘Colorbond beauty’); Haydn’s one-man stone tower (TOB #123 p.28 ‘One-man basalt tower’); Gordo and Trudy’s coastal home (TOB #137 p.39 ‘Keeping it simple’)

three months, and may not have the confidence or expertise to tackle the actual structure of the house. So they tend to pay a tradesman, usually a carpenter, to get the basic house and/ or roof frame up, depending on the material, with themselves acting as both the labourer and the project manager. One partner is often working fulltime while the other fills these roles. Then they and the family can take their time to infill or line the walls, or to finish them. Sometimes they move in at that point, which can be stressful, but may be better than a leaky shed, or paying rent! Internal timberwork seems to be a favourite material that owner builders feel they can or want to do themselves, but not heavy timbers like the roof framing. I think this is partly because there are now fewer owner built homes not done under full Council rules and inspections, and there are more contractors involved, with attendant insurance and regulatory requirements. The homes are more often in rural suburbia than hidden bushland, and resale value is taken into consideration more than the fulfilment of quirky dreams. Thermal, insulating and energy58 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

saving qualities of various materials are now specified and measured, rather than experienced, discussed over dinners or anecdotally recommended. Basic materials are frequently new, such as Colorbond, and where they are more of the once-alternative type, like mud bricks, they may be made and delivered by a professional supplier, just like fired bricks. The house may look ultra-modern rather than rustic, and may have been professionally designed, yet still have been built by its owners to a major degree, like Gordo and Trudy’s coastal home (TOB #137 p.39 ‘Keeping it simple’) or Peter and Kate’s tablelands home (TOB #121 p.28 ‘Colorbond beauty’). A greater degree of compromise is found now between what is hands-on owner built and what is professionally built but owner-overseen. At the far end of the scale, some owner builders, especially older ones, have very clear ideas of what they want and the funds to make it happen; they design it, and maintain daily involvement with their project and it evolves accordingly, but they do not necessarily do a lot of the physical work. Bob and Sally’s mud brick home (TOB #136 p.58 ‘Handmade haven’) was built this way, using great local craftsmen and clever family members while the owners kept up food and building materials to the team.

Growing sustainability As TOB #150 is published, more sustainable and natural materials are available off the shelf, so there is less need for people to be as innovative.

Above: Laurie and Nieves’ Spanish suburban solar home (TOB #104 p.32 ‘Sense & Simplicity’). Right: Chester and Jan’s collaborative creation (TOB #136 p.16 ‘When artists build’).

There is, however, a greater awareness of the need to use such materials where possible. ‘Solar’ is no longer a hippy concept, fit only for dome-dwellers who don’t have television; stand-alone power systems from lack of choice used to be the only alternative ones I wrote about. People at least consider options such as wool insulation, solar hot water, sustainably sourced timber, double glazing, and now, even solar panels for grid-connection. It is usually budget constraints that make people choose otherwise. Hopefully by TOB #200 that will have changed as our lifestyles reflect our legislators’ improved understanding of finite resources and the wastefulness and harmful consequences of past practices. I am quite amazed at the fact that passive solar principles still haven’t become an accepted basic in house design, even for owner builders. They work so well and make so much sense that they ought to be mandatory, integral to every home, be they a modest project home, mighty McMansion or block of flats – but especially so for owner builders who have more say in their home design, and who will probably live in it for longer. When I am told about an owner built home, I don’t follow up the lead if the house hasn’t had a reasonable degree of owner involvement, the more handmade and sustainable the better. ‘Owner built’ in name only is not what this magazine is about. But whether it’s made from HardiPlank or hand-hewn timbers, when I get there,

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I can still assume that the design will have incorporated much forethought and attention to the individual lifestyle needs, and to sustainability. I can also expect a strong attachment to the place and, frequently, creative touches that both contribute to and are caused by that attachment. Such owner built homes always have the obvious stamp of their individual owners, to whatever degree they employed others to hammer the nails or spread the mortar: they are never just houses. The experiences of those owner builders are always unique — and thus always make a good story. I am constantly impressed with the way most owner builders want to help others, so are willing to welcome me into their homes and tell me their stories to share with this magazine’s readers. Admiring the effort and ingenuity involved in the ongoing process of an owner built home, it is a pleasure to write these articles and show these overly-modest people just how amazing they are. And the latter fact hasn’t changed in 150 issues! I

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From her solar-powered mud brick cabin in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW, Sharyn Munro also writes short stories and nonfiction pieces. In 2007 her first book, ‘The Woman on the Mountain,’ a mixture of selective memoir, place-based nature writing and environmental issues, was published by Exisle. Her next book, to be released in April 2009, is ‘Mountain Tails,’ a collection of short pieces, written and illustrated by Sharyn, about her animal neighbours on her wildlife refuge. She invites you to visit her website, an ongoing journal in words and photos ( TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 59

Renovators insurance Why you need it but don’t have it BY MARK ADAMS

The last thing renovators want to think about is insurance. We have asked industry expert, Mark Adams from Trades Essentials, to provide some insight into why it is absolutely vital that they do so. We all love a challenge. So why move when you can renovate? It’s the Australian way. And if there was any doubt about that, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics verify that renovating accounts for nearly half the total value of construction work across the country each year. There’s a whole lot of money in renovating, and a whole lot subsequently at risk. And yet it seems that the vast majority of people doing extensions and renovations don’t get any additional insurance, even though they are risking the value of their project, and… here’s the part they are unaware of… risking their entire house (which they thought was insured but wasn’t). According to statistics compiled by Trades Essentials, who provide owner builder insurance Australiawide, and based on figures gathered in conjunction with some of the providers of owner builder training courses, it would appear that upwards of 89% of renovators don’t take out insurance.

This may not come as much of a surprise to many of you. We can all appreciate that there is a great deal to consider when extending or renovating and insurance is likely to be placed by many people towards the end of the list. For some people it’s an after thought, considered too lightly and too late, and by others probably not considered to be that important to think about at all. But let’s be fair. Most of us would agree that the natural line of thought would go something like this, ‘Well, we have a house and contents policy, and renovating is pretty common, therefore our policy probably covers everything.’ Unfortunately, this is a case where our instincts are way off target. Most home insurance policies will not cover much of anything during the course of a renovation over $50,000 in value (even less for some insurers). Statistics suggest that well over half the renovations being done each year are above $50,000, so it’s safe to say that the majority of renovators are far from safe in their assumptions. But what if you’re one of those who is still thinking, ‘That’s ok, my project’s replacement value is easily under $50,000 so everything is okay.’ Well, it really all depends on what you consider to be ‘okay.’ In the examples we will look at in this article we found the cover provided by the home insurance policies to be far from sufficient.

Questions to be asked In those few cases where your policy will remain in place, you should still question how much the policy will really be covering? And what are the right questions to ask your insurer to get the important answers that you need? We agree with most renovators that

60 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

this not at all obvious, until you’re told about it. And we can certainly see why it often gets tossed into the ‘too hard basket.’ But fear not! We’ve taken some of the sweat and uncertainty out of this issue for you. Let’s discuss some of the questions that you should ask. We even took it a step further and got our hands on the home insurance policy wordings from three of the largest insurers in Australia. We carefully worked our way through the information, and finally compiled the summary below. We decided to leave the insurer’s names out of this article for the following reasons: a) each insurer has more than one policy wording, and b) policy wordings are regularly revised and/or have supplementary additions issued. We are however suggesting that this information is a good representation of policies that are available. The three insurers we settled on are very large companies, and your policy is quite likely to even be one of the ones we looked at. Q1: Does the policy cover Public Liability claims that arise out of a renovation? Insurer A – NO, not if renovation value is over $50,000 Insurer B – NO, not if renovation value is over $20,000 Insurer C – NO, never Notes on Q1: There is a significantly higher likelihood of a Public Liability claim occurring during a renovation project compared to at other times. This is why your existing house insurer is not keen to cover these claims, and why they rely on you to get construction insurance to cover it instead.

