Monday, 29 June 2009

One-Person Water Level

As an antidote to the recent rounds of gripes and groans, here is a water level I built on the weekend, with instructions on reproducing it. This is an upgrade from one I built a long time ago out of a juice bottle, a lump of wood and some clear tubing. It's from a design my mother passed on to me, though I'm not sure that her mother passed it on to her...

To begin, you need some materials:
  • A water drum with a tap, or similar vessel. It needs a tap because this is the advanced version. If you want to build a simple one, any old water container will do, though it needs to be big enough to hold enough water to fill the piping you use and then some.
  • A length of clear plastic hose. I went for 12mm diameter hose, 2m of it. This matches up to standard 13mm irrigation fittings, making the whole project possible. If you go with a different size hose you'll need different fittings.
  • A length of wood for your staff. I made mine out of a 2.3m length of 70mm x 20mm pine, trimmed back to 2.2m as my length of tubing was only 2m. No point carrying around extra wood :-) I routed the edges to make it easier to hold, and to look at, then gave it a few soaking coats of linseed oil to help preserve it.
  • A length of old measuring tape. You can skip this bit, especially if you are only using the level to create, well, levels, rather than to measure contours etc. I took mine from an old 30m reel tape that had lost it's end, the cloth tape is easy to work with. You could use a bit of old metal tape measure if you desire, but be careful cutting it!
  • Some pipe clamps, 3 or 4 saddle clamps, a couple of short lengths of 13mm irrigation pipe, a 13mm elbow joiner, and two 13mm to garden hose couplers.
  • Suitable length of garden hose with couplers. I got a 15m garden hose with fittings for $8 from the local super-hardware. I could have as easily used the one in the garden, but the DW might have gotten a bit upset if it wasn't returned promptly, so I thought it best to spend the extra to get a dedicated one. The beauty of this design is that you can couple as many hoses together as you want to make the main line, all for a lot less expense than buying clear hose for the full unit. Just be careful your drum is big enough to fill the hose and then some, and that there are no leaks along the way.

