Location: Bowden in Adelaide, South Australia (pop. 650 of 1.25m)
Soil: Clay loam
Build: 1920 bungalow, 1985 extension – double brick. Energy efficiency retrofits from 2001 – present
2016 Property Value: AU$?
Household: Family of 4 plus 1 in self-contained unit
Land Size: 600m² approx
Floor space: 175m² (house) 65m² (unit)
Roof area: 240m² approx
Water tank storage: 8,000lt
Mains water use: 300lt per day
Power: 5kW Grid-tied solar. Annual Power exported: 4,400kWh
Annual Power imported: 3700kWh incl car charging and self-contained unit
Av. Power produced: 20kWh p/d
Av. Power used: 18kWh p/d incl self-consumption of solar power
Annual Gas used: 882MJ (2 x 9kg bottles)
Annual Wood used: 1.5m³
Food production: Mainly fruit.
Waking hours at home: Highly variable.
In 2000 Teresa and Jake were looking to relocate to Adelaide and they purchased an old bungalow in Bowden. Bowden is an inner city suburb approximately 3km from the GPO with interesting industrial and heritage influences. The city centre can be accessed by cycling along the River Torrens through the parklands or public transport.
The bungalow had been extended in 1985 by an owner builder. While the extension, incorporating a kitchen/living/dining, bathroom and upstairs studio, was sympathetic to the character of the house the thermal performance of the house was extremely poor due to the following reasons:
- Very significant draughts; including the retention of a roof vent directly between the studio and the roof
- No zoning; the upstairs studio was not separated from the downstairs living area
- Large unshaded east facing windows
- Insignificant levels of insulation
Improving the thermal performance of the house was an initial focus for obvious reasons!
Apart from sealing draughts and installing insulation other fixes to date have included:
- Building a wall and installing a door to block the upstairs off from downstairs (uncontrolled airflow between storeys is a pet hate of Jake’s)
- Installing acrylic sheet as secondary glazing (this has now been done for all windows throughout the house)
- Building a solar air heater into the roof space to pump hot air into the living area
- Enclosing the back verandah which faces NE to create a sunroom. Warm air is pumped into the south facing end of the house
- External shading for the east facing windows
The house now performs well, and while supplementary heating is required the base temperature of the house is much higher in winter. The house also works very well in summer. As an added bonus the house is less dusty and noisy.
Other features of the house include:
- Integrated rainwater system (8,000 litres)
- 5kW PV
- Electric vehicle (Volt)
- Evacuated tube solar hws
- Monthly demand electricity tariff
- Extensive fruit tree plantings and no lawn
Most of the above work has been done by Teresa and Jake.
The house was always going to be larger than needed, with a very large carport under the extended roof line. Teresa and Jake owner-built a self-contained dwelling using the carport and one of the bedrooms from the house. This makes more efficient use of the site. It was rented to friends for several years and is now occupied by Jake’s mum. The build made extensive use of recycled materials including leadlight doors and windows, exposed Oregon beams (and other) timber. Unusual features include:
- a European staircase with opposed steps to allow access to a small mezannine
- an owner built greywater system which pumps to six areas of the garden
The most significant part of the site is outside of the site itself. It’s the very localised intentional community. This consists of four houses – three in a row (including Teresa and Jake’s) and one across the street. This micro-community shares the following, an organic process over the last ten years:
- Gates (usually open) between the three adjacent back yards
- Some shared care of children (5 across the 4 houses), the kids are generally free to range across the backyards and houses with minimal screen time
- Group meals, unscheduled but common
- Casual social opportunity
- Annual passatta making
- Camping trips
- Borrowing of tools, ingredients, labour etc
- Support for uncommon activities eg working from home, local community involvement, working less, going against the flow, artistic pursuits…
The community is completely informal and there are no written rules. Each property is individually owned.
How did this come about? Through a mixture of luck and intention.
Over time we became close friends with our neighbours Jacqui & Paul two doors down. This friendship was fostered through a community art project. Our neighbour Jacqui initiated a bird bath construction project in the local park as she had noticed the older residents of the complex liked to leave water out for the birds. So we became involved in mosaicing the bird bath under the direction of a local artist. Here we met our future neighbours Tabitha & Michael.
Teresa and Jake were already interested in community and co-housing in particular. In the mid-2000’s there were some initial meetings of people interested in establishing a co-housing venture. There was interest however the daunting barriers of making such a large project happen and having the timing work out etc. About this time the house in the middle came up for sale. Through a combined arm twisting process Tabitha & Michael purchased the house in 2006.
Since then it’s been a gradually evolving process of community building, with small steps. While it hasn’t always been smooth sailing it has enriched the lives of all those involved immeasurably.
Each year the Food Forest Permaculture Design Course visits. This is a good opportunity for us to reflect on our adventure.