Squeakygate Retreat is purpose built as our home and B&B. In 2003 I purchased the 1/2 acre block of land on the banks of the Clarence River south of the village of Ashby, with the dream of building a B&B on the site. At that time the Clarence Valley Council did not permit B&B's on RU1 (rural) zoned land. Mercifully, the regulations changed in about 2006 to allow this.
From the time the block, and shed out back, was purchased at auction in September 2003, until July 2012 the place was rented and used as storage. At one time there were no less than 12 caravans with 'stuff' in them on site... It was known to the locals as 'the block with all the garbage on it'! From the end of July 2012 I had a cleared site to begin the construction.
The first job was to build a 'unit' at one end of the already existing shed, where Cheryl and I lived for 18 months whilst our home and B&B took shape. I am the owner builder. They say you don't have to be mad to be an owner builder, but it helps... No argument there!
I purchased a kit home (well actually 2 kit homes - our home and the B&B) with what has become know as the 'alfresco',or, 'bridge' connecting the two. This is primarily a steel constructed building. The kit being supplied by PAAL. The house had to be elevated to be above 4.6 AHD for flood reasons. It does flood here for sure. We have already been through three floods. The building floor is actually 6.1 AHD, well above what is required. This allows an understory (laundry, car parking area etc.). The total floor area upstairs is about 285 sq. mtrs., of which about 125 sq.mts is deck and verandah, and the same amount of space downstairs as well.
The sub-floor and posts were supplied in kit form by Spantec, the kit homes by PAAL. To say I had problems with the kits supplied by both companies is huge understatement. Add to this the first 'builder' I used, recommended by Spantec, turned out to be completely incompetant. Not a good start! Locals came to my rescue in the shape of Macca & Daz (angels in overalls) and got me going again. With the able weekend assistance of a couple of local lads - Rob and Brenden (who worked at the local sawmill), the building began to take shape over the first half of 2013. Constant rain and three floods didn't help a lot. The latter part of 2013 saw much better weather and the arrival 'out of the blue', Aaron (a steel frame contractor) who made a huge difference to the progress of the building. As magically as Aaron arrived, in early December, he disappeared without trace. From then till the end of January, I was helped by another local 'Groover' so progress continued at some pace, painting, laying a floating floor and internals etc.. The latter part of this, kitchen, etc., ballastrading, the extension (yes we did an extension before we even moved in) and all the other bits and pieces, I completed alone. The occupation certificate was finally issued in August 2014 two years from the date we started building the unit in the shed.
I have have done many renovations, built heaps of furniture, and now 5 kitchens over my DIY lifetime, but I have always wanted to build my own home. Now I have done that! Would I do it again... not a chance on the planet! What am I proudest of? Well two things... First, the fact that it got completed at all. Second the kitchen... Took me a whole month to do this and I just love the natural edge river red gum slabs. These came to me from the local sawmill and had to be sanded back to the finish they are now. A massive job.
We opened for business on December 1, 2014. We love what we have and where we live... It is a gorgeous part of the world and we have no intensions of moving any time soon. We both have a background in tourism, accommodation and hospitality. We have loved sharing our B&B with guests who have stayed and and look forward to continuing to do so for many years to come. We hope that you will come visit us sometime in the future.
Stages 1 & 2: House and B&B
Stage 3: The Family Unit
Once we opened as a B&B on December 1, 2014, we pretty much got the hang of normal operation under control, making modifications to the way we did things to strive to give the best service we could. We also improved our efficiency so that we were able to minimise the turn around time after vacation for new guests. Next, we turned our attention to the development of the Family Unit. The work began in March, 2015 and was completed at the end of July, 2015. The Family is the same size as our home section above minus the world biggest laundry, so the total area of the studio is 63 sq.m.. See 'the Family Unit' for a description of its facilities.
The 'lacky' hard at work.
The Boss inspects.
Stage 5: Downstairs
There are several other developments planned over the next couple of years:
* The chicken coup: This is completed and in use now. This is located behind the front gates. Henrietta and the girls. Pic is Cheryl with girls. The chooks arrived on July 1, 2016 and seemed to have settled in well.
