Buying a bush block, building a cob house, and starting a natural soap business takes huge amounts of energy, enthusiasm and commitment, but this family are thriving on the challenge of being as clean and green as possible in everything they do.
Meet a family who live in an all-natural home, making a clean, green living.
Kerryn Easterbrook and Phill Thomas love a challenge, and they certainly created quite a few for themselves when they moved to a bush and pine-covered block in Golden Bay 12 years ago. Their goal was to build their own home in as environmentally-friendly a manner as they could, tackling most of the work themselves.
The result is their very special, ecofriendly, four bedroom cob home, but it has been a huge learning curve.
“We never envisaged it turning out quite like this, it took on a life of its own,” says Kerryn. “When one of us was feeling overwhelmed by it all, the other was usually feeling positive so we kept each other going.”
They make a good team, an essential element when deciding to build a house together. They drew up the plans, prepared the site and moved into a converted house truck on the property.
Then came time for extensive research into how they could gain the maximum benefit from passive solar energy. Phill attended a week-long earth building course with local civil engineer Richard Walker. They studied sun charts, but also sun path diagrams which accurately showed the angle of the sun at any given time of the day in the year. From there, they could then work out that 6m was the maximum depth for a room to receive sunshine right to the back wall in winter.
“We made a model of the house using cardboard, complete with cutout windows, and used a light bulb to work out the sun’s path in winter and summer,” says Kerryn. The results were then used to design a home that is split level with full depth of eaves, no
to pick and choose from. However, that clay soil turned out to be an advantage again. Because the trees on their block had been very slow to grow in the poor soil, the resulting wood was a winner. Phill has a letter from the Forest Research Institute verifying that heartwood from their pine is the equivalent to H3.2 durability, which allowed it to be used for some parts of the construction work.
They spent six months cutting and milling the trees, borrowing a mill from a neighbour, and then stacked it to dry. Three weeks after starting work on the house, they were close to running out.
“You need a massive amount of timber to build a house,” says Phill. “We couldn’t cut, mill and dry it fast enough.”
They also found it needed time to season otherwise it would warp, and the work involved with processing it delayed work on the house.
“You also need someone to ‘read’ the trees, to assess accurately what you will be able to use from them as there is so much wastage. We had big ideals at first to mainly use our own timber, but you need to plan years ahead because it takes a year, or more, for stacked timber to dry.”
But their building consent and therefore their time limit had already been granted. They were forced to purchase milled timber from elsewhere, but the couple were determined to keep it as local and low impact as possible. Douglas fir was sourced from Nelson and used on the ceilings with copper nails. Recycled rimu was bought from an old house that was being demolished and used for some of the finishings. Second-hand jarrah posts originally used as power poles were sourced from Blenheim and make perfect roof supports.
It helped that Kerryn’s father is a builder and would occasionally help out; the only other assistance came from tradesmen who did the plumbing and electrical work.
Kerryn and Phill did everything else themselves. Phill had basic school-learned woodworking skills, but discovered he enjoyed working with wood. He worked