Clean liv­ing

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.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS & IM­AGES FIONA CAMERON

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

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