On future proof building……

9 10 2018

I’m quite a fan of the English TV show Grand Designs, and Kevin McCloud in kevin.jpgparticular. The key word in the show’s title is of course ‘grand’, and many – if not most – of the projects irritate me no end, but as an owner builder from way back, not only do I relate to these people, the show has taught me a trick or two…… my gripe remains, why oh why do they all feel the need to build such ginormous houses, often for just two people to rattle around in?

The Australian version, now showing on ABC TV some 8 or 9 years after screening on pay TV which I refuse to pay for, is not as good as the pommy version, the presenter I find lacking in Kevin’s unique personality….. but I digress.

My reason for this introduction is that the last episode was about an earth covered house in Victoria built by a couple whose home was destroyed in the 2010 bushfires. Never wanting to go through that again – surprise surprise – they decided to move to the only place that didn’t burn to the ground and where the few livestock that survived had escaped to…. right next to their big dam!

steels creek

By that stage, the similarities between this project and ours was starting to amaze me, but it gets even better, because they too experienced stuff ups with concrete deliveries, bad weather, and lo and behold, they even have an AGA in the kitchen….

Weirdly, the presenter whose name I haven’t bothered to store in my memory banks expresses disbelief that anyone would make safety their top priority in building their new home. Is he for real? Yes I am biased, but clearly this construction method is the only way to go – even if needing to go a lot smaller in this case – and as climate change unravels, it’s getting more and more important to consider future conditions. As the show unwinds and the weather throws everything at these poor owner builders, the lady half of the couple even says that as time goes by, she gets more convinced than ever that their decision is the best they can do…. If you are that way inclined, the 48 minute show can be viewed here for free…..

IMG_20180914_133934Since Caleb assisted me with raising the central post and beams, I am pleased to announce that I have been making quite amazing progress on my own, and it’s all going up much faster than I had anticipated.

The ridge beam that will support the hip roof over what I call the pointy bit had to go in first to brace the central post and allow me to remove all precautionary (and probably un-necessary) ropes attached to the fourbie ute; my first attempt at trimming the post to the required height turned out a bit hairy, as it was windier than I had realised, and a 50km/h gust required me to brace myself on the 5kg Makita saw which it didn’t like, kicking back and nearly throwing me off the plank onto the concrete 3 metres below……. I might be exaggerating, but that’s how it felt at the time! The job was eventually done on a nice windless day…..

The stud wall frame at the front of the house had to go up before any roofing members could be added on, and it all involved doing lots of preparatory work like anchoring rafter bearers to the top course of blocks, and cutting checks in the beams and a mortise in the post.IMG_20181001_121230

I’m using time-consuming traditional methods that few builders, if any, would use today, or that could be afforded by your average owner if they could not do it themselves.

I’ve now learned to sharpen my chisel so well I could shave with it if I was that way inclined…… and just as well, because it’s getting a lot of use. That central mortise was very important, because every other rafter has to be an exact 1200mm from it so that the plywood sheets that will eventually make the ceiling can go up without needing any cutting whatsoever.

IMG_20180924_133517Some of those sheets will join up atop the internal block walls, which I found to be almost perfectly aligned with what’s on the drawings; quite a task because getting concrete exactly right is a bit of an art form; I learned all the mistakes when I built my last house in Queensland, and I was not going to repeat them if it was at all possible……

The other important reason for correctly aligned walls is that the mostly cosmetic short rafters joining the back wall to them had to also be in the right place. The end blocks had been left empty for the top 200mm or so, and I cut a slot wide enough for the rafter to go in, and once in place the void was filled with concrete, anchoring the mini rafter in place.

It’s really cool coming up with all these concepts in one’s head, and finally seeing them come to fruition in reality……

The next step will be putting the roof on, giving me a nice big platform to work from to build the hip roof frame.

It’s even really starting to look like a house……

The only things holding me back right now are a wedding in Queensland, and the almost certain funeral for my mother in law that will occur within days or weeks…. such is life I’m afraid, we just have to steer down that road without falling in ditches…. eventually, we all reach the end of the road.




Panoramic picture window in the kitchen


The large gap at right will be filled with five bi-fold doors

The other momentous event this week was that the sawmill was finally taken away. After two and a half years in residency here, it almost came as a shock. But it finally allowed me to install a gate where the entrance to the milling area was so that I can finally get my own cattle to rotate through the four one acre paddocks that constitute the far east of the Fanny Farm. I’m practicing with Matt and Coreen’s cows at the moment.


