Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Mini-Greywater Trench Completed!

Another milestone completed - the mini-greywater trench! This was a hugely difficult task which has taken us months, digging a 3 metre long and 1 metre wide would have been easier if it wasn't for all the giant rocks. We had to spend weeks just chipping away at the edges of these until they broke off the underlying rock, and then use a block & tackle to pull the biggest rocks out of the hole. We told the council we would go 50cm deep, and we only barely made it due to a couple of rocks sticking up here and there. If we didn't have a 6 foot long metal pry bar on the property when we bought it, I really don't think we could have dug this hole at all. We only wanted to go 50cm wide but by the time we got out all the rocks from the sides it ended up being twice as wide.
     The 'simple' part was filling the hole back in - and even that took two solid days of shovelling gravel and dirt. We were lucky enough that we had lovely grey gravel on the property that we could use, but unfortunately for us it was mixed in with sand. I came up with 4 different methods of separating the two, and now I feel like I could start some kind of mining operation. I finished off the top of the greywater trench by planting it with some dianella and native grass that was dug up in the gravel, and then protected it from being walked on with some stick teepees and a rock edging. The result looked a lot more 'witchy' than I was anticipating, but I am certainly happy with how it turned out!

      Mum-in-law came for a visit and loved our composting toilet. Thanks Clivus Multrum!
      Also we have internet, phone and power in the caravan, so things are certainly getting cosy. Josh has finished the owner-builder course, and now we are waiting for Fair Tradiing to send out the Permit. I cannot recommend this online owner-builder course company for anyone wanting to do the same thing - unprofessional is one word I could use to describe them, and that's being very kind.
      Next step - final council approval, and we can start knocking trees down!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Compost Toilet Installed

Blog Wednesday 22 October
Finally seem to have gotten something done - installed the compost toilet! AND have gotten official approval from Clivus Multrum :D

Also figured out the school buses that go into Casino - all 3 of them (each way) ! First Drake to Tabulam, then Tabulam to Sandilands, then Sandilands to Casino. Only the third bus actually charges a fare, $15 each way, but most people round here seem to have a pensioner concession card which makes it actually affordable. Luckily I was pointed in the direction of a lady who frequently makes the trip, she actually lives a bit further down my road, so I was her shadow and followed her so I knew which buses were the right ones to get on.
Also we have had the solar system delivered and Josh has set it all up, and now we actually have bright lights in the caravan. It's a bit brutal to our poor darkness-adjusted eyes but I guess we might get used to it. This means too that we can plug in our laptops and have a method of charging them other than taking them into the Resource Centre and paying $2. Yay free energy from the sun! Next step - internets!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

So much hard work with little to show for it

A week of frustrations with nothing really to show for days of working to the point of exhaustion, until at the 11th hour Josh finally got that damn rock we have been whacking for uncountable hours to break free of its stubborn spot blocking our greywater trench. Sore hands and muscles, blisters and mouths full of dust every day, finally we might finish this first important thing sometime next week. So much for having it done months ago.
I amused myself at the end of one day by knocking together some random broken bits of wood and making up a little bird house, which was actually much easier than I thought it would be. No birds or animals seem to have gone near it yet, unfortunately I wasn't able to nail it especially high up in the tree. Maybe I can move it when we have a ladder here.

Which might happen very soon - mum-in-law is planning a visit and we are very excited. Both to see her, and to have her see the property for the first time, but also because she will be bringing up heaps of useful stuff that we have had frustatingly sitting around in Sydney all this time. Such as a ladder!
The magicalness of everyday is not wearing off yet, what with the birds and the insects and the flowers and the bettong and bandicoot that Josh saw while making dusk phone calls. The scraps we put into the compost keep appearing in random places around the sheds, and an avocado skin was even dragged inside the annexe. Apparently these little creatures are not scared of us humans. The swallows might be now though, since their bub has fledged and they spent a night out in the wild instead of their mud nest inside the shed I took the opportunity to knock down the nest. I didn't want to be mean to them, but they were shitting all over our stuff, and we are going to be putting even more stuff in there soon. They will have to remember what it means to live back in nature again! I felt so bad that I made some little tree shelves and nailed them up, so if they want they can build their nests with some human help in the outdoors.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Kit Home Delivered

