Comfortable, Safe and Built to Last

A few pics of my house

   I've been extracted from my house, like a snail from its shell, but my heart is still there. So, below the pics that have been there for a few years, I've put up some new (2014) photos.

Click on thumbnails to see larger size photo.

Bob's house, front view


Bob's house, back view

   If you will read my ideas about house design, you'll see the reason this house is basically a simple rectangle. My wife Jolanda and I had $10,000 for building, and we had no intention of borrowing. The first stage, enough to move into while we worked on the rest, was built for that cost.

   Money is a form of energy. So are time and labour. We substituted a lot of time and work for cash. For example, the footing walls under the mudbricks and load bearing posts are random rubble stone work. Every stone, even the huge ones, were found somewhere, dug up, taken to home-to-be, then carefully laid. Windows were either from demolished buildings, again transported home and lovingly restored, or hand made by me from secondhand hardwood timber. Wall tiles in the bathroom were free: the fruit of a lot of regular scrounging in the throw-out bins of tile merchants (they cannot sell a half-dozen leftovers from a batch, so throw it out. It goes in landfill, unless liberated by someone like me).

   The only new components were concrete (hard to get that second hand), the roof trusses and Colorbond roof metal.

   In this way, we ended up with something better than a bought one, the cost being the joy of creative building. Sure, it took us a lot longer, but it was far more fun than working at a paid job and paying others to do the work. And the result is far more solid.

   Stage 1 was the eventual living rooms, kitchen and bathroom, and one other room. We used bookshelves and wardrobes as room dividers.

   Stage 2 was enclosing the whole thing, to what builders call lockup stage, except we had no locks. Then we spent a lot more work on finishing things off. Some of this was years later, for example the slate floor in the lounge and dining rooms.

   Greenhouse at the front; toilet, airlock-bootroom and workshop at the back, were stage 3. (There is NOTHING wrong with a pit toilet for a while. Trees love being planted on top of a well rotted hole-ful of humanure.)

   The front view shows the attached greenhouse, the solar water heater, photovoltaic panels on the roof and spouting taking roof water to a tank (out of the picture).

   Back view shows that I am still to render the outside! The window you see was free: someone else's throwout. It's been in place for 22 years without deterioration.

Recess built for picture

   My mother-in-law made this picture with several needle-crafts including applique and embroidery. It was ready long before the house, so I built a recess specially for it. The wall is rammed earth up to there, then mudbrick piers. The ceiling is recycled car case plywood.

bottles through the wall

   Read page 163 of the Earth Garden Building Book to learn how to embed bottles in a mudbrick wall.

   This is the west side of the house, and we wanted to minimise summer afternoon sunlight. The bottles and the little leadlight window glow beautifully with the sun behind them. The window is surrounded by mirrors.

   Some tiles are set into the earth wall. Plates and clock hang on nails simply hammered into the centre of a mudbrick.

   The brick with 'RR' scrawled into it was made by my son Robert when he was about 12.

sleeping platform

   One way to cut costs of building is to find ways to use space more than once. Here, I have a permanent sleeping platform, with living space under it.

tiles in bathroom
jigsaw slate floor

   Rubbish can be beautiful. Wet areas of bathroom are tiled with 'end of batch' tiles, got for free from tile shops.

   Timber battens are nailed to earth wall, then plastic moisture barrier, then fibro boards. Tiles are glued to the fibro.

   The first stage of our loungeroom floor was 50 mm concrete on well-compacted sandy loam soil. It survived 8 years without a crack, with a (small) earthquake going through, and the kids being yelled at for splitting kindling on it. Then I got a trailerload of offcuts from slate tile manufacture. Instead of boring, sterile-looking squares, these were all shapes, sizes and thicknesses. Some were so thick I split them to make two from one. Mortar was local sand with cement and lime, proportion being 5:1:1. Each slate had Bondcrete painted on the bottom before being laid. The skill is in keeping the floor level. Practice helps, so start where it doesn't matter.

   The black colour is particularly suitable for solar-efficient house design. See page 17 of the Earth Garden Building Book.

son's footprint
random rubble stone wall

   Building is full of fun.

   One day, my son lost his balance, and stepped onto a freshly made mudbrick, still in the mould. I carefully preserved it, and found a home for it perhaps 2.5 metres up in the wall. Years later, he came visiting with his son Bodan, then aged 7. When shown the footprint, the boy asked, 'Dad, how could you get your foot up THERE?'