Q2: Does the policy cover Public Liability claims for removal or weakening of supports or foundations? Insurer A – NO, never Insurer B – NO, never Insurer C – NO, never Notes on Q2: Ok, it seems like the message is loud and clear on this one. Other types of liability claims might be covered by some of the insurers if your project value is under their rather modest limits, but they all agreed that they don’t want to touch any liability claims arising out of damage to a neighbour’s house caused by vibration or excavation. To decide if this is a real problem for you, answer the following: Will you be a) doing any excavating, b) doing any compacting, c) having any trucks or other heavy machinery visit the site, d) constructing a retaining wall. If you said ‘no’ to all the above, you might be okay on this point. If in doubt, you need construction insurance. Q3: Does the policy cover any loss or damage to your home as a direct or indirect result of a renovation? Insurer A – NO Insurer B – This one looked like it would, in some very limited cases Insurer C – NO Notes on Q3: Two of the policies specifically excluded this. Insurer B did not spell it out, but you’d still have a number of problems. For starters, Insurer B’s policy stated that cover

ceases entirely for any section of the house that is undergoing renovation. How that is applied in a practical sense… your guess is as good as ours. Additionally the policy’s Duty of Disclosure would require that you informed your insurer before starting the renovation. Due to this change of circumstances they might conceivably even withdraw cover. If the policy continued it would also be on the basis that any and all security measures (alarm, key locked windows, deadlocked doors, etc) that were a requirement of the policy originally, continue to remain intact and working. For most projects this becomes tricky. As the home owner I’d prefer it if Insurer B had just said ‘no’ like the other two, so that I understood clearly (without the extra digging) that I needed additional insurance.

Even a relatively small renovation may need insuring, especially if structural work is needed.

Q4: Does the policy cover new structures that are not yet complete? Insurer A – This one looked like it might, to some degree Insurer B – NO Insurer C – NO Notes on Q4: Insurers B and C made it clear that your new structures aren’t covered until your project is finished and you then update your policy to include cover for them. Insurer A remained silent on the topic so we’d assume that you would be covered (subject to any of the other limitations and/or exclusions under the policy).

What’s not covered What you should have taken from the above exercise is that during the course of your extension or renovation project the following things are not likely to be covered by your regular house and contents insurance policy: public liability claims, new structures, building materials, and even your existing house and contents. Putting that slightly cynical summary aside, there certainly are some major concerns as I’m sure you’d agree. And we’ve only touched very lightly on some of the bigger problems.

So what’s the solution? Take out appropriate insurance! Some providers of this insurance use two separate names for this type of cover; Owner Builder Insurance – for those constructing a complete house

from scratch, or Renovators Insurance – for alterations and additions to an existing house. Most providers however do not make this naming distinction, instead catering for both these types of project under the one banner of ‘Owner Builder Insurance.’ Basic cover The most basic form of owner builder insurance will cover: public liability, any new structures you are erecting, and building materials. We strongly advise you to take out the above insurance as an absolute minimum. The down side is that it won’t provide any additional cover for the existing house, which you’re likely to need. Including cover for existing house This is the recommended solution. It offers the cover same as above, but is also inclusive of cover for the existing structure. Some owner builder insurance policies will provide the ‘existing structures’ option as a partial cover (i.e. damages arising directly from the project). Check if this is the case, because some other owner builder policies can provide full cover for the house at roughly the same cost. Depending on how much your existing policy is going to exclude, you may need this extra level of cover. I Mark Adams is an account manager with Trades Essentials. He has several years experience in the owner builder insurance market. Trades Essentials are a specialist broker for Owner Builder Insurance Australia-wide and can be contacted on 1300 664 923 or Alternatively for an obligation free DIY quote go to

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 61

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ust for fun... What joy it is to encounter someone for whom owner building means far more than just creating shelter. For Stefan and Jan Nechwatal, bringing a deserted farmhouse back to life and surrounding it with a garden full of interest is an ongoing artistic work in progress. TOB 150 â&#x20AC;˘ December 2008 / January 2009 â&#x20AC;˘ 63



n 1989 the head of the department which directed housing and urban development in India was a visionary yet practical gentleman by the name of Mr S.K. Sharma. One morning a young engineer was expounding the virtues of a truss he had designed. While examining a model of the contraption, Mr Sharma was heard to comment, “Yes, I can see that it is as you say, but where is the beauty?” Successful building is about creative problem solving. All too often the emphasis gets to be on the problems and beauty gets lost as a concept. Stefan and Jan’s building and landscaping work is full of beauty and innovation. They take what has been discarded, add something of themselves and create something new... just for fun.


1. A boring cement sheet wall was but an empty canvas just waiting for patterned render, brightly coloured tiles, home made wrought iron and handsomely decorated door. As with the artistic furniture Stefan crafts in his ‘day job,’ building works are often inspired by other countries and cultures – especially in the matter of decoration and colour. 2. Finishing touches make a difference as in this fence of old iron. 3. A gate made from scrap metal and hand perforated galvanised sheet.

3 64 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009






4. No, this very Aussie looking little building isn’t a dunny! It’s a garden shed for storing electric fencing gear. 5. Cleopatra (awaiting spiral steel hair) offers passing birds a place to bathe. 6. This blank tin shed wall provided yet another excuse for some playful decoration. 7. And always, across the garden, the workshop beckons. It’s a building into which has been poured lots of careful thought. It’s Stefan’s personal space. 8. Hand wrought iron stand supporting pottery made by friend, Laurie Close.


9. Roof over a garden gate made from old hardwood fence pickets topped with shingles made of copper from a hot water cylinder.

Stefan and Jan’s ingenuity has featured in a number of back issues: TOB 101 p.40 – Paving a small courtyard TOB 105 p.43 – New life for old tin TOB 109 p.16 – Build an easy set of garden steps TOB 115 p.30 & p.34 – Garden artistry TOB 119 p.12 – A simple extension TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 65

Cordwood cabin Utilising your own trees for building material BY MEL LEE

Our cabin, lovingly referred to as ‘the Shack,’ has a post and beam frame and cordwood infill walls using whole rounds of silver wattle of various diameters, held together by a clay mortar and with sawdust/lime insulation. After living in a tipi while planning and starting a large two-storey straw bale and mud brick home, we realised that we needed something a little more permanent to live in while we slowly worked on our dream home. Cheap, relatively easy and quick to build were the main criteria. We planned a small 6x8m rectangular open space, just big enough for three to live in at a squeeze, and that could later be used as guest accommodation, a studio or to house wwoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). We had read about cordwood in various books over the years and realised that it would be a perfect way for us to build – our 14 hectares of paradise in southern Tasmania is all bush. Using our own trees would greatly reduce the amount of building material needing to be bought in. Mud instead of concrete was chosen for the mortar, as we knew from making mud bricks that the soil here is perfect for building with and it is a lot easier to clean up than concrete. We checked that the silver wattles, so abundant on the property, and the soil were compatible by building a small test wall.

Site limitations The perfect site was discovered almost by accident. While making a track down into a gully to get firewood, we came to a spot that was crying out to have a little cabin built on it. Needless to say, the track goes no further. We wanted to leave the natural feeling of the site so chose to clear only the immediate building area and some uphill trees that would hit the roof if 66 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Above: As expected, some timber splitting and mud cracking has occurred – easily fixed with more mud. Right: Window box frames were put in place and the walls built up around them.

they fell over. The ones we did cut down went into the building of the walls. Access along the track in our old bushbasher, filled with building materials, was a little tricky, especially when it rained. Building was at times held up for days while we tried to get the car back onto the track. The footings were dug by hand and took a long time to complete, in between working interstate for the winters. We mixed all the concrete in a wheelbarrow to begin with, which was hard work and time consuming, and all the water was brought down from the top of the property in containers. We obtained small squarish rock from a local quarry and built a stone wall between the concrete post piers. This was 500mm wide as we had decided on 300mm wide walls. As we were building on a slight slope, parts of the footing walls ended up quite high off the ground – almost a metre at one point. Mixing so much concrete by hand got the better of us and we upgraded to a concrete mixer and generator. After completing half of the third wall we changed to brick, coming to the conclusion that the walls didn’t need to look so pretty under the deck. After completing the rough stone walls, we levelled off with a damp course layer. For this we used recycled house bricks sourced from the Glenorchy Tip shop. We placed two rows of bricks 350mm apart and filled in between with concrete. This gave us a level starting point for the walls and was covered with plastic damp proof material. We also painted the bottom 200mm of the posts with BituSeal, gluing the plastic to the posts.

