Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We have the power

Solar's up now. Unlike Al Gore, we have gone to the expense of putting some panels on our house.

The advertisement for Sharp will have to come off, as it's our house and not Sharp's.

While the panels aren't exactly in keeping with the Georgian style, they do blend in with the roof a little better than I'd expected

Talking of Georgian style, the brickies have been busy grouting between the bricks to make it look reely reely authentic.

Inside, the plaster board is now on everywhere, and the carpenters have been burning the midnight oil to put up shelves and casing. They also put in a very nice piece of pipe for me to do pull-ups on, with a little niche for my head to fit into in case I get muscular enough to bang my skull on the ceiling. Great stuff.

When I climbed up the scaffolding to look at the solar, I was struck by what a mess my garden plot looks like. It looks like landscaping care of early humankind.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Clover seed

Today we went to Tokiwa Garland, an excellent garden centre in Matsuyama, and bought 5 litres of white clover at 1,500 yen per litre. The seed is unfortunately produced in New Zealand as Japanese farmers, who used to plant clover in their winter rice paddies, have stopped using it. Clover grows on nearly every kind of soil, fixes nitrogen, makes bees happy, provides good ground cover, and can be slashed to make green manure. Feb~Mar is the planting season (if you didn't plant it in autumn. I broadcast a load of seed over the food garden where I haven't made raised beds to protect the soil. In the recent rain, the top layer of soil had already formed a hard crust of little stones that had to be broken.

The seed is finer than sand, and more slippery, so broadcasting it by hand is an interesting excercise in not letting it all slip through your fingers in one place. I also had to wait for blasts of the February wind to finish before I started each new patch.

I was pleased to see that our rainwater butt has arrived, and even though it holds 1,000 litres and is blue, it isn't as big nor as ugly as I'd expected. More on this later when it's installed.

Inside the house, the insulation is now nearly all covered with plaster board. The 2-by-6 construction with plaster board makes a satisfyingly thick wall.

On the outside, the brickies have been busy and nearly all the brick facing is on. This makes the walls even thicker. The bricks present a different face under the varied lighting conditions. The finished house should look rather smart, if I do say so myself.

Glancing light

In the glare of the westering sun

The kitchen stuff has also arrived, and apart from the unnecessarily gold handles on everything, it's pleasantly subdued. The carpenters also seem to be doing a good job.

Monday, February 12, 2007


The digger and truck team finished their work, and in place of huge chunks of concrete and asphalt in solid clay, I now have lots of fragments of concrete and asphalt distributed in powdered clay. This is an improvement, but still requires work. This part belongs to my wife's uncle, and he's picking up the tab for the waste disposal. Hopefully he'll be able to charge it to the estate agent that sold it to him as 'housing land' without mentioning the construction waste buried in it.

There's so much space here that I've decided to dig a pond on this part too. Hopefully it will attract birds and amphibians that will eat slugs and insects, and it may help to keep plants watered too.

Today the 'brickies' were in. While young 'snowboard-type' lads cut steel railings and nailed them to slats nailed to the walls, some older men attached and bonded the brick facing to the railings.
The gap between the steel rails and the walls should also provide a certain amount of insulation.

As with everything else, the work is being done quickly, efficiently, and tidily. Each task takes far less time than I expect.

Grouting will be used to fill in the gaps and hide the metal underneath, making the house appear to be built of brick rather than wood. It should make the house quite nicely fireproof too, from the outside at least. Most people seem to favour white grouting for a gaudy, harlequin look, but we're having grey for something a bit more subdued.

The unit bathroom has also been put in. One wall is made to look like dark wood with a glossy finish, and the effect is quite pleasing. Unit bathrooms have come a long way in the 16 years I've been studying them.

Yesterday the young master and I dug a pond, and today I added two smart new rows, duly photographing the developments. Unfortunately, I mistakenly deleted them from my camera before downloading them. This Alzheimer's like behaviour is a bit upsetting.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hello regular visitors!

I'd like to say hello and thanks to my regular visitors around the world. I often wonder who you are...

Concrete disposal

Today I got up at an un-weekend-like 7 am to rush to an 8 am rendezvous with a digger-and-truck team to implement a final solution to the concrete under my soil. I was wary on the roads because I expected the ice-melt from Friday's snowfall to be still frozen. It wasn't. Local word has it that the weather is different on either side of the tunnel between Matsuyama and Hojo, and it seems to be true - there was no snow on the ground on the Hojo side.

My uncle had called a friend in Hojo who called another friend who runs the Hojo Dosha earth-moving company located within view of our house. They were there with a 2-ton skip truck and light digger. We worked from 8:30 am to 5 pm and still the waste concrete and asphalt was not out of the ground. We got most of the gross stuff out, but I'm going to have go over it inch by inch to get out the little lumps of asphalt. The soil itself is clay with bits of quartz, and it compacts into a very hard mass when weight is applied. We applied several tons of weight to it today. The gents are coming again on Monday to finish the job.

On Friday I read an interview with Roscoe Bartlett who is bothered about Peak Oil

One barrel of oil is the equivalent of 25,000 man hours of labor. That's like you having 12 people that work exclusively for you for one year, and all it costs you is a little over a hundred dollars. That's the $50 for the barrel of oil and maybe $50 for refining it. And you get that kind of labor intensity. The energy intensity is just phenomenal. I have a little personal experience.
I too have a little personal experience. Digging out one block of a concrete, dragging it up and out of its hole and down the slope was a huge effort. Watching a small~medium sized digger just scraping up bucket-loads of concrete blocks effortlessly in minutes using the energy intensity of fossil fuels really brought home to me the significance of our energy use. It would have taken me three years of weekend work to clear what we managed in a day.

I really wanted to do all the work 'under me own steam', but it would simply not have been done, and all the benefits of homestead vegetable production (projected) would have been lost.

Today Selco Home was having an 'open house structural inspection' at our house to show everybody how good naked 2-by-6 looks, and how warm it is unfinished with just a couple of small stoves running. Nobody came. It's their loss. Selco had prepared some fascinating exhibits, including comparisons of 2*6 and 2*4 with glass wool, and 2*4 with cellulose insulation.

The stairs have also been put in. It's amazing how the addition of stairs makes the house seem much bigger. It's been a roller-coaster ride. When the foundations were done we grieved about how small it would be. When the first floor was done it looked big. Then the second floor made it look pokey and small. Now with the stairs in it looks just right. It's weird.

Looking exceedingly good upstairs.