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In NSW local councils have limited powers to refuse approval to residential on site sewage systems which have been approved by NSW Health.

The legal advice explaining the law, which is poorly understood generally and by local councils in particular is here.

Designs, data, water quality and water quantity data for different houses are in my book, Sustainable House.

 

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The Australian government has appointed Anna Collyer, a lawyer, to review the national standards for energy efficiency of appliances.

The terms of reference are here.  It will consider:

"submissions from, and consultations with, business, consumer groups, the community and relevant Commonwealth, New Zealand, state and territory agencies; 

 the reports and outcomes of recent reviews in relation to GEMS, such as the 2014-15 Review of the Inter-Governmental Agreement for the GEMS Legislative Scheme and the 2016-17 GEMS Fees Review. "

The review is to be delivered to a federal government Minister by 'mid-2018'.

The government advertisement is here.

A couple of ideas the review may wish to consider include:

  • The base load and operating loads of induction cooktops are presently outside the standards and that’s a major gap which I suggest the review close;
  • The energy efficiency website has been ‘dumbed down’ and made less useful because it’s harder to compare products on it now: see here.

For the last 21 years my three bedroom house near Sydney's Central Station and the CBD  has had energy and water bills less than $300 a year, including when the kids were young and the washing machine went every other day.

 It’s easy to have low bills, anyone can.

 

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A plan to sustain Chippendale, a small suburb beside Sydney's central business district, published for comment by Sydney City Council in 2015 but not yet made.

The plan is published is here because it has the support of the community but, unfortunately, not the council staff. 

It seeks to achieve a fairer balance between what a council might do and what citizens acting responsibly and wishing to conserve their culture and community might do. 

That is, the plan rewards those citizens who take the initiative to sustain themselves and their community rather than wait for others in government to act for them. Bit by bit parts of the plan are being made as the ideas in it are taken up by this and other councils and governments.

It is 8 mb if you wish to download it.

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• We will see urban farming in Chippendale's road gardens

Up to 9 places are offered in the four day Low Bills Living Course at Sydney's Sustainable House, $990 including GST.

Two scholarships are offered for those who can't get to Sydney.

• Fresh eggs from Feisty, Blanche d'Alpuget and Nellie will be served

 

Bookings by Friday 9 February 2018, please.

Couples or double bookings means the second person attends at half price.

Course information and booking information is here.

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• Public compost bin in Chippendale, Sydney, outside Sydney's Sustainable House for anyone to put their food waste to be composted for the local road gardens and householders' gardens

 

As going off-grid by householders in Earth's cities becomes more common, so, too are there more articles with useful data about the costs and practical steps involved.

This article is in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald published in the city of Sydney, 8 January 2018.

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Guest post by Caroline Danehy, all the way from the United States via Sydney, Australia

(Caroline took a tour of Sydney's Sustainable House where she told me her story about how she and her brother, Jake, are doing their best to keep plastic out of Earth's oceans - so here it is for you, too.)

• Jake and Carolin Danehy at Fair Harbor, US

Over three years ago, my brother, Jake Danehy, and I started Fair Harbor Clothing, an active lifestyle brand that makes men’s swimwear out of recycled plastic bottles.

It started in 2014 when Jake was a geography major at Colgate University (‘16). While studying, he learned a lot about the allocation of resources, overconsumption, environmental justice, and sustainability. During his sophomore year at Colgate, in one of his geography classes, Jake learned about plastic waste and how much of it ends up in the ocean. Although, at the time, he was four and a half hours from the closest beach, Jake couldn’t stop thinking about how connected he was with the ocean and how much it meant to him growing up.

As little kids, our family spent our summers in Fair Harbor on Fire Island, a quaint beach town off the coast of New York. The Island embodies the simple, summer life--cars are prohibited, smoke from BBQs fills the air everyday after 5pm, and no one ever wears shoes. During our childhood in Fair Harbor, all that we needed to make us happy was a bike, fishing pole, surfboard, and bathing suit.

After learning about the great danger that Fair Harbor, and other small beach towns like it, was in, Jake became obsessed with plastic waste and tried to figure out how he could make a difference. During that spring, Jake called me on the phone and explained that he had an idea to start an environmentally friendly clothing company--I immediately jumped on board. I had always been passionate about the environment and fashion, so Fair Harbor was the perfect opportunity to cohesively combine my two interests.

• Fair Harbour surfing clothing made from recycled plastics

After many long nights of studying and researching plastic waste, we decided that we wanted to create a swimwear company that made all of our products out of recycled plastic waste.

We became inspired to build a lifestyle brand that epitomizes our childhood summers of living in Fair Harbor. This connection between our past and present brought the brand to life in a whole new way. Our passion to preserve Fair Harbor, and similar beach towns, fueled our idea into fruition and simultaneously enact change within our generation.

Fire Island, US - keeping plastic out of the ocean there

Fast-forward three years and we are continuing to push forward with Fair Harbor. Since graduating from Colgate, Jake is working on Fair Harbor full time and I am currently a junior at Colgate University, also majoring in geography.