Shifting gear Building in earnest began upon returning one year to find the seams of the tipi disintegrating and having to put tarps over the beds when it rained. The post and beam frame went up quickly, with timbers coming from the local mill. The rafters were made up for us as they needed to be 7m long. Once the Colorbond roof went on we had a dry area to work in and an opportunity to catch rainwater on site. The books on cordwood that we had read usually had a pre-prepared pile of dried and stripped logs to build with, but we went with using green logs and dealing with the minor problems that would arise later. As soon as we cut trees down, we stripped the bark off them. This proved to be really easy with our wattles as long as the tree was healthy and we did it straight away. Spring also seemed to make the job easier. After the tree was down we started from the cut end, peeling the bark back in a hand sized section and walking up the length of the tree with it. Knots in the tree would stop the peel so we chose trees with few lower branches. We also stripped the straighter top branches for gap fillers. For marking off the 300mm lengths we used either chalk or a builders pencil, depending on how freshly peeled the wood was. One of us would mark the lengths while the other cut them with the chainsaw. Articles we had read

showed the use of cutting devices to get perfectly sized and evenly cut logs; our logs ended up with interesting shapes and angles, and we are pleased with the imperfect result. We ended up cutting approximately 1500 lengths, which was hard on both us and the chainsaw. Luckily it was summer so we weren’t also having to cut firewood at the same time. Our old Pioneer chainsaw came through for us, although we did often think about having a newer lightweight model. We put the logs into the wall as we cut them, partly considering it as an experiment to see what would happen with the green wood and the damp mud, and partly to get the building finished. We had to dig out the area inside the footings to put the floor in, so we used that soil for the mud mortar in the walls. We used the concrete mixer to make a slightly sloppy mix that would squish around the sides of the log as each was placed. We scraped off the topsoil but didn’t bother to sift the remaining soil, picking out any leaves or lumps as we went.

Once the roof was up, we had a dry place to work and could collect rainwater. TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 67


Lime/sawdust insulation Mud mortar

Base of fired bricks

Mud and lime/sawdust insulation – wall section Outdoor shower – not for the fainthearted!


Barbed wire Notch cut in log for barbed wire

Lime/sawdust insulation

Finishing touches

Mud mortar Base brickwork

Placement of barbed wire reinforcement

We had read about using lime and sawdust as insulation and as an insect deterrent, and so decided to use a 70% sawdust : 30% lime mixture. We premixed large quantities and stored it in large garden pots. These mixes ended up getting quite wet but it didn’t seem to matter too much. For the laying of the logs we worked in sections created between each set of

the gap between with the sawdust mix. Choosing logs that would fill the spaces created by the previous row, we placed another row, filling the gaps in between with the same mud/sawdust/mud sandwich. We used different diameter logs to create a varied wall pattern. By cutting up the whole tree, we always had a choice of log sizes, ranging from 40mm to 500mm in diameter. Cleaning the excess mud from the walls turned out to be easiest a day or so after laying the logs. We used wire brushes (lots of them) to pull the semi dry mud from the face of the logs and to even out the gaps between. This left the mud quite rough, which added to the visual effect.

posts. We started off using a gauge to lay down our mud exactly but soon turned to using our eye as it was quicker and we weren’t after a perfect finish. To start, we put down about 20mm of mud onto the damp course and ‘squished’ the first logs into it, filling the gaps in between. We then placed 100mm wide strips of mud on the inner and outer edge of the wall and filled

68 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

We used a string line from post to post to keep the walls plumb, and strung barbed wire from post to post through the walls at 500mm intervals, stapling it to the larger logs, to tie the whole lot together. We also ran barbed wire underneath and above the windows for added vertical strength. The south wall has no windows and missed out on the added barbed wire; it has moved inward slightly as a result. These wire courses are quite obvious in some places as we levelled off the logs in order to run the wire over. We could have cut a chase into uneven logs to keep up the random placement (see diagram).

TOB articles The following back issues of The Owner Builder contain articles on cordwood. • TOB 147 p.50 ‘The Octagon Posts’ An extract from ‘Stoneview.’ Placement of posts in an octagon shape in preparation for cordwood infill walls. • TOB 142 p.28 ‘Irish Garden Shed’ An extract from ‘Sheds.’ Construction of a small cordwood shed. • TOB 22 p.32 ‘Log Ends: Build your house with a chainsaw.’ Available as a PDF on the TOB 1–25 CD.

TOB books We found that we were limited as to how many rows of logs we could lay in one section at a time, as the pressure of the logs would force out the lower levels. We have some interesting ledges that were formed this way! We built floating window boxes and placed them onto a 50mm or so bed of mud on top of a reasonably level row of logs. These boxes were built 300mm wide to match the width of the walls, and to give us a good sized window ledge. With 50mm of mud below there was enough excess to allow us to level the box up. Once there, it would stay in place by itself while we filled up the spaces around it with logs. After a strand of wire was placed over the top of the box, a lintel of wood was put into another 50mm of mud. This would provide support for the wall above the window. When placing the lintels we had to make sure that the boxes remained square. One didn’t, and although the window fits in the box, it isn’t sitting quite where it should be. For the floor and ceiling we bought a pack of ‘barn grade’ floorboards, using the knotty holed ones for the ceiling and the better ones for the floor. We did as most owner builders seem to – we moved in before completely finishing, so after two years there are still some unfinished jobs. We haven’t yet come up with a good skirting material to fill the gap between the uneven walls and the floorboards. There are also a few gaps around the ceiling edge waiting to be filled, where we

didn’t go high enough with the walls. We have a composting toilet and gravity fed water from the top of the property. A small gas hot water system services the outdoor shower and inside kitchen tap. The pipes come in through the wall in a pre-laid PVC pipe. Heating is by freestanding fire box; the flue installation was the only thing that we paid a professional for – we didn’t want any leaks in the roof after the tipi experience! 12V downlights were installed along with the ceiling boards, powered by a small solar set-up that we hope to add to soon. After drying out, the walls have remained reasonably intact. The wattle rounds (well renowned for splitting) have only slight splits, and the shrinkage is only a few mm. We knew this would happen to some extent so were prepared for some repatching of the walls. Two walls have already been done by jamming more mud into the cracks and it seems to be holding fine. It was fortunate that we planned for the deck to be our main access point as it meant it had to be built along with the rest. We now get to relax on it, overlooking the manferns and listening to the creek bubbling in the gully below. All in all we are very comfortable in our little cordwood shack. The track is still only a track, so we walk to the top of the property each day. It stays warm in winter and feels airconditioned in summer. We’ve often wondered why we are building a straw bale place at all… I

The following books in our Bookshop (p.78) contain information on cordwood building. • F7 – Stoneview: How to build an eco-friendly little guesthouse Detailed construction of an octagonal timber framed cordwood building. • F5 – Earth-Sheltered Houses: How to Build an Affordable Underground Home Includes information on cordwood being used as external exposed walls for an underground house. • E6 – Sheds: The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders A selection of sheds to be constructed, including a small cordwood one.

Other books and DVD’s • Cordwood Building: The State of the Art • Complete Book of Cordwood Masonry Housebuilding • The Complete Cordwood DVD • Cordwood Homes (DVD) • Basic Cordwood Masonry Techniques (DVD) See for more details on the above titles.

Websites • A website devoted to cordwood building and living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. • Search for ‘cordwood’ for a number of online videos.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 69


Adobe Basics

In TOB 149 (Oct/Nov 2008) we reviewed ‘Building with Awareness,’ a DVD/Guidebook combination. Author Ted Owens kept meticulous records and a filmed account of the building of his hybrid home of straw bale, mud brick and cob.

This extract covers the basic of laying the mud bricks. Detailed step-by-step information is shown on the DVD, with the Guidebook being a handy visual cue. ‘Building with awareness’ is available from our Bookshop (p.78).

Mark the fully stabilized adobes so you can tell them apart from the semi-stabilized or unstabilized adobes. Otherwise, after some passage of time, it is likely that you will not remember which is which. The fully stabilized adobes are usually a little bit darker in color. Marking them removes the guesswork.

The traditional way to cut an adobe is to score the surface with the edge of your masonry trowel and then to break it on a rigid edge of a hard surface. You can also use a small pick or hatchet, as this will save the edge of your trowel.

DVD Location: 54 minutes 54 seconds

The poles are placed at both ends of the wall. Incremental marks are placed on each pole, indicating the thickness of the brick and mortar, with one mark for each layer. A water level (see page 37) is an excellent tool for marking a reference height on each pole and ensures that the marks are at the same height on all poles.

