We bought our new home at 16 Livingstone Street in April 2013. The 1970’s Italianate house sits on a quarter acre surrounded by subdivided blocks – the norm being to bulldoze the house, and build two big homes.
We wanted to try something different . . .
Housing. Our basic goal is to provide smaller living units for people housing as many people here as if we had subdivided the block and built two big houses. Given the average new home size is 243 square meters and the average space taken up by each person is 91 square metres, we wanted to try something different. We now have four separate living spaces, all with independent living, dining and bedroom areas as well as bathrooms and kitchens. We share a laundry and there is also a separate communal kitchen and dining area. All these units have Noongar names.
Warden (ocean) has been created by removing the walls between two bedrooms and a hallway. It is a single room studio apartment. Moveable book cases and wardrobes mean the space is flexible. A special bed with plastic storage tubs on wheels underneath, plus a well-designed kitchen located in the previous hallway mean the 37 square metre space works well.
Ngardak (underneath) has been created by dividing the triple garage space into a one bedroom apartment. Moveable soundproof walls separate the living space from Tim’s workshop next door, and this plus the installation of a commercial kitchen allows for the possibility of using the space as a classroom in the future. A funky semicircular shaped bathroom dug into the limestone caprock is a feature of this 45 square metre apartment.
Boodjar (earth) has been created from an outside workshop and store room. The room is 34 square metres and has a small kitchenette, indoor bathroom and outdoor shower. An 18 square metre insulated waterproof undercover area extends the useable space. The unit maximises northern light with large sliding doors opening directly onto the goat and chicken pen.
Koolark (home) is our place, and consists of a 18 square metre bedroom and clothes storage area, a small bathroom and a 51 square meter office, kitchen, dining and living space. Koolark is in the middle of the house but the clever removal of roof space and installation of a solar pergola allows northern light to penetrate onto the concrete slab in winter.
Moortung (extended family) is the common shared area of the house, consisting of the front verhandah, side kitchen and dining area (66 square metres), small storage area and laundry (with shower and loo). A planned loft will allow a space for woofers and other short term visitors. This space faces north and 6 meters of sliding doors and a large pergola will allow for good northern light control.
Because the house is facing west summer sunsets mean it gets hot! Treatment on the east of the house included the removal of one large eastern window, replacing it with triple aircell insulation and a passion fruit vine growing on a mesh screen about 10 cm from the wall. Plans for the western face of the house include an extended verhandah providing additional shade both warden and nagardak, grape vines and pull down shade.
Community The small community that has been created here is one of the highlights for us. The residents at Ecoburbia would not normally live in the way they do. To start with it is rare for two people in their 20’s, one in their 30s, one in their 40s and one in their 50s so live in such close quarters. Meals are often shared but there is no formal roster, rather a simple text message just before dinner plans are made. Everyone is welcome to the 11am cup of tea and 2pm lunch break. We often laugh that it is somewhere between Melrose Place and Seinfeld with an alternative shared kitchen. Visitors comment on the casual nature of the community relationships, but so far it is working well.
Ecoburbia continues to run its monthly movies over summer, but we now have a purpose built outdoor movie area created from the tiered front garden.
Food Production By organising smaller housing units, we have about 223 square metres left for garden. Currently the front garden is planted with herbs and veggies that are shared with the household and other neighbours. The back garden has three 7 meter by 1.2 metre curved beds for more intensive plantings – more are planned!
Our two goats (Whimsy and Little White) share their 48 square metre pen with 12 chickens, and provide us with enough milk for our needs, the making of goat’s cheese and some trading of milk. Two other “non residential woofers” trade milking skills for goat’s milk.
Six citrus trees have been planted on the southern boundary. Because of the limestone caprock they are in large pots – soak well liners. Four deciduous trees will be planted in the goat pen. An advanced mango and macadamia were saved from a developer and are planted in the garden – the macca doing better than the mango.
Our northern verge has proved a challenge for one our neighbours so we have had to implement our plans a bit earlier and in a more temporary way than anticipated. A pile of caprock we had stored there has been used to create four swales, and we are dumping mulch there so it can break down into usable soil over winter.
Water All residents at Ecoburbia share one large laundry. The plumbing in the main house and boodjar all runs through one conduit, meaning shower and laundry grey water is easy to control. The greywater pit is on the bottom corner of the property and our pump system ensures all the fruit and nut trees are well watered.
We have installed a bore (35 metres down) which services the toilets, laundry and the gardens. This bore is first pumped into a tank before distribution.
The rainwater system proved to be a major project. We installed a 50,000 litre concrete rainwater tank installed underground at the front of the block, no mean feat when the heavy machinery had to dig into caprock. Smaller rainwater tanks are planned for the boodjar and the goat pen.
Tim estimates that with five people living here, with a daily water use of 100 litres, we should be able to survive 100 days with no rain, essentially taking us “off the grid” in a typical summer.
The next plan is a shared composting toilet.
Power The main house has had a large 7.5 kilowatt solar array installed. Although we only have a 5 kilowatt inverter (the maximum allowed) by facing panels on the east, north and west we have a smoother production pattern over the day.
Two evaporative tube hot water systems serve the needs of the main house and boodjar, without the need for back up heating.
The living spaces with northern aspect should not need heating, but south facing warden and ngardak have both had wood fired pellet heaters installed. These heaters are common in Europe and use waste or sustainable sourced wood pellets. These heaters use a reduced fuel flow rather than oxygen flow, and burn with a 98 % efficiency, without producing carbon monoxides, sulphur dioxide or particulate pollution.
Low tech power saving initiatives include solar ovens, cookers and food driers available for residents’ use.
There are no televisions and one computer modem services all residents.
In the future a battery bank will ensure the house is “off grid”. We are also looking at mirosteam generation.
Transport There is no parking available on the property, except for one spot for the shared electric ute. We do however have 20 bikes for the five residents including electric bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes and an extra cycle. . . .
Financial Sustainability We recognise that high density housing, close to good public transport options is a more sustainable way to live, especially if small houses, fewer parking bays and communal sharing of resources mean that more land can be used for urban farming.
But that is not the only reason for having rental accommodation on our property – we are realistic about our financial sustainability as well. We hope that once Ecoburbia is fully established the income from renting the various accommodations, coupled with our reducing living costs, will enable us to spend less time worrying about income and more time doing the sustainability work we love doing in our community. We are looking forward to being able to more fully integrate our home and “work”. We like the idea of retirement being the freedom to do whatever work we like without having to worry about the money involved. We want to be able to age in place.
In summary . . . . . Sometimes we are asked what we are up to by someone who really does not have time to hear the whole vision. To these people we usually say something like “It’s a bit like a combination community garden/ housing cooperative.”
The main difference however, is rather than being run by a committee with consensus decision making, it is run by benevolent dictatorship even if there is sometimes disagreement who that is!
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