House plans in, site office construction starts

There’s nothing quite like a full moon on a crisp winters night to get you in the mood for some thinking and that’s exactly what we were out at Fox Hill Hollow to do. Our plans have gone into council now and hopefully (fingers crossed) within three weeks we will know if we can get started or not.  We are both so excited even though it might take some time to finish as we plan to build this step-by-step with money saved along the way rather than taking out a loan.  So, in light of that we need to think about our immediate comfort and ability to work and that’s where the site office comes in.

The site office was chosen a little under two weeks ago, a 20 foot shipping container that we now just have to decide where to place.  We have somewhat outgrown the small caravan now that our children are taller than me (that’s not too hard though) and with nowhere to house granddad when he comes to lend a hand this container office/ spare room can’t come fast enough!  We opted for a 20 foot rather than another 40 foot container as we didn’t want to over-containerise the block (our permanent house will be made of 4 x 40 footers).  Also we didn’t want to commit to having to ‘do up’ a massive space.

The plan is for this 20 foot container to be split into two rooms,  one site office with a sofa bed and the other with a double bunk on the bottom and single bunk on top (or something similar).  That way we go from one to three bedrooms if and when we need it – we might even be able to start our retreat venture early!

After a bit of puzzling it was decided to place this new container out the front of the 40 footer which has become the garage/ shed really.  There will be a walkway between the new and old container that ends in a small portaloo style toilet facility (for night-time emergencies, our proper loo is a pit toilet further away) and the bush shower which we are about to plumb in heating for – can’t wait for that.  So all up it should be quite flash in a glamping kind of way.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the space we cleared for the new container.  Come next weekend it should be all placed and ready for us to start the building work.


The fork lift tractor

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We bought the tractor with a slasher attached.  While the slasher is a great way to cut the grass in summer, in winter it sits idle so we decided to modify it a little.  The forks were constructed out of mild steel box tubing and formed using arc welding.  The lifting weight is limited by the hydraulics of the tractor and we think that’s around 200kg which should be more than enough for what we want to do!

A job well done!

Making Plans for the House

Having declared 2017 as the year when we get our house plans sorted and submitted (have to really as there is a sunset clause on our block that runs out in Jan 2018) that’s exactly what we have been doing and this weekend it was measure out time.

We had already marked out where we want our modest container home to be situated within our building envelope but somewhere along the line we had forgotten to measure that building envelope out and apparently measuring it is a very important thing to do!  So, this weekend we got on with that little job.

So out of our 50 acre block we have just under 1 acre of building plot on which to place our home.  That means we have lots of space to play with and can avoid having to clear any trees and can select the easiest building spot without much to constrain us.

Our chosen spot is towards the top of the hill facing towards our dam and the gum tree forest area as this is the prettiest outlook.  Having already staked out the container footprint a few weeks ago we wanted to double-check our original ideas and get GPS co-ordinates for the exact spot so we can pass those on to our architect and then onto the council. I must also point out that before getting to this point we have already had a geological survey carried out by Macquarie Geotech whose work has enabled us to decipher which sewage system to go with, where to locate it and what footings / pier support the house will require.

Aub measuring out

And so to the house.

So this is what we are looking to make – 4 x 40 foot containers arranged in a sort of T shape. We want four so we get the double width and can then make better use of the inside space.  We’ve also opted for containers for many reasons including their termite resistance (very important),  their low price and durability and the fact that as we are travellers we like the idea that our house has travelled too (and served a useful purpose during that journey).  Aub has modified containers into homes before so knows what is required and his welding skills are also very handy as we are going to be doing quite a bit of that.