      Now we are pretty much permanently living on the property, and we have a pretty comfortable set-up with the caravan and the bbq and chairs made of cut-off logs. The exciting news is that the kit home was delivered on Tuesday. We talked the company out of delivering it on a semi-trailer, as we knew that there was NO WAY that such a large truck would be able to make it up our driveway. The trickiest part was the culvert between the road and the gate, as it couldn't be made wider than the concrete support walls. We made it as wide as possible with some BIG pieces of timber, delivered by the local Rural Agents. It was wide enough for the truck wheels, but the dangerous part was when the back wheels came across at an angle when turning off the road. There was one hairy moment when the back wheels nearly went off, but luckily the driver stopped in time and did a bit of reversing and straightening. A local car had to stop and wait for moment while the road was blocked, but a friendly country wave made me feel like they didn't mind too much.
The driver was a nice bloke who knew his job well, and made it look pretty easy manouvering the large rigid truck up through a narrow gap in the driveway with millimetres to spare between trees on each side. And then he reversed down again without even a pause! The truck had a handy remote-control hydraulic crane which unloaded the four large packs of kit pieces with only a little hand steadying. The whole kit for building the 2 bedroom house (including the outdoor cladding, windows, verandah and raised flooring) is surprisingly small. Trying to imagine the finished product is somewhat difficult but it will all happen one day.

We are still trying to finish digging the greywater trench and installing the composting toilet, and Josh is still trying to finish the Owner-Builder course so that then we can Officially have council permission to live on the land. That would also mean that we have Official permission to clear the trees - a large area of about 70 x 80 metres, which is going to be more than an acre. I am very sad when I think about all those lovely trees and shrubs and animals homes which are going to be destroyed, but we don't actually have a choice in the matter due to bushfire regulations. We are trying to find a local with a bulldozer who can help us out in relatively short notice. We have a few possibilities from chatting to the locals and the neighbours, so we'll keep working on that!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Land Warming

After an awesome party for Josh's birthday with 7 people hanging out and having fun, the property now feels more like a 'real' place to settle in and live. One night of drunken debauchery, dancing around the fire made of a torch just to keep warm as the temperature dropped into single digits. One relaxed day of bushwalking, cricket, and chilling out. One night huddled inside the caravan playing made-up board games, toasty and warm with hot chai. More bbq'd meat than we all could eat.
Next trip down is in a few days, when we are planning to take all our stuff and then not go back to the city until a good reason comes along. Important tasks are to fix the driveway, finish installing the greywater trench and composting toilet, brushcutter the house site, and liaise with people to help start the clearing and groundwork for the house. Finally the real work will begin!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Digging a hole big enough for a dead body

We tried to finish the mini-greywater trench and compost toilet installation over our week visit, but partly due to rain, rain, rain and more rain, and partly due to it taking more than half that week for the caravan to get moved, we didn't get it finished. We did dig a big hole though, and found LOTS of rocks inside it. Also the compost toilet delivery was messed up in both timing, delivery address and also vital parts, so that totally was not our fault. Now we are back in the city we will need to do yet another trip to Bunnings to try and make sure that we have ALL of the little bits and pieces needed for putting all the various pipes together. Also Josh has to kick his own ass to make sure he completes the Owner-Builder Course asap, and when that is done then it is time for another trip to the bush.
     Below is the rock that Josh realised that he couldn't dig out. From the bottom of the 1.5L water bottle to the bottom of the hole is all one big rock. And I am sure that it goes further in every other direction too.

     We had the grease-trap in the pic delivered along with some other useful hardware, such as a shovel and a wheelbarrow, from the local rural supply store. The driveway was fine for their small truck but we will need to do some serious upgrading for the 2.4m wheelbase semi-trailer which the kit home will be delivered on.
     A week seemed like a long time, but the list of stuff we DID get done is a lot shorter than the list of stuff that we DIDN'T get done. The good news is that even when it is raining, it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL down there amongst the trees, and the native mice, and the baby birds - all cute and fluffy, and completely unafraid of humans! Then the sun comes out, and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Council Approval

