Jan 8, 2021: Electric Vehicle Madness

Happy New Year!

We’re off to a good start here at the Greeny Flat. Just before Christmas we passed the final inspection for the Energy Retrofit of the old fibro cottage next door. We have been working on this project on and off for the last five years so it’s satisfying to be so close to completion. I just have to supply the council with ‘certificates’ from various tradespeople stating that the work has been done according to the relevant standards (yet another way for our local council to avoid taking responsibility for anything) plus I have a few bits of touch-up paint and some other tiny projects to finish up.

Meanwhile, two articles caught my eye this morning.

This one from The Guardian reports that Elon Musk has now become the world’s wealthiest individual, mainly due to the Tesla share price going through the roof on the back of strong EV sales in the US.

And this one from The Independent states that

Electric cars comprised 54% of all new vehicle sales in Norway for 2019.

This makes Norway the first country to have sold more electric cars than petrol, hybrid, and diesel engines in a year.

The Norwegian government plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025, and is using tax breaks and financial incentives to encourage the purchasing of more sustainable vehicles.’

What these articles show is that the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is well underway and it looks like only a matter of time before EV’s completely replace ICE (Infernal Combustion Engine) vehicles in other parts of the world. To help speed the transition away from fossil fuels, countries like Norway (and even the USA) offer generous rebates and tax breaks for people who choose to buy an EV.

Image Source - abc.net.au

Fossil Fools. (Image Source – abc.net.au)

Here in the upside-down-country however, there are no such incentives, in fact (and this is why I titled this article EV Madness) two of our states have recently proposed ADDITIONAL taxes on EV users. Yes, you read that correctly… as reported in this article from Renew Economy, both Victoria and South Australia are planning to impose higher taxes on EV users because ‘EV’s don’t pay their fair share of fuel taxes’. Apparently New South Wales is looking to follow suit.

Is it just me or is this complete insanity?

Most other countries in the world are trying to encourage people to use less fossil fuels and to drive cars that are more efficient, quieter, easier to maintain and reduce costs for health care and climate disasters by not pumping harmful emissions into the air. At the same time, Australian states are actively DISCOURAGING the use of EVs and joining our Federal Government in desperately cleaving to the fossil fuel interests that have Australia’s politicians by the short and curlies. It seems that the coal, oil and gas industries have completely corrupted our political system.

Ironically, the transition away from fossil fuels is going to happen anyway and the fossil fools that are currently controlling things here will inevitably go the way of the dinosaurs and other critters that were unable to adapt to rapid changes in their environment.

NZ Mandates EV’s for All Government Departments

In stark contrast, according to this article from The Driven …

‘New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has mandated that all Government agencies must now only purchase electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrid vehicles as part of its new policy to become a carbon-neutral government by 2025.’

Image source - The Driven

Image source – The Driven

I would like to propose a referendum to officially make Australia the new West Island of New Zealand and adopt Jacinda as our new Prime Minister.

Sustainability Survey for Wingecarribee Shire Council

For anyone who lives in, visits or cares about our local government area (the Wingecarribee Shire) there is a currently an online survey which you can take to state your thoughts about how our local council can act to help make this area more sustainable and less environmentally damaging.

I encourage any readers who care about these things to have you say. Thanks and here’s the link

https://www.yoursaywingecarribee.com.au/climate-change

Dec 12, 2020: Water Works and Solar Cars

One of our original goals for the Greeny Flat was to make it water efficient. Before we built it we were hoping to use at least as much tank water as town water. We put meters on both the tank and the town water lines and I’m very pleased to report that, after five years, we have used more than twice as much tank water as town water.

We are almost finished with the renovations to the old fibro cottage next to the Greeny Flat and one of the last jobs has been to install a pump and connect the house to the two water tanks. So that was today’s project which involved our wonderful plumber, Tony Dirks, and I spending about two hours scratching our heads and trying to figure out how to set it up so that we could have the following three options:

  1. Run both the house and garden on town water;
  2. Run both on tank water; or
  3. Run the house on town water and the garden on tank water.

It turned out to be quite a jigsaw puzzle but we eventually figured it all out and we now have the whole place running on lovely clean rainwater plus we have the other two options up our sleeves.

The finished jigsaw puzzle.

The finished jigsaw puzzle.

Aptera 1000-Mile Solar EV

This article from New Atlas caught my eye this week about a new solar-powered electric vehicle called the ‘Aptera’. Who knows if this will be available in Australia but at least it seems like a step in the right direction.

