I am starting a new job. On Passive Houses!

In 4 weeks I will start working as a quantity surveyor for a passive house company.

I am beyond excited. Giddy, almost. That I have been lucky enough to score such a job straight out of school, I still quite can't wrap my head around it. On one hand, I feel like I've earned it. I've been one of the top-performing students throughout study and have a deep-seated passion / interest for passive houses. If anyone out of our graduating class deserves this opportunity, it's me.

On another hand though, I feel like something's about to go wrong, because I'm not used to having things come as, I don't know, easy - as this seems to have come. An ex-tutor asked if I'd be interested in a job - without me ever having realised they were hiring - recommended me to them; and although I wasn't quite what this company needed - they needed someone way more experienced because the job entails running large budgets on almost sole charge - the company have created a new position just so that they can fit me in and I'm, like, WHAA!?

No, seriously: WHAA!?

This feels... weird. Not necessarily wrong, but definitely weird.

I don't, normally, believe in karma. Good things don't always happen to good people, bad don't always happen to bad people. Partially, I think, I've received this job offer because of my academic achievement and work ethic - my tutor recommended me to this company.

Partially, though, I think I just got lucky.

Because, look, a lot of people play Lotto; few hit the jackpot. I don't know if the tutor who recommended me for this position were even aware that this is the single Invercargill company involved in the build of Passive Houses. Did they know that I have a deep-seated interest in this architectural concept?

I don't know - I will ask them when I meet with them next week. For the moment though, I think the answer is no. I think the fact that I happened to be recommended for pretty much the only such job available in Southland was just an outrageous, lucky coincidence. And although I don't, normally, believe in karma or in positives being "evened out" with negatives - I think some people get exceedingly lucky without deserving it, and others get horribly treated without deserving, either - at the moment I am sitting here, thinking, where's the catch? Is something horrible about to happen? Am I allowed to have all this "loveliness" happen to me, you know, for free?

Because in addition to quantity surveying and passive houses, my work will involve design support. As in, I will get to work alongside an experienced architect and create 3D renderings using ArchiCAD. (Wait, what? I will get to work both in quantity surveying AND architecture side of passive houses?! Say WHAA!?!)

When the idea got first floated during a job interview, I started laughing. After I had calmed down enough to talk like a decent human being, I explained to them that I've wanted to be an architect for a long time. In fact, I have said for several years that, in an ideal world, I would be an architect designing multi-unit residential passive houses. Quantity surveying has been a "close enough" option I've settled on for practical, realistic purposes. For them to have offered me a position of working alongside an architect without even knowing that I wanted it in the first place, it felt like random numbers on a paper had coincided with random balls being shot out of a Lotto machine. Is this what people who win Lotto feel?

So, yeah, let's just put it this way: I am very, very excited.

The problem with insulating from the inside

A couple of months ago Tikker asked me an interesting question about insulating houses. I was writing about our plans to insulate our house from the inside and she, basically, asked if that was such a good idea. That don't houses need to be insulated from the outside?

I replied very briefly. But today, for some reason, I felt I wanted to explain the theory behind insulation in a little more detail.

So here goes.

Generally (by which I mean "in cold climates") insulation is applied to the outside of buildings because it makes the entire structure of the building warmer than the surrounding air. When the structure is warmer, it doesn't get condensation on it - condensation only happens when warm air hits cold surfaces.

Think of it this way: you have two drink bottles on a table. One is filled with boiling water, the other is filled with ice. Which bottle gets condensation on it?

The answer is: cold, ice-filled bottle. As the warm air around the table hits the cold surface of the bottle, the water vapour in the air condenses onto the cold surface, creating drops of water.

The same mechanism (ie condensation) can take place inside a house structure if insulation is applied - for whatever reason - to the inside of the building, rather than outside.

It's hard to explain, but when insulation is on the inside of a wall, it, effectively, separates the rest of the structure from warm air inside a building. The exterior envelope of the structure ends up on the outside of the insulation layer - so the structure of the house becomes much colder than the interior air.