     The wonderful council has approved our application in the shortest possible time, with no complaints or adjustments of any of our documents that we submitted - pretty amazing, since we just made the whole thing up as we went along! Josh was incredibly talented at turning my hand-drawn maps into digital maps (I love drawing maps :) ) and we basically went with the principle that there is no such thing as too much information. I just wrote lots of stuff and hoped that the council would go 'Ah, too long, can't be bothered reading all this, I'll just skim it and stamp it with APPROVED' - and apparently it worked!
     Of course before we are properly approved-approved, we still have to install the composting toilet, grease trap and greywater trench from the caravan sink, which we will be starting tomorrow, and complete the Owner-Builder course. Josh will complete the course after we get back from the property, and then it's basically time to start living on the land. We are majorly panicking at the moment at how very little money we suddenly have left after paying for the kit home, so it definitely won't be long until we are starving to death! The good news is that is just coming into that time of year in which it will be suitable to start growing our own food, so better get onto that as soon as we are there permanently, and able to keep up the watering.
     Also we need to move the caravan to a new spot on the land, so have asked the nice people that we bought the caravan off in the first place, to come round and hook it up to their 4WD. Should be a relatively straight-forward and easy task, but there IS rain forecast... And we DO have clay soil in some parts... We need to move the caravan so that is it closer to the watertank, then we can either hook it straight up with a garden hose (might taste yucky?), or just hook it up from the 100L mini-watertank which we should be having delivered on Friday. I have a plan to raise this up on a 44-gallon drum and some planks, sounds somewhat precarious but we will see! Not sure which method will give best water pressure, but we should be able to figure something out with all the bits and bobs we have assembled. Also we need to move it so that there is a suitable place to dig the greywater trench, so it is closer to the composting toilet (for those middle-of-the-night emergency trips!), and so it is closer to the big shed. The big shed is where we will be storing all of our belongings, once we get them up from Sydney. Somehow. Sometime.
     The big shed also needs us to do some work on it before that, as woodborers are in the wood and this creates a very fine yellow dust that goes all over everything. We need to treat the wood so that a) the woodborers die and b) the yellow powder stops going all over everything. I have seen a product from Bunnings which seems suitable for this application, but another thing we will need in order to do this job, is a ladder. Such a long list of things that we need!
     The good news, is here is a shovel that we found on the property, which will help with all our upcoming digging!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Installing toilet!

     We have been given permission from the council to install the composting toilet before the Complying Development Application has been approved, which will make the next step of being approved to live on the land in a caravan so much quicker. It should be pretty easy to install the composting toilet, as it is a self-contained unit which we just plonk on the floor and have a drain going out the wall. Also we need to install a vent pipe going out of the shed roof, it will be interesting to see how we manage to cut the hole for that to go through! I think we bought one of those old-fashioned hand-drills for other property jobs, so that should come in handy... The drain going out the wall can either go into a plastic container to catch the liquid or can drain into a trench which has slotted pipe, drain matting and gravel.
     We also have to install a greywater system for the caravan sink, which will involve a grease trap and a trench with slotted pipe, drain matting and gravel. This means lots of digging! We can't get our tools up from Sydney anytime soon so we have to buy more *sigh* The good news is that the local hardware store can source anything we want from Casino or Lismore and deliver it to us for a very small delivery fee. So now we are trying to organise and coordinate getting stuff delivered to the property while we go down there for a visit, a bit tricky since once we leave Bris it will be hard to communicate with anyone.
     Another job we need to do is try to fix the dodgy driveway a bit, just enough to make it ok for non-4WD vehicles to drive up for our deliveries! Here's hoping it doesn't rain, cos that makes the clay really slippery :( Also I want to mark the trees which we are going to get knocked down, pretty much all of the ones within the 33 metres from the house zone, but maybe we will keep just a couple, as long as they aren't close enough to fall on the house in a storm!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Council Application !

     So we had to wait OVER TWO MONTHS to get the plans from the kit-home company, if only they had told me that it would take so bloody long from the start, then I wouldn't have been on the edge of my seat the entire time. I could even have taken a holiday!!!
     But the good news is that we finally got them (had to wait a few more days while they fixed a bunch of GLARING MISTAKES such as saying that there was a fibro shack on the property, I don't know where they got that crazy idea!!!
     So the next step, put in the council application. Turns out the guy I have been dealing with is away for half a week. No worries, I will contact the other guy I have been talking to  - no wait, he is also away for half a week. Gah!!!!!!!!
     So I rang them on the day they got back, to make sure they had received my many many many emails (with even more attachments) and he said yes, he was printing them out at that very moment. :) And then he got back to me with a price for the application, which means that it is all starting to officially be processed :)
     I have this crazy notion that we won't have to wait the normal 20 days approval process because our application is quite small and simple. I am sure that will certainly lead to sadness and disappointment.
     So FINALLY we have gotten to one of the steps in the process which I thought was going to be at the very START of this whole adventure. Of course now it is time for lots of unexpected annoyances to jump up in our faces and prevent us from getting to the part that is the ACTUAL building of the house. Wish us luck!
Here's the floor plan :)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


