Wednesday, January 30, 2013

HEATing up!

The ECO School (Castelcliff) is proud to announce that Bunnings Hardware, Sustainable Engineering and Mediaworks have joined a consortium of community groups, local businesses, and individuals seeking to make Whanganui residents healthier and happier through Project HEAT: Home Energy Awareness Training. They have joined the Wanganui Chronicle, Wanganui Regional Primary Health Organisation, and the Sustainable Whanganui Trust as in-kind partners offering goods and services toward the project. Tree Life New Zealand, Ltd. and an anonymous donor are the current financial donors, although we continue to seek funding.

Power bills have risen at a rate higher than wages and benefits for the last 10 years, and that trend is likely to continue. At the same time, many Kiwis suffer from illnesses associated with cold, damp homes. Additionally, power bills make up a larger percent of the expenses for low-income families and pensioners. Our consortium of community groups, businesses and media outlets seek to help all Wanganui households, but particularly those in need.

Project HEAT helps renters and owners alike make their homes warmer, dryer, healthier and less draughty in three ways: 1) presentations in every suburb explaining easy, low-cost ways to save energy at home; 2) home energy audits; 3) instructional DIY workshops that teach how to make and install low-cost energy-saving devices. Warmer, dryer homes improve the health of the occupants, and lower power bills make money available for other household expenses.

Presently we have funding for 10 neighbourhood presentations and 83 home energy audits. Our goal is to be able to provide 100 free home energy audits to low-income families and pensioners.

Working with our venue partners, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Wai Ora Trust, and Progress Castlecliff, we have scheduled community presentations for Saint John’s Hill (4th, March), Aramoho (7th, March), Gonville (18th, March), and Castlecliff (19th, March). If you don’t see your suburb on this list, please alert your church, sports club, or local hall, and have them contact me as soon as possible.

A DIY workshop is scheduled for 11th May with our education sponsor, Community Education Services. 

Peace, Estwing

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thrifty, yes, but is it ‘eco’?

Over the last 9 months, I have written confidently and comically about eco-thrifty renovation and eco-thrifty thinking. But this week I’m not so sure. I’ll try to keep a sense of humour, but this is serious business.

Among many ‘issues’ our villa had when we acquired it, one of the most notable was a large hole in the lounge floor through which – based on the available evidence – an unidentified person entered and exited for the purposes of sleeping and writing dirty words on the walls.


We painted over the dirty words early on, but it was not until Boxing Day of this year – 26 months into the renovation began – that we officially sealed the hole in the floor and installed over it an engineered timber ‘floating floor.’ While we would have preferred restoring the existing native hardwood tongue and groove floor, most of the boards were cupped and some had split due, presumably, to the home being moved from an area with rising damp from the soil to our present location on sand with no rising damp. When timber dries out, it shrinks, leaving gaps. And who wants gaps in their floor letting cold air into the home? OK, maybe certain Queenslanders, Victorians, and New South Welch (?!?) may enjoy a cool breeze at present. But I digress.

Interns, Jessea and Molly, slotting the floor together. 

Our approach to dealing with the lounge floor situation was to install a manufactured wood product floor, ie, sawdust and glue with an image of wood grain on top. Thrifty, yes, but is it ‘eco’?

The wood products industry would have us believe that this is an ‘eco’ product because it is made from ‘waste’ materials and low quality timber that is not straight enough to be milled into dimensional lumber. But is that just spin, or ‘green-washing’ as critics say?

In other words, is labeling this a ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, ‘earth-friendly’ product a forethought or an afterthought? And does it matter? Surely the industry makes this product because it has the technology and materials to do so profitably. Profit, after all, above all else is the legal obligation of a corporation.

Cat tested and approved.  

Don’t get me wrong, I think the floor looks great. It is shiny, and crisp, and square – unlike most of our home. It will both reduce drafts and insulate our feet come winter. It has been cat-tested and approved (see photo), but is yet to bubs tested. (By the way, she rolled over this week for the first time, so I reckon she’ll be crawling soon.)

But what do you reckon? Here are a few questions for readers of this column:

• Are manufactured wood products sustainable products or just a sign that we’ve already cut all the good timber on Earth and are scrambling for scraps?

• Should manufactured wood products we labeled as ‘earth-friendly’?

• When a floor is made of manufactured wood products, does it lack an authenticity of a floor made from actual pieces of wood?

• Is Neil Diamond simply a great singer/song writer, or the greatest singer/song writer of all time?