In terms of the design although we are massive fans of the TV show Grand Designs we are not wanting to send ourselves broke or take thousands of years to make this. The idea is for us to construct a solid, low maintenance home that has a little bit of design flair but is ultimately practical and cost-effective.   We have decided that three bedrooms is enough in the main house as we can always add little pods of temporary accommodation later down the track for guests but need to ensure the main house has enough room for our family of four or for when we are a family of two for overnight guests.   Both Aub and I really wanted an en suite as not having to queue up for the loo in the morning when the house is full of visitors is really important to us and another thing we both wanted was an open plan living area that had a great outlook to the land. I think we’ve managed to achieve all of that – on paper at least! In terms of design flair Aub and I were both taken by the guttering we saw when we visited Mossman Gorge in Queensland last year.  It was an open stainless steel central gutter perfectly suited to tropical rainstorms.  Now Cowra isn’t exactly tropical but as the climate has shifted we have tended towards huge down-pours which would be well served by this type of roof.  We also liked how the roof will look with a central open gutter running through it, this design also allows us to place our water storage tanks neatly along the side of the property meaning minimal guttering is required between the roof drop and the tank!

Otherwise we are keen to hold onto that feeling of living outdoors that we love so much by building verandas around the property – a private one for Aub and I off our bedroom and en-suite and a larger one for the living area.

How exciting!

Home againHomeWe’ve still got about a months worth of planning to do before we are ready to submit to council but it really does feel like things are starting to come together.  Then, like many people on Grand Designs we have a long road ahead of us to get building this thing.  Aub and I are (at this point) hoping to save up and build this out of our regular incomes rather than borrowing lots more money to get it done.  As a consequence it may be several years before it is totally finished.  The good thing with being a container home is that it can be at lock-up stage and actually semi-liveable well before it is actually finished so hopefully we can enjoy the process rather than wishing we’d never bothered (we have completed 3 fairly large building projects already in our 19 year life together…..)

So that’s what we have been up to at Fox Hill Hollow, we can’t wait to show you more!

Building a Pit Toilet

What better way to spend the time between Christmas day and New Year than in building a pit toilet!

The Ground-work was done a few weeks back starting with digging a massive hole (around 6 foot deep), making it stable then back-filling around it.

Pit toilet hole and digger

Then it was a couple of rounds of concreting to make a stable base for the framework and toilet to go on.

Pit Toilet Concrete bottom

The slab was tidied up a bit and the down pipe and breather pipe were secured into place.The breather pipe is the part that will (hopefully) keep the lavatory smelling sweet and clean!

tidy slab ready for toilet

So by the time the Christmas holidays rolled around all that was left to do was build the framework for the loo.  The girls were keen to lend a hand as the sooner this gets built, the sooner we can stop having to relieve ourself in the forest!

Next step was to pop on a roof and some walls and lucky for us Granddad Brian was around to lend a hand.

grandad helping with roof

The actual toilet was modified by cutting the bottom bend out so that the waste can fall straight down into the trap.  It was then secured onto the concrete and the waste and breather pipe were attached.  The toilet will be ‘flushed’ mainly with sawdust although a little water from time-to-time will be OK and will help to keep the bowl clean. The sawdust helps to create an environment for microbes to break down the waste.

sawdust and toilet roll

toilet is coming on

And before long it was time to try it out.

A proud man on the new loo

We’ve still got a fair bit to do before it is finished, including some work around the loo to secure the mound plus some steps to make it easier to get into oh and of course, the toilet needs a door and another wall!

Building this has been another great learning curve especially for Aub who spent many an evening researching toilets while I was watching TV 🙂




Construction Work Begins On Fox Hill Hollow

What better thing to do on a long weekend than hire a digger and get to work!

This 1 1/2 tonne piece of machinery took some lugging over the Blue Mountains and out into the rocky land that surrounds Wyangala Dam but we made it and so did the dogs who were happy to finally get out and run around.

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Aub’s digger projects wish list consisted of:

  1. Digging out a pit toilet
  2. Grading the driveway.
  3. Digging footings for a second storage container
  4. Digging footings for the outdoor shower.

My wish list consisted of just one thing.  To have a go!

Job 1:  The Bush Toilet.

A most important job as I’m sure you will appreciate.  Apparently a deep pit is a good pit. We were trying to work off the recommendations for the average family of 6 using the loo full-time to last 5 years as that should be more than enough for us at the moment.

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And here’s the hole-in-progress.  Not quite deep enough to bury a husband yet but we are getting there (I didn’t mean that Aub).