Another way is to score the adobe to a depth of about 1/2” by using a hand-held power saw with a masonry blade. This may give you a cleaner cut when you are learning to work with adobe and need more precision in making adobe bond-beam forms as shown on page 74. Yes, this is overkill. However, it does work. Always wear proper eye and ear protection when cutting adobes. DVD Location: 59 minutes 26 seconds See pages 122-123 for the mud-mixing procedure. Unlike with earth plaster, small stones up to 1/4” do not need to be sifted out of the mortar mix. We used wheat paste, instead of asphalt emulsion, as a method of making the mortar weather resistant. Asphalt emulsion is more common and can be added to the mix in the proportion of 3-5% by weight for semi-stabilized mortar. This amount will vary depending on the type of soil that is used. Too much emulsion will weaken the mud and make it crumble. The mortar can be mixed manually in a wheelbarrow or in a portable cement mixer. As always, follow your local codes as to the requirements for building with adobe in your area. Speed leads (or story poles) are used as guides to ensure the walls will be true and straight. Although not necessary, they will significantly speed up the construction process. This system can be used for all types of masonry including stone, brick, cement block, and adobe. The speed lead consists of either a single, well-braced vertical pole for a 10”-thick adobe wall or two parallel poles for thicker walls.. Shown here is the speed lead for a 24”-thick wall. On the thicker walls, a string guide will be used on each side of the wall.

70 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

A nylon line is tightly stretched from one pole to the other. It must be tight enough to eliminate any sags in the middle. Otherwise your wall will dip in the middle as well. This mason’s line then acts as a guide for positioning each layer of adobe or brick. When one layer is complete, the line is moved up to the next mark. If your poles are properly positioned and are true, your wall will be the same. The clip holding the line is homemade from wood. A metal fitting in an “L” shape would be more durable. The string is flush against the 2x4 post. The numbers indicate the course of adobes. The space between the lines is 4¾” – the thickness of the adobe, which is about 4”, plus the height of the mortar.

Extract from ‘BUILDING WITH AWARENESS’ cont’d The parts of an adobe wall Wooden sill plate is bolted to the bond beam Bond beam

Adobe blocks

Mud mortar

Steel ladder can be placed every 6 courses unless otherwise determined by code The first course is fully stabilized adobe Rubble trench foundation


This first course uses fully stabilized adobe because of possible flooding and moisture absorption. It is set in cement mortar or in mud mortar that has been fully stabilized with asphalt emulsion. Either way, the mortar goes under and between the bricks.


Subsequent layers use mud mortar. Some builders use cement mortar for the entire wall. Mud will make a superior mud-to-mud bond between adobes and create a stronger homogeneous structure. The mortar is stiff enough that it will not be squeezed out by the weight of the adobe. You should be able to do 3-4 courses per day and still have the mortar support the weight of the wall without oozing out. The mud can be shoveled or troweled into place and then smoothed to the approximate thickness by trowel or hand. Make the mortar a bit thicker in elevation than you need because the adobe will squeeze it down a bit. Mud tends to dry out your skin and be abrasive, so gloves are recommended. Wide thermal mass walls, such as the 24” example to the right, are made by alternating the direction of the adobes. The direction of the adobes reverses at every layer in order to stagger the seams. Code here specified a minimum overlap of 4” from brick to brick. It may be required to cut or trim adobes to fit into narrow or odd-shaped areas, such as around electrical outlet boxes.


Adobes are then lowered into position and wiggled into place, using the mason’s line as a guide. This tends to make the mortar ooze out the sides. The joints are cleaned up with a trowel or glove, and that excess mortar is placed on top of the bricks for the next course.

The adobes are placed just short of touching the mason’s line. If the bricks do touch the line, you may lose your straight reference guide. Periodically check the accuracy of your story poles to assure they have not been knocked out of vertical alignment.

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 71

Architects, designers, builders and other service providers VICTORIA

AUSTRALIA EARTH BUILDING ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA Keep in touch with what’s happening in the field of building with unfired earth. Join Australia’s only association dedicated to furthering the use of this environmentally sustainable technology. Rub shoulders with Australia’s most experienced earth builders and share your own knowledge and experience with others. Write to: EBAA, PO Box 22 Pacific Palms NSW 2428 Phone: 0429 321 104

JOHN KOCH POLE HOUSES Building designer & structural engineer Tel: 07 5442 3583, Mob: 0401 460 079 E-mail: Catalogue and photo album CD – $35.

AUSBALE The Australasian Straw Bale Building Association is an organisation that promotes the use of straw bale construction as a sustainable building material. Ausbale aims to exchange information, facilitate research and development of straw bale construction and to represent the Australasian straw bale building community. For information contact: Bohdan Dorniak, President 08 8344 8170,

TIMBER FRAMES OF AUSTRALIA Modern Efficiency – Timeless Tradition We use traditional mortice and tenon joinery in our frames for homes, verandahs, pergolas, bridges etc. We have access to a variety of timbers from recycled to new. Our frames are individually designed or choose from our cottage frame range. Complementary products include doors and windows all made using mortice and tenon joinery. Our work takes us all over Australia. Have a look at our website. Peter & Isabelle Harwood, ph 08 8390 3150, fax 08 8390 3972

AMCER EARTH BUILDING TECHNOLOGY Earth bricks for load bearing and infill. Mortar and tie down systems. Technical support and design consultation. Soil and brick testing. Training workshops. Automated earth brick and recycling equipment for community and commercial brick production. Contact Mike or Rob 03 9714 8688, Fax 03 9714 8593. PO Box 232, Hurstbridge Vic 3099.

SUE MITCHELL Architect PO Box 7, Grantville Vic 3984 Ph 03 5997 6222, fax 03 5997 6253 Environmentally sensitive and innovative design in rammed earth, mud brick, stone and timber.

PETER LEES Architect and Builder 30 years experience in all modes of design for owner builders Australia wide. Call for FREE advice or send $29 for our book ‘Elevated Efficiency,’ which shows how to achieve the most efficient home design. Also includes 36 very flexible low cost designs, ready for you to adopt. 15 Woolnoughs Road, Porcupine Ridge via Daylesford Vic 3461. 03 5348 7650, 03 9783 8632


TREVOR KOOCHEW Architect. Environs Pty. Ltd. Environmental Designers. 52 Spensley Street, Clifton Hill Vic 3068. Telephone: 03 9481 3195. Owner builder advisory service; land use planning; energy conscious building design; council plans; conventional or alternative materials; rural or urban.

FROGHOLLOW DESIGN Set plans available for low cost, easy to build, environmentally conscious designs. 15yrs hands on experience working with owner builders. Clear to read, large scale plans with step by step instructions. Ideal for first time builders. Designs to your individual taste also undertaken. Contact Mike for free brochure. 0429 433 471, a.h 03 5345 1329,

GREEN POINT DESIGN Solar architecture Friendly and professional service 320 Neill St, Ballarat Vic 3350 Phone 03 5338 8260

WILLBROOK FARM SERVICES On site sawmilling Slabs, boards and posts. Euroa. 03 5798 5416.

BRAD HOOPER Architect Individual environmentally aware design to suit you and your site. 161 Dow Street, Port Melbourne Vic 3207 Tel 03 9645 2618 Fax 03 9645 2633

When you buy mud bricks from us, you buy the experience of 30 years full time in earth building. Phone 03 5422 6602. NOTE: Please phone us for the date of our next mud brick workshop. These one day workshops are largely a hands-on experience aimed at instilling confidence and competence in mud brick building.




Design and drawing of mud brick, rammed earth, pole frame and energy efficient houses. 140 Bolton St, Eltham Vic 3095 Telephone/fax: 03 9439 6046

72 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

Energy efficient, environmentally conscious and intuitive design. Services: Consulting, Design, Drafting and Thermal Performance Assessments. Wangaratta 03 5725 7305

Unique custom made wrought iron including gates, signs, furniture, handrails, security doors, firescreens and garden art. 0403 675 170

BELGRAPHIK BUILDING DESIGN Alternative Design Specialists Mud brick, rammed earth , straw bale, stone, pole frame, timbercrete & timber • 5 star energy rating • sustainable materials • passive solar design • environmentally friendly BELGRAPHIK helping owner builders create their dream home or renovation for 3 decades. Member BDAV, EBAA Professional, Practical, Personal. Standard 5 star plans also available. Belgrave 03 9754 7464

JOHN BARTON Building Design & Drafting 89 Camden Rd, Newtown (Geelong) Vic 3220. Ph/fax 03 5222 5774 Environmentally sensitive solar design. Home plans drawn & documented. Free brochure. Consultation & advice. 30 years experience. 90 plan catalogue available online or $95 for hardcopy.