‘The top-spec Aptera can self-generate as much as 45 miles (72 km) of range per day in ideal conditions, which is more than twice the average daily mileage of American car owners. And that doesn’t have to be a terribly large amount of energy, thanks to its extreme frugality.’

The super-aerodynamic Aptera EV.

The super-aerodynamic Aptera EV.

What interests me is that, apart from being covered in solar panels (and looking very futuristic), the Aptera has electric motors in the wheels. I look forward to the day we can convert any old car to an EV simply by adding a battery and swapping some or all of the wheels with in-wheel motors.

Nov 13, 2020: Arts Trail Open House

This weekend will be the second and last weekend of the Southern Highlands Arts Trail for 2020 and we will be opening the renovated house next to the Greeny Flat from 10am to 5pm both Saturday and Sunday. Cintia will be showing and selling her lovely ceramics and I will be here helping out and answering questions about the house. I apologise for not letting you know sooner because Cintia sold a lot of her work last weekend. But she’s still got some beautiful pieces left and she’s taking orders for those who might be interested. Or if you just want to come and see how the deep energy retrofit of the old fibro cottage has turned out (it’s nearly finished) then you’re welcome to come along and have a chat with me.

Our house becomes a gallery for the annual Southern Highlands Arts Trail.

Our house becomes a gallery for the annual Southern Highlands Arts Trail.

The Arts Trail this year includes 37 studios and 9 galleries around Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and surrounding areas displaying works from over 80 artists so there’s something for everyone. We really enjoyed last weekend and got to meet a steady flow of the nicest people who gave us lots of positive feedback about Cintia’s pottery as well as the work we’ve done on the house. Hopefully we’ll see you here this weekend. For those who can’t make it I’ve added some more photos from last weekend below and you can see more of Cintia’s ceramic work on her website at cintia.com.au.

Cheers, Andy

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Oct 2, 2020: Another Year of Living Positively

We’ve now had the solar power system on the roof of the cottage next to the Greeny Flat for more than a year and we’re very happy to report that the house is now officially ‘Energy Positive’!

At the time we had the solar installed we also installed a new smart meter which has recorded all our imports and exports of electricity for the last year. If we combine our anytime usage and our off-peak usage, we have imported a total of 2,835kWh from the grid. At the same time we have exported 5573kWh of solar electricity to the grid. That means we have sent almost exactly twice as much power into the grid as we have taken out over a full year.

For an energy retrofit of an old fibro cottage we think this is a fantastic result and we can also vouch for the fact that the house is a delight to live in.

We’re getting closer to having it completely finished. We installed the second rainwater tank last week and we really like how the curve of the gal tank echoes the curve of the house wall.

201002 New tank

We’ve also planted a lot of small native shrubs along the north fence to make a bird-friendly hedge. Now we just have to finish the second toilet and some painting and we’ll be done.

Sept 18, 2020: Virtual Sustainable House Day on Sunday

As many of our readers will know, the Greeny Flat has been open for Sustainable House Day (SHD) for five of the last six years. This year we were planning to open both the Greeny Flat and the upgraded house next to it for SHD. However, the Covid situation has meant that SHD has gone virtual this year.

The bad news is that you can’t actually visit any of the hundreds of homes that will be “open” around the country. The good news is that you can virtually visit ALL of them this year plus there will be dozens of online sessions about subjects relating to sustainable housing throughout the day (see the full Program here).

While we will miss seeing and chatting to all the people who might have come to see our project this year we have never had the opportunity to visit any other homes on SHD because we have been busy hosting. So it will be fun for us to get involved in other ways and see some of the other projects.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can see our page on the SHD website here with information about both the Greeny Flat and the Fibro Cottage Deep Energy Retrofit. And you can view the two video tours that we filmed for Sustainable House Day (one for the Greeny Flat and one for the Cottage) below.

Sept 11, 2020: Back in Mittagong

I’m now back in Mittagong and starting to put the final touches on the energy retrofit of the old fibro cottage next to the Greeny Flat.

As much as I enjoyed spending the winter in Port Macquarie and working on the garage conversion to a granny flat, it’s good to be home. I had to leave the Port Project not quite finished but Rich, the fine builder I was working with up there, is more than capable of completing the last few details.

Exterior almost complete, just needing paint and deck boards.

Exterior almost complete, just needing paint and deck boards.