This past semester I studied at the University of Sydney in Australia, and it was clear that the problem of ocean waste doesn’t just exist in the United States. As I walked along the beautiful coastal beaches, in Bondi and Coogee, there were incredible amounts of garbage washing up on the shores. While it was amazing to live in a new culture on the other side of the world, I became even more impassioned to give plastic waste a new fate: our boardshorts.

There are so many pathways that we see Fair Harbor taking in the future; it’s very exciting! We are set to launch a women’s line this upcoming summer that is inspired by my travels abroad.

Stay tuned for more to come!

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This 3 minute 30 second video shows why and how to cool a school.

 

How to cool a school - the video - YouTube

By keeping rainwater where it falls using porous and pale paving existing and new tree canopy and height is increased, which brings more shade and coolness. 

The pale pavement also reflects - rather than absorbs - the sun's heat.

When work can be fun!

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When a school is cool in summer and warm in winter the children and teachers there enjoy a healthier and better learning place.

And a cool school achieves lower energy and water bills.

• Seizing things up: Zarah Copeland, Project Manager from Street Coolers, who put the project together, put on boots and gloves and made things happen - thanks, Zarah

Here’s an example of how a school is being cooled in summer, kept warmer in winter.

The vital ingredients for a stable temperature are trees and water.

And - importantly - pale, reflective colours for roofs and pavements, not dark ones, so the sun's heat is reflected, not absorbed so as to heat up the surface and air.

• Black bitumen being removed from the playground as tree roots had buckled it looking for air and water, and water ponded in it during rain, and the black material was heating up the school

Trees are free air conditioners.  The higher and wider a tree’s canopy the more it cools the air below and nearby. And the more it keeps warm temperatures in winter.

To grow a tree needs three ‘foods’: air, nutrients and water.

• A Jacaranda tree root that's grown between bricks, searching for water and nutrients; the tree's trunk is about 15 metres away; the bricks were replaced by permeable paving to reduce drainage problems, help cool the school and reduce the 'aggression' of the roots - with water available to them roots can do their job without pushing up pavement searching for water and air

If a school has black bitumen playgrounds or pavements in the school, or adjoining it in the roads, these three vital ‘foods’ are denied, and any trees grow slowly, not much or die. The dark colour absorbs the sun's heat, increases air temperature and, in turn, the evaporation of soil moisture away from the tree roots all of which heats up the school and drives up cooling costs from air con.

Black bitumen absorbs the sun’s heat in summer days, and releases it at night, increasing the air temperatures day and night around a school by up to 6 to 10 degrees.

Worse, the bitumen treats the free rainwater that falls on it as a waste product and sends it away from any trees to street gutters to pollute harbours, rivers, and the ocean.

The example described here shows how a school has been cooled by replacing black bitumen with pale, water-absorbent – ‘permeable’ – pavement.

Importantly, the temperature at the school is being independently monitored by a world expert on thermal performance of buildings, roads, land and cities at the small and large scale, Professor Mat Santamouris and his colleagues at the University of New South Wales.

The Athena School was chosen by Michael Mobbs Sustainable Projects  as its within a whole city block in Newtown, Sydney.  This city block is being cooled by action research trials of different projects, designs and products over several years.  The aim is to lower energy and water bills for local property owners and tenants by cooling the block and other options.

A research and development not-for-profit company, Street Coolers has a vision of cooling Australian cities by 2 degrees by 2020.  Street Coolers is the delivery vehicle for the ideas along with partners from the area or with industry and research partners for different elements. An example of a local property owner participating in the trial is here.

In 2014 Street Coolers was given funding by the NSW government to begin the whole city block trial and lay the foundation for gathering temperature and energy use data.

My business, Michael Mobbs Sustainable Projects, is developing the ideas and partnering with others to refine and to develop the concepts, to build, and to monitor the results. 

To cool the school there is a collaboration between the school, my business, Street Coolers, a landscape architecture firm, Taylor Brammer, a video artist who is helping us tell the stories, Lucia Alfonso, the company providing the permeable paving, Stoneset, and the University of New South Wales which is gathering and analysing the temperature data.

• Permeable paving may allow disconnection from existing, or avoid the need for, drains - reducing cost and maintenance; this drain discharges rain water onto the permeable paving allowing rainwater to be kept where it falls to feed the life in the soil below and the trees and tree roots which now have access to the water and air being delivered to them through the porous paving.

The permeable pavement in this project has these benefits and costs:

  • No drains are needed in some areas as the rainwater is no longer treated as a waste product; instead, water is absorbed to feed the tree roots below the pavement;
  • Maintenance, drain cleaning, flooding and associated costs and damage are avoided;
  • Existing drains have been left in place but are no longer used, or are used rarely in times of extreme rainfall;
  • Early, incomplete, data confirms other research into cool pavements, and suggests to me that the pale pavement is both reflecting the heat and retaining the coolness of the shade from the trees and cooling the air by over 2 degrees on days over 25 degrees, but it’s early days. At least another six months of data is needed before preliminary data may be analysed, conclusions reached and published;
  • The costs of the permeable paving (including removing and recycling the asphalt, re-grading and laying foundation gravel and plastic formwork which was then filled with gravel and overlaid by the porous, recycled permeable pale material) will be published in another blog soon;
  • The Atlantis Gravel Cell was provided at a reduced price and that price will be acknowledged in the next blog about the project costs, too;
  • The savings in maintenance, energy and water bills for the school are being quantified as the impact of the cool pavement is measured in the years ahead.