* Herb Garden: This is completed and in use now.
* Solar Electricity Generation: You may have noted on the front page of the site is states we are Carbon Positive. We have a 10Kw systems now... Made up of two 5 Kw systems. One average we use between 18 and 22 Kw's of energy a day. On a dark day in winter our generation get down to about 14Kw's a day. In the height of summer up to 45km's per days. So.... We can confidently say over the year we are very much Carbon positive. We consume a lot of energy running a B&B, but, most of that comes from the power we create on our rooftop. It's the only way to go.
The last stage of the building process has several rooms with different uses. The areas is between the Family Unit and the undercover car garaging with an apron out the back where the water tanks are relocated. Trenching began in December, 2017. This was all done by hand, as machinery cannot do the the job. The slab was laid on 10th February, 2018. We laid 14 cubic metres of concrete in an area of 90 square metres. Building started soon after. Sheeting and Hardi Planks up by end of June 2018.
The area has:
* A Spa Room with a 6 seater spa. The Spa Room is an indoor / outdoor facility. There is privacy with a view of the garden. Any guests can come here and relax. Children must be closely supervised by their parents or carers.
* The Overflow / Lounge Room. This took way longer to complete than was planned. It was finished in early October, 2019 with the first guests staying in the room the very next night.
The Family Unit completed
The place takes shape.
Open for Business
First 2 of 4 aquaponic growbeds, outside.
Stage 4: Acquaponics and the Greenhouse
I started with a raised garden and pond with Jade Perch. There are were two IBC with approximately 60 fingerling fish, for produce for the B&B and our consumption. Stage 1 was completed in April 2016. Stage 2 is an increase to 4 IBC's and to place them in a greenhouse. This is to grow more veges over the winter and to keep the water temperature above 20C. During stage 1 over the winter of 2016 the water temp. got as low as 12C. Jade perch stop growing below 20C and stop eating below about 16C.
Anyway, I purchased a 'flat pak' greenhouse designed by a chinese person with a very odd sense of humour. Put it together (lot of swearing) and now have 4 IBC setups in there. The 2 new aquaponic unit have 81 Australian Bass (River Perch) fingerlings in, purchased locally. The biggest of Jade Perch purchased last year are now 200gms or so. They will be plateable for guests by the end of the year. Stage 2 was completed June 2017.
By June I found that the temperature of the water in the IBC's was hovering at about 18C, which is pretty good and much better than last year, but I wanted it above 20C. So, I built a passive heating polypipe wall to pump water out of the IBC's through the heating wall and back to the IBC with a timer. The aim was to keep the water temperature about 21-22C, and then at night the water in the IBC's (approx. 3,000lts) act as a heat bank for the plants to keep the temperature in high teens in winter, thus encouraging plant growth. The water temperature is critical to the amount of food the fish will eat, thus their rate of growth. This has proved very effective with the perch continuing to eat and grow all winter, as did the veges. The pump brings in hot water in the afternoon for 3 mins every 15 mins. On a sunny day it comes in at up to 50 degress C. Impressive!
Cheryl 'communing' with the girls.
All 4 aquaponic growbeds, in the Greenhouse,
above the fish tanks.
Heatwall to heat water in fish tanks.
The slab 90 square metres
Cladding with Hardy planks
The front entrance takes shape
Overflow Room completed with Sofabed up
Overflow Room bathroom.
View from spa out to the garrden.
* 'Old Salts Bar' Brewery and Meadery. This was completed by the end of November, 2019. I have been making beer and wine for decades, but the space has always been part of a shed, not a space on its own. Now I have that. A space dedicated to beer, wine; making and storing of same. I love it!. I now have two spaces where I can escape to, the Workshop and now the Brewery.... Seriously kewl! Anyone up for a cleansing ale? My shout!
The commercial stock end.
The home brew end.
Even a dish/ glass washer... awesome.
Stage 6: The Block out front on the River: 2021