Putting it together...
  1. Starting with the drum. Take a short length of the 13mm tube and connect one of the hose couplers to it and clamp in place. Then push the other end over the outlet on the tap of your drum and clamp it as well (make sure you put the clamp on the hose before pushing into place!) The drum is now ready to go. In the picture below there is a cover over the end of the hose coupling, so it might not look exactly as you'd expect.
  2. Taking your plastic tubing, thread a clamp on, then insert the elbow, securing it with the clamp. Push a short piece of 13mm irrigation pipe (6cm or so, just long enough to cover the ends of the two fittings with a slight gap between) onto the elbow, clamp in place, thread your next clamp on then insert your other hose coupler and clamp in place. This is now the bottom of the tube. The open end is the top.
  3. After preparing your wood for the staff, if you're going to use a tape, thumbtack this (if cloth tape, screw if metal) towards the outside edge of the face of the staff, leaving some space at the top and bottom.
  4. Screw, with a large flat headed screw, the top of the clear tubing at the top of the staff, as close to the centreline of the face as possible (doesn't need to be exact of course, unless you're particular) You should make sure there is 10mm - 20mm of tube above the screw so that it wont tear out too easily. When screwing it on you don't want to completely seal the top of the tube, you need to allow air in and out to allow the water to level. A firm but not overly tight connection is best. Also try to make sure the elbow and coupler at the bottom is facing outward from the staff face before you screw the pipe in place.
  5. Straighten your tubing out down the length of the staff, space your saddle clamps out and drill some pilot holes, then screw the clamps down over the tubing. You want to make sure your last clamp is right down on the elbow installed previously so that it helps to stretch the tubing out nice and straight.
  6. You're finished the construction stage!
Using the level... Preparation
  1. Turn the tap on your drum off, then fill it with water.
  2. Place your drum in a slightly elevated position near where you want to take your levels or work out your contours. You'll need a fairly rugged stand due to the weight of the water in the drum, so a toolbox, garden chair or something similar. Keep in mind that the height of the drum helps dictate the height of the water in your staff.
  3. Plug one end of your garden hose onto the drum. Plug the other end onto your staff.
  4. Making sure you've got a grip on the staff (nothing worse than the staff falling over and draining when you're miles away from a source of water) open the tap on the drum, and loosen the lid to let some air in.
  5. Walk around with the staff, not only for the exercise, but to help get the bubbles out of the water in the piping. Your staff is now ready to put to work.
Using the level... In Action - Levelling
  1. Pick the spot you want to level everything else to. This is ground zero.
  2. Place your staff on that spot. With a pencil mark the height the water comes up to on the staff.
  3. Place the staff in another spot. If the water rises above your previous mark then you're lower down. If it sinks below the previous mark then you're higher up. You can tell by how much if you've attached a tape to the staff by reading off the difference in centimetres (or inches if you put your tape on that way around!) between the first and second marks. When the water is at the same mark then you're at exactly the same level. Great for setting up concreting, paving etc.
Using the level... In Action - Contours
  1. For measuring contours we need to do a bit more preparation, namely measuring out a grid on the ground. Something like 5m intervals is good if you want a reasonable picture of your plot of ground. 1m grid if it's a small spot and you need incredible detail. 10, 20, 50 if you're less enthused about the idea of contour maps than I. You need to do your best to make sure your grid is as square as possible.
  2. You can also measure at intervals along structures such as fences and buildings, and between points. The key, with either grids or features, is to be able to place the measured point on a map back in the "lab".
  3. Once you've marked out the spots you want to measure you then run around with the staff. Pick the highest point as zero (or the lowest, or any old point, as long as you record which one it was) and mark it on your staff, then record each spot as a value below or above that (so -5cm, or +8cm) for each of your points.
  4. Hopefully you included enough lengths of hose to get you around the whole job without moving your water drum, but there are certain occasions when you'll need to move it. Points beyond your reach are one, the other is cases where your slopes are bigger than the height of your staff. If you go below or above that the water drains out and all is lost :-)
  5. If you need to move the drum, mark one point from your current measurements as your new "zero" for the second set of measurements. Once your drum is moved, re-measure that zero spot, make a new mark on the staff and measure all changes relative to that mark. Imagine you are working down a hill, your bottom-most mark is at -0.9m from your original zero. You move the drum so that this mark is now 0.0m (the new zero.) The next measurement you take is 10cm below this (-0.1m) Therefore, relative to your initial measurements it's -1.0m.
  6. Once you've completed all your measurements you need to return to the "lab" and set to work analysing your data. Draw your map, mark in your points, and then mark in all the differences in heights. At this stage you need to make amendments for any changes in the location of the drum as described in (5), so that you end up with a series of measurements all relative to your original starting point.
  7. Once you have all your relative height differences, you need to pick a starting height and point. If you're lucky you'll know the height of somewhere upon your property, relative to sea level (via topo maps etc) if not, pick any arbitrary value, much higher than the difference between your lowest and highest measurements. If your difference is less than 20m then you can safely select 20m and work from there for example.
  8. Add or subtract each value from that 20m successively across your grid of points, pencilling them into your map.
  9. Once this is done you can either roughly guess your crossing points, or you can calculate them using trigonometry. Lets say we have two points 5m apart, one point is 24.4m, the next is 25.2m. We know that somewhere on that line the 25m contour passes over. 25.2m - 24.4m is 0.8m. We can divide the 5m into 8 parts, and mark in that the 25m contour passes 2 parts short of the 25.2m point, or about 1.25 back (or alternately, 6 parts ahead of the 24.4m point, 3.75m ahead)
  10. We can also use a fancy formula that gives us the same result: distance = (rise to meet contour x original run) / original rise. So distance = (0.6m x 5m) / 0.8m = 3.75m so our 25m contour is 3.75m from the 24.4m point.
  11. That's all there is to it. Calculate where all your proper contour points are then play join the dots!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

We Might Be Getting There...

The meeting with Council on Monday went well enough, considering that they weren't about to start taking our desires to heart and doing the best by us, they've still got their own goals that run perpendicular to those of us mere residents of their domain.

We had a win on the requirement to upgrade the entire length of the laneway to our block, but even though the previous developer paid out a hefty sum to get this same Council to upgrade the roadway for the subdivision in the first place, we're still going to have to build their intersection for them, and that will need to be to the appropriate standards.

They've also indicated that they're willing to alter the timing for when this requirement needs to be met. We can do it prior to pouring the slab on the house, which means we'll be able to build the shed sometime this year, after all. That is, of course, assuming they cannot think of anything else to hit us with.

So, six months down the track and we're pretty much where we hoped to be sometime back in January. I posted a letter off to them today, requesting the changes discussed in the meeting, and the manager there stated at the time that he would deal with it very quickly. As long as I haven't missed out any words like "reflections" or included any words that shouldn't be in the letter, then by this time next week I hope we will be in possession of the appropriately amended document. From there it's construction certificate and the joy of building!!