EARTHFORM: SOLUTIONS Architectural Building Designers We design unique, creative and natural habitats (in any medium) from a practical perspective. Over 25 years of experience. Permaculture integration. Reg. Builders. Rod Sheppard. Member BDAV & EBAA. Melb/Outer N&E. Ph/fax 03 5963 7253

TRACELINE DESIGN AND DRAFTING Individual design and documentation for any type of dwelling. Phone 0418 352 710.

EARTH TEC BUILDERS Specialising in the construction of stabilised & insulated rammed earth walling. Residential – Commercial. Est. 1989, EBAA member. p: 03 9570 2230 f: 03 9570 2237 m: 0418 321 997 e:

NILLUMBIK ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING SURVEYORS Building permit and inspections professionals. Specialising in: • Mud-brick & pole frame construction; • Energy efficient housing; • Straw bale & stone houses; • Construction advice & problem solving. Registered building practitioners here to help you with your building project. Civic Drive, Greensborough Vic 3088. Ph 03 9433 3239, fax 03 9433 3366


BILL ADAMS Building Designer – BDA Member Individual design & documentation. Specialising in pole frame & earth masonry residences. House Energy Ratings Assessments. Hallett Cove. Ph 08 8381 7758

A naturally integrated approach to design that seeks to maximise energy efficiency, minimise environmental impact, and still remain practical and simple. Telephone 03 5145 5587 PO Box 198, Stratford Vic 3862 email

G.W. WITTMANN & ASSOC. Consulting Engineers – Member EBAA Specialising in ‘alternative’ building. A friendly and personalised service for structural calculations, footing designs and documentation for council approval. Mile End, SA 5031 (Adelaide) Ph: 08 8352 7764. Fax: 08 8351 8120

PLAN CHECKING SERVICE Check your architectural plans for dimension accuracy prior to construction starting to avoid costly errors and delays. Engineering Surveyor with 14 years experience in the Building and Construction industry. PO Box 66, Montmorency Vic 3094 0418 300 108



Ph/fax: 02 4967 3641. Mob: 0409 126 353 Buildings, Renovations, Permaculture Consultants. Based in Newcastle, servicing the Hunter Valley ‘Drafting your design or helping to create it. A holistic service that gets you started.’ Contact Natalie. Our designs don’t cost the earth!

Handmade mud bricks. (130x260x390mm). Delivery available. 03 9714 8478

SOUTH AUSTRALIA HOUSE OF BALES Experienced straw bale builder

SUNERGY DESIGN Modern passive solar custom designs. Urban or rural. Detailed plans suit OBs. John Basden – Member BDANSW. Mid North Coast. Ph/Fax 02 6554 1834.

Consulting service, owner builder assistance, weekend workshops, supply lime putty and spray rendering. Lance Kairl. BLD Lic 48998 08 8555 4223,

EARTHBOUND Design+Construct

BOHDAN DORNIAK & CO. P/L Architects, Town Planners Environmentally sustainable Architectural Design, specialising in straw bale and alternative construction. ph 08 8344 8170, fax 08 8344 6480 email

JM DESIGN & DRAFTING Building design & documentation. Additions / Alterations / New Houses. Ready to build set plans available. House Energy Rating Assessor 0403 011 917, 08 8322 1810

TIMBER FRAMES OF AUSTRALIA See under Australia for more details.

JACK METCALF Building Consultant. 35 years exp. Windsor Gdns. Ph 08 8261 9049. Specialising in practical, frugal, individual, environmental design. Retrofitting ideas for existing homes. Plans for Councils, advice, inspections.

Eco-sustainable design/building. Solar & energy-efficient. Naturally healthy homes. Non-toxic finishes. Quality construction and owner-builder assistance. Composting toilets and greywater systems. Agent for ROTA LOO dry composting toilets. Member EBAA & HIA. GAVIN SCOTT. Lic 26508C. Ph: 02 6552 9165. Mob: 0427 592 093 Email: PO Box 22, Pacific Palms NSW 2428

ECORATE – Energy Rating Certificates Single home BASIX Certificate $120, including Strawbale and Mud Brick homes. Visit or call 0249818626

MAKE IT MUDBRICKS Mud brick suppliers Superb quality puddled mud bricks, CSIRO approved, suitable for loadbearing or post and beam style homes. Come to our mud brick making workshops. Visit our informative website Phone Nowra 02 4446 0140 TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 73

BELLINGEN BRICKS (est. 1980) • • • •

Traditional adobe bricks Natural terracotta colour CSIRO approved Load bearing, post & beam, cavity bricks • No rendering necessary • Over 35 years experience in the brick industry • Expert bricklaying service available Steve Dodd 8 Woodward St, Repton NSW 2454 02 6655 4577 (phone/fax) 0418 554 576 (mobile) 57985C (licence number)

STRAW AND CLAY Your ‘one stop straw bale shop’ We can assist you with: – carpentry – use of recycled timber a specialty – sourcing of your straw and accessories – raising of your walls – rendering in natural products with our ‘state of the art’ ‘Putzmeister’ spray render machine painting in natural paint products. Whole projects or rendering only. You name it, we’ll do it. phone 02 4782 2740, 0414 575 272

THE GREEN MILL Recycled timber. Specialising in hardwood flooring tongue & groove boards (end matched), milled from 70 year old timbers. $4/lineal metre. 02 6562 8252.

LYREBIRD RIDGE COTTAGE FRAMES Heavy section mortice & tenon timber framing Loft/barn style. Delivered and erected. The perfect start for owner builders. 02 6493 6828, 0427 691 515. PO Box 30A, Bermagui NSW 2546

HUNTER ORGANIC GROWERS SOC. Sowing and nurturing organics. Warren Weldon 02 4936 1881,

IRONLORD FORGE Artist Blacksmith & Knifemaker From a door handle to a special tool, a unique knife to a sculpture & much more. I can make a piece you’ll be proud to own! Call Wayne Saunders on 0415 272 853 10/9 Industry St, Wauchope NSW 2446


QUEENSLAND MAHOGANY RUSH Precision sawmilling, mobile sawmill House timber to yard rails, slabs and benchtops, beams, post & rail fencing. Resaw and recycle of sleepers and bridge girders. Furniture and craft timbers. Stocks of rare timber (e.g. Budgeroo, Flame Sheoak). Allora 4362. 0438 244 711,

C & N MUDBRICKS Mud bricks made, laid and rendered. Owner builder construction service. Brick making and laying workshops. 03 6250 3859 a.h.

CYPRESS MACROCARPA & TASMANIAN TIMBERS Custom cut, delivery Australia-wide. Phone 03 6368 1441, Fax 03 6368 1205.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA DESIGN FOR SEASONS Building Design and Documentation. Solar and sustainable development principles. WA building design awards winner. Environmentally sustainable design. Gary Palma. Ph/Fax 08 9397 6089. 43 Urch Road, Roleystone WA 6111

COMPOSTING TOILET SYSTEMS W.A. Permaculture and Composting Toilet consultancy service. W.A. distributor for Clivus Multrum and EcoLet toilet systems. Ph/fax 08 9071 3126. Email

ECOBUILD SUPPORT Tradesman from UK, experienced in concrete, stone, straw, brick, lime render and tile. Available for interesting ecobuild projects. WA based, can travel interstate. 0410 365 583.

Taonga Garden Art is beautifully handcrafted garden features made from recycled timbers. The unique designs provide that finishing touch to any landscaped garden, inner city balcony or water affected garden. “Taonga ~ an item of great value, a treasure.”

Phone: 0412 654 555 Email:

74 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

NEW ZEALAND LOG BUILDERS’ ASSOCIATION NZ Helping to foster log building in NZ. 35 Ross St, Mosgiel, Dunedin 9007.

ADOBE SOUTH Designer, earth and straw bale building, adviser to owner builders, consents and project facilitator. Iain E. Redfern Studio 1, 160 Lower Dent St. Whangarei Ph/fax 09 430 2020

GRAEME NORTH Earth, solar & environmental building design. Integrated permaculture site development. ECODESIGN. Ph: 09 4259 305. 49 Matthew Rd. RD1 Warkworth 1241.