If the walls of the house are not perfectly airtight (and to be honest, most houses' walls aren't), the interior warm air can wind its way inside the building envelope - and condense there. And when it does... it's bad. Very. Very. Bad. That's how you get mould and mildew growing inside walls - through cracks and permeable materials warm air reaches the much colder elements of the building on the outside of the insulation layer (because insulation, on its own, is not airtight), and as soon as this warm air hits a cold surface, condensation happens. Most common places are where different elements of the building fabric meet: around window openings, in corners, at the junction of walls and ceilings, or walls and floors.

It is not to say that insulation should never be applied on the inside - because it does get done on the inside, and sometimes very successfully. But it's very, VERY difficult to do it well. In order to keep the interior warm air from passing through the insulation, there needs to be an airtight layer on the inside of the insulation layer, and it can have ABSOLUTELY NO GAPS IN IT.

Nada.
Ziltch.

If it is an airtight fabric such as Intello, every single joint has to be taped shut. Even things such as screw-holes and nailholes have to be thought through, because every hole in the airtightness layer creates a risk of air movement to the outside, and the resulting risk of condensation within that wall.

So that's why, if it can be helped at all, houses are always better to have insulated from the outside. It is an easier, more straightforward, less labour-intensive process which, even if someone makes a mistake whilst installing something, the problems that arise are not that bad.

If someone makes a mistake whilst installing internal insulation... Well. That can be rather, let's say, "more cumbersome". (F*cked up, I was going to say, but oh well.)

So, why are WE doing it then? Why are we wanting to install insulation on the inside?

The answer is: because our house does not have solid walls. We have a very "standard New Zealand" construction of what's known as "cavity wall". Basically, inside the walls of our house there's a gap: outside is brick, then there's 50mm gap, and then there's wood on the inside.

If we insulated our house from the outside, it... wouldn't work. We would be "heating" that gap inside the wall, basically, and from that gap the warm air would rise up into the roof structure and condense on the underside of our roof, condensing and potentially "raining" back down onto our ceiling insulation below.

And that is, basically, a very good example of why some houses get insulated from the inside. They are "retrofits", mostly - houses that are fixed up from something old, trying to fix old problems, rather than building a brand new house. It's a bit like having a second-best option: that, really, in an ideal world you'd be insulating on the outside. But sometimes you just... can't. To insulate a cavity wall from the outside requires re-engineering that wall so it becomes a "solid" wall instead (ie, a wall without a cavity) and to do that well... it kinda starts getting to a point where you need to think how much it's going to cost, versus what it would cost to just demolish the house and build anew.

So you choose a second-best option because you just have to. You don't want to - but you do it, because otherwise you'll be living with a non-insulated wall, and that's not good either.

I am thinking another day I may come back and share some ideas I have about our insulation, and how I am planning to tackle the airtightness problem. I have a couple of sketches I've made, just trying to get my head around all the corner details - that what is going to need to happen where walls meet with ceilings and floors, because we absolutely cannot leave any gaps.

But for the moment, I am going to go to sleep.

I handed in my very last assignment yesterday. I AM FINISHED!!!!

And also very tired. Good night!

LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO!!!

If all goes well, I will have all my assignments finished by Thursday.

In fact, depending on how hard the last assignment is - it is being handed out today - I may have everything finished TODAY.

In less than a week, I will have, essentially, graduated.

IN LESS THAN A WEEK, I WILL HAVE, ESSENTIALLY, GRADUATED!!!

Oh. My. God.

It is almost over.

!!!

When I realised I had been feeding our earthworms... polypropylene.

Earlier this year I discovered that teabags were made of polypropylene. I don't know why I hadn't known before. I had assumed that they were made of biodegradable fibres, so for years I put them in the compost bin.

Now, I have years forth of teabags to sift out of our compost soil. It'll happen gradually: I pick them out as I see them, gardening, weeding.


