A Little Light On LED Streetlights

Exciting news: After two years of discussions with the Kapiti Coast District Council (KCDC), Kakariki St has a street lighting trial of five smart LED lights. Four are at the North end of Tilley Road and one at the bottom end of Te Miti St where it meets Tilley.

Back when we began the Kakariki Street project there were a lot of ideas about what we could do to make our corner greener.

I had heard of ‘intelligent’ street lighting and thought to investigate this further. I called one of the companies that I knew were designing them and lo they had an information afternoon on that very week to promote them to all the lower North Island councils, so I got myself invited to the event.

It was a really informative afternoon and some people from KCDC including Jake Roos, Senior Advisor Climate Change and Energy, were there to learn too. I began talking to them about what it would take to get some installed on our street. Not surprisingly, it came down to the numbers working and getting both council decision makers and residents onside.

So began two years of discussions with KCDC about LEDs for our street (mostly me phoning Jake regularly to request them). Then one day he got a call from a small local lighting company called KTL saying they were looking for somewhere to trial some new LED lights they had developed, and Jake said that he knew of just the perfect place!

The Electra guys installing our new Silverlight500 streetlights

The Electra guys installing our new Silverlight500 streetlights

Everything lined up, and KTL were able to install their first ever street trial of the Silverlight500 in our neighbourhood. This new design has one really compelling point of difference to any other LED street lights I have seen. KTL have designed a panel that can slot into the existing housing of the current standard sodium lightbulbs. According to the guys from Electra who were contracted to put them in, the Silverlight500 is incredibly easy to retrofit. This in turn means it is not only relatively cheap to install, but also less wasteful due to using the existing fittings.

Back at the council, Jake got busy doing some detailed number crunching, and in the end the case is really compelling. Essentially, the lights will pay for themselves fairly quickly in power savings and then continue to save both power and money in the long term -who can argue with that!

Here are some of the reasons we are trialling them: The lights consume just 50% of the power of sodium bulbs when on full, but are twice as bright. They can be dimmed to 75%, 50% and 25%. They have a much reduced ‘light spill’ only lighting the street but not the surrounding houses. This reduction in light pollution is great news for our night sky and wildlife. Each light can be controlled individually via the internet, and any issues such as blown bulbs can be detected remotely, thus reducing maintenance costs and delays. They are white like moonlight which really improves visibility. They are a retro-fit design, so not wasteful or expensive to install. The new LEDs are supposed to last 30 years instead of 5 for the sodium bulbs.

A happy crew from KTL, KCDC and a couple of local residents celebrate the Silverlight 500 trial install

A happy crew from KTL, KCDC and local residents celebrate the Silverlight 500 install

In an informal discussion about the trial, someone asked if the light fittings could be moved down the lampposts a bit lower so as to shed light on the street but not ruin the sight of stars on the beach (we have a road that runs parallel to the beach here in Paekakariki). The answer is a No but Yes! Confused? Well, the lights have a special lens (designed in Finland) over the LED. This focuses the light, throwing it only along the road corridor and dramatically reducing light spill into the surrounding properties and night sky. There is no need to lower the light fittings on the lampposts as the special lens takes care of this problem already. The front of our property for example, is much darker now with the Silverlight500 than it was with the sodiums, and that is true even when these new lights are on at 100% power and producing twice the light of the old sodiums. I think we could happily set the light levels to 50% or even 25% which is way dimmer than what the sodiums produce thereby saving more power. We could potentially use just 10-20% of the power required by the sodiums. This is for two reasons; firstly because LEDs use less power to produce the same lumens (light levels), and secondly because you need less of the clear white light for visibility than with the orange sodium bulbs. I’ve been surprised by how much my expectations have been exceeded on this one.

One of the earlier lenses tested in this trial which was later replaced by one that gave a more even light distribution

One of the earlier lenses tested in this trial which was later replaced by one that gave a more even light distribution

The trial finished with a survey of households in the area. We were told that if the trial was technically successful and residents responded well, we’d get to keep them and the council would seriously look at a Paekakariki and Kapiti wide roll out.