It was touch and go there for a while. The DW is still keen to pack the whole adventure in and spend our hard earned money on something that already has a house etc. and I must admit that over the last few days, or weeks, I've considered the same myself. At the moment I'm in the mental gutter, not quite knowing where to go with it all, not really wanting to think about it, but still picking at it even though it's painful. Stupid behaviour for a grown (if not mature) person. ;-)

Theoretically, once we are over these initial humps we should see some clear sailing ahead. The private certifier is to take care of all the future inspections, with the exception of the sewerage system, and once we have the laneway sorted out to pour the footings then we should be able to take advantage of the new exempt development rules and do pretty much what we want. It's just that, faced with $3k of fencing, and a rough estimate (from Council) of $5k of roadworks for the intersection (I hate to think of what upgrading the entire lane would have cost) we've still got a fair bit to spend before we can begin thinking about all the spending we need to do on the house.

Weighing up against the idea of giving up on this path and setting off down another is the continued high price of land with houses on it. Anything with a house in the district is going for well over $400k, especially if it has water. At least we have a nice parcel of good land, with water, all for a decent price. Just a shame we can't take it to a different Council area LOL!

I think in a couple of days, once the strain of travel has worn off, the weekend has rolled around, and we've had a chance to play out there again we'll begin to forget all the stress and concentrate on the good aspects of the whole thing, and all will be well again. I hate being uncertain about planting trees, and I know they're itching to go in the ground :-)

Monday, 22 June 2009

A Quick DA Update!

We got our amended development consent on Thursday of last week. "Not happy Jan" as they say. Besides determining in our favour on the zincalume issue, and letting us know it's okay to fence the road reserve rather than putting in stock grids, they've now decided that we need to upgrade the entire laneway to RG2 standard (which is essentially 2 lane gravel through road standard). This is for a lane servicing a single dwelling, on a dead-end road, coming off an RG1 standard lane.

So I've called everyone (well, not quite, but close) in preparation for a meeting with Council today. Discovering gems like the fact that the Council built the existing road at great expense to the subdivision developer. So they charge one guy for it, then charge another for it again. Nice one. Not sure if they are allowed to do that under Section 94 rules...

Lots of deep breathing exercises, a dozen drafts of notes, a final succinct summation of the issues. If we don't get satisfaction we'll be taking the whole sordid case history to the Mayor, and if there is no satisfaction there, then we'll take it to court, the court of public opinion that is. For a Council that wants to promote development they sure are going about it the wrong way.

I've got to go away for a few days after the meeting today, so I won't be sharing the results until later in the week. All fingers crossed!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Slow Grind The Wheels

Of bureaucracy...

We're still waiting on our DA amendment to allow us to build our shed. I've been flat out with work the last few weeks, but it hasn't been enough to keep the mind off it ;-) They assure me it will be this week. Tuesday in fact, but that seems so close that it must be wrong, lol!

These slow grinding wheels help reinforce the idea that we will not receive any salvation from above with respect to all of the problems we face. Government is glacially slow at the best of times, without taking into account the political expediency of short term gain proceeding long term goals.

I'm currently reading John Michael Greer's The Long Descent, which is great stuff so far. A lot of the territory is familiar given that I religiously read his blog, but it's great to read it as a single narrative, and there have been a number of new gems in amongst it. I expect that there will be more as I get into the latter half of it. I'm looking forward to passing it on to the DW, as she has only heard his message secondhand via my babble, I think she will enjoy it first hand.

I managed to score a number of orchard trellis supports that had been welded up out of star posts. An hour or so with the angle grinder and I now have fifty odd star posts, enough to build a fence around the stage-one orchard out at the new place. In amongst getting the roads and fences done for the shed DA (fencing there needs to be all new materials, so recycled stuff is out) I will hopefully have time to whack that fence in so we can consider planting something out there this year. Our lonely oak, planted not long after purchase, is hankering for some companionship!

I've got a pile of old mesh and wire in one of the gulleys. I'm thinking as a remedy for the need to go all new on the council improvements I might go all recycled on the orchard fence. Not sure how greatly I fancy untangling old wire netting though, so there will be more thought applied between now and then...

If I do get my DA this week you could be in luck with two posts, though it could well be a scary rant on the subject. Until then, keep well!!