1st stages

Here is a copy the blog entries (now offline) that were done during the planning stages of this eco house building project.

shiga eco house.jpg

CAD impression of the house

Project Overview: Sunday, 24 July 2011

This August and September (2011), a building (an old pension) will be taken down with as many materials kept back for use on later stages of this project – wood for animal sheds, fences, raised vegetable borders etc. The space left will be the site for our new house. Very basically planned features will include:
solar PV
solar heaters
wood stove heating
passive cooling
grey water recycling for toilets and garden
compost toilet
rainwater capture
green roofs on outbuildings
sourcing of recycled/used building materials, bathroom fittings etc
pantry – cool room next to kitchen
low carbon concrete


Call for collaboration: Monday, 25 July 2011

If anyone reading this knows me, either directly or by association, and think they could contribute to this project in any way, we’d be glad to hear from you.Offers of advice, skilled labour, unskilled labour, links to good sources of local materials etc. all welcome.Areas of expertise needed – house demolition (largely by hand), sustainable house design, carpentry, landscape gardening and permaculture, grey water systems…

Raising the roof: Thursday, 11 August 2011

Day 1: We (Chris Irwin and myself) decided to try and start taking down the roof by using a sledge hammer to punch a hole from inside the loft out. Bad decision. Baking temperatures inside the loft made this job ridiculously  exhausting. Eventually knocked a hole though but was too hot to proceed any further. Went on to another job – in the shade.

Day 2: Now with Chris Summerville, hot but cloudy so proceeded with roof demolition – both with spades, masks, a hose pipe, we managed to almost finish stripping the roof of tiles by mid afternoon – in between frequent swims in the lake to cool off.

Procedure: rip of tiles, drop them down through hole in the roof to the loft. Then clear backlog of debris by dropping it down through the ceiling to lower bedroom. Decided the weight of the tiles might be too much so split debris between two bedroom floors and open ceilings.

Final stage will be to knock a while through bedroom walls and push tiles down to the skip/dumpster that now awaits outside the front of the house


Week 3: roof gone and 2nd floor going: Sunday, 21 August 2011

DSC_0024End of week 3 and exhausted. But now the roof has gone progress is much quicker thanks for the thinness of Japanese walls. Now the only tools needed are ladder, gloves, crow bar, and short handled sledge hammer.

I think taking down the house within the time limit my summer break is now a realistic possibility. Having said that, I’m now on a family break for the next five days – so not allowed to do any work on the house.


Recycling of the house: Sunday, 21 August 2011

DSC_0073It is now my aim to reduce the house to two skips (dumpsters) of waste which we cannot recycle directly. Because most of the house is made of wood this might be possible. The timber is being separated into wood: for immediate burning (bits), for heating the new house, and for re-building.

To help with this aim, a recycle guy who came to take away all the old air conditioners said he would also take away any other metals and electronics. So with all the window aluminium window frames, iron and tin sheeting, fans, lighting etc, he ended up taking away about 5~10 (by volume) of the house debris. Wood and other items such as water pipes taken from the house are already being incorporated into other project areas on the property.


Week 4: 2nd floor gone Thursday, 1st September 2011


DSC_0018Now the second floor is down I can relax a bit knowing the most dangerous part of this deconstruction is over. Getting the heavy joists down was a case of working out the order they needed to come down and making sure they came down in a predictable manner.

DSC_0021Photo right; the remains of the roof and 2nd floor are seen in compact form. On the right is the wood for the wood stove and on the left, wood for re-building – making decks etc.


Tatamis: Wednesday, 7 September 2011

All the tatami for the house (see them stacked up in photo above) were being kept back for possible use as insulation in either the walls or roof. However, after heavy rain from typhoon Talas, the tatami were transformed into soggy masses which were proved the perfect medium for various fungi and mushrooms to bloom. The tatami will now be used for compost in the garden.

Power tools and a laborer’s lunch: Friday 9 September 2011


At the stage again of having to get down large joists and again the rope proves to be the most powerful tool. The difference between the two photos is about half an hour.

The perfect lunch after a morning of labouring. Beer, baked beans and sardines.

Quick to prepare, a good dose of protein and energy, and very reminiscent of my student days…

The final curtain: Tuesday, 20 September 2011

DSC_0040The final part of the house left standing – left as long as possible to maintain privacy for the back garden.

The whole demolition took just under 5 weeks. The next stage is for the old foundations to be dug out and taken away. Before  February the new foundations will be marked out and then during my spring holiday, trenches will be dug out and the foundations put in.

This is quite a big job as the foundations for the house will be 1.8m high giving the house a good view over the lake and also offering extra cooling and storage from the space under the house. Concrete for the foundations we are hoping to be carbon neutralMore on this soon.

Until next spring, work on this project will be mostly collecting more information and making decisions on what energy producing, saving, and minimising features to be included with the new house.

More details on this with the next entry.


Carbon Footprint: Sunday, 27 November 2011

The foundations of the house have finally been taken out.

In total it amounted to about 20 tonnes of concrete dug up, loaded and taken away to a recycling centre which luckily was only about 8 kms away. The digger and 3 trucks that were needed used up a total of 45 litres of diesel: 121kg worth of CO2 emitted.

Throughout this project I hope to keep a record which will allow me to calculate a very basic footprint of the building process. I will then offset what I hope is a conservative estimate of the carbon footprint using one of the many carbon offset sites available. A good example is Blue Venture 

Unfortunately though it seems we can’t get the carbon neutral concrete mentioned in the previous entry. It’s a relatively new product and at the moment only available in limited quantities and areas. We have changed the design of the house a little to minimise the amount of concrete being used but it will still probably be the largest contribution to the projects carbon footprint.


High Impact: 11 November, 2012

Last week, building of our house started after a long planning process. Unfortunately this part of the build will involve a lot of cement and concrete, most of which we couldn’t avoid.

After a long search we failed to secure a low carbon cement (only available in other parts of the country and to corporate customers). The best we could do is have a concrete with recycled materials added.

As a compromise to his hight impact start to this build we will keep a record of how much cement is used and offset it with a carbon offset to one or more carbon offset organisations such as Pure.org and Climatecare.org