Conclusion / Appendices


Open the boxes below to read the first couple of paragraphs of the Conclusion, use the Retrosuburban Real Estate Checklist, and explore one of the design examples.

Imagine Christopher Alexander’s Community of 7000 (or so) with distinct Subcultural boundaries composed of Neighbourhoods of 500. Each neighbourhood would be partly defined by geography or history, with a limited number of streets entering the space helping to maintain a shared space that restricts through traffic.

One of these neighbourhoods might be composed of 70 households creating retrosuburbia. These households range from two to ten people of various ages, with ownership and living arrangements as follows:

· Ten Extended family households of three generations with an average of seven residents including three children.

· Ten owner-occupied family households with an average of two adults and three children, also Hosting WWOOFers and other volunteers, adding two part-time volunteers or guests.

· An additional ten owner-occupied families of five acting as Household landlords with an average of two additional tenants each (mostly single parents with one child).

· Fifteen older owner couples with no children who are Neighbourhood landlords, own an average of two rental properties (generally adjoining). Those rental properties have a mix of families Renting in their preferred area with an average of two children, and Shared rental households with four adults and two children each.

· Five houses have two couples Sharing house ownership with an average of four children between them.

· Five houses are owned by elderly couples or singles with a Tenant turned carer.

· The heart of the neighbourhood is a block of flats owned by a co-housing co-op with 20 apartments occupied by the co-op members. The average number in each apartment is four but Large communal spaces include a common room, catering kitchen, laundry and workshop to relieve any sense of crowding. There is a pellet furnace Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system in the basement carpark that also houses a mushroom-growing business.


Permaculture and earth activist Starhawk’s 1993 novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, set in an energy descent future San Francisco, provides a vision of how such neighbourhoods, communities, and even cities, might work.


Appendix 1: Retrosuburban Real Estate Checklist
The Retrosuburbia Real Estate Checklist (RREC) spreadsheet can be downloaded here

This text explaining the spreadsheet is taken from Appendix 1 of RetroSuburbia:

The Retrosuburbia Real Estate Checklist (RREC) and ‘Sun’ rating system aim to help you evaluate an existing property – whether it is the one you live in or one you are considering purchasing or leasing (see Introducing the Retrosuburban Real Restate Checklist in Chapter 4 of RetroSuburbia).

Properties can be given a score from 0 for a feature that is poor or absent, to 5 for a feature that is excellent or best, against the 46 line items relevant to the location, property and buildings and the 15 related to the garden farming potential of the property. Not all factors will seem relevant to all properties and there is no weighting of factors. Assessment in some situations will require specific technical knowledge. If the score is unknown, that could indicate something to investigate further (and perhaps be given a middle score of three in the meantime) – however, the total score is not as important as the checklist of issues to consider.

Convert the scores to a simple ‘Resilience Sun’ rating (analogous to house or equipment star ratings) like this:

· less than 100 = 1 sun 

· 101–125 = 2 suns 

· 126–150 = 3 suns 

· 151–175 = 4 suns 

· 176–200 = 5 suns 

· 201–225 = 6 suns 

· 226 or greater = 7 suns 

It is important to remember that this rating is of the Built and Biological fields but not the Behavioural Field. It’s still possible for people to live resilient, home-based lifestyles with productive food gardens in less-than-ideal properties, but a property with fortuitous and well-designed features and systems makes permaculturally productive and resilient living that much easier.

Properties profiled as case studies in this book and at are compared to Melliodora to show how the RREC has been used to generate ‘before’ and ‘after’ scores and their simplification to a ‘Resilience Sun’ rating.

The properties chosen to demonstrate the RREC include new builds and retrofits across a range of localities with a wide range of sizes from inner urban (80 m2) to rural residential (greater than 8000 m2) – all of these are mentioned multiple times in the text. By doing a ‘before’ and ‘after’ retrofitting evaluation (in two examples, before and after well-designed new builds), the scores show that the potential of well-selected existing properties is not so far behind what is possible with ‘green field’ designs and new constructions.

Melliodora is well beyond the scale of the classic quarter-acre block but includes two residences plus semi-autonomous accommodation and outbuildings, and with a population of seven plus one or two volunteers, it approaches the population density of suburbia. It is the oldest example that was bought and developed using the thinking and patterns described in the book – not surprisingly, it gets a 7 Sun rating.