Over the course of several weeks after the initial install, the very nice KTL guys took onboard the resident’s feedback, looked at their own data, and tried out a couple of different lenses to get just the right light throw. There was some initial trouble trying to get the light evened out so that the street didn’t have too extreme a contrast between light and dark patches. Happily, the end result is very close to perfect now, and we are pleased whenever we arrive home at night to see our little end of the road with it’s lovely clear silvery street lighting. Here’s hoping the rest of Paekakariki village and Kapiti will soon be able to enjoy this too.

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Brenda Vale Telling It How It Is

Sometimes we do things that look like they are for the greater good when really they are just about following a personal whim!

As a student of architecture with an ever increasing appetite for things green and sustainable, I have long been a fan of Brenda and Robert Vale. So when someone suggested I ask Brenda to come and speak to the community, I knew immediately that I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen.

Brenda kindly obliged my invitation and I sent her instructions for getting the train here on the day -I get the feeling she really does walk the talk. In the end we had a great turnout of locals and even some from farther afield.

Brenda Vale with her captivated audience in St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki.

Brenda has this lovely quiet dignity and humor which really captivated the audience. She talked about many things which are incredibly challenging to some of us – your cute puppy will have a higher carbon footprint during its lifetime than running a humvee for example. Brenda has nothing against dogs by the way, and she’s not really telling you that you can’t have one, but she will make you think a lot harder about the lifestyle choices you make, and their implications.

Brenda really knows her stuff too. Both her and her husband Robert Vale have made it their life’s work to design for and research living in a truly sustainable way. Authors of ‘The Autonomous House‘ and ‘Time To Eat The Dog? The Real Guide To Sustainable Living‘, they have done extensive and detailed carbon footprint calculations for almost every aspect of our lives. Many of the Vale’s calculations come with comparitive stats for other nations which really throws some perspective on the scale of (predominantly) western over-consumption. Plenty of us are consuming more than five or even ten people do in poorer nations. In some cases the figure is much higher.

Interestingly, the Vales have used footprinting data from the KCDC Greenest Street’s to compare with other sustainable housing developments. The short of it is, Green St residents have achieved amazing results even with their comparatively badly designed houses. Which goes to show, it really is lifestyle changes that matter the most.

The most important take home message for me was that it really doesn’t matter how amazingly eco/sustainable/perfect your house is, the lifestyle choices you make about the way you live in it, your mode of travel to work, the food you eat and holidays you take, can cancel it all out very quickly. We do need to take a long hard look at our lifestyles and work out the things we want to have and those we can live without. Maybe it would be only fair that a person who chooses to have a dog would then give up their car. A family of four with a house bigger that 100m square could all become vegans to counter their over consumption of land and building resources.

Brenda suggests we need to change our attitude to transport and poses this question: ‘If you want to fly, why not convert the car into a henhouse?’ Meaning that if you really insist on flying internationally for holidays, you can’t keep your footprint in check without giving up something else. It’s easy to understand if we think of it in terms of a ration card. You only get so many stamps and you therefore need to choose what you’re going to spend them on.

It’s the wanting to have it all that’s literally costing us the earth.

I’ll leave you with some final words from Brenda – she paints a rather nice picture of the future: ‘So Wellington 2050 could be a city of pedestrians and cycling, healthy vegans, working part time, being active social citizens, and caring for each other….would this be so bad?

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Low-Impact, Natural Landscaping

Kakariki Streeters live by the beach and we’ve all got gardens. And with gardens and landscaping in mind, fortunately there is an abundance of useful natural materials to be found both on our beach and in the neighborhood.

The issues we face: It’s a real challenge to keep the ground moist and fertile here with some gardens having near 100% sandy soil. Most of us are trying to grow our own edible gardens, so quality soil, mulch and water retention are all incredibly important issues. Wind can also be harsh this close to the coast, both for it’s drying capacity and saltiness.

