Ecovillage Design



Here's a simple summary of the main design parameters of our ecovillages.  Further discussion is provided below.

  • Populations from 50 upwards (average around 500).
  • Produce more than enough energy, using about half solar and half wind.
  • Produce more than enough water, using rainwater capture and recycling.
  • Produce more than enough food, using permaculture, aquaculture and poultry farming.
  • Site-wide wireless networking and internet, including computers in every building.
  • Modern steel-frame homes that employ passive heating and cooling.
  • Energy-efficient and water-efficient appliances and fixtures.
  • Built-in support for electric vehicles.
  • A range of community buildings and facilities.
  • Optionally also a conference centre, school or research facilities.
  • Houses organised into clusters or hamlets, and separated by greenways and wildlife corridors.
  • Located as close as possible to population centres and work availability.
  • Use previously-cleared land for ecovillage sites, and make land rehabilitation part of the development.
  • More than half total land area allocated for native plants and wildlife.
  • Minimize civil works (earthworks) as much as possible.
  • Minimize use of cement and concrete as much as possible.



Our ecovillages, and the buildings in them, will be designed in a certain way that makes them different from all others.  They will be higher-tech than most existing ecovillages, with built-in wireless networking and information systems, modern computerised appliances and a unique style.  The buildings will not be wooden but solid steel, designed for strength and long life.

However, they will not be "pretty", designed for the lazy oh-how-about-a-nice-croissant-after-my-morning-swim upper-middle-class Aussie!  These ecovillages are designed to be tough, functional and efficient.  They will be fun places, but also a place where you can get your work done.

The homes will look great, but in a different way.  They will be strong and environmentally friendly, in preference to shiny; surrounded by trees and vegetable gardens, rather than neatly manicured lawns with carefully placed square paving stones.  They will combine the best technology in Australia with the toughness of the outback.

Our ecovillages will have a real 21st century feel about them.  They will say, we live with the planet, and we have the strength and the technology to survive anything.



A typical ecovillage might have anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand residents, although a commonly specified maximum population for ecovillages is between about 50 and 150, which has been calculated as the maximum social network size by the sorts of people who calculate things like that.  However, some ecovillages anticipate thousands of residents, as in the case of the Cerro Gordo ecovillage, which aims for a maximum population of 2,500.  Personally, I think 150 people is too small for an ecovillage.  My residential college at university had more people living in it than that.

Silvergreen will only have a small population of around 50, basically because (a) there aren't many large blocks of land near Brisbane, and (b) there's less risk starting with a smaller project.  Our second ecovillage, on the Sunshine Coast, will support from 250-500 people.   Successive projects will support larger populations, from hundreds to thousands.

While the reasons for setting upper limits on ecovillage populations are valid, the fact remains that if we are to live sustainably on Earth, we need to be able to design town- and city-sized sustainable communities.

It is common within an ecovillage to cluster the homes into hamlets, which are separated by "greenways" - patches and belts of land allocated for permaculture or native flora.  By expanding this pattern to the next scale, an "eco-town" can be formed from clusters of ecovillages separated by wildlife corridors.

In this way, people will still have their social network within their own eco-village (which in this scenario is analogous to a suburb), yet 100m or so away, there will be another ecovillage with different friends and opportunities.  The most important thing is to avoid urban sprawl, maintaining that ratio of at least twice as much shared land as private.



Electricity in an ecovillage is usually produced using solar, although wind turbines are becoming popular too.  In our ecovillages I estimate using about 50-50 solar and wind.  Solar and wind tend to work well together because it's often windy at times when it isn't sunny, i.e. at night or when it's overcast.

Solar panels will be deployed on rooftops of buildings.  Wind energy will be harvested by two or more large turbines positioned at the windiest locations on the site.  While sufficient energy could be obtained from a single large turbine, having a few smaller ones will provide some redundancy - insurance in case one breaks.

To avoid the need for energy storage, i.e. batteries, our ecovillages will be grid-connected wherever possible.  This is achieved using an inverter, and it means that whenever the ecovillage is producing more electricity than it needs, the excess is returned to the grid, and whenever it is producing less than it needs, electricity is drawn from the grid.  If we produce more than we use, we will actually get paid by the electricity provider.



Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater is captured in the usual way, using roofs, gutters, downpipes and water tanks.  Because our homes are being built from scratch, we have the luxury of being able to bury the tanks or otherwise position the tanks beneath the floor.  To avoid the use of cement, we will probably use steel or polyethylene tanks.  Note, these will be large tanks, with capacity for up to 3 months without rain.

The rainwater will be filtered before going into the water tanks, and again at kitchen taps.

Wastewater and Recycling

Wastewater is recycled on-site as much as possible, with grey water recyclers will be built into every house.  Present technology enables us to recycle grey water (i.e. water from everywhere except the toilet, which is called black water) up to class AAA standard, which is not potable (drinkable) quality, but suitable for use on the garden or to wash clothes.

Because of drought, the permaculture gardens will require an irrigation system that will probably be fed from dams.  To avoid shortages what we might do is to feed excess recycled grey water into the dams for storage, which will provide enough water for the crops all year round.