Abdallah House (see Case Study 1) shows that a ‘salvage and rebuild’ process, applying permaculture design principles and practices on a very modest budget, can create a 6 Sun rating using ‘downmarket’ assets in a country town location despite the much higher real estate prices of recent years.
Ecoburbia (see Case Study 2) shows a 6 Sun score from a radical and capital-intensive retrofit of a property with high market value and a very desirable location. Semi-autonomous units have been created within the existing building shell while keeping a large garden. The property achieved a relatively high score prior to the retrofit, showing that these experienced Western Australian retrofitters were on the same page as me in recognising potential that others might miss.
The Plummery (see Case Study 3) gains a 5 Sun rating from a budget retrofit of an older small inner Melbourne property that had a mix of very good features and some substantial constraints in the original property and its location.
Sharehouse (see Case Study 4) shows a 4 Star rating. Although the potential for retrofits is more limited with a rental, the relatively high score reflects the fact that the property was specifically chosen for its resilience assets, and many non-structural resilience assets have been added.
Rosemary Morrow’s ‘A Good Home Forever’ (see achieves a 4 Sun rating from a more substantial retrofit of a property that started with a low score. Factors specific to the property, such as the shade from huge pine trees, were transformed by the retrofit while characteristics of the region, such as poor soil rooting volume, frost and bushfire risk remain factors reducing the score.

Interpretation of terms

Factors should be scored relative to bioregional and local norms. These factors and scores are just indicative and need to be tempered with local knowledge and evolving understanding.

Build Field Patterns

Location, Services and Property

Regulatory freedom (relative simplicity and flexibility of local planning controls and other regulations): remote country town with minimal development and remote local government 5, most suburban sites 2–3, Owners’ corporation in upmarket suburb 0

Adjacent land use: undeveloped rural 5, undeveloped urban 3–4, benign urban 2–3, undesirable industrial/commercial 0–1

Adjacent landowners: partnering between households 5, likeminded and/or accepting 4, neutral 2–3, absent and/or uncooperative 1, antagonistic 0

Adjacent public land: more than 1 ha or linear creek reserve 5, reserve of less than 0.1 ha or located across street 1–2, absent 0

Public transport: frequent bus, tram and/or train within 1 km 5, minimal services with 5 km 0–1

Road traffic (vehicle movements, type and speed): dead end or cul de sac 5, quiet suburban 3–4, busy urban arterial 0–1

Vehicle access to property: multiple points of access 5, two points 3–4, to one point 1–2, none 0

Pedestrian access from street to site: multiple points of level entry 5, level access 3–4, stairs one point 1–2, long stairs 0

Corner block: yes 5, no 0

Wide verge and street (for parking and productive uses): verge 6 m, street 6 m 5, footpath and narrow street 0–1

Side and back lanes: lanes on three sides 5, 5–10 m lane on one side 2, pedestrian lane 1, absent 0

Short driveway/street parking (maximising productive use of space on site): driveway of less than 6 m 5, driveway down the full length of lot 0–1

South facing to street: yes 5, no 0

Power: reliable, clean, constant voltage, three phase 5, reliable, clean, constant voltage 4, unreliable 1

Communications (internet): optic fibre 5, ADSL 3–4, dialup 1–2

Mains water: good pressure, reliability and quality 4–5, poor pressure, reliability and/or quality 1–3

Roof water harvesting potential (total area of moderately clean roof multiplied by annual rainfall in mm): > 300 m3 5, 300 m3 (e.g. 400 m2 × 750 mm) 4, 75 m3 (e.g. 150 m2 × 500 mm) 2

Service easements (freedom from easements and infrastructure restricting land use): absence of easements 5, major easements 0–1

Solar access: exposure of the house and property to full winter sun, and summer sun to production garden 5, none or very limited winter sun exposure 0

East–west axis (house wall within 200 of true north): long wall with no shading 5, short wall 2 – 3

Bushfire (relative freedom from risk and severity for stay and defend): BAL lower than 12.5 (most suburbs) 5, BAL 12.5 4, BAL 19 3, BAL 29 2, BAL 40 1, BAL F 0

Windstorm: low regional risk and low site exposure 5, high risk or exposed site 2–4, high regional risk and exposed site 0–1

Flood (relative height above known river and coast storm surge damage levels): 10 m above 1:100 year flood level 5, below 1:100 year flood 0

Stormwater flood (relative freedom from risk of localised stormwater flows bypassing or backing up from stormwater infrastructure): no risk 5, high and regular risk 0.


