It’s been 2 months since the last post and we’re warming up into spring. Cheap Geek still has not finalised the last bit of roof insulation, though I’m pretty sure we’ve got too many Green Stuf batts. Cheap Geek plans on stowing these above the original layer of insulation, but one batt already has the privilege of being stuffed up our chimney.
According to yourhome.gov.au, ‘heat energy goes up the chimney and large volumes of cold air are drawn into the room to replace it, creating cold draughts or removing heated air from nearby spaces.’ And with chimneys, not only does heated air get replaced by cold air, the resulting draught also makes you feel colder than it actually is.
Hence the need to put a bat(t) up the chimney:
Cheap Geek measured up the chimney interior and trimmed the batt to size so that it would fit snugly without being squished*. Once inserted, it blocked out most (if not all) draughts.
Before putting insulation in your chimney, make sure that it is hypoallergenic. Glass-wool batts, for instance, are not a good idea: they can shed irritant particles. Fires are also not a good idea whilst the insulation is in place.
There are purpose-designed products such as Chimney Sheep or Chimney Balloons that will keep the draughts out and the heat in but they’re nowhere near as fun as roping water bottles together whilst stylin’ in a beat up leather jacket and 80’s hairdo.
*Condensing an entire batt will compromise its ability to insulate.
However, if it weren’t for roof insulation, we would have shivered regardless of heating. I know this from our experience a couple of months back when Cheap Geek removed the loose fill insulation from our roof, after he suspected it of triggering off my allergies. It was autumn and the weather was still mild; we had the heating turned up and were huddled together on the couch, wrapped up in blankets.
Cheap Geek started laying down Green Stuf, a hypoallergenic* polyester batt. He installed insulation for half of the house**, then took a break for a couple of weeks before finishing off the rest. During those weeks, we noticed the change when moving from one part of the house to the other and the thermometer recorded differences of 0.5 to 1 degrees C.
Like most DIY jobs, the insulation is not 100% installed yet, but it’s enough to keep our heating in.
*While the Green Stuf is hypoallergenic and does not require protective equipment, Cheap Geek developed dermatitis on his arms and hands from coming into contact with residual loose fill. It’s best to wear a mask, gloves and a long-sleeved top when installing batts in the roof.
**No super special tools required: scissors, a couple of good camping lamps/torches and a trusty ladder…
According to the daily doom and gloom, an El Nino is here to stay. It’s time to start installing water-saving technologies if you haven’t done so already. At the Mustbethrifty House, we’re making the most of the last bit of rain by putting in rainwater tanks.
The tanks are made from plastic. In terms of longevity and disposal, plastic tanks aren’t as environmentally friendly as stainless steel ones but they make the cost of the initial setup much more affordable. I’m hoping that by the time I need to replace my water tank, I’ll have a ‘good job that pays good money’ for good stainless steel water tanks (or a house in Sydney or whatever).
A plumber will be connecting the tanks to our toilet and laundry. According to Melbourne Water, using collected rainwater for toilet and laundry instead of/as well as the garden also helps protects local waterways from excess runoff:
If tank water is used for your garden alone, your tank will remain full and unused during the winter months when your garden does not require watering. With a full tank, your capacity to capture and store the regular winter rainfall and thus benefit the local waterway is significantly reduced.
By plumbing your rainwater tank to your toilet or laundry, your tank water is used consistently all year round allowing rainfall to refill the tank more often especially in winter. This ultimately reduces the volume of stormwater that is delivered to the stream and the quantity of pollutants that are washed with it.
A water tank is a large economic investment that may not necessarily give much return in dollars and cents. We’re installing these babies more for feel-goodness with the hope that they will add value to our property.
If you want to save money as well as water, you’re better off replacing your showerhead and or toilet with more water-efficient models. The ATA reiterates this in their free report on the economics of water-saving technology and it is a fascinating read for the mustbethrifty. The economic argument for replacing showerheads/toilets is even more persuasive if you factor in the incentives/rebates that are still kicking around from state and local governments. But you’ll have to be quick to make the most of it: June 30 quick that is.
Last year, I mentioned double glazing as a way to keep the summer heat out and the winter heat in. A much more cost-effective option, however, is the use of curtains.
Curtains and blinds help prevent heat loss and gain by trapping a blanket of air next to the window. The best results come from ‘fabrics that insulate well, for example heavy fabrics or curtains with thermal lining or layers’ (via Your Energy Savings).
The curtains we inherited from the previous owner were rubbish. They were sun-damaged, mismatched, and threadbare:
Thanks to the power of Google, we were able to source some quality secondhand curtains. There’s a store called Johnny’s Furniture in Eumemmerring (Dandenong) which stock ex-hotel furniture. They sell piles of Sheridan/Mantra/Hilton cast-offs, so we were able to get matching curtains made from heavy, tightly woven fabric. Unlike a lot of the ready mades available from Ikea and fabric stores, these ex-hotel curtains were also lined.
They were a bit longer than what was needed, so Mum spent a few mornings furiously hemming away. Dad was also nice enough to replace the mismatched curtain rails with uniform tracks.