We have gone 100% onto loose leaf tea. Peppermint we are already getting from our garden. Others we buy in large bags, partially imported, partially New Zealand grown, mixed together in Nelson - kawakawa and lemongrass, ginger, feijoa green tea, chamomile and lemongrass.

Bit by bit, less plastic. Bit by bit, changes in our consumption. Grow a garden, plant a tree.

Once an understanding grows of sustainability and the ecosystem and the pollution, it's not possible to go back, only forward. When my children eat a banana in town, I carry the peels home, "for the worms". We have "adopted" a stretch of street and pick up rubbish when we see it. Glass and aluminium cans, we carry home so we can put them in recycling bin. The school uniform "second hand shop" I have set up at our primary school, I think we've already diverted a dozen uniforms from landfill - by replacing the broken zips, they have gone to be worn by more kids, rather than into rubbish where they did not belong in the first place.

Gradually, as these changes become my new "norm", I find new things to reduce and reuse and repurpose and recycle. Wanting to take up less space in the world, not more. I volunteer at school, my husband at the toy library. He has helped them fix up old furniture to keep it going.

Bit by bit.

Russian-speaking community in Invercargill

Did you know that Invercargill has a sizable Russian community? I was saying to a friend the other day that, at the moment, I speak Russian on a weekly basis here - and not because of speaking to the same people, but because of meeting a variety of Russian-speaking people in public spaces.

Mostly, I meet them in the sauna! Local swimming pool has a small public sauna which, I find, is quite a common place to overhear someone talk in Russian or with a very Slavic-sounding English accent that, when I ask the person where they're from, turns out to be from Russia. Or maybe if not from Russia, then from Russian-speaking ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Usbekistan etc.

No official count exists, but by my estimate there are about 80 Russian-speaking people in Invercargill. Some Russians I have asked have agreed, guessing it to be about 75-100. I have personally met about 35.

A group of women meets every few weeks for a Russian brunch - a weekend meal at a cafe someplace for an hour of Russian chattering. I've attended one: my brain felt absolutely "fried" afterwards! Not having talked Russian for years, it is linguistically very challenging to put thoughts forward. I can understand everything - but I can't talk back effectively. Words are garbled, or not accessible at all.

My daughter's classmate is from Russia, so I talk to his parents at school, or when they've come for a visit. My son's therapist is an Usbek. I often hear and meet Russian speakers at public events in park - just last weekend I met a homeschooling mom of 2 who's originally from Belarus - or at the library.

Several Russian women have New Zealand passports and New Zealand husbands they've met whilst working in Europe, London mostly. A number of students from Russia is studying engineering, IT and management at SIT (Southern Institute of Technology), our local polytech.

It's a touchy subject I haven't dared to dig too deeply in, but my impression is that Russians I've met here do not take kindly to the current Russian political climate. It's small, off-hand remarks. "Russia's not... well." "You're familiar with what's going on, aren't you." "I did not want to live in a place like that." "I'm a lucky one, I had money to get out. Others aren't as lucky." As much as I would like to ask people, hey, what do you think of Putin?, it's not really a good question to ask, I don't think. (Would probably sound very similar to meeting an American and enquiring if they're Republican, or support Trump.)

I enquired from one of the enrolment clerks at SIT if there had, indeed, been a rise in Russian student numbers in Invercargill. She said yes. Apparently, New Zealand has started promoting overseas tertiary education options on the Russian market, and Invercargill is considerably cheaper to study at than other New Zealand cities.  Invercargill, basically, subsidises every foreign student's tuition fees because it recognises that people who move here to study contribute a lot of money towards the local economy (accommodation, food etc), without requiring many public services because, normally, foreign students do not have access to New Zealand's publicly funded healthcare or social benefits. That, basically, even after contributing towards foreign students' tuition fees, Invercargill is still earning enough tax revenue off it to make it worthwhile.

So, to Russian students who can be - but aren't always - cash-strapped, studying in Invercargill is more affordable than elsewhere in New Zealand, and the recent marketing campaigns have brought increasing numbers of them here.