Buckets of seaweed ready to for the garden and a driftwood edged terraced garden

Landscaping is a relatively big industry in New Zealand with beautiful and exotic materials for sale from all sorts of places. Some of the stuff for sale is mere soil (or degrees of it) and from there up the sky’s the limit for what gets sold to build and decorate your garden oasis.

There are so many products from the highest quality to the low and down right cheap ‘n’ nasty… There are natural logs, stones, huge rocks sold by the kilogram, treated ‘durable’ timber products, and ready made trellis panels, kitset macrocarpa raised bed boxes, metal sculptural objects, and all sorts of contraptions to get plants to climb over. I won’t even start on the garden gnome and astroturf section!

From the most natural to the artificial extreme, every one of these items was made, harvested, mined, manufactured, imported or hauled (in some cases all of the above). It was stored in a yard or warehouse, packaged and redistributed to the outlet you got it from and then, more often than not, driven home by you. Your average garden & landscape store is located in a semi-industrial area far from public transport, not that you’d really be lugging that gorgeous ‘architectural’ boulder home on a bus! So these materials all come with an embodied energy footprint that pretty near always far exceeds anything we care to imagine.

Driftwood fence and driftwood edging -free no-impact landscaping that eventually goes right back into the earth again

Moreover, some items are from untraceable and often illegal sources. Who’d have thought that going down to the garden centre shopping for a nice quality piece of garden furniture (it was even advertised on TV), could wind you up participating in an illegal trade!!??? Next time you’re at any big name outlet I challenge you to ask for real proof of where the product you are about to purchase originates from. I did this once about some wooden deck furniture and was assured by the floor staff that it was all certified timber… the wood in question was kwila.

According to Greenpeace New Zealand: “Virtually all of NZ’s imported kwila is illegal from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but NZ customs codes and statistics don’t record it separately”.

I asked if they could please convince me of the timber’s legitimate origin with more than a verbal assurance. Did the furniture in question have any type of sustainably harvested certification for example? On this particular day I was dressed nicely and had my polite manners on. I was also genuinely interested in purchasing a table and chairs set, yet I was abruptly asked to leave the store. It came as such a shock after having such a nice and genuine conversation with the staff about buying the furniture. Suddenly they got a bit mean and the store manager (via phone from upstairs) actually asked me to leave! There had been no debate, no raised voices, not even a hint of tension until that moment. However, the question about the kwila, it would appear, was a tad too challenging. I have always wondered since, what did Mr Manager have to hide?

So there’s my little ranting tangent… That was just one product and you could say that at least being made of wood, it will rot and eventually become part of the earth again. This is much less the case for treated timber or plastics.

Parquet garden path... using wood off cuts to great effect.

Time for solutions. Here is a list of locally found things my neighbors and I make great use of… none of these items have the huge embodied energy of their equivalents at landscaping stores, and many of them are waste products. Carting home a log from the beach (even if you’re using an SUV) has a very low footprint compared to anything you can find at the landscape suppliers.

  • Driftwood for making just about anything out of… fences, garden edging, seats, tomato stakes, chicken coop roosting branches, climbing frames for beans… the list is endless really.
  • Seaweed for the most amazing mulch (straight on the garden or buried) and liquid fertilizer (soaked in a bucket of water) more nutritious for plants than pretty much anything you can buy.

    Paekakariki Gold -excellent mulch full of good stuff and it keeps the moisture in the ground

  • Sea wrack, locally known as ‘Paekakariki Gold’. This is a very fine organic debris that washes up on our beach in great piles at certain times of the year. It consists of mainly wood and seaweed and is a really great mulch full of nutrients for the garden. When it arrives, those in the know all hurry down to fill buckets and wheelbarrows with the ‘gold’. It’s a pretty funny sight all those gardeners scurrying back and forth on the beach.
  • Horse manure. One of the local horse owners is more than happy to let us collect as much horse manure from his paddocks as we can wheel barrow home and he’ll even show you where he’s been piling it up and under which bushes to find the most well rotted stuff.
  • Our local arborist gladly delivers truckloads of wood chips from his huge chipper free of charge. This is doubly good if you also get the lawn mowing guy to deliver his grass clippings and mix the two together for making a wicked hot compost.
  • One of the local boys will deliver big bags of sheep poo for $5 each which he gets from under his grandfather’s wool shed just across the main road.