I would enjoy publishing your thoughtful comments in a future column. Please email me your thoughts to

 Peace, Estwing

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Market Stall for the Community

 Editors note: We are members of our local currency, I am a committee member, and I work on our bi-monthly newsletter. Here is an article I've written for the weekly free papers in Whanganui to increase awareness and interest in REBS, and our market stall. 

A Market Stall for the Community

You may have noticed the River Exchange and Barter System (REBS) stall at the Saturday market and said to yourself, “What’s that all about?” Answering what REBS is about is a big task, so I’ll just say that it is form of a ‘local currency’ that allows members to sell and buy goods and services independent of the New Zealand dollar. The aim of local currencies is to maintain wealth within the community, because the ‘money’ earned and spent is only accepted by other members within the network. Whanganui’s REBS programme has been in existence for over two decades.

The REBS market stall provides the opportunity for members to sell items on Saturdays without having to buy their own tent, pay full market fees, and commit five or six hours to the endeavour. Currently, about six REBS members are splitting the stall fees and sharing the workload. The tents have been paid for, and our stall is a well-known fixture – having been at the market every Saturday for years on end! All we need is you!

Actually, we need your: fresh, local fruit and vege; quality art work; pot plants; hand crafts; high quality second-hand goods; and, if you have a valid food handling license, your prepared food items. All items on the stall can be sold part REBS currency and part NZ dollars (NZD). For example: 50% NZD and 50% REBS; 80% NZD and 20% REBS; or 100% REBS.

In order to make the stall economically sustainable, we need everyone who brings items onto the stall to commit one weekend each month and 10% of their takings. Additionally, contributors to the stall must join REBS, which has an annual subscription fee of $15. The top sellers on the REBS stall take in over $50 every weekend, and sometimes have topped $100 in a single Saturday.

For more information, please stop by the REBS stall on a Saturday to inquire. (We are located between the trolley tracks and the river.) Or contact Michael O’Shea on 344 5032. Please don’t just show up at the stall with goods in hand expecting to sell. We need a minimum of two days advance notice.

Peace, Estwing

Friday, January 18, 2013

Zero Waste Programme for the New Zealand Masters' Games

Over the last four weeks in this column, I have given example after example of cases where the ‘eco’ choice is also the thrifty choice. I even went so far as to claim that most of the time the environmental-friendly choice is the thriftiest choice. I did not say all of the time, because there are instances where the more sustainable purchase decisions can be more costly, such as buying organic food or photovoltaic (solar electric) panels.

I thought this was also the case with ‘green’ packaging and biodegradable table wear. But my newest heroes at the New Zealand Masters’ Games have proven me wrong – or at least open to new learning. The entire team at NZMG have fully embraced going ‘Zero Waste’ for this year’s event at the Springvale Park Games Village, but the super-est of my new heroes is Simon Watson. Not only is Simon a surfer – chur, bro – but he has put in hours of research into sustainable purchasing – often called pre-cycling – for the ‘disposable’ table wear, cups, and glasses to be used at the event.

Mike Cronin, Games Director, said he was bracing himself for the quote to come in for the eco-products because he, like me, thought it would come in significantly higher than the standard landfill disposable fare. But much to his surprise, and mine, the quote came in significantly lower! Yes, even in this case of buying eco-products instead of bog standard plastic disposables, the eco choice can be a thrifty choice.

Before handing it over to Simon, I’ll invite any and all event organizers in Wanganui to contact me about making their event ‘Zero Waste’ with the help of Hadi Gurton and me. Now, over to Simon.

When I first began researching what was available in terms of recyclable and biodegradable products I was surprised at the wide range of catering items that fit the Zero Waste program. In the end we (New Zealand Masters Games) decided to go with a local company, Edengreenz Enterprises, and the biodegradable products they are able to provide because they were very cost comparable with recyclable plastic and we could source 17 of the 20 food and beverage items we need to serve our food and beverage. In total we will have at least 30,900 biodegradable items go through the NZCT Games Village and hopefully this will spark some interesting conversations about how it is possible that in just a few weeks they could be growing their winter crop of vegetables in compost made up from the cups and plates they were using at the New Zealand Masters Games.

Here at the New Zealand Masters Games we a very passionate about our community and by endeavoring to reduce the footprint left behind by Wanganui’s largest event and New Zealand’s largest multisport event we want to show our local sports clubs and other local events that they too can do their bit for Wanganui by thinking carefully about the items used and how they dispose of them. It costs no more to use these items and although it requires the use of volunteer labor in sorting the material we believe it is a very cost effective way to “go green”. The whole process has been a great learning curve and we are very pleased with what we are going to be able to deliver to our village guests and look forward to showing how our food and beverage doesn’t “cost the earth”.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Join us on Project HEAT

Project HEAT
Home Energy Awareness Training

Project HEAT helps Wanganui residents save energy and money by giving advice on easy, low-cost ways to cut power bills.