EARTH BUILDING ASSOC. OF NZ Keep in touch with earth building in NZ with this national body. Bi-monthly magazine, contacts and advice $NZ45 in NZ and $NZ55 outside NZ. PO Box 1452, Whangarei NZ

Like to advertise in the Directory of Services? Directory of Services advertising costs only $5.50 per line, per issue, purchased in blocks of 3 issues. Call us on 02 4982 8820 or email

Nearly thirty years of owner building ...and still going strong BY ROB HADDEN

The hundred and fiftieth issue of The Owner Builder has been cause to reflect on my association with the magazine from (if memory serves me correctly) issue No. 19 when it was run with John Archer at the helm in the mid eighties of the last century! A new chum to the art of building, I stumbled across The Owner Builder in the local newsagent and immediately found a source of inspiration and encouragement that I was to become increasingly occupied with over the years. Inviting John Archer to look at the first major house I was in the process of building was to seal my fate as a contributor, through another two editors right up to the present moment. My first forays into building started with the alterations and additions to a suburban house in East Ringwood, an outer suburb of Melbourne. This entailed pulling apart sections of the house’s fabric in order to insert second-hand windows and suddenly realising that there was nothing much to the structure. We had all been conned into believing that only a qualified carpenter can be entrusted to build our houses. Well, we’ll see about that I thought!

A large extension to the end of this house with big timbers and mud brick infill was about to start me off on my building career that has continued unabated to this day. Each new house was to get progressively more challenging as I continued to research English timber framed buildings and to push the envelope in terms of design, complexity and seeing just how different I could make them from the run of the mill housing stock we see everywhere. The sale of this first house and a move to Harcourt in central Victoria, saw the construction of my first full house and the results of many a visit to the State Library to look at as many books as I could for inspiration. This was a long way from the internet we have now and much, much slower. Still, it was a start and gave me access to information not normally available. This knowledge, plus the experience gained from building the house also helped give me the confidence to run courses in such activities as hand hewing timbers and lime workshops. These naturally were the subject of yet more articles for TOB over the years. By now I was also taking a keen interest in what other people were

building and so I started to write articles on them for TOB, expanding on what I could contribute. Money was never a motive here, just simply the dissemination of information to others in the hope that what I had learned could be put out there for public consumption. I always figured that there were others out there looking for the information that I had acquired, and were at the same point that I was when starting out. Building was much more simple back then with less technology and more importantly, much lower expectations and much less emphasis on ‘designer’ type homes. As the years have passed, people’s notions of building a simple house have morphed into making them bigger, flashier and with all the bells and whistles of the average McMansion. This is seen in many of the houses featured now in TOB and is a reflection of the times we live in. The Owner Builder has changed with them as well to reflect this. It is not a static magazine rooted only in the past along with the old ideas of what an owner builder is. For those whose idea of owner building is to knock up a muddie on a remote bush block, the new colourful and high

TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 75


tech look of the mag is anathema, but at the same time a whole new generation have come along who appreciate the new directions taken. The whole world is in a constant state of change and the magazine mirrors this. Russell and Valerie Andrews encouraged me for many years when they took over TOB early on, and also made a point of keeping up with my exploits. Many a time the phone would ring with Russell enquiring down the line... “Just scratching around... what have you been up to lately?” This prompted me to up the ante and write more stories at the time and expanded my repertoire of knowledge. Russell and Valerie made the decision to go to colour in issue No. 100 and in one go, TOB suddenly took on a whole new look. Aided and abetted by Toni Lumsden, the layout slowly changed and became more contemporary ...but only slowly, so as not to make too radical a change and alienate the readers. It was a change that was to stay. Together, Russell and Valerie steered the good ship TOB from issue 25 to 119 before handing over in 2003 to Lynda Wilson, who has continued to take the magazine from strength to strength.

While all this had been happening, I have continued to build and write about my new set of buildings in Castlemaine, central Victoria. For the first time, I was able to design without any constraints and put into effect much of two decades of research. By now, my work with large timbers was getting well known and people started donating trees for me to mill and build with. The financial and environmental savings of this are enormous and go a long way to building for no more than $20,000 while treading as lightly on the planet as I can. Whilst most people have fallen for the notion that a house (even an owner built one) must of necessity cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, I have steadfastly refused to bow to this idea and always will. So long as I have some mud, scrap iron and some trees to mill, I will find a way to produce the alchemy needed to make a home for minimal cost. If this has meant learning how to construct windows and doors and make my own roof tiles – then I have done just that. The art of limewashing and plastering makes obsolete all the after-market waterproofers, renders and associated products that just plain suck the money out of your pocket. A whole

76 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

industry has sprung up to convince us to oil our wood, paint this, protect that and all costing so much money, adding to the overall cost of our houses. For me the act of building is still inspired by the original TOB magazines that showed homes that were simple, easy to construct and had a lovely, almost naive attitude towards the process. Building regulations were just as harsh back then as now. Who among us remembers councils refusing permission to build out of mud? The nonsense peddled by some building inspectors was rekindled when straw bale made its first tentative forays into the housing arena and the whole scenario was repeated anew. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Regulations have tightened up now and we have to consider more things such as energy efficiency and engineering, but, at the end of the day we can still swing a hammer and use a saw to make a home. And, here’s hoping that TOB will still be out there supporting us in our endeavours and inspiring us to give it a go, because it really is a worthy notion to build our own dwellings and to know that there is one magazine out there devoted to those ideals. 

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w w w. s ey m o u r - ex p o . c o m TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 77


Full reviews are also available on our website:

A1 Sustainable House

A7 Little House on a Small Planet – SHAY SALOMON


Self-sufficiency in energy generation, water harvesting and waste disposal in the middle of Sydney. There are plenty of tables, cost benefit studies and frank discussion of where things haven’t worked or could be improved. AUS. 186 pages. Many photos, diagrams & tables. $37.50 • 4 postage points

A2 Making Your Home Sustainable


The focus is on retrofitting existing houses, but the ideas and principles are equally suited to the design phase of a new house. It is a practical book, well illustrated and backed up with examples. AUS. 124 pages, photos, diagrams, tables. See TOB 127 p.59 for a full review. $43.00 • 4 postage points

A3 Warm House, Cool House

Live in less space and have more room to enjoy it? Smart readers will discover that living small can free up your mind, your wallet and your soul. With floor plans, photographs, advice and anecdotes. You CAN build a joyful, sane life that emphasises home life over home maintenance. USA. 265 pages, detailed diagrams and photos. See TOB 148 p.72 for an extract and review. $35.00 • 5 postage points

B1 Mud Brick and Earth Building the Chinese Way – RON EDWARDS & LIN WEI-HAO

A reminder of how ancient and universal the use of earth in building really is. Includes methods of making mud brick, wattle & daub, and rammed earth walls as well as roofing tiles and various plaster finishes. AUS. 158 pages, diagrams. $30.00 • 2 postage points


This book is a must for anyone seriously contemplating a house that is naturally thermally comfortable. It explains simply, but in detail, the principles of passive solar design and the importance of orientation, thermal mass and insulation. AUS. 172 pages. Many photos, diagrams, plans. $37.50 • 4 postage points

Video footage of sustainable homes, interviews with the owners and designers, in suburban and rural environments. Technical elements are explored with video clips, 3D animations and fact sheets. AUS. See TOB 128 p.59 for a full review. $27.50 • 2 postage points


This book delivers a simple message – quality must come before quantity. Sarah takes you through the process of identifying the features that are important for your home. She helps you to rethink the spaces you use and to allow for creative storage. USA. 200 pages, colour photos & sketches. See TOB 128 p.59 for a full review. $35.00 • 5 postage points

A5a The Not So Big House Collection


Not So Big House + Creating the Not So Big House



Creating the Not So Big House takes an up-close look at 25 houses designed according to Not So Big principles. USA. 258 pages, colour photos & sketches. $60.00 $55.00 • 11 postage points

A6 Energy from Nature (13th Edition, 2006) Renewable Energy Handbook – COMPILED BY PETER PEDALS This book is a reference guide, providing a basic working knowledge of electrical theory, followed by details to help you to design and install your own system. Describes products available, e.g. refrigeration, batteries, generators, pumps and solar panels. AUS. 140 pages. Photos, diagrams and technical information. $28.00 • 2 postage points

78 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

An odd title for a book that is actually all about the ancient technique of cob building. Very detailed, with lots of good sketches. AUS. 100 pages $30.00 • 2 postage points

B3 Basic Rammed Earth – RON EDWARDS


A5 The Not So Big House – SARAH SUSANKA

B2 Building a House in a Day – RON EDWARDS

Modern rammed earth has become the domain of professionals with highly specialised equipment. This book goes back to basics and shows how to do it using basic forming methods. AUS. 40 pages 72 drawings. $12.00 • 1 postage point