Bye bye sawmill……..


….hello moo cows!



17 responses

9 10 2018


I was an owner builder back in the 1980’s. At that time it was deemed necessary by the local council to protect the house from termites by spraying one of the now banned organo-phosphates under the house. Which worked well for 25 years or so but now the termites are in and having a ball because the framing is pine…



If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. In 2015, it generated around 2.8bn tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 8% of the global total – a greater share than any country other than China or the US. Cement use is set to rise as global urbanisation and economic development increases demand for new buildings and infrastructure.

We also use a lot of sand in making concrete which is about 75% sand. Worldwide, we go through 50 billion tons of sand every year, twice the amount produced by every river in the world. Sand extraction is a major environmental problem which threatens to get worse as existing sources run down and offshore extraction being promoted as the option.

Australia has one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world, something that prompted the Cement & Concrete Industry to warn the government about in the submission below;

And.. The world is facing a global sand crisis;

don Owers

10 10 2018

I had to edit your post because it was full of crap…… if you’re having a go at me for using so much concrete, you’re missing the point. This house will need zero heating and cooling thanks to its thermal mass (CONCRETE) and as I expect it to last a couple of hundred years, the amount of embodied energy in its construction will be more than made up by not emitting anything ever……. it’s a true zero energy passive house.

Besides, the Chinese recently consumed over a couple of years more cement than the USA did over the entire 20th Century……. so you know, I stopped feeling guilty over this ages ago.

Furthermore it will never burn down, thus not needing replacing util I expect the concrete starts falling apart, by which time there may not be any humans on the planet anyway….

There are no termittes in Tasmania, and just in case they eventually turn up thanks to climate change, the frame’s built out of cypress that termites won’t touch.

9 10 2018
Practical Parsimony

Considering your proclivities for using less toxic things in your world, I am shocked you use toxic plywood. How many cattle can you put on an acre and rotate?

9 10 2018

Not all plywood is toxic. The hoop pine plywood I have bought is made in Australia and does not offgas VOCs…

From their website:

“The most sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for joinery is plywood made from Hoop Pine. Hoop pine is a sustainable resource that is 100% plantation grown. Plywood is a manufactured wood panel made from thin sheets of wood veneer and the layers are glued together to form a composite material. Many forms of plywood use toxic glues and were not suitable for our project. The hoop pine we have sourced has been certified under both FSC & PEFC forestry programs, and is manufactured with Type ‘A’ Phenol Formaldehyde which emits such negligible amounts of Formaldehyde as to be considered almost zero.”

I’m planning for three heads of lowline Angus cows, the same as my neighbours’…

9 10 2018
Practical Parsimony

I have never heard of that plywood. Thanks. Okay, I did not know how many the neighbor had.

9 10 2018

Because of the growing awareness of toxic VOCs, an increasing amount of plywood is now friendlier… you just need to do your research!

My neighbour has 80 acres, and once a year I agist his cows all over our proprty to keep the grass down for the bushfire season….. when they’ve eaten my grass, they go home. Until I get my own.

9 10 2018

Excited for you Mike, enjoy reading your updates

9 10 2018

It’s looking great Mike – especially that kitchen window view!
Really admire what you are doing.
What angle is your ceiling/ roof?

I’ve always enjoyed Grand Designs and Kevin McLeod too and I agree wholeheartedly about overly big houses. There’s ways of getting privacy in smaller houses if that is one’s concern.
And it’s certainly less expensive. Because of the cost of land these days in our major capital cities, no one at least seems to be adding rumpus rooms to their 3/4 bed + lounge + kitchen /family houses. In fact an increasing number of houses, especially in the outer first-home-owner suburbs, are being built with just one living area. And, closer in to the cbd’s, many young people can only afford units.

10 10 2018

The roof pitch is ten degrees…

10 10 2018

Hi Mike,
I started watching Grand Designs but eventually gave up. Maybe a better title for the program would be Grand Follies. The only one I thought worth watching was one where a bloke built an octagonal home. They were intending to live sustainably and that included growing their own food and also willows for firewood.
Regarding the other Don’s comment re termites. I built my home in the nineties and had a sympathetic building inspector who, when I stated that I would not use the poison they recommended, suggested that I use cypress pine for my framing, something termites won’t touch. So far (28 years later) no termite activity except for a plank of pine left over from building activity. I have been keeping an eye on my kitchen bench and cupboards which were supplied and installed by a kitchen mob.