Shells galore, a wonderful no-impact material... many a path in Paekakariki has been made using them.

  • Another really popular offering from the beach is shells. After certain tides, there are great piles of them left exposed and they can be collected almost sand free and used for creating shell paths. I have made a path along the side of our house which is very dark at night. The gleaming white shells make it easy to see your way even when there’s no light on and it keeps the weeds at bay.
  • Coffee grounds from the local cafes. We have made washable cloth ‘rubbish’ bags that fit in the bins that the barristers tap out used coffee into. We collect these bags regularly and add to our gardens as really great composting material. The cafes love it because they save loads on rubbish bags and can feel good about it too.

Rebecca, local deli owner standing next to the coffee waste bin. We collect all the contents for spreading directly on our gardens. It's really high in nitrogen I'm told

  • I also take home the wood ash from our local wood-fired pizzaria to add to my compost.
  • Old carpet can be collected from behind a certain carpet store up in Paraparaumu. They put out stuff they’ve removed from houses for gardeners and tree planters to make use of. It can be used like biodegradable weed mat (you should give it a careful singe test first with a lighter to make sure it’s not the synthetic kind). You can use it to smother weeds and grass and pile compost on top to make raised garden beds relatively dig free… The carpet will eventually rot away and hopefully the weeds will be so long dead and gone by then that they won’t return. I’ve seen carpet laid down in preparation for shell paths too. I personally like to use it for killing off tough grass before I dig the ground for a new garden bed.
  • If you’re lucky you may even have access to fish scraps. We go longline fishing and one of our neighbors also sometimes gives us bags of fish guts from his boat trips. Pretty much any vegetable planted over buried fish scraps will grow incredibly well in my experience -especially corn.
  • Flax leaves: hard to compost and costly to dump, but dried bundles of leaves make excellent fire starters as do cabbage tree leaves. I have been using thin strips of flax leaves for tying my tomatoes up this season and they work a treat. Apparently a single harakeke fiber is many times stronger than an equivalent piece of steel wire. You can also learn how to make really strong thread and rope out of the muka (stripped flax fiber). It’s a bit of a challenge at first, but easy when you get the hang of it and the results are quite beautiful and very versatile.

Kirsty and her woodshed made of recycled pallets. Pallets are free to a good home if you know where to look for them

So there you have it. Next time you are about to build a fence, make a path, mulch your garden, fertilize it, or drive to the hardware/landscaping store for anything, ask yourself first if there’s a better solution right on your doorstep? Betcha there is!

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Mulcher Club!

We’ve started a mulcher club! Here’s the story…

The Kapiti Coast District Council (KCDC) has something called the Waste Levy Fund, which it’s possible not nearly enough peeps in the Kapiti region know about. Basically, community groups can apply for up to a maximum of $5000 towards initiatives which set out to reduce waste being sent to the dump.

The happy day our new 'Simplicity' arrived!

So our brilliant idea was to purchase a community mulcher, safety training and gear (which was no where near $5k by the way). We applied for the funding as the Kakariki Street residents, but our intention was always to make the Mulcher Club open to the entire Paekakariki community to join. We currently have about 30 people signed up and quite a few of them have already hired.





Training with Bruce

Members are required to do a short one off safety training/operating session before they can use it. We are really lucky to have the wonderful local arbourist Bruce to train us. We also charge a small membership fee and minimal hire costs purely to cover running and maintenance of the machine. The club itself is organised by a few volunteers. And that’s about as complicated as it gets.


