Category Archives: House and Garden

Wind art: A simple piece using an old bicycle wheel

I tried building a few pieces of wind art. The most successful creation was one of the simplest to build. This was my first attempt at using a bicycle part. It was quite quick to make – perhaps a couple of hours.

The bicycle wheel wind vane mounted on a pole

I cut a bunch of identical rhomboid shaped pieces of galvanised iron sheeting to wrap around the spokes to catch the breeze and make it spin. There is a slight bend in each to make them fit the spokes as the adjacent sides of each piece wrap around are not parallel. I thought I would have to use some additional fasteners to hold them in place but simply tapping the folds down with a hammer has been enough to keep them tight for over 10 years during some pretty strong winds.

Metal sheet folded over the spokes to create blades

I used an old hardwood garden stake to fasten everything on to. I used a metal tube on an earlier one I built with an old desk fan blade and it was quite noisy and swapping to timber made it quieter, so I went with that again for this one. I’m not sure I would do the same again. If I did use timber I would use thicker timber. Although this Australian hardwood is quite tough for size. Notice the lichen that is growing naturally on it. The tail is just another piece of galvanised iron sheet.

A closeup of the tail

I made a bracket out of a short piece of angle iron. Two bolts hold it on to the timber.

the angle iron bracket that is used to mount the wheel to the timber

The pivot point is quite basic. I don’t think I would use this method again even though it has worked quite well. I cut two pieces of steel that were the same width as the timber and drilled three holes through the steel and the timber. The timber is sandwiched between the two pieces of steel and held in place with two bolts through the outside holes. Grease was pushed into the centre hole. It turns on a bolt which rubs on the steel plates as the timber would wear out quickly without the steel. The whole thing mounts on a bolt that is fitted through a hole drilled in the end of a pipe end cap.

The pivot point reinforced with metal plates

Every couple of years I top up the grease on the pivot point and clean and re-grease the wheel bearings. This keeps it running quietly.

Interesting temperature measurements using an infrared thermometer

Earlier this year I purchased one of those infrared thermometers that you just point at things and pull a trigger to measure its temperature. Initially I had plans to use it to make the perfect cup of coffee. Well, that didn’t work out very well as the thermometer had difficulties measuring the temperature of the liquid and the shiny container. Even if it had worked the coffee probably would have still been far from perfect. I soon discovered that it is more fun using the thermometer to measure the temperature of random objects. These thermometers measure heat using infrared light. They don’t have to come into contact with an object as they measure the infrared energy that naturally radiates from it.

My thermometer - $20 from ebay

The sky

Pointing directly up into the winter sky in the afternoon gave a reading -47°C (-52°F). I found this interesting as it is not measuring an object. I assume it is just reading the amount of infrared light it can detect in the atmosphere above.

Thermometer pointing into the sky

Frost covered car

The back of the car on a cold frosty morning is -9°C (16°F). No wonder it feels cold when I get into it in the morning. That louver on the rear window makes it look cooler – A bit like the Delorian don’t you think 🙂

Thermometer pointing to the rear of a car

Frost covered flower

Probably the coldest morning of the year. The official temperature nearby was -9°C. We usually experience a bit colder temperatures here. This flower is -12°C (10°F). It’s no surprise that so many plants from other parts of Australia do not grow here.

Thermometer pointing at a frost covered pansy

Wood heater

Temperatures at the top got up to 457°C (854°F). Not a place you would want to place your hand. This is a significant difference with our reverse cycle air conditioner. When it is heating it blows warm air whereas this heater is hot.

Thermometer pointing at the top of a wood heater

Cat laying in front of the heater

Our cat loves heat and has very fine black fur. Here the fur is showing 60°C (140°F). I think the fur makes a good insulator so the cat is nowhere near as hot as this reading indicates.

Thermometer pointing at a cat laying in front of the wood heater

Cat laying in the sun

Here it is lying in the sun. I find it interesting that its fur is hotter that when it was in front of the wood heater 66°C (151°F).