10 10 2018

Looking great! Kitchen chores will go a lot easier with that magnificent view to appreciate 😀

10 10 2018

I gave up watching Grand Designs because of anger at the enormous resource consumption and hence unsustainability of most of the houses, although I do admit there were some good ones along the way. It would have been better if Kevin had a separate program confined entirely to sustainable building and explained the need for it. Thanks for the link to that program….I’ll watch it later.

The house is looking great…with that view from the kitchen window you’ll never be able to get Glenda away from the sink! I continue to be amazed at what you’re doing and the work you’ve put into design and choice of materials.

Re that couple in the earth-berm house and bushfire. I’m on a 1 hectare bush block in a bushfire zone and constantly removing fuel loads from the bush and starting to get more paranoid about the prospect of fire. Talking to my neighbour over the back fence last weekend when I was down there burning off (and explaining why I was always burning off stuff) and she said she never thinks about fire! Of course, they have all mown grass and a few trees, but that’s not going to help them much if my lot goes up in flames and the wind is blowing in their direction (and they’re not home at the time to defend their house). The lack of thought amazes me!

13 10 2018
Tony Squires

Super work, Mike. Can’t help but thinking of “Bag End” when you show the view out the kitchen window! What type of roof/ceiling hardware are you thinking of? I see you mention “plywood ceiling” panels, but what goes above that? Airgaps, foils? Foams? Waterproof membranes? Tin? Bitumen, gravel, soil? You don’t seem like the kind of guy to use the “bubblewrap and colourbond” technique!

13 10 2018

No not bubblewrap, but R4 insulation batts with proctor wrap sarking finished with colorbond corrugated iron….. the sarking is designed for avoiding condensation. https://www.bradfordinsulation.com.au/commercial-and-industrial-insulation/roofing/roof-sarking/enviroseal-proctorwrap-sarking

15 10 2018
ThuHa Pham

Hi Mike,

I see your post on Workaway but I can’t contact you since i have not an account at Workaway. Thanks Google, I finally find you here and hope that I can receive your help on the matter below: I and my husband are Vietnamese. We are seeking a permaculture job in your country.

We are Permaculture lovers, and have joined the online course “Intro to Permaculture” organized by Oregon State University. We are very interested in the book “Permaculture A Designer’s Manual” of Bill Mollison. In 2015, we spent all of our money to rent a small land near Hanoi and practice Permaculture. At the farm, we plant timbers (acacia, cassia, jack), fruit-trees (starfruit, apple, fig, banana, longan, lemon, mandarin, pomelo) and seasonal vegetables. We have 5 cats, 6 dogs, about 10 pigs, 100 chickens, 10 ducks and geese, 15 pigeons.
Unfortunately, after a period of working, and the garden is gradually green, the land we rent is planned to build a local administration. The small amount of compensation was not enough for us to invest in another permaculture farm.
At present, in Vietnam, the number of people who know and practice permaculture is very low. We can not call for capital and contributions from anyone to be able to implement another permaculture farm. Therefore, we hope to find a permanent job at a Permaculture farm in Australia or New Zealand, or anywhere else for 5-10 years. Hopefully we can continue to practice sustainable agriculture, observe the formation of ecosystems, and finally hope to save a little money to practice a sustainable farm in Vietnam after 5-10 years.
We can do all the work of the farm including planting trees, vegetables, animal care, harvesting and processing of agricultural products. Before working as a farmer, my husband was a construction engineer, graduated from Moscow State University of Civil Engineering (he studied in Moscow for 6 years) and he could do everything from construction to installation of electricity and water systems (the whole construction of our farm done by him). I am a financial engineer and have worked as an intellectual property law a consultant in the field of Intellectual Property Law, especially in Trademark. So, I can do paperwork.
We have two daughters, a 4 year old and a 2 year old. We do not smoke.
Hopefully we can find a job suitable for our family.
We thank you for taking your time to read this letter. We are so sorry if this letter is disturbing you.
We look forward to and thank you for any recommendations you have.

Thank you,


16 10 2018

Sorry but I can’t afford to pay people who work here, and I don’t have enough accomodation for all of you either……

16 10 2018
ThuHa Pham

Dear Mike,
Thank you for your reply. Hopefully We can find a position somewhere.

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