While we don’t have quantitative temperature comparisons*, we’re observing a difference in comfort levels. When the curtains are not closed in the afternoon, you can really feel the sun’s intensity in front of the west-facing window. Pull the curtain across and the heat/glare reduces noticeably.
For our north-facing windows, we’ve also had adjustable awnings** installed.
‘When a window is hit by direct sunlight, heat comes in and the window is a source of heat gain. When a window is in shade, heat from inside will leave, and the window becomes a source of heat loss’ (via ABC’s Carbon Cops). Therefore using awnings in summer reduces direct solar gain and encourages heat loss via transfer/convection. And according to Sustainability Victoria, our choice of thick, opaque fabric means better shade. Squee!
Next step is figuring out how to retrofit invisible pelmets (or something similar) to reduce heat loss/gain from thermal convection.
* I bought a couple of Oregon weather station monitors and Cheap Geek installed them around the house but so far we’ve only got flat batteries as a result. 😦
**We chose adjustable awnings because we wanted to be able to harvest as much sunlight in winter, maximising direct solar gain.
For the last four weeks, we have been hosting two chickens, Henrietta and Lily, from Book-a-Chook.
And like any new parent, I’ve been harping about them to everyone I meet: Henrietta is greedy, pecky, and sprints like an Olympic athlete, whilst Lily is the more cautious of the two and stays up past her bedtime. Most responses so far have been, ‘You can rent chickens?’ which is soon followed by ‘but why not just buy them?’
In the community, there persists a belief that chickens are mustbethrifty pets, since they give you free eggs, free fertiliser, free bug killer, and (occasionally) free chicken roast. And teenage chickens (8-10 week olds) only cost $30-40 each.
What most punters don’t consider is the cost of a fox-proof chicken coop (and run). There’s some cheap imports out there for a couple of hundred bucks, but they’re not very sturdy and you still need to wrap metres of mesh around them. Mesh, I’ve discovered, is surprisingly pricey.
Plus there’s the usual ongoing costs of feed, bedding, and veterinary treatments. And you have to be able to put them to bed at dusk, every frakking night. Buying chickens is a huge commitment.
Hence, Book-a-Chook is good for indecisives like me. It prevents people buying a flock of chickens as a whimsical Christmas present for the family before trying to get rid of both the chickens and the chicken-keeping paraphernalia on Gumtree a couple of months later. Okay, it’s not the cheapest exercise ($170 for 4 weeks, plus $100 delivery), but it helped confirm this particular life-choice. And Fleur, Book-a-Chook’s Chicken Whisperer, was great at guiding us through the process.
If only there was such a thing in the world called Book-a-Baby or Book-a-Dog.
When we moved last year, I had planned to document the sustainable updates done to the new house. I must have dropped those plans off at the local op shop, along with all the clothes Cheap Geek and I had outgrown. And life, like the blog, feels like it’s come to a stop.
Our new house had floating floorboards made of some blondish-coloured wood veneer. They looked cheap and brought about a vehemence rarely seen in my mild-mannered Cheap Geek–’I hate these floors’, was pretty much the first thing he said when we first inspected the house. So while keeping the floating floorboards was the most economical and environmental option, they had to go.
According to Randy Florke, author of Restore. Recycle. Repurpose. (Create A Beautiful Home), reclaimed wood, bamboo, cork, linoleum, marmoleum, recycled rubber, or a lick of paint are all green flooring alternatives. We chose to work with what was underneath the floating floorboards as it was cost-effective, environmentally sound* as well as the the most aesthetically pleasing. During the pre-purchase inspections, my dad had a look under the house and spotted the hardwood floors. When we pulled up the underlay, we were rewarded with this:
We used Livos Kunos natural oil sealer with a walnut stain to protect the floor and bring out the grain of the wood. Livos uses food-grade natural oils and claims that their products are ‘biologically degradable, sustainable…and harmless, even in direct contact with humans, animals and plants’. Hopefully, this translates to better indoor air quality, something that may be important later on when our improvements make the house ‘less leaky’.
Livos Kunos natural oil sealer also don’t require re-sanding on reapplication, which is an added bonus. No need to waste more time/money/energy on sanding: a few drops of Livos and a buff with a rag is all that is required.
Our sand and polisher was reluctant to use Livos as she was not familiar with the brand, so we ended up doing much of the application and buffing ourselves**.
The DIY process is fairly easy, requiring mostly elbow grease and some basic tools. Three coats are needed and each coat takes 24-48 hours to dry. The smell of the drying sealer reminds me of pine tar or menthol; it’s much more bearable than some of the varnishes and sealers I’ve used in the past.
Three coats have resulted in beautifully stained floors. There is a slight sheen on the surface but unlike polyurethane, oil sealers like Livos do not leave a shiny film on the floor. The floor feels silky to touch: smooth with a touch of resistance.
The floors take 4 to 6 weeks to cure but we’ve already moved in, giving them just a little bit more TLC than usual.
* ‘Before I tear up any old flooring, though, I try to make the best of what’s already there. If a hardwood floor can be refinished, stained, or even painted, that’s far preferable to tearing it up and adding refuse to the nearest landfill.’ (Randy Florke, via Restore. Recycle. Repurpose. (Create a Beautiful Home))
**The sand and polisher ended up giving us a discount for doing some of the work for her.