Overview: Power bills have risen at a rate higher than wages and benefits for the last 10 years, and that trend is likely to continue. At the same time, many Kiwis suffer from illnesses associated with cold, damp homes. Additionally, power bills make up a larger percent of the expenses for low-income families and pensioners. Our consortium of community groups, businesses and media outlets seek to help all Wanganui households, but particularly those in need.

Project HEAT helps renters and owners alike make their homes warmer, dryer, healthier and less draughty in three ways: 1) presentations in every suburb explaining easy, low-cost ways to save energy at home; 2) home energy audits; 3) instructional DIY workshops that teach how to make and install low-cost energy-saving devices. Warmer, dryer homes improve the health of the occupants, and lower power bills make money available for other household expenses.

Current Partners:
The ECO School
Tree Life New Zealand, Ltd.
Wanganui Chronicle
Wanganui Regional Primary Health Organisation
Sustainable Whanganui Trust
Community Education Service
Sisters of Saint Joseph
Wai Ora Trust
Progress Castlecliff
Anonymous Financial Donor

October, 2012 - January, 2013: Recruit partners: financial, in-kind, venues.
February, 2013: Project HEAT promotion begins.
March – April, 2013: 10 presentations in Wanganui suburbs.
April – June, 2013: 100 home energy audits in Wanganui.
11th May, 2013: DIY workshop.

Nelson Lebo
344 5013; 022 635 0868

Friday, January 11, 2013

Eco-Thrifty Gardening

Alongside the passive solar renovation of our 100 year-old villa in Castlecliff, we also ‘renovated’ our section from a weed-infested food desert to a thriving food oasis. Starting with sand, couch grass, kikuyu, convolvulus, and pampas lily of the valley, the process of transformation has been slow, but steady. Now that we are mid-way through our third summer, the property has reached a level of lushness and productivity that gives a feeling of satisfaction – especially when tucking into a big bowl of fresh strawberries.

We were able to achieve these results using much of the same thinking that has provided us with a power bill in the low double-digits. This ‘eco-thrifty thinking’ – similar in many ways to the concept of permaculture – aims for low input and high performance, based upon a solid foundational structure. For the villa, this meant significant investments in insulation, solar hot water, and additional glazing on the north side. For the gardens, this meant investments in wind protection, topsoil, and compost.

All of these investments in sustainable infrastructure serve as prerequisites for long-term high-performance. For the villa, high-performance is measured by thermal comfort and low power bills. For the gardens, high-performance is measured in plentiful, healthy kai! All of these investments can also be measured by payback period – a concept highlighted over the last three weeks of this column.

Without wind protection and a small amount of strategically-placed topsoil, I reckon growing fruit and vege one street behind Seafront Road would be a constant struggle. People in these parts say “sand eats compost.” By this, they mean that compost quickly decomposes and leaches through the porous sand, leaving little nutrition for heavy-feeding vegetable plants.

A top dressing of topsoil, however, binds compost where it can be reached by plants’ roots. Topsoil is also better at retaining water than sand. Our annual vegetable gardens – about 40 square metres – are dressed with 70 – 80 mm of topsoil, for a total of about 3 cubic metres. This purchase from a from a local landscape supplier with free trailer hire cost a couple hundred dollars with a few scoops of compost mixed in. However, this upfront cost will pay for itself over years and years of increased vegetable yields, ie: high-performance.

Improving the performance of the vegetable garden with topsoil is similar to improving the thermal performance of the house with insulation. Topsoil slows the leaching of nutrients out of a garden just as insulation slows the passage of heat through the walls of a home. In both cases, the results can be impressive.

In the last two years, in our 70-80 mm of topsoil, using organic methods we have grown a 4 kilogram cauliflower, a 3 kilogram broccoli, a 3 kilogram purple cabbage, a 1.2 kilogram red onion, and over 500 gorgeous soft neck garlic. 

These, of course, are some of the highlights. We have also had some failures - our first year of potatoes was pathetic, and I have had trouble germinating basil and corgettes this year. On the other hand, we had ripe tomatoes before Christmas without a glass house.

Over the last decade-plus, I have been studying low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA), and experimenting with different methods, tools, techniques and strategies. I think I may have learned a thing or two worthy of sharing with others. 