     We have power running along the road across the front of our block, so you would think it would quite easy to get connected - well, not when it turns out that it is High Voltage power lines. That means that we have to pay $19,000 for a transformer to be installed on the power pole by the road, and THEN pay for another pole by our front gate, trenching up the driveway, another pole next to the house, and a power box put on it. That's $25,000 according to our quote.
     I haven't even bothered getting a quote for how much it would be to have the electricity connected from the power box to the house, and all the wires, power points and light sockets put in. I have bought a couple of 'garage solar lights' from Bunnings, which is a light on a 2 metre wire to the solar panel, for only $12 it is a bargain but it is also quite dim. I have also bought a few $2 solar lights from Kmart which have been quite useful in the caravan, perfect for a bit of reading before bed. So I think we might be sticking with that system for the house proper cos it's going to turn out a lot cheaper!
     We are going to get gas set-up with those big bottles, which we can use for a gas stove and also for instananeous gas hot water. I would love to get those solar hot water evacuated tube thingys, but I don't think that would be sufficient hot water on its own, and it seems silly to pay twice for two systems that both only get partially used. I have a camp shower which I haven't tested yet, but I am sure the time will come. The hard part is finding pure sunshine on our block, cos it is covered with so many trees! I will probably also just leave some black ag pipe lying on the ground with water in it and see how warm that gets - that's a type of solar hot water!
     So we will have to figure out how to charge up the power tools we will need while building the house - we are going to get a small solar system so that we can run hubby's sleep apnea CPAP machine, the internet server, and our laptops - the most important things, so hopefully we can charge up cordless drills and what-not from that. Otherwise our neighbour has mains power, so I could ask her if we could charge up some stuff for a small fee, or better still, figure out some kind of bartering. Maybe baby-sitting, as there are two kids living there?
     The real reason that we want mains power, is that hubby is building a 3D printer, and those things use a lot of electricity, what with generating heat (that's very power hungry) and running for days continuously at a time. We heard from a local that there may be a Capital Gains Scheme which would cover most if not all of our electricity connection costs, but all of the authorities claim that such a thing does not exist. Well I will keep pursuing it, but I won't hold my breath!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Creek

     One of the most magical things about our block is the creek. Well, less of a creek and more of a trickle or a non-permament watercourse depending on where, and whether it has rained recently or not! Definitely not big enough to go swimming in, but hopefully big enough to provide some water for the vege garden when needed! This photo was taken just after we had gotten quite a lot of rain, but a month later there were parts of the creek that were completely dry (but who knows what goes on underground?) but that is good for our circumstances because it means that we can build within 50 metres of the creek as opposed to 100 metres. If it was 100 metres then that would be off the edge of the property boundaries! We were a bit worried for a while there until the council said it would be ok, and we were wondering why they would give building permission for a block that was unbuildable!

     It seems a bit small for much wildlife to hang around, but there is one bit that has been dammed a little, and we are planning on putting some other small dam walls in around the place to try and keep some of the water around a bit longer after it rains. The neighbours upstream have quite a big dam that they go swimming in, so we know that the creek is big enough for one of those. There is one spot where a gully comes into the side of the creek which might be good for catching water. It will be hard digging though, and the block is inaccesible by machinery due to the number of trees and also the steep slope. The ground is made of a layer of rocks and then a layer of clay, so it's the worst of both worlds!
     There is a few patches of lantana around, which I am planning on removing but only after I have figured out which natives to plant to replace the dense shrubbery for the native animals :)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Phone Grove

Seven weeks after application and a number of chase-ups, and the council have finally given us a road number!!! We are no longer just a Block number - maybe now the RTA will let me change my address on my licence - the website refused to recognise the address and the person on the phone didn't believe me that I was moving in 'tomorrow'.
     Surprisingly the easiest part for us seems to have been the phone line - Telstra didn't know what they were talking about every single time I talked to someone, they all assumed that I was either A) a city block with a connected line to an existing house or B) a rural block with no line up from the road and an existing house. In fact, our block has a line (or two) running across the front of the block parallel to the road about 80 metres back, and this was run through back in the 1970s for some very strange reason, since this road is very quiet now and was much much quieter back then! Once we had the local guy on the block (if only we could have talked to him on the phone!) he knew how it all worked and realised that the official Telstra maps are pretty much all completely wrong.
     So he said it was ok for us to dig a trench about 2 metres away from the concrete madison box, and put up a garden shed and he would install it into that. So we spent 3 days in the pouring rain digging this trench through rocks and mud, and the rest of the week assembling a little garden metal shed which we bodgied up with a bits of wood to try and create a flat surface - I even made up a bit of a wooden floor with some bits that were lying around, we found an old but usable chair in one of the sheds and convinced the ants living in an old esky to move out so we even had a table!
     The Telstra guy came back the next week when we weren't there and connected the whole thing up hopefully with no problems, and even gave us a phone which doesn't require electricity. It was quite important safety-wise to have a phone as there is NO mobile phone reception anywhere in the area. The biggest problem with it now is that we will probably never actually hear it ring, what with having 17 acres to wander around on, and if we do hear it ring we won't make it to the phone in time to answer! But having been warned by a local to NEVER run for the phone after a horror story of another local who fell and injured themselves quite seriously when they tried, it is now a rule on our place. Thankfully because we have a Telstra account we can use the *10# option :)
     Here's a picture of our phone shed... Please note the pile of dirt on the right hand side from digging the trench...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Waiting for kit-home plans