Included in the mulcher hire is all the safety gear needed for the operator plus a buddy because two people on the job makes it more fun and safer. We have a visor-earmuff set, gloves, safety glasses, and more ear muffs. The hire also covers fuel so there’s no unnecessary trips for users who would have to travel a 30km round trip from Paekakariki to the nearest petrol station.

Hannah in training

The great thing about the mulcher is that we now have a really easy way of processing our more tricky garden waste onsite. It works out to be more convenient, cheaper and quicker than hiring a trailer, driving to the tip and paying for dumping.

Oh but wait there’s more… the added bonus is, you get a pile a lovely fresh mulch to put on your garden or compost heap!

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Freecycling Rocks!

Here’s a green idea: Ok it’s hardly new, people the world over have been using it for quite a while, but it’s a relatively new experience for me. It’s Freecycle! Just incase you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s a kind of TradeMe type idea for giving stuff away… Or asking the community if they have something you’re looking for (for free).

Initially I found it quite challenging to get signed up. You have to become a yahoo group member and then work out how to join your local Freecycle group. With two separate attempts and quite a lot of patience I finally worked it out -phew! Others I have spoken to about getting started have reported the same frustrations. But not to be deterred!

Let me be honest here, I signed up with a request in mind… but I was hoping it wasn’t too big an ask. I was looking for some old unused roofing iron -just a couple of sheets- to put a roof over my chickens’ heads. The amazing thing is, I received three answers within hours of posting my request, and all with very generous offers including a bunch of sheets of ColourSteel. So happy lucky me and my now warm and dry chickens. I felt I had really done well but also that that was it for me.

It would appear there is an abundance of unwanted, unused materials and household items in communities around the country just waiting to be needed by someone... and ready to be given freely if they just have the sense to ask!

Or so I thought… within the next week, two really unbelievable offers came up. A food processor and an over locker. Somehow or other, my replies to both offers were accepted and I felt like I had won jackpot, and I guess in a way I had really.

So it felt like it was my turn. Just the other day we were clearing out the garage and I managed to get together a pile of things to pop on Freecycle. There were two heaters, a nice old canvas and leather suitcase, a CD rack, two boxes of home-brewing bottles, a stereo, an amp, a cordless phone, and a pet rats cage (animals not included). Within two days seven out of the nine items had found new homes. The best bit was, we felt really good about it and have even started looking for more things we could offer. Since then we’ve added a single bed-frame to our give away list.

A few of our neighbours have been able to share the spoils also, with both the food processor and over locker being loaned out, and I’ve made quite a few jars of pesto which have been widely spread around (pun intended). Then there have been our stitch ‘n’ bitch evenings, two so far, where the over locker has been on offer for anyone who wants to use it.

I had no idea how good it would feel to clear out unused stuff and send it off into the world to meet it’s new owners no questions asked!

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Mining Pallets

One of the most abundant and useful waste products I can think of is pallets.

There are over half a billion of them produced each year around the world, and by my reckoning, that adds up to a load of free and very useful timber that’s probably going to waste each day all over at warehouses and yards near you.

I was recently given a stack of them and it got my creative mind roaming

A small truck load of pallets turned up the other day -much to my delight!

So what can be done with them? Well fortunately for me and you, lots of people have already been fretting over that question and have come up with some really cool designs. I thought I’d share a few that I would like to try myself.





The first design is by friend and fellow Paekakarikian John Wraight. He prefers to use pallets made of American Oak to the more commonly found Pinus Radiata ones. Apparently the Oak ones last significantly longer.


This next one is great for so many reasons…

The Palletten Haus takes it to a whole other level! Designed by students in Austria, it won the 2008 GAUDI European Student Competition on sustainable architecture.