If you would like to learn about boosting the productivity of your vege garden without significant investments of money or effort, you may be interested in one of the upcoming ECO School events as listed in the sidebar.

Peace, Estwing

19th January, 2:30 - 3:30 pm: Scratch to Patch Garden Tour.
From garbage dump to thriving edible landscape in years. (This tour is scheduled to match Saturday Castlecliff bus service). 10 Arawa Place, Wanganui. Koha

20th January, 3-5 pm: Permaculture Explained.
Permaculture may seem like a long and unfamiliar word. This workshop combines the Wikipedia definition of permaculture with a property tour, using tangible examples to explain the theory and practice of ecological design.
10 Arawa Place, Wanganui.
Sliding scale $15 - $30. $5 discount if you walk or ride a bicycle. Pre-registration and Deposit Required.

27th, January, 4 – 5:30 pm: Growing Great Garlic, Terrific Tomatoes, Brilliant Broccoli and Perfect Pumpkins.
This presentation provides expert advice on maximizing food production using organic methods. Over the last two years in Whanganui we have grown: a 4 kilo cauliflower; a 3 kilo broccoli; ripe tomatoes before Christmas without a glass house; 100 kilos of pumpkins per year with almost no work; the best garlic on planet Earth.
Location Wanganui Garden Centre.
Sliding scale $10 - $20. $5 discount if you walk or ride a bicycle. Pre-registration and Deposit Required. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bright Ideas

Happy New Year to all and congratulations to Diane Paterson who answered the quiz question from two weeks ago correctly. For those of you who did not read the Chronicle on the 22nd of December, here is a summary of the question, which was used as a way to explain the concept of payback period.

Our daughter’s bike trailer represents an investment in energy efficiency in that it allows us to pedal her around town instead of driving. The IRD mileage reimbursement rate for 2012 was 77 cents per kilometre. (This takes into account all of the associated costs of driving: petrol, insurance, WOF, repairs, etc.) For us, this means a round-trip to centre city in are Subaru sets us back about $11.

The second-hand baby trailer cost $125, plus an additional $60 for minor repairs. How many round trips from Castlecliff to city centre – at a savings of $11 each – would it take to recoup the investment?

Diane wrote:

Hi Nelson,
Really enjoying your column and coveting a home energy audit, should I be so fortunate!! By my reckoning it will take you 17 round trips into town to recoup an investment of $185 on Verti's baby trailer. $185/11 = 16 trips, $9 remainder.
I noticed you and the family in town with the trailer before Christmas, so I guess you have made a start.
Happy New Year and warm regards to all.
Di P

Payback period is usually expressed in units of time: weeks, months, years. But in this case the unit was the number of driving trips avoided. Probably the easiest way for anyone to see the potential savings made possible through energy efficiency is to use the example of a compact fluorescent light bulb.

A brief version of this ran months ago as a side bar with this column, but at the current auspicious time of the dawning of a new year, little Verti and I will use this opportunity to try to convince some readers to resolve to change a light bulb in 2013. Here goes.

A 25-watt compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) emits the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb. This is a savings of 75% every hour!

Good Idea 

If you currently run one 100-watt incandescent for 10 hours each day, you’ll use 1,000 watt hours (1 kilowatt hour - kWh), or one “unit” of power as your electric bill probably says. Each unit costs around 28 cents.

Replacing that 100-watt incandescent with a 25-watt CFL would mean you use 250 watt hours, or 0.25 kWh, per day, costing only 7 cents. Therefore, your daily savings would be 21 cents by changing one light bulb.
CFLs cost $5 at most stores while incandescents cost $1. The difference of $4 is the up front cost one must pay for long-term savings. The question of the week is: How long will it take to pay back $4 at a daily savings of 21 cents?

400 cents divided by 21 cents per day = 19 days. This is child’s play, right Verti?

Bad Idea 

Every proceeding 19 days you’ll save another $4, for an annual savings of $76.84. Change two light bulbs and it doubles. Change three and it triples. Change four…you get the picture.

Changing just five 100 watt incandescent light bulbs to 25 watt CFLs could save you $384.21. But there is a catch. You need to come up with $25 to buy them. Is it worth it? Anyone resolved?

Helpful tip: I buy my CFLs at one of the major supermarkets in town. Their ‘store brand’ of CFLs comes with a money back guarantee. I save the bar code from the box and staple the receipt to it just in case a bulb does not perform up to standard.

 Peace, Estwing