What it means to me, a trilingual European "import"? I speak English the most. I speak Russian a little. I speak Estonian the least.

I've even started to notice a marked increase in my Russian speaking ability since making these Russian acquiantances, and have heard two Russian ladies say that I seem to speak better now than I did a year ago.

Looking into the future, it'll be interesting to see if speaking Russian will become more comfortable than speaking Estonian for me. After 10 years of speaking mostly English, my Estonian syntax has started to deteriorate. I can no longer write well in Estonian and when I speak, although I can recognise that Estonian sentences are "off" - they're composed of Estonian words, but arranged in a way English words would be in English syntax - I cannot fix them. I recognise mistakes, but I no longer know how to fix them.

Sure, my Estonian is still much better than Russian at this point, but I wonder for how long if I keep up speaking Russian on a weekly basis. We'll see.

Are we buying an... electric car? :o

It is interesting how changes in one part of life can prompt changes to other parts of lives.

I am googling "buying electric vehicle nz" and trawling through listings of second-hand cars. I did not think we'd be in this position for quite a few more years: our 2006 Honda is still going strong whilst we are waiting for prices of electric vehicles to become a bit more affordable.

But now me starting work has thrown a bit of an "opportunity" - or maybe a spanner - into wheels. It is 5 km out of town. It is too far to walk, public transport is not available that way, cycling does not sound very, uhm, "doable" given that I'd need to wear quite office-y attire.

We were considering buying an electric scooter/moped I would not need a license for, but given that last few kilometres of road are a 100 km/h zone, I'm not sure what it would feel like to ride something at 45 km/h if there are trucks that would go past me at 80+ km/h.

So then I thought, okay, how about I consider getting a motorcycle license so we can buy an electric moped that goes to about 70 km/h.

And then we thought, hang on, what DO electric vehicles cost now second-hand? And a bit of googling later, turns out, used Nissan Leaf-s start from $13,000 NZD. Sure, they've done about 40-70,000 km-s already but... still. (I can even see a 2011 Nissan Leaf that's done 18,800 km for $14,000 NZD. https://www.dkmotors.co.nz/vehicle/2011-Nissan-LEAF/5580?s=1 )

So now we are seriously considering buying an electric vehicle an option. Holy heck. I have so many things to learn about this.

Thoughts? Anyone already got an EV?

Yes! A NZ nationwide supermarket chain to introduce low sensory "quiet hours"

I read this article and went, yes! Many times over, yes.

(www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/400591/countdown-to-introduce-quiet-hours-at-stores)

Countdown is a New Zealand nationwide chain of supermarkets that is implementing a weekly "quiet hour" for low sensory shopping.

I see this initiative benefiting not only people who struggle doing their shopping otherwise, but as a healthy reminder to all of us about the importance of quiet, and how noisy urban environments are in general. 

I know I much prefer doing shopping in stores that do not constantly beep!, ping! and announce advertisements over the loudspeakers. Hey, did you know that we now sell ....!? 

That Countdown is recognising its value and implementing it throughout their stores, well... I don't normally shop at Countdown but, man!, I applaud this initiative.

Stomach flu and loss of consciousness [warning: graphic content]

Yesterday I experienced what was probably the worst case of "stomach flu" I have ever had. [Warning: graphic content ahead.]

The vomiting got so severe that I started to pass out (ie, lose consciousness) after each vomit. The first time it happened, none of us knew to expect it, so my husband found me slumped over with my head inside a bucket. Next time he knew better: he stood next to me, so when I started to slump over, he held me until I came back to it.

Neither of us knew what was causing it. My best guess is that chest spasming was so violent that I was not able to inhale oxygen between each heave; or maybe the blood was temporarily blocked from reaching my head at adequate levels. (A friend suggested today that vomiting probably triggered a vagal nerve response, I think it's called "vasovagal syncope".)

Either way, by the time it was all over at about 3 am, we were both very tired.