B4 Mud Brick Techniques – RON EDWARDS An informative little book at a modest price. It’s based on Ron’s own hands-on experience of working with mud bricks since 1950. Includes selecting soils, making bricks, laying and finishing walls. AUS. 48 pages 130 drawings. $12.00 • 1 postage point

C1 How to Build a Mud Brick House – GREGORY AH KET



This book recognises that many people approach building their mud brick house with little or no experience. Soil selection and making, laying and finishing of mud bricks are covered in detail. AUS. 136 pages, over 100 photos and diagrams. $36.00 $30.00 • 3 postage points

C2 Building with earth bricks & rammed earth in Australia – EARTH BUILDING ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA Written by earth building professionals, this document is designed to be consistent with the contemporary building regulatory control and is the formalisation of industry knowledge into an easy-to-read code. AUS. 48 pages, diagrams & tables. See TOB 126 p.48 for a full review. $35.00 • 1 postage point

AT OVER $200

See p.32 for details

C3 Building with Cob – ADAM WEISMANN & KATY BRYCE An enthusiastic and passionate step-by-step guide to cob building. Site & design, testing soil & making a cob mix, footings, building cob walls, roofs, natural finishes & earthen floors – all areas are covered in thorough detail. UK. 270 pages, 300 photos and 80 drawings. See TOB 136 p.68 for a full review. $75.00 • 5 postage points

C4 Earthbag Building – KAKI HUNTER & DONALD KIFFMEYER The authors have refined the technique of using polypropylene bags filled with earth as the building blocks for their walls. Clear, concise and easy to understand drawings and instructions accompany the text. CAN. 272 pages, photos and SPECIAL sketches. See TOB 134 p.56 for a full review. $42 $47.00 $42.00 • 4 postage points


Using earth, clay, sand, straw and water, the authors blend them to create simple but beautiful cob homes. This is a complete hands-on manual about cob construction. USA. 348 pages, well illustrated. See TOB 134 p.41 for a full review. $60.00 • 5 postage points

C6 EcoNest – PAULA BAKER-LAPORTE & ROBERT LAPORTE This book provides an excellent introduction to the philosophy and practice of building homes using ‘light clay/straw,’ a technique also known as light earth. It is both an informative resource and a lovely coffee table piece. USA. 136 pages, photos & sketches. See TOB 139 p.70 for a full review. $43.00 • 4 postage points

C7 The Rammed Earth House (Revised Edition, 2007) – DAVID EASTON, WITH PHOTOGRAPHS BY CYNTHIA WRIGHT

Provides easily understood information for architects, professional builders and owner builders alike. Some design basics are covered, with particular attention given to the specifics of a rammed earth building. USA. 264 pages, colour photographs. See TOB 143 p.48 for a full review. $60.00 • 4 postage points


An inspiring collection of small straw bale houses, studios, garden structures and outbuildings, highlighting the simple beauty of each. An inspirational starting point for those considering straw bale. USA. 202 pages, colour photos and sketches. See TOB 135 p.70 for a full review. $50.00 • 5 postage points


This is the book about natural plastering systems that we needed decades ago. The style of the book is non-technical, but firmly based on experience gained over


To purchase any of these books, please use the order form on p.81

25 years of building. It is well illustrated, and covers every aspect of plastering. USA. 252 pages, many photos. See TOB 144 p.58 for a full review. $47.00 • 4 postage points

D3 Building Your Straw Bale Home – BRIAN HODGE Step-by-step instructions, covering construction – from site preparation through foundations to the roof. The integration of straw bale construction techniques with those of conventional house building is also covered. AUS. SPECIAL 280 pp, photos and illustrations. See TOB 137 p.71 for a full review. $65 $70.00 $65.00 • 4 postage points

D4 The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes – ATHENA AND BILL STEEN

Celebrating the tactile, sensuous beauty of straw bale homes. This is not a technical how-to book, but does contain sidebars covering subjects like earthen plasters, paints and finishes. There is also a section on retrofitting existing homes. USA. 114 pages, colour photographs. See TOB 143 p.51 for a full review. $40.00 • 2 postage points

D5 Using Natural Finishes – ADAM WEISMANN & KATY BRYCE Step-by-step instructions for applying lime- and earth-based plasters, renders and paints. Includes case studies and practical examples, along with design details for using natural finishes in an eco-friendly home. UK. 260 pages, detailed diagrams and colour photos. See TOB 148 p.73 for a full review. $60.00 • 5 postage points

D6 Building with Awareness – TED OWENS DVD and guidebook demystify the process of combining natural and reclaimed materials with solar technology – a step by step guide to building a hybrid home from foundation to finishing touches. See TOB 149 p.68 for a full review. $59.00 • 2 postage points

E1 How to be a Successful Owner Builder & Renovator – ALLAN STAINES



This book gives a good overall view of owner building and house construction. Contents include Successful Planning, Understanding House Construction, Supervising the Building Process, Identifying Improper Building Practices and Common Problems. AUS. 142 pages, diagrams & tables. $37.00 $32.00 • 4 postage points

E2 The Australian House Building Manual – ALLAN STAINES

This comprehensive step-by-step guide follows the building process in detail, from slab, through floors and walls, to roof – and everything in between. Where practical, the relevant BCA and Australian Standards are referred to. AUS. 158 pages, many instructive diagrams. $39.50 • 4 postage points


TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 79


A publication of The Owner Builder magazine

Full reviews are also available on our website:

E3 The Australian Renovator’s Manual –


If your owner building involves altering an existing house, this book will be a valuable tool. It contains everything from re-stumping floors to altering a roof and most things in between. AUS. 112 pages, diagrams throughout. $27.50 • 3 postage points

E4 The Australian Decks and Pergolas Construction Manual – ALLAN STAINES

E5 The Roof Building Manual – LLOYD HIDDLE & ALLAN STAINES Here’s a book to make framing a roof easier. There are many clear drawings, stepby-step instructions, plus over 30 charts which give rafter and hip lengths for any given roof form with a pitch of 5°–75,° as well as the bevel angles for various cuts. AUS. 120 pages, diagrams, tables. $29.00 • 3 postage points

E6 Sheds – DAVID AND JEANIE STILES An inspirational book for anyone interested in building a shed, or any small outdoor structure. It is a useful starter for those with little building experience and would also appeal to those looking for a project to keep their building skills honed. CAN. 208 pages, detailed diagrams. See TOB 142 p.28 for a full review. $45.00 • 4 postage points

E7 Concrete Countertops – FU-TUNG CHENG Complete guide to the design possibilities and construction techniques of concrete in your kitchen or bathroom: custom-formed, coloured, finished to look like marble, granite or glass – limited only by the imagination. USA. 202 pages, detailed diagrams and photographs. $45.00 • 5 postage points

F1 ‘Melliodora’ – Hepburn Permaculture Gardens – DAVID HOLMGREN

How do you reconcile a less-than-ideal site in terms of aspect, drainage, existing vegetation etc. with a desire to develop sustainably? Using the case study of his own property, David shows how it can be done. AUS. F1a. Book – A3 format, photos, diagrams and plans. $49.00 • Price of book includes postage





House Plans and House Plans 2 have been amalgamated into one handy booklet, containing 26 designs. The plans have all featured in previous issues of The Owner Builder. They are not finished drawings but are yours to use and modify as needed to suit your particular requirements. AUS. $10.00 • 1 postage point

F3 Earth Garden Building Book – ROBERT RICH & KEITH SMITH

Enjoyment of your house and garden can be greatly enhanced by linking the two with a deck or pergola. With this book it’s a project that most people could attempt with confidence. AUS. 94 pages, diagrams and timber size tables. $22.00 • 2 postage points

F1b. CD-ROM – PC/Mac compatible, containing the original book in digital form PLUS new and updated material. $35.00 $30.00 • 1 postage point for CD

F2 House Plans 1&2

Covers all the stages of building your own home, from design through site preparation to finishing. It includes many different materials; earth, straw bale, stone and timber. Chapters on woodworking, roofing, doors and windows ensure that you have all the information to get started. AUS. 315 pages, photos, diagrams and tables. $50.00 • 5 postage points

