Vision to Reality

Bellis logoTurning a Grand Vision into a Domestic Reality

We all want to live well and enjoy life
Ordinary domestic life wastes finite resources, worsens climate change and pollution and can make enjoying life that bit harder.

Our desire to do what we have ended up doing in Brisbane in 2003 originated in England during the “Oil Shocks” of the 1970’s. For most Australians the British experience of an oil-dependent economy without enough oil is quite literally unthinkable. If you are part of the majority of Australians who have no idea about the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973 (aka The October War) and its consequences, check out this link.

World oil production peaked around 2006 – 07, demand for fossil fuels keeps growing, so prices are not going anywhere but up.

Food security, sustainable population, sustainable energy and resource use, affordable housing, pollution control and global warming will not go away. Australia will become a conserver society soon enough. How will we make the change? In an ordered way by choice, or chaotically when there is no choice left?

‘Bellis’ has been adapted to reduce our impact on the natural world: saving domestic water use, reducing sewage and stormwater pollution, reducing peak demand for energy and reducing greenhouse gas production.

The back garden grows fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices. The decorative front garden grows plants suited to natural rainfall and long-lived stock has been selected to cope with predicted climate change for Brisbane to 2050. Both are grown organically.

Our budget

In 2003, we aimed to spend about the same as a new family 4 wheel drive car on the sustainability items. The only subsidy has been a rebate from the federal government for installing solar panels.

Getting started
Michael Mobbs of Sustainable Projects has been the sustainable design coach, liaising with Brisbane City Council, arranging site inspections, diagrammes for the sewage system, etc.

Rain Water Harvesting
We installed a 21,000 litre, in-ground concrete rainwater tank. When full, this provides a four week supply of water for house and garden. Excavating the tank pit generated 37 cubic metres of soil. Aware of the problems of rapidly filling landfill sites we conditioned it for cultivation on site.

Leaf and mosquito excluding rain heads have been fitted, one atop each downpipe to prevent any leaf litter entering the tank. Each downpipe is fitted with a first flush device. The rainwater tank is gravity filled.

The tank is connected to mains water. A float valve prevents the water level falling below our output pipe. Our capacity to collect rainwater is hardly affected but we need not worry about running out of water. A soakaway trench will capture any overflow during very wet weather and it connects to the soakaway pit.

A sediment and activated carbon filter on the mains supply to the tank remove chemical (chlorine) and biological pollutants. A ceramic and carbon filter are fitted to the drinking water fountain.

Wastewater System

All waste water feeds this system which digests solid waste. Water passes through a sand and gravel filter, enters a holding tank and then passes through an ultraviolet filter for chemical free disinfection and is ready to flush the toilet and water the garden.

Once the garden layout is complete, excess water will be recycled via trickle irrigation to water the fruit trees and hedge. Independent water quality testing will, hopefully, document that no contaminants, including chloramines, remain in the recycled water.

Solar Panels

2014 Solar System

2014 Solar System

The original photovoltaic system (2003-13) comprised six solar panels on the north facing side of the roof. Compared to the new panels, the original ones were very heavy and less efficient.

In 2014 a new system (pictured) comprising of two arrays of ten panels were installed. One array faces east, the other west. The old system supplied, during summer, up to 60% of household daily needs with the balance being purchased as certified renewable energy.

Solar systems supply 220 to 240 volt, 50 Hertz power, the Australian Standard, and plug into the power grid. During the day surplus power is directed into the grid, power is drawn from the grid as needed. At night the house effectively uses the grid as a battery, drawing back some of the surplus power generated during daylight. The new system produces a surplus of energy all year round. Even on most cloudy winter days the house is self-sufficient in electricity.

A contract with the energy supplier means that we are paid for the excess power we supply to the grid, a perk from being an early adopter. This contract is evergreen and only ceases if we change energy suppliers or sell the house. Our peak power output corresponds with the most intense period of sunshine, which coincides with Brisbane’s peak energy demand, the time when everone’s air-conditioning is working hardest.

Efficient Appliances
We replaced the electric cooker with gas and the electric water heater with an efficient instantaneous gas water heater since there wasn’t enough room on our roof for a solar hot water system and photovoltaic panels.

The washing machine is water and energy efficient. The ‘energy star’ and water efficiency ‘A’ ratings are helpful in making the most approriate choice, but the water ratings are not absolute. They compare like with like. For example a four ‘A’ top loader is not nearly as good a water saver as a four ‘A’ front-loader.

We use compact fluorescent light globes or dimmer switches in rooms like the bathroom and bedrooms where compact fluorescents are less energy efficient.

Problems
Originally we wanted the rainwater tank under or alongside the house, but Brisbane City Council would not permit installation within ten metres of the sewage system – a hang over from the bad old days of leaky septics. The resultant extra plumbing work cost twice as much as the tank itself, and a pump draws water from the end of the garden.

The energy supplier took three months to connect the solar panels to the grid (back in 2003 solar households were a novelty) so we were unable to generate electricity during the first summer after installation.

We learned that it’s critical to use quality gravel for the recycled water filtration tank. The installer used cheap gravel that contained iron. This dissolved out, turning the water brown. A rusty deposit  stained the toilet bowl and impeded efficient decontamination by the UV filter. The gravel was replaced, the sewage system carefully jet blasted clean and put back into action.

The Garden

Bellis layout. Updated, 2006

Bellis layout. Updated, 2006

Nick Walford-Smith, an award-winning Gold Coast-based landscape designer, worked with us to improve our initial garden design, painting a beautiful scale plan to work from. The layout slightly changed as a result of inadequate funds to complete certain landscape features, like the summer house planned to sit above the rainwater tank. Instead of a solar pergola, a Screw Pine (Pandanus tectorius) was planted in the centre of the vegetable garden to shade outdoor meetings. The nursery area was found to have sufficient shade from neighbouring trees in summer to function as a weaning/ propagation area without a constructed shadehouse.

Green Survival, Brisbane-based landscape contractors, installed land drainage, the stormwater infiltration well and the gravel-lined front garden path and driveway.

Soil conditioning was based on thorough laboratory testing and specialist advice from the National Measurement InstituteSydney Environmental Soil & Laboratory and the President of the Australian Society of Soil Science, Queensland, (now Soil Science Australia).

A test crop of silverbeet was grown and laboratory tested for the presence of toxic metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, copper) and other persistent organic pollutants (POPS) that might prevent bioaccumulating crops, like turnip, radish, beetroot and silverbeet, from being eaten. Tests results proved the soil is safe for cropping.

Find out more about the changes faced by Brisbane gardeners in Sister Cities 

Jerry Coleby-Williams & Jeff Poole
2005 (edited July 2014)