Thermometer pointing at cat laying in sunshine

Regular Toast

Toast is pretty hot when it pops up. Picking it up immediately after it popped up shows it to be 123°C (253°F). Why don’t we get burned? Maybe it’s because the toast is a good insulator. Perhaps it is because the toast has a porous texture that it has a large surface area that accelerates its cooling. It certainly cools quite quickly. I don’t know really.

Thermometer pointing at a slice of taost that has just popped out of a toaster

Raisin Toast

The raisin toast is even hotter 167°C (333°F). Perhaps a raisin is influencing the reading here.

Thermometer pointing at a slice of raisin toast that has just popped out of a toaster

Other things to try

Some other fun and interesting things to try if you get a chance to use one of these are:

  • Heaters
  • Light bulbs
  • Windows, doors and walls outside at night. Leaking heat will be obvious by higher temperature readings
  • The sky at different times of the day and night
  • Food in different areas of a fridge and freezer

Drying clothes using a thermonuclear powered clothes dryer

To create heat from electricity you need a lot of electricity – if you try to generate it yourself it seems like a colossal amount. I analysed our electricity bill and a large portion was going to produce heat; about half our electricity consumption went on hot water heating and more goes on cooking, drying clothes and heating our home. To make better use of the Earth’s resources, finding better ways of obtaining the heat we need is a worthy goal.

There is one way of reducing our consumption of electricity that we use in the Piffle house that I’m sure is used by many and that is by air drying clothes. The sun is a massive nuclear fusion reactor showering us with energy which is just the thing for drying clothes. We have never owned an electric clothes dryer despite living in a cool climate. There are four people in our family and we usually do at least one load of washing in our 5kg front loading washing machine each day. We get our share of cold and damp weather and yet we have managed to get by. We use a few different methods.


During the warmer months of the year we use a rotary clothes line of the type that is common throughout Australia. It is simple and efficient. The biggest downside is that coloured clothes, particularly black ones fade in the sun. We usually turn them inside out. It doesn’t stop the fading but it does limit to the inside instead and sometimes the edges. We have to use the clothes line for sheets as they are too big to hang inside. In winter we have to check the weather forecast before washing the sheets to make sure they have a good chance of drying.

Clothes hanging outside on a clothes line

Clothes hanging outside on a rotary clothes line. Water vapour can be see rising in the cold morning air.

Wood heater

Our lounge room has a wood heater and a small bay window. A curtain rod runs across the bay window creating a convenient place to hang coat hangers. In cooler parts of the year when the wood heater is in use, clothes left hanging there dry overnight and we now use this when the weather is cloudy. We deliberately chose a heavy duty curtain rod for the purpose and I reinforced the fittings to take the extra weight because wet clothes do get quite heavy.

Clothes hanging in the lounge room drying from the warmth from the wood heater

Clothes hanging in the lounge room drying from the warmth from the wood heater


Our house has a sunroom and it gets quite warm inside. During sunny winter days the sun sits at a lower angle in the sky and shines directly in. It’s not uncommon for the temperature to rise to 28°C (82°F) by mid afternoon.

I contemplated making a portable timber clothes “horse” that I could hang coat hangers on, but in the end I decided to go with a more permanent fixture as it is often used daily. It consists of a couple of strong hooks screwed into the timber above the ceiling that was previously used to hold hanging pot plants. We simply suspended a timber rod using string salvaged from an old curtain rod.

On a cold frosty morning it is much nicer hanging them inside than out in the cold. Clothes that are hung in the morning are usually dry when I come home from work in the evening.

Clothes hanging in the sunroom

Clothes hanging from a rod in our sunroom. The rod is a semi-permanent fixture.


Other than fading that can occur when hanging clothes in the sun the clothes end up less fluffy. Tumble dryers seem to fluff up the clothes. Hanging them to dry in still air can result in them being a bit stiff. Some clothes are affected more than others and we don’t find it a big problem.


Wet clothes are heavy. If you are going to hang them on a curtain rod or from the ceiling make sure it can withstand the weight. If it is screwed into plasterboard it will probably rip out and “tumble” in a different sort of way.

Use coat hangers that are clean and made from plastic or are plastic coated – you don’t want to end up with rust stains or other marks on your clothes.

Other related articles

Building a sunroom: Our temple to the sun god

Experimenting with solar: Using waste heat from the roof to warm our house