What an evening!

Similarities to Penny and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory

Me: "Maybe next date night we could go to the movies and see some crazy sci-fi action movie."

My husband: "You wouldn't like it."

Me: "I could treat it like a cultural experience. I didn't much enjoy giving birth either, but it was worth it in the end."

Questions and answers: how me and my husband's relationship has changed over time

Question: how has your relationship with your husband changed over time?

(Original question in Estonian: "Kuidas sinu suhe su abikaasaga ajas muutunud on?")

I was thinking the other day that having children is like pulling a bike trailer in high gear all the time.

Because ideally, gears should get switched: low gear when stopped at traffic lights, then gradually switching gears up as speed increases. But having kids is like leaving gears at 3-7 (ie top gear on my 21-speed bike) and towing 60 kg from standstill. Occasionally, uphill.

Aside from it being a good metaphor for life in general (almost everything becomes harder once kids are involved, and it's not only hard to start things, but also to stop), it is a good metaphor for describing how my relationship with my husband has changed in that time.

Take last night, for example. One of our kids came down with viral gastroenteritis shortly after going to bed (ie vomit everywhere), so we've had a very long evening and a rather sleepless night supporting the kiddo and sorting out the mess. There is still a pile of laundry waiting to be washed.

We dealt with it like a well-oiled team. To be fair, with kids being the age they are, we have had a lot of these "midde of night" illness scenarios, so we're... uhm, "well-practiced". But being as tired as we were, by the time things were dealt with, I don't think we even said as much as "Good night!" to each other. My husband went to bed ("collapsed" is probably a better word to describe it), I stayed on the sofa with our vomiting child (hello Pinterest at 2 am!) and that was that.

It's an extreme example of course, but in some ways we've become coworkers more than we are lovers, or even friends. Kids have needed to be dealt with, rain or shine. Even something as "straightforward" as finding the time and energy to have sex is like a task in scheduling - and then a hearing test when having to keep an eye out for people randomly walking in to ask for toast or whatever.

Just the other day we put the kids in front of a cartoon on a Saturday morning, disappeared back into the bedroom, and then I thought, "Hey, is that why I've heard so many kids say that they get to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings? Are Saturdays, like, NATIONAL SEX MORNINGS???" :D

No, but kidding aside: one of the reasons I look forward to my graduation this year is because I think me and my husband have a fair amount of socialising to "catch up" on. There will not be as many evenings and weekends I spend in front of a computer doing schoolwork, so hopefully there will be more time and energy to spend with each other, and learn about each other again.

From what I've heard, our situation is not uncommon. Two close friends have been studying from around kids and family life and their experiences closely mirror ours. With one of them, it ended up quite a laugh as we tried to compare who had gone a longer stretch "sex free" whilst breastfeeding an infant, taking care of a toddler and studying part-time simultaneously. Apparently, we had followed a very similar timeline :D

Or another friend: the wife and husband ended up seeing a marriage councellor a while back. After a bit of psychological "digging" it turned out that the husband was resentful of not being able to pursue his hobbies the way they had done before kids. The councellor asked, "But did you really think you'd be able to go in the office and play video games?" The husband said, "Well... yeah." It's not that he didn't mean well - it's just that it's hard to imagine the impact kids can have on a life... before you've had them; and then once you've had them, it's hard to do anything other than to just suck it up and find a way forward.

So how has the relationship changed? It's become more work, and less fun. Having said that: we both have grown immense respect for each other in terms of our parenting and resilience, so whilst some aspect of our life are worse off, others have benefited. There aren't really easy ways to go about it though. Well, maybe some people find it easy maintaining a pre-kids relationship even after kids come along, but I don't think there are many of those kinds of people. Most of us, I think, just kind of "muddle along".

I know I do.

PS. I think I've answered all the questions that landed under my blog a few weeks back, so if there are no more, I'll wrap it up for this year. And if you have any more questions, ask them quickly before I officially call it finished in my head :).
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