F4 Stone House – TOMM STANLEY Traditional stonemasonry and slipforming techniques, Tomm’s unique slipforming methods, basic geology and where to source suitable stone, passive solar principles, house planning, techniques for moulding and casting concrete and restoration. NZ. 200 pages, photographs and sketches. See TOB 128 p.59 for a full review. $55.00 • 4 postage points

F5 Earth-Sheltered Houses – ROB ROY A highly practical guide, this book brings earth-sheltered construction completely up to date, including; planning, excavation, footings, floors and walls, framing, roofing, waterproofing, insulation and drainage. CAN. 255 pages, detail photos and illustrations. See TOB 141 p.56 for a full review. $42.00 • 3 postage points

F6 The Woman on the Mountain – SHARYN MUNRO Sharyn is often asked why she lives alone on a remote mountain. This book is the resulting lyrically written account of her journey towards a sustainable and truly rewarding lifestyle in her beloved mountain forests, where she has ‘only’ the abundant wildlife for company. AUS. 272 pages. See TOB 141 p.57 for a full review. $30.00 • 3 postage points

F7 Stoneview How to build an eco-friendly little guesthouse – ROB ROY This book is devoted to the detailed step-by-step construction of a small 30m2 octagonal building, using timber framing, cordwood masonry and a living roof. Taking around 600 man hours, the building could be completed in about 8 weeks of full time building by two people. USA. 200 pages, detailed diagrams and photos. See TOB 147 p.49 for an extract and review. $40.00 • 2 postage points

F8 Stone Primer


Learn how to choose the right stone for the right project, start building a few basic stone structures, or tackle something more complicated. There are plenty of ideas and projects to get you started W W W NE NE NE on the road to being a competent stonemason. USA. 271 pages, coloured photos. See TOB 148 p.73 for a review and extract. $40.00 • 5 postage points Descriptions continue next page...

80 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

OVER $200

See p.32 for details See Bookshop pages 78-81 for detailed descriptions. Prices subject to change without notice


Step-by-step construction of a small green building, utilising earth, straw bale, plaster, cob, timber and a living roof. This book is a must for anyone contemplating a natural green home. USA. 615 pages, detailed colour photos and diagrams. See TOB 146 p.68 for a full review. $50.00 • 10 postage points

G2 The Green Self-Build Book SPECIAL


$65 In depth examples of self-build projects. Section on design, environmental issues, energy use, waste, water consumption and reducing harmful impacts on health. UK. 288 pages, colour photos. See TOB 146 p.68 for a full review. $70.00 $65.00 • 6 postage points G3a,b,c Natural Home Builder Volume One, Two & Three

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SPECIAL all 3 volumes Annual series. Range of ideas, tips and advice for building a modern, for $50


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Phone/fax: 02 4982 8820 Email: TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009 • 81

Getting started BY ALLISON WALKER

Allison and her family have just embarked on their owner builder journey. Here she gives us a summary of events to date. We will be hearing more from Allison as the project proceeds. Finally we can see an end in sight – or at least a start to the actual building bit! The process of building our own house started early in 2006. We moved out of Melbourne to the north east of Victoria for my husband to take up a new full time job in a local ski resort. This was to be a trial move of a maximum of two years (with a 6 month escape clause – in case I hated it). Our two children were only 20 months and three years old so it was the perfect time to ‘give it a shot.’ Little did we know where we would be only 2½ years later! Our first year of country living was a baptism of fire – literally. We experienced one of the worst ski seasons on record (remember my husband works at a ski resort), incredible frosts, stage 4 water restrictions as soon as the ski season finished and then 62 days of bushfires over December/ January. Some would have run back to the city after this period but these experiences actually convinced us that this was the place to be. I am sure that we would have found out what a great community we were living in over time but so many hardships over such a short period brought out the best in our new country friends. Mid-2007 saw us make the decision to put our Melbourne house on the

market. The initial job offer and subsequent move had taken place over a mere seven weeks so we had rented out the city abode ‘just in case.’ Now we had decided that we needed to make the move more permanent. This was partly due to the fact that we had found the perfect block of land – four hectares of north-facing land, only 1.2km from the main street. A dam and a couple of big trees, approval from the kids – ‘so much room to run around,’ and we were set. We put in an offer on the land, had it accepted with a long settlement, and made a start on getting the city house ready to go. We were really going to live here forever! Our grand plan pre-move had never been to build a house from scratch. The most that we would ever get to do was a major renovation on our small house. Now we had the wonderful opportunity to start at the beginning and do exactly what we liked. We could incorporate all of the ‘greenie’ stuff that we had been reading about and build ourselves a warm (and cool) house. Having been in rental properties since we moved up here we have learnt very quickly that insulation is very important, and that a north-facing passive solar house is a must if we are to cope with the cold winters (sometimes down to –5°) and long hot summers (often runs of 40° plus). We also have the opportunity to do things like solar power and hot water, worm farm septic and maybe even some geothermal heating. Not being on town water is seen as a positive for us (even though our city friends don’t necessarily see it that way) and we are looking forward to setting up a pretty self sufficient vegetable garden and orchard on a far bigger scale than on our Melbourne block.

82 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

My husband has always had a dream to build a Quonset hut* type structure – more than likely for a shed rather than a dwelling. He had even knocked on someone’s front door on a beach holiday and asked if he could walk through their house which was of a similar design. We scoured magazines to try and work out what sort of house we wanted. All that we knew was that we wanted to owner build, that it had to be as environmentally friendly as we could afford and that a kit home was probably going to be the best option for both time and money. One magazine that we picked up in the newsagent’s fell open to a curved structure that looked just like the Quonset hut – this must be the one for us! Further investigation led us to the RAL Homes website ( and we went from there. Since then so much has happened. The house in Melbourne sold in Feb 2008 – just before the housing market started to fall apart. We settled on our land in April. After many nights with scribbles on pieces of paper and graph paper blocks, we settled on our design for the house. Permits have gone through council, stump heights have been measured, power is on the block and now we are just waiting for a big truck to arrive to deliver our house. Our two girls can’t wait until we actually live on our block and I can’t wait to get out of a rental and unpack some of the boxes that are sitting in our garage. Roll on part two of the house building process!  * Quonset hut is a lightweight prefabricated structure of corrugated galvanised iron having a semicircular cross section. The design was based on the Nissen hut developed by the British during World War I. Source: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (

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Lime fresco painting The term ‘fresco’ literally means ‘fresh’ in Italian. This is a style of painting that involves the application of lime-fast pigments, mixed with water or lime-water, onto a wet, freshly laid coat of lime plaster. This process instigates a unique reaction whereby the pigment gets caught up in the carbonation process of the lime. This creates an integral unity between the plaster and the pigment, producing a very stable and long-lasting paint finish. There are many examples of ancient fresco wall paintings which are still intact and vibrant, such as at the ancient Greek temples of Knossos. These date back 3,000 years. The characteristic vividness and clarity of the colour can be attributed to the fact that the pigment is dissolved only in water, and not held within a medium, such as limewash, which will diminish the colour. Although the fresco method has been used throughout the world for thousands of years, it was the famous painters of the Italian Renaissance era, such as Michelangelo and his work at the Sistine Chapel, who really developed the skill and raised it to such a high calibre and status. This is reflected by the fact that it is generally known by its Italian name, ‘buon fresco,’ meaning ‘true fresco.’ Fresco painting is a highly skilled craft, and requires training and practice to master. However, a simple fresco can be achieved on a smooth and burnished finishing coat of lime plaster. Experimentation with the technique can prove to be an interesting exercise in creating a unique colour effect on lime-plastered walls. The standard three coats of lime plaster, as outlined in Chapter 3, should be applied. The finishing coat should be made very smooth with a plastic trowel or special stainless steel trowel. Allow it to firm up for at least one hour (depending on drying conditions). The key to success is that the lime is damp before work commences. Pigment should be mixed with water as per the instructions on p.212. The more water that is added to the pigment, the more watery the colour will appear on the wall. Application is with a range of differentsized soft-bristled brushes, depending on whether a whole wall is being covered or an intricate pattern created. Every brush stroke is permanent, so it is essential to know exactly what you plan to paint before committing the brush to the wall. 

This example of lime fresco painting is taken from the book ‘Using Natural Finishes’ by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce. See page 27 for an extract from the book. o

Stunning lime fresco finishes created by Cara Campbell (

84 • TOB 150 • December 2008 / January 2009

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The Owner Builder 150 Dec 2008/Jan 2009  

Special edition - 150th! Full colour, 84 pages of inspiration for owner builders everywhere.