This modular energy efficient and affordable house was designed by two students from Vienna University








You can read more about it here Palletten Haus

And while we’re on the subject of students… Here’s what a Danish bunch built at the Aarhus School of Architecture read more

The Aarhus students designed and built this experiment in architecture for public space








There are endless examples of smaller projects you can build for around the house and garden. Some of the better looking ones can be found here

The link above has loads of really beautiful ideas for what can be done with recycled pallets









And finally, for those who really want to pimp out every corner of their section pallet-styles. This site has so many ideas and easy to follow photo sequences. Make sure you scroll all the way down to the Home Hang-out

This pic is of the partially completed 'Home Hangout' click the link and scroll down to see the finished product -really quite stunning!

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The Anderson-Howard Household

This has a been a great journey for us. We recently arrived in the neighbourhood and joining the Kakariki Street group has been a lovely way to strengthen those neighbourhood connections.

This end of our village has already got a great community vibe with kids regularly jumping the fence to play with the other kids in the street, neighbours borrowing a cup of flour, or a jug of milk, rather than driving down to the shops, and various meetings with shared meals, advice and help with school runs etc.

At Kirsty's gardening bee we almost doubled her vege plot

At here's a classic scene from one of our numerous pot-luck dinners

So the Kakariki St project has just built on that ethos and extended it to those larger green projects, making big tasks achievable and breaking down the barriers that might have previously made us feel ok about borrowing a cup of flour but not about asking a friend to come and spend 3 hours digging in your garden!

It has been a good opportunity to get more informed, think about and make decisions about larger projects on our house and property. Things that we had to deal with anyway at some point as we’ve only been in this house just over a year, but it has given us a focus, even if we have not managed to finish all the jobs in time for the end of the competition we now have a plan!

Some of the things we have done:

More car pooling
Making less journeys – saving up jobs until i have a whole list of things to do in one trip.
Keeping the car in good shape to make it run more efficiently and cleanly.
Having a visit from the council’s eco adviser
Getting a secondhand range hood to be installed in kitchen to reduce steam and moisture in the house making it drier and more healthy.
Gathering curtaining materials to improve our current curtains.
Making a new vegetable garden – needing to buy less produce.
Working bees with neighbours.
Tool sharing, instead of buying more tools.
Recently clearing a 5 – 6 square metre berry patch.
Planting more fruit trees

Kirsty & Paul built these compost bins from recycled pallets

Applying to the council for fruit trees to be planted on our neighbourhood berms as a “community orchard”
Harvesting mulch and seaweed locally from the beach and manure from the farm nearby.
Planting about 50 more native plants in our garden – trying to build up a bird friendly green space.
Using locally sourced plants, native as much as possible, suited to coastal conditions, drought hardy so they won’t require watering in summer. Planting to the conditions.
Developing the sandy soil with organic matter
Building a compost bin with recycled pallets
Making a worm farm
Setting up a soaking container to process pernicious weeds etc
The above 3 are all set up as a garden waste processing area within the chicken run, and the chickens are usually the first step in processing all our garden waste.
Built a wood store out of recycled pallets.

They built a very cool woodshed entirely out of recycled materials -go the pallets!

Hosting a permaculture workshop
Attending workshops on greywater, rainbarrels etc.
We have gathered the materials for our greywater system  (just haven’t made the hole in the wall yet!)
We have ordered our rain water collection barrels.
Rapidly replacing our light bulbs with energy saving ones.
Helping expand the membership of our organic produce co-op.

Kirsty explains the plan! Permaculture 101 was well attended and we all went home from it with some excellent ideas

And some of our future plans:
Finish off the grey water and rain barrel projects!
More planting and vegetable garden improvements to grow more food.
Lagging hot water cylinder and pipes
Top-up insulation blanket in our ceiling.
Building a chicken tractor to use the chickens as “green” gardening machinery!
Enclosing front and back porches to reduce draughts in house.

The best part of the project has been seeing the kids following us to workshops, morning teas and pot luch dinners after working bees, playing while we share, work and dig. Taking it all in and by seeing our actions and intentions, learning for the future.

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