I shot the following little video of the interior which also just needs some finishing including painting, kitchen benches, plus the plumbing and electrical fitouts.

I’ll ask the owner to send me a few photos of the finished product when everything is done and I’ll add the to a future Newsletter.

Aug 28, 2020: One More Week in Port Macquarie

I have one more week in Port Macquarie before return home to Mittagong so we’ve been hard at work on the granny flat project. The owner managed to enlist a couple of extra helpers this week so we got a lot done including…

Completing the cladding on the north wall with some of the old weatherboards we took off the west wall.

Completing the cladding on the north wall with some of the old weatherboards we took off the west wall.

Building the deck framing.

Building the deck framing.

Sanding the old garage floors ready for sealing.

Sanding the old garage floors ready for sealing.

Waterproofing the bathroom and tiling the floor.

Waterproofing the bathroom and tiling the floor.

Building the frame for the carport ready for roofing.

Building the frame for the carport ready for roofing.

And building a retaining wall...

And building a retaining wall…

All with the help of our resident supervisor.

All with the help of our resident supervisor.

Revolutionary Battery Technology

Meanwhile I came across this article from New Atlas this week which describes a completely new type of battery technology. Here’s the first paragraph… the rest of the article is well worth a read.

California company NDB says its nano-diamond batteries will absolutely upend the energy equation, acting like tiny nuclear generators. They will blow any energy density comparison out of the water, lasting anywhere from a decade to 28,000 years without ever needing a charge. They will offer higher power density than lithium-ion. They will be nigh-on indestructible and totally safe in an electric car crash. And in some applications, like electric cars, they stand to be considerably cheaper than current lithium-ion packs despite their huge advantages.

August 21, 2020: Progress Report

It’s been another busy week in Port Macquarie. We ended last week’s report with the walls insulated and the windows installed ready for gyprock. But first I needed to do some work on the floor. It’s strange but convenient that the old garage had a timber floor. It’s strange because most garages have concrete floors and you don’t really think of parking cars on a timber floor. But they definitely did in this case because there is an oil stain in the middle of the floor caused by leaking engine oil. And it’s convenient because it means there’s space under the floor to allow us to install the drainage pipes for the new bathroom and kitchen.

The original timber floor is hardwood tongue-and-groove and the owner wants us to try to sand it back and polish it, even if it has a fairly rustic look. But it’s fairly uneven and there were some large gaps between the floor boards that needed to be filled before we sand the floor.

With the windows and insulation installed ready for gyprock the weekend was a good opportunity to turn my attention to the floors

With the windows and insulation installed ready for gyprock the weekend was a good opportunity to turn my attention to the floors

First I had to clean out the years of gunk that had accumulated in the gaps between the boards.

First I had to punch all of the nails down then clean out the years of gunk that had accumulated in the gaps between the boards.

After extensive Googling and various experiments I decided to try using this Tile Pointing Compound to fill the gaps. Hopefully it will remain flexible enough to allow the timber to move. And the black colour should contrast well with the polished timber.

After extensive Googling and various experiments I decided to try using this Tile Pointing Compound to fill the gaps. Hopefully it will remain flexible enough to allow the timber to move. And the black colour should contrast well with the polished timber.

So I spent a good part of the weekend pushing black goo into gaps.

So I spent a good part of the weekend pushing black goo into gaps. It’s a total experiment so we’ll see how it turns out.

On Monday the plasterers arrived to start hanging Gyprock. While they did that we installed the Villaboard sheets in the bathroom and the inside of the west wall. Due to it's proximity to the boundary this wall has to be fire rated which means it has to have 6mm fibrecement board on both sides.

On Monday the plasterers arrived to start hanging Gyprock. While they did that we installed the Villaboard sheets in the bathroom and the inside of the west wall. Due to it’s proximity to the boundary this wall has to be fire rated which means it has to have 6mm fibrecement board on both sides.

By the end of the day all of the Gyprock and Villaboard was hung

By the end of the day all of the Gyprock and Villaboard was hung.

While the plasterers were doing their thing inside, we turned our attention to the south wall, part of which was so close to the boundary it had to be moved. This photo shows the new concrete footing we poured for its new location.

While the plasterers were doing their thing inside, we turned our attention to the south wall, part of which was so close to the boundary it had to be moved. This photo shows the new concrete footing we poured for its new location.

After releasing the frame we simply slid the wall over to its new home.

After releasing the frame we simply slid the wall over to its new home.

And clad it with Villaboard.