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OK so that’s more like it but we hit rock before we got down to our ideal depth so we decided that the best course of action was to widen it a bit and to then build the hole up by back filling using the soil we just dug out. That way we get a deeper hole without having to bash through the rock layer!

Aub constructed a ‘poo tube’ out of some recycled corrugation and roofing screws.

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You get a better idea of how deep the hole actually is when comparing the before and after poo tube pictures here. I think that should do the trick!  Aub held the tube open (so it didn’t collapse onto it’s self) using a weird metal device that we happened to have lying around in our scrap heap.  Very ingenious and cheap.

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poo hole

There’s still heaps to do on the toilet front of course but for now, the diggers job is done and it is off to project 2!

2) Grading the driveway.

So our drive has a natural water run-off going straight through it which is lovely in some ways but a pain in others because where there is water flow there can be erosion.  Not wanting to be cut off from society the best plan of action is to grade the drive and address drainage issues so that water can flow freely under the drive through the pipe work without getting squashed, increasing flow rate and taking half the drive with it.  Keeping water channels clear and free-flowing is key to avoiding driveway loss (and other landscape loss as we will no doubt cover in another post).

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This picture proves that while a big digger is good there is no getting away from the fact that you need to get out and get stuck in to finish the job properly.  Good on you Aub!

3: Footings for container number 2.

Container number 2 is a project for early 2016 as while our caravan of 1970’s love is OK for now we need a bit more space for proper planning, comfortable sleeping and office work PLUS somewhere to put up our extra pairs of hands when they come to help – tents on rocky soil are a bit average.

The girls had helped mark out the container footings the weekend before so this weekend it was just time to get stuck in and dig.  Well it was until we found flecks of gold in the soil and decided to have an impromptu gold panning session….

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The new container site is within the approved building envelope for the site so we hope that it will also double up as our temporary home when we finally get started on the big building project in the next couple of years.  What a beautiful view we will have!

4) Digging the footings for the outdoor shower.

Ok so this is another exciting project as I mentioned before.  We have decided to use an IBC as the water tank instead of the donated tanks as it will be more stable – the donated water tanks won’t go to waste, they will be used to store water for a sink for the toilet and possibly another sink for the outdoor cooking area.

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So this time the digger wasn’t actually used for the holes, they were dug by hand as they didn’t need to be so deep (Post stirrups were sunk into the holes which were then filled with concrete to secure the uprights).

The digger was used to support the uprights while they were being secured into the metal framework – the metal framework was welded together by Aub and attached onto the frame of the container.

The digger was also used to help lift the empty IBC onto the roof of the container ready for water collection!

The shower will have a sloping corrugated roof feeding water in and some sort of  plumbing to gravity feed water down to the shower head which will be dangling somewhere within that square area.  As much as we currently love to wander around naked we will be putting ‘modesty’ screens around this shower so that we don’t scare off any visiting friends, family or workers who happen to be on site.

Even with the screens we will still be able to shower whilst looking out onto this beautiful view.  It should be lovely!

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So that’s it for Aub’s wish list, as for mine, YES I did get to have a go 🙂

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a shower!

A chance gift of two no longer needed water tanks from friends Brad and Rachel here in the mountains got us all inspired about something that we would all dearly love out on the land.  A shower!

So far our only bathing options have been:

  • The muddy looking dam which only the dogs like the look of.

muddy dam cropped

  • The stream – I’ve had a quick dip in there before but I got out quick smart when I saw a leach heading for me and of course there is no shampoo and soap allowed!

Creek water running

  • Our hand-operated re-purposed pesticide backpack shower which is actually quite good unless it is freezing cold outside and the sun hasn’t been out – the water is more ‘mist’ than ‘torrent’ and the only source of heat is direct solar power.

Bush Shower

So the prospect of a lovely purpose made shower cubical with running water is quite alluring.

So here are the two donated tanks – just cleaning them out before we ship them off to the land.