 

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On Sunday 17 September 2017 Sydney’s Sustainable House will be open for anyone to visit along with over 200 other sustainable houses across Australia.

You’ll see how three to four people have lived an ordinary life in the centre of inner Sydney, with energy and water bills less than $300 a year since 1996.

For over 21 years this little inner city terrace house with an ordinary roof, tanks, pipes, appliances and off-the-shelf stuff has been respecting and harvesting Earth’s generous rain and sun.  Over 30,000 people have visited the house and the general reaction is, “Oh, this is just an ordinary house”, or “I can do this”.

If we can do it, you can, too.

Hourly guided tours will run here from 10 am to 4 pm. (Other houses may have different arrangements which will be shown for each of them on the National Sustainable House Day site.)

• Salvia, finger lime, mulch and espaliered dwarf fruit trees in Chippendale road gardens

In the 50 minute tour you'll see the energy, water, recycled water systems and the road gardens.

The entry fee of $25 will help us buy plants and gardening gear for our Chippendale road gardens.

We’ll buy compost bins to turn our waste food into soil and fertilizer for our edible road verge plants, and we’ll buy plants for the verges such as: nasturtium, native violets, salvia (food for bees), finger lime, lemon grass, alpine strawberries, espaliered fruit trees.

We’ll announce a planting date when we local gardeners, our community group Sustainable Chippendale, and anyone who wishes to join us will be very welcome; look for the date on:  

So, there it is, ready for some volunteers and I to show you around next Sunday in Sydney, Australia, Earth.

And, if you do visit, may I thank you in advance, for you’ll also help grow our little urban farm on these inner city streets - the fruits and plants of which anyone may harvest, enjoy walking past or, wherever you live, you’ll know these plants simply exist – got to be some smiles in that, I reckon.

[If you have a few hours we need one or two more volunteers - if you're local contact me or you can volunteer through the National Sustainable House Day site.]

 

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"Crikey, I'm exhausted . . .", "I can do this . . . ", "Amazing . . . ".

The four day day intensive workshops over three weeks in July and August finished Sunday 6 August. (See below for dates and bookings for next Low Bills Living Course.)

We were privileged to have the knowledge and guidance of highly experienced presenters in the fields of solar and battery (Brian English, Damien Griffiths), building and contracts (John Cameron), IKEA's country manager for sustainability in Australia (Kate Ringvall), an inspiring story teller who inspired and showed us how to tell our stories to ourselves, friends, project team and the world (Sara Rickards), wonderful local food and catering (Cafe Guilia, Alfie's Kitchen).

• Working table for Low Bills Living Course

The intensive workshops left the eight of us and myself exhilarated and re-energised.  We made new friends, and now we have backup mates to support each other as five households move to low bills living.

Two architects from Euroa, Victoria, shared the course, one of whom, Zvonko, travelled to and from Sydney by Train.

• We mixed food, conversation, detailed descriptions of products, materials, costs with laughter, ideas and shared information

In 2015, Zvonko and Kathi moved from an inner city suburb in the west of Melbourne (approx 5 k out) where they lived in a renovated California bungalow with their two adult children, a crazy dog, an aging cat, great friends and, of course, close proximity to the city, to the small regional town of Euroa, approximately 2 hours north of town.

• During the course Fiona's local council arranged and paid for a street artist to paint her wall - do the Low Bills Course and magic happens.

• Laura, Fiona, Tony, Michael with desert harvested from local streets and community gardens by Alfie's Kitchen.  It was tough.

From Petersham, Sydney, Fiona Little, is putting solar, rain water and other energy and water systems into her terrace.  

From Newtown, Laura will mostly demolish and renovate her terrace to achieve low bills. 

In Canberra, Maree and her four person family has already begun to achieve low bills with chooks, bees and a productive garden but the old house needs more light, rainwater harvesting and recycled water, solar energy and healthy materials.  

On a beautiful farm out near Oberon, NSW, Donna wishes to replace her three cabins which are available for rent with new and simple, beautiful and sustainable cabins that are warm, well-lit and easy to live in and to maintain.

From near Newcastle, Tony has a house with long walls facing the western and eastern sun and won the prize for the highest peak load - which he is now well on the way to reducing.

The next Low Bills Living Course is on:

  • Saturday, Sunday 23 and 24 September, and
  • Saturday, Sunday 7 and 8 October.

Book here.

• Gum leaves burnt to provide perfume, outer leaves of leeks burnt and all placed in the bowl while inner leeks stewed then placed on top of the burnt leek with finger-lime garnish on top.  Local food at its best.

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