Researching the Components for an ECO House

So, the farm and the many projects that are involved there have taken a second place to the home building components and engineering specifications worksheets. 

Well, specifically, the choice of items that we need to finalise so that the Architect and engineering firm can finalise the Building and Engineering specification sheets that can be used to then go to tender to find a builder.

This is not an easy task.

As per my previous post about the triangle of expectations this home brings, there are the many concepts that one must consider that involves trying to not only see yourself in the home, but in a lifestyle that may have altered in five years time. 

That said, one is not forced to do this all alone. 

For example, in considering the needs of a full off-grid system, I compiled a document that included the floor plans, ceiling plans and proposed lighting and socket map of the home. I then completed a full audit of all our electrical appliances and put down their respective power usage (Volts, Watts and/or Amps) for both active and standby use. 

This took the form of:


Along with this was a basic snapshot of our day to day activities to demonstrate where the peaks and troughs of power usage across the week existed – all that is need is a simple thing that states times you wake, actions that you take (in this case focussing on power usage), when you leave, when you return, etc. Finally, I added my own concepts of what I expected in a system.

The combination of these details, I hope, will provide an integrator with enough information to begin the process of a conceptual design, provide a starting point for more refined questions and should also be able to provide a rough “order of magnitude” quotation. 

A similar document was produced for Hot Water and Hydronic System integrators, providing them with water and heat usage patterns and our own pre-concieved ideas surrounding the concept of an integrated Hot Water and Hydronic System.


So those have been sent out and we await the expertise of the consultants for these areas.

In the meantime there are many other things we need to finalise.

Some concepts are easy — assuming the manfucturers don’t come back and tell me otherwise —  such as placing a masonry wall around the range cooker (we’re seriously considering the Esse 900 W35) to capture the 4KW of heat that escapes from the fire and 10KW boiler into the space around it.


Whilst not a huge amount, the absorption by the clay bricks will allow a gentler radiated heat overnight. One last heating related item we have been looking at is a fireplace known as kachelofen or masonry heaters. The one that has shown the most promise is one offered by temp-cast and provided locally by ecostoves

Basically, the concept is to have a giant block of thermal mass ready to absorb the heat of a strong, fast and hot fire. As the fire is allowed to burn quickly, it utilises the full extent of the calories in the wood, producing a hotter burn that also means it burns cleaner, without the usual sooting and tarring caused by slow smolder fires. The masonry mass absorbs the heat and then slowly radiates it out over the next ten to fourteen hours. The biggest gripe I have is that the core of this system comes from Canada, and it seems ludicrous to ship bricks half way round the world. I am still investigating options here.

Other than power and heating, water is another major component. Water savings are also important when you rely on a water tank fed by the heavens. So we have spent an unbelievable amount of time exploring toilets.

Yes, toilets. Now, for our purposes, the Mrs and I sat down and drew up a list for choosing the right toilet bowl suite. The list we came up with was:

  • A toilet has to be aesthetically pleasing 
  • It must be easy to clean inside and out
  • It must have a 4 Star WELS water rating.
  • It must be under a thousand dollars.

You’d be surprised at how much this may limit your choices. One thing that is interesting is that the WELS rating is based on the QUANTITY of water utilised and not the EFFECTIVENESS of the water utilised.  So, a basic 40 year old design toilet bowl can simply have a new tank that releases 3L on a half flush and be given the 4-Star sticker. Yet, in reality, two full flushes will be needed to move anything more than a scrap of toilet paper. I never thought I’d have to ignore the WELS rating and consider fluid dynamics in choosing a toilet, I can tell you that for nothing.

Consider your standard “S” bend toilet design vs a more modern “close coupled” design like that of the caroma “easy flush”: 


The overall design improvements makes using the half flush feasible for almost every occasion – that means only 3L used every time rather than 4.5L. A few flushes a day and it all adds up you see.

Another place we looked at for saving water was in the HWS itself. Actually, to be more precise, in the Hot Water pipes. We are installing two in-line thermal valves within the house – one at the kitchen and one at the master bathroom. Thermal valves (such as the Enviro Save system) basically divert the cool water in a hot water line back into the cold water line or to a tank. It is stimated that something like 7 to 16 litres a day can be saved by implementing such a device.

We still haven’t started on low-flow and WELS rated taps yet, though I am inclined to agree with my fair lady that a smaller basin in the bathrooms and troughs in the kitchen and laundry will lead to more careful water usage than how much water passes through the tap’s mouth.

We have already made up our mind on utilising the A&A Worm Farm Septic Tank system. I did have some early fantasies about a humanure composting system, but it turns out that sort of system is not favoured around these parts. Good thing too as we hit solid rock at about a metre under so digging out the space for such a system would have been expensive.

So, the worm farm system is the next best thing allowing us to place it further out from the house (and thus the volcanic plataue we shall sit on) and still re-use all of those wonderful nutrients on the property. Waste is energy after all.

There is still a whole lot more involved. The architect is researching the best insulation materials, we’re looking at stones (for downstairs flooring) and reclaimed and renewable timbers for both the cladding and the upstairs flooring … then there’s windows, doors, cabinetry … 

Well, you get the idea … the journey, it seems, is still early.


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