   Note the brick pattern. This is 'Flemish bond'. When I was in the planning stage, my friend, energy conservation expert Allan Coldicutt, convinced me that if I had to build with earth walls, I should have an insulated cavity up the middle, because earth has only a fairly low insulating value. So, I made my bricks 150 mm wide.
   However, the winter before starting to build, I visited many earth walled houses, and found that, theory notwithstanding, they were warm and snug inside with minimal heating. So, I used my half-width bricks to build a 300 mm thick wall. The most solid pattern for this is the Flemish Bond: two bricks in a running pattern, then a 'bond brick' through the thickness of the wall. The pattern is staggered from row to row so that vertical weaknesses are minimised:

Flemish bond

OK, OK, I never said I was a computer artist, but I hope you get the idea.

   The second pic shows my favourite stone wall. Random rubble stone laying is the building activity I enjoy the most, though it's hard work.

   The reason for a stone wall is that mudbricks, rammed earth, strawbale and all other materials that would be damaged by rising damp must be kept well up above ground level. Even then, you need a damp-proof layer on top, under the wall proper. Before you even START to think about building with earth (or strawbale), read 'What is a Good Earth Wall' on page 103 of the Earth Garden Building Book. You can borrow it from the library; only buy the book when you're getting serious about building. Then it will simply be part of your toolkit, as a recipe book is in the kitchen.

   Many builders make their stone walls with a flat face, with tiny, even mortar joints. This is fine, if you want to spend endless time. I actually prefer rough looks like this.

   The wall is a MINIMUM of 300 mm thick. What I did was to set up an old door so it was vertical, and laid the inside face of the wall against that. I had a stringline 300 mm out from the door, and every stone had to reach the string or poke out beyond it.

   Later, I constructed a low timber wall inside, with insulation between it and the stone.

   Mortar was my local sandy soil, with cement and lime in the proportion of 6:1:1. This is 'brickie's mortar', and is practically waterproof. But I still put a damp-proof layer on top.

   When this section of wall was half-completed, I got sucked into a soccer game with the kids. I slipped and tore a cartilage in my knee. After this, I didn't trust my body to attempt heavy lifts for a while, but, cautiously, went back to building as soon as I could. Well, maybe a little sooner.

   See the long stone with the brown face, in the top right corner? I estimate that it weighed 200 Kg (440 lbs). After I got that one in place, I started trusting my body again. And no, I didn't pick it up, but used an inclined plane to work it into position. I got the heavy end onto the mortar -- then my supporting construction collapsed. So, there I was, holding the stone, with all the weight on my 'crook' leg... As you can see, I got the #&*)*&$^% in, nice and gently. Ever since then, even after 25 years, I get a jolt of pleasure when I look at that stone.

Jolanda's largest leadlight window
leadlight and mudbrick

   Jolanda was the main leadlight artist, though we both learned how to do it. The lovely sun pattern is the largest leadlight you can make without steel reinforcement: 900 mm (3 ft) square. It graces the boot room at the back of our house.

   The second pic shows the west side of the greenhouse that is the front entrance. To save space, and because this is a low, short wall, I used mudbricks on end. The pressed cement bricks also have coloured glass in them.

   See? You can build simple, and still make it beautiful.

firewood sculpture

   This construction is a recent addition. I've filled it with firewood, but haven't yet used any of it. What I have is a metal water tank that had sprung a few leaks; a donation by my friends and neighbours Karen and Brian Garth. The curved roof was necessary to keep rain from wetting the wood, and works well. I simply screwed three thin battens of wood to the tank, then forced a scrap sheet of roof metal to the curve.

   My friend Michelle Redman is a sculptor. When she saw it, she said it was a work of art. So, see, I am a sculptor too.


And here are the winter, 2014 vintage photos

View to the east


The entrance

Two views of the kitchen

The tiles with the picture on them were a gift to Jolanda from the co-operative, in thanks for many years of voluntary service beyond the call of duty.

It's a mobile house!

Well, if it is, it's a monocycle. There is only this one wheel.

Some fruit, even in winter

Citrus are clever like that. There is a 30 year old orchard, but for some reason those trees have bare branches in winter.

The power system

A few years ago, Glen Morris installed this wonderful system. The gel batteries are in the green box.


A good place for entertaining a few friends on hot summer days.

Hobbit house!

No, Bilbo is not my next door neighbour. This is the entrance to the fire shelter we share with the neighbour. I had fun doing the stonework.


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