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and here is the first sketch of our shower.  We need a good drop on the water to get the appropriate pressure

for a shower so this structure will be quite tall.  As a family we tried to work out the best way to keep the tank

full and decided that a roof that worked like a funnel would be great!  Aub drew this two winged structure

which should work well as it will capture and channel water into the centre.  A solar panel can be added to the

Side facing the most sun so we should be able to take the chill of in winter and the little guy in the shower will

stand on a duck board (wooden).  We will probably end up putting up modesty screens too so it will look like

more of a cute little shower house.

Now all we have to do is decide where to build it……..


Cleaning up from the BIG snow

Did you ever watch the TV series ‘The Vicar Of Dibley’?  Well in one episode they are discussing the big storm (or was it the big wind or the big rain, I can’t remember) anyway, our efforts on site this time reminded me of that.

So yes, a week after we got back from our holidays we were back out on the land cleaning up the mess that the snow had left behind.

This is just some of the mess in the sheep paddock – we have no sheep, we just call it that because the sheep pen is in it!

July late more carnage

And this is just some of the mess in the home paddock. We have no home, it’s just that we call it that because this is where we are allowed to build when we can eventually afford it. Glad we didn’t build under that tree already!

July late big pile of sticks

And then there was the mess that the big tree falling on our handy-work left. Ouch…..

july snow damage surveying the issue

We hired a chain saw on a pole, got the ladder out and got onto our new roof. The aim was to clear the debris and prune the ‘dangerous’ tree so that we could live forever more in peace. Oh what a big job that turned out to be!

I’m not sure that this is a good idea…..

July late cleaning up 2

Or this

July Late cleaning up

We got a bit cleared but decided that what we really needed was a platform and some extra help. I’m not great at holding ladders and doing dangerous tasks that require the helper to not daydream or forget what they are doing.  I’m just glad that nobody came to any harm..

To be continued……..

Construction work starts at Fox Hill Hollow – Making an undercover workspace and living area

It is going to be quite a while before we can afford to put a proper house on this block but in the meantime we need somewhere to eat,  cut wood, store stuff and keep warm when we are out working. So with that in mind we set about creating a car port sort of thing with an extra living room type area tacked onto the caravan end.

Aub and I managed to get a weekend away without the girls (who are very helpful BTW but the lower demands on food and entertainment time was welcome) so that we could get started.

But once we got there it was more a case of ‘where do we start?’  Wasn’t it Aub?

June so where do we start Aub

But things quickly began to take shape even though we were kicking ourselves for leaving our ladder at home.  Thank goodness for the water container, ssshhhhhh don’t tell the safety officer.

June where is the safety officer

Aub welded some metal struts onto the side of the container to give the structure something to be attached to and then set about securing the main beams. We have a portable diesel generator which was sufficient to run the welder for what we needed!

June securing the overhang bit

Remember those trees felled in January?  Well here they are being put to good use as the uprights for the carport structure!  A bit of concrete into the base and we are all secure.

June securing the posts with cement

We took our old, broken bed frame out to the land as we thought the metal would come in handy and it did!  Here we are using it as temporary posts to help get the right angles for the beams.  Things are starting to take shape up there!

June measure twice cut once

A quick view from above at the end of a successful day’s building.  Being winter (June is the start of winter here in Australia) the light was fading fast by 4pm so we got the candles out, lit the stove and settled down for some much needed food.  Soon we won’t need the gazebo!

June finished for the night

We were up bright and early on Sunday to get on with the project and make the structure as secure as possible.  Here is Aub preparing another of our felled logs for its role as a supporting pole.

June day 2 making more posts

Cut and ready to go!

June day 2 the cut for the post

The morning carried on like that until we had three permanent supports up and much of the basic roof structure sorted.  One thing I’m loving about the land is the opportunity it gives for Aub and I to work together. Well, when I say work I’m usually passing stuff, making tea and entertaining the dogs if they are out with us but I’m sure that helps.  Aub is best assisted by our daughter Meg who is much more switched on to the needs of a building site than me.  But anyway, it’s fun working together and seeing things grow!

June day 2 a bit more progress