After waiting a month and some stern words to the kit-home company, they have sent some preliminary plans which are pretty much the same as the example plans that they sent out months ago, so not sure if that means progress was made or not. I have decided that another visit to the property should be imminent, the best time would be just after we have submitted the council application, so here's hoping that is soon! I think that it would be a good idea to try and clear the area between the house and the northern boundary of all the rocks that are lying around on site. We can pile them up somewhere out of the clearing zone so that later we can use them to make rock walls etc. It is frustrating that we can't really do much work at this stage since we don't have any tools, because they are all down in Sydney. And we don't want to bring up our stuff from Sydney until we are able to be permanently on the site in case of theft, and also so that we can do some work on the big shed so that it is more weather proofed so our stuff doesn't get wet. But we can't weather-proof until we get our stuff out of storage so we've got the tools to work with... I feel like a snake eating its own tail!!!
     So here's a piccie of our sheds :)

     One of the awesomest things about this property is that there is heaps of random stuff lying around which we have been going through and finding it very useful - bits of wood and wire and bowls and sinks and everything! :)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cosy Caravan

We are going to live in a caravan on-site while we build the house, so that hopefully the frame will go up quite quickly as we will be working on it almost every day. We already have the caravan on the property, as we spotted a cheap second-hand one around the corner when we were hunting for land to buy, and the kind folks who sold it to us kept it on their place until we were ready, and then drove it around when we needed somewhere to sleep on our first visit! In fact we still owe them a case of beer for that, must not forget! Considering that the caravan is not registered and possible not road-worthy (though still in very good nick) that was very generous of them, luckily it was only a couple of kilometres down a quiet back road. :)
     It was a even better deal than we first realised, with a functioning gas stove AND gas in the bottle, which meant that we could cook and have hot drinks from day one!!! The council does not want us to live on the property until we have a proper toilet and some way to deal with wastewater, and since we were planning on getting a composting toilet anyway we will just install that asap.
     There was the option of having the greywater/septic system installed right from the start but this seemed like it would be too hard to hook up and work around as the caravan would be right in the way of the trucks coming etc. So we will probably have a small greasetrap hooked up to the caravan sink and then draining into a small trench, depending on council approval.
     We also have the option of laundry at the local pub and showers at the local resource centre which is only 4 kilometres walk (a short distance compared to most things in the country!). We could even have some camp showers if feeling in the mood, as we have no neighbours in site and we can always hear cars coming up the driveway so have plenty of notice of unexpected visitors!
     Today was two kinds of good news, we are approved for the Regional Relocation Grant so that's some extra money which is appreciated since we haven't had any income for a year! And also we have been sent the preliminary plans from the kit-home company so hopefully the full plans will be coming through very soon! Smiley Face!

Trees, trees and more trees

Hi There,
     My husband and I are working towards owner-building a steel-frame kit-home on rural acreage at Drake NSW and so I decided to create this blog in order to be able to show a time-line of progress. We are currently at the stage where we are almost ready to submit the application to the council to receive a Complying Development Certificate. We are waiting for the kit-home company to make the engineered plans while we finish making some site-plan maps. It's a bit of a frustrating stage as there is not much to do except research, and I feel like I have done most of the research needed at this stage.
     We are going to be more hands-on than most owner-builders, many of which seem to basically be project managers at most. We are going to do everything that we can legally do ourselves, so will require tradies to help us out with *tree removal *earthworks *plumbing (water and gas) *concreting *waterproofing and maybe at some point electrics ( if we can afford the new connection). The local council seems quite good for negotiating so hopefully that will be helpful in the long run.

     We have pinpointed where the house is to go pretty much exactly, which wasn't really up to us as we are squeezed between the BAL ratings for bushfire, the distance to the little creek and the frontage from the road, only leaving us a few metres wiggle room. Luckily it's a lovely location and there will be stunning views from all windows and the front verandah will look over to the creek, and across to the tops of trees which are full of noisy birds.