And clad it with Villaboard.

Plastering complete and ready to sand.

Plastering complete and ready to sand.

Painting starts.

Painting starts.

Meanwhile we moved to the north wall, put the roof on the shade awning and started cladding the gable end.

Meanwhile we moved to the north wall, put the roof on the shade awning and started cladding the gable end.

And this is how we ended the week.

And this is how we ended the week.

Next week we’ll be trying to finish the painting, the last of the cladding, the carport, the deck and a retaining wall as well as sanding and sealing the floor. So we’re going to be busy. I’ve only got two weeks left before heading home so we’re trying to get as much done as we can before I go.

August 14, 2020: This week’s progress report

As with last week’s Newsletter I’ll let the pictures tell the story of this week’s progress on the Port Macquarie project.

We started the week the way we ended last week... with more rain turning the red clay into really sticky mud.

We started the week the way we ended last week… with more rain turning the red clay into really sticky mud.

So we worked inside installing special mineral wool insulation in the west wall which has to be fire-rated due to close proximity to the property boundary.

So we worked inside installing special mineral wool insulation in the west wall which has to be fire-rated due to its close proximity to the property boundary.

With the windows due to arrive we removed the two Roll-a-doors.

With the windows due to arrive we removed the two Roll-a-Doors from the North-facing openings. We put the old garage doors on Gumtree and gave them away to an old fella from Crescent Head who plans to close in his carport with them.

Then we installed the windows and sliding doors. The climate is so mild here there is no need for anything special with the windows. These are just standard, single-glazed, aluminium windows from a local supplier and made to fit the existing openings.

Then we installed the new windows and sliding doors. The climate is so mild here there is no need for anything special with the windows. These are just standard, single-glazed, aluminium windows from a local supplier and made to fit the existing openings.

Then we insulated the rest of the walls...

Then we insulated the rest of the walls…

...laid some turf and started spreading some gravel in the carport space...

…laid some turf and started spreading some gravel in the carport space to cover the terribly sticky red clay…

...and finished the week ready for the next rain which is due tonight.

…and finished the week ready for the next rain which is due tonight.

Next week we’ll focus on finishing the cladding on the outside while the plasterers are busy on the inside.

August 7, 2020: Port Project Photos

In our most recent Newsletter on July 17th I gave an update of the project I’m currently working on converting a garage into a passive solar granny flat in Port Macquarie. It’s been a busy few weeks so I thought I’d give another update and this time I’ll just do it with some photos.

First we insulated the last portion of the floor where the bathroom will be using 'Expol' foam.

First we insulated the last portion of the floor where the bathroom will be using ‘Expol’ foam.

Then we laid 22mm thick fibre-cement board as a base for the bathroom tiles.

Then we laid 22mm thick fibre-cement board as a base for the bathroom tiles.

We did some repairs to the old weatherboard cladding on the south and east walls ready for scraping, sanding and painting.

We did some repairs to the old weatherboard cladding on the south and east walls ready for scraping, sanding and painting.

While the weather was fine we took the roof sheets off and installed "anticon' insulated roof blanket before putting the sheets back on.

While the weather was fine we took the roof sheets off and installed “anticon’ insulated roof blanket before putting the sheets back on.

Completed the plumbing and electrical rough-ins on the inside.

Completed the plumbing and electrical rough-ins on the inside.

Due to proximity to the boundary, we have to make the West wall into a Fire Rated wall. This includes sealing any gaps with fire foam.

Due to proximity to the boundary, we have to make the West wall into a Fire Rated wall. This includes sealing any gaps with fire foam.

Then installing 6mm fibre-cement board over the entire wall (tricky when it's only 350mm from the fence).

Then installing 6mm fibre-cement board over the entire wall (tricky when it’s only 350mm from the fence).

And this week we did all the earthworks.

And this week we did all the earthworks.

Tore up the back yard and installed electricity, phone, water, sewer and stormwater lines to connect to the existing services.

Tore up the back yard and installed electricity, phone, water, sewer and stormwater lines to connect to the existing services.

Backfilled the trenches, dug out an area for the carport and regraded the slope of the backyard.

Backfilled the trenches, dug out an area for the carport and regraded the slope of the backyard.

And hauled away three truckloads of excess soil, just in time for the rain to start this afternoon.

And hauled away three truckloads of excess soil, just in time before the rain started this afternoon.

Next week we’ll insulate the walls, install the windows if they show up in time and hopefully start hanging gyprock.