I have an old home under renovation in the Mountains outside Sydney. Unlike most modern homes which are built on slabs or with the foundations up on brick skirting walls, it’s up on old fashioned piers. I’ve dreamed of putting a skirting wall around the base and building a couple of rooms under the existing dwelling, but in the current economic climate I do not have the money.
Of course the ground underneath the house was disgusting, anything stored under there was very dusty and there was a large quantity of building materials underneath too, more than I had been able to get rid of in all the years I’d owned the property. The underfloor area was surrounded by decaying lattice. The place was a mess and a fire trap – what was a girl to do?
With summer coming on and the memory of February 7, 2009 in Victoria still fresh in my mind I knew I had to do something – but what? I definitely did not have any money for building and I could not afford to replace the lattice with anything else. Putting this thought out of my mind I started ripping that broken flammable lattice off and converting it to kindling. Then I started moving all the junk out from under the house and put it out in the street. People started to pick it up, All the metal disappeared for recycling, the old defunct hot water heater (probably for copper) and even the old toilet disappeared.
This was the worst part of the job because of the dust and the horrible dirt on the ground but that was the source of the brainwave. At the point where i just could not stand the thought of going under the house one more time I decided to order two ton of white gravel, which i discovered would only cost me $200. I edged the underfloor area with random bricks for an edging and built two “drystone” walls between three piers using an untidy pile of old roofing tiles to create a fireproof nook to place tools etc in case of fire,
Then we started throwing the gravel under the house. Instant joy! A thick coat of gravel killed all the dust and created instant living space.
A clean fireproof tool storage area. All the tools are now out of the ugly old shed, which was at last torn down to make way for a sunny vegetable patch.
A dust free, shaded, standing and sitting area for entertaining under the highest end of the house with plenty of room to escape sudden showers during summer garden parties.The area is sunny in winter as the house is well positioned for winter sun. Cane chairs from the old storage shed worked well on the watered gravel to create a cool breezy sitting area with wonderful open garden views. The antique tool bench, vice and all, but now tool free, doubles as a food serving area.
The next area up where adults cannot stand up has become the cubby space for children. My old child sized table built by my own father, lovingly saved but previously cluttering up the laundry, has pride of place.A couple of plastic shells filled with all that huge family collection of lego previously stored under the house and bingo a huge fantastic cool shady cubby space to keep any child happy during an adult party. Some bright curtains hanging from the floor bearers adds to the fun and they can be removed after, and stored in fireproof boxes.
Of course I got rid of all the nasties and nails and in the process found an antique cross cut saw secreted under the floor bearers. Dad again, trying to make sure no-one got hurt but he passed on and forgot it. It’s going on e-bay to fund the next load of gravel which will cover the underfloor area completely, right up to the top, thereby eliminating dust, Neither myself or any poor trades person will ever have to grovel in the dirt under my house again. At the very top of the area the gravel will form a base for some underfloor rain water tanks.
The improved and more pleasant access was important to me as I have now treated all the underfloor bearers and timbers with an Australian product called KILFIRE which is a powerful fire retardant and when not exposed to direct UV can last at least two years. I wanted to do this before but I just could not face doing it in the dirty conditions that existed previously. I also treated the cane chairs, the old weathered timber work bench all wooden tool handles, and everything else flammable under the house with this clear drying totally invisible retardant.
If a fire comes i will move all potential flammables like the chairs out from under the house and abandon them to their fate. I have enough retardant to spray a twenty meter liquid fire break in all directions which will work on dry vegetation and living plants without killing them. Exposed to UV this can last ten days to two weeks.
If we get conditions similar to 2009 in Victoria the house may still burn but i feel like I’ve tried and I am enjoying my new found casual living area so much I no longer have much desire to close it in. Instead I am experimenting with sucking cool air into the house through floor vents in summer. The air cools when it travels over the watered gravel and through the water retaining terracotta wall system. In Winter I want to see if I can trap sun heated air below floor level and pull it through the vents by convection to heat the house during the day without burning wood or using electricity.