By using dry composting toilets, we reduce water usage, and also avoid having to treat or dispose of black water.  Water is also saved by using low-flow shower roses, water pressure limiting devices, and water-efficient appliances such as washing machines.

Hot and Cold Water

Energy savings in water heating are obtained by using either a solar hot water systems, or a heat pump system.  An energy-efficient hot water system is now a state government requirement.

There will also be an under-sink water cooler in each kitchen, to provide a beautiful glass of pure, cold water after a hot day working in the garden!



Ideally, a large fraction of the food supply for an ecovillage will be supplied on-site, using a combination of:

  • Permaculture gardens, for herbs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.
  • Poultry farming, for eggs and chicken meat.
  • Aquaculture, for fish.

On larger ecovillages there may be the option of having sheep, cattle or goats, to provide meat and milk.  Personally I would prefer to avoid these, since I don't eat this kind of food, and also it's a terribly inefficient use of land and water (not very "ecovillagey", if you get my meaning).  However, it's understandable and expected that a lot of people will want this kind of food, and the idea is to make it easy for people to live in ecovillages, not hard.

The first stage of the food production system will be the permaculture garden and chookhouse, which are reasonably simple.  The second stage will be an aquaponics system, which is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture (fish farming).

Large freezers will be available for food storage, built into the commercial kitchen which forms part of the community centre.


Information System

Networking and Internet

Wireless networking will be available across the whole ecovillage.  The community centre will house the community servers, which will be connected to the internet, either by cable, or satellite if in the outback.  The community servers will also provide the community database, ecovillage management software (intranet), email server and file storage.

Every house in the ecovillage will have an antenna on the roof to connect with the community centre, and a wireless access point inside the house to provide wireless internet access.  There will be no need for network points or cabling.  Residents of the ecovillage will require wireless technology in their laptops and desktop computers, but this is inexpensive and is becoming standard anyway.

Data collection

A second-generation information system will incorporate data-collection devices to record the energy and water usage of each house.  This will require various gauges and sensors that will feed information back to the community database.  The data will provide feedback about how much water and energy the ecovillage is really using, which will help with design.


Passive Heating and Cooling

Where practical, buildings will be situated with a northerly aspect (that is, for ecovillages in the southern hemisphere) in order to take advantage of passive solar heating to lower energy usage.  The idea is that areas of the house where people spend the most time, such as the kitchen, living room or home office, are placed at the front of the house (the north) where they are warmed during the day.  Areas where people spend less time, like bedrooms, bathrooms and laundry, are placed at the back of the house (the south) which receives less sun.

The homes will be pole homes, which achieves two things.  Firstly, it permits passive cooling via air-flow underneath the floor.  Secondly, it eliminates the need for a slab, which reduces cement usage on the site.  (Thirdly, it provides a shady spot for the dog to hang out on a hot day :)


Environmentally Friendly Materials

As mentioned, the homes will be made from steel.  Refer to the article Why Steel? for more information.

Usage of cement and concrete will be minimised, because cement production is one of the world's major contributor to carbon emissions.  It is difficult to completely eliminate cement, because nothing compares with it for footings and foundations.  However, by building pole homes we avoid the need for slabs, which greatly reduces cement requirements.

Where wood is used, such as for floors and wall paneling, it will be ecologically certified or recycled wood.



Within our ecovillages, recycling will be maximised beyond what is usually required by council:

  • All paper used on the site will ideally be recycled or hemp-based paper, and all paper and cardboard will be recycled.
  • Tins and bottles will be recycled.
  • All scrap metal will be collected and sold for recycling.
  • Wood will be cleaned up and stored for re-use.
  • Food scraps will be used for chook food or composting.
  • Computer equipment and electronic devices will be recycled or given to charity where possible.

The community centre will include a recycling centre where items can be organised for re-use.  Each house will have a set of bins that are accessible from the kitchen, and also from outside the house where they can be easily removed for transport to the recycling centre.


Energy and Water-Efficient Appliances and Fixtures

These will include:

  • Energy-efficient fridges/freezers.
  • Energy and water-efficient washing and drying machines.
  • Low-flow shower roses.
  • Water-pressure limiting devices.
  • Low-energy fluorescent lighting.
  • Dry composting toilets.


Support for Electric Vehicles

This feature may not be needed for a couple more years yet, but as fully-electric vehicles become the norm, each ecovillage will have its own charging station where people can charge their cars up with pure renewable energy.


Community Facilities

These may include:

  • a meeting/dining hall with tables, chairs, whiteboard and and projector screen
  • office
  • commercial kitchen with large freezers for community food storage
  • café/bakery
  • farm buildings
  • workshops
  • IT centre
  • recycling centre
  • childcare centre
  • playground and sports field
  • gym
  • stables and pony trails
  • recreation room with ping-pong, pool and pinball
  • small cinema room with projector and beanbags

Many of these items maybe combined.  Smaller ecovillages will not be able to include all of these facilities, whereas larger ones will have all these and more.