Building Construction

Larger household capacity: house and other buildings can house five or more persons 5, fewer persons 0–3

Autonomous unit capacity (possibility for units with a separate entrance, bathroom, kitchenette etc.): existing autonomous units 5, potential for retrofit 3–4, no potential 0

Quality of build (includes such things as durability of materials, moderate age, and good maintenance): high quality 4–5, low quality 0–1

Ease of retrofit: one point each for features such as cavity walls, roof space, elevated floors and exposed beams

Elevation (of site and house): elevation allowing undercroft space and gravity-fed water 5, elevation allowing gravity fed water 2–4, no elevation 0

Non-toxic construction: built specifically with low toxicity content 5, free of lead, asbestos, CCA timber and minimal formaldehyde materials 4, one of the above present 3, more than one present 2, problem materials requiring regulated removal 1, problem materials requiring extensive and costly removal 0

Garages: triple garage 5, double 3, single 2, carport 1, none 0

Downmarket assets: (old sheds and materials that decrease market value but with retrofit and reuse potential): extensive outbuilding and materials 4–5, limited materials and small sheds 1–2 (flash renovation may eliminate this asset but it may show up as ‘Resilience assets and retrofits’, below)

Construction/land use history: full history from previous owner back to agricultural/forest land including some plans 5, some access 2–4, unknown and long history of construction and use 0


Resilience assets and retrofits

Insulation and double glazing: more than the recommend insulation and double glazing 5, recommend insulation and double glazing 4, insulation at recommended level 3, required insulation only 2, basic insulation 1, none 0

External window and wall shades (more important in hotter inland areas): effective shading of walls and windows by external blinds, shutters, eaves and/or verandas 5, no eaves verandhas or effective shading on east, west and north sides 0

Light coloured roof and walls: white or special reflective paint on both 5, light coloured roof 2, light coloured north, east and west walls, 1 pt each, dark roof and walls 0

Green roof and walls: (earth or growing media with live vegetation) full house roof 5, outbuildings roof 1–3, house or outbuilding walls 1 pt each

Passive solar design: high winter solar gain, high thermal mass, cross flows and high venting 5, high gain and mass 4, substantial gain and mass 3, modest gain and mass 2, modest winter gain or thermal mass 1, no particular feature 0

Solar hot water: large modern system 5, double flat plate or single evacuated tube 3–4, old single flat plate panel 1–2, none 0

Solar power: > 5 kW and storage 5, > 5 kW 4, moderate 3–4 kW 3, small 2 kW 2, basic 1 kW 1, none 0,

Water harvesting, storage and reuse: Tanks >20,000 L capacity, gravity plus pump and reticulation system 5, Tanks 5000–20,000 3–4, <5000 L tank 1–2.

Greywater and compost toilets: approved compost toilet and greywater system 5, 1 point each for untreated greywater diversion and bucket compost toilet to dedicated compost

Wood heat, hot water and cooking: woodstove, hot-water system and hydronic heating 5, woodstove and hot water 4, wood heater and hot water 3, radiant wood heater 2, outside barbecue or house fireplace 1

Food storage and cooling: add up points to a maximum of 5 – pantry 1, bulk drawers or containers 1, cellar 2, cool cupboard 2

Workshops: large, organised, well fitted out workshop 5, workshop with fitted benches and space for projects 3­–4, small workshop 1-2, no workshop space 0.

Biological Field Factors

Available land area (outdoor space for gardening and productive uses): >1500 m2 5, 800–1500 m2 4, 400–800 m2 3, 100–400 m2 2, 50–100 m2 1, < 50 m2 0

Soil rooting volume (depth to bedrock or permanent water table): > 2 m well-drained aerobic soil 5, > 2 m clay 4, 1.2–2 m 3, 0.6–1.2 m 2, 0.3–0.5 m 1, < 0.3 m 0

High mineral fertility and Cation Exchange Capacity (ideally clay or alluvial loam soils with good geological parent mineral mix and/or effective use of amendments to balance fertility and elevate CEC): alkaline volcanic clays and clay loams 5, most improved clay garden soils 3–4, Silicious sands with low organic matter 0

Freedom from soil contamination (freedom from heavy metal and other persistent toxins): soil tests clear from contaminants 5, signs of contamination, or minor contamination shown through testing 1–3, heavy contamination 0

Sweet water tables: groundwater with moderate flows, minimal salt at depth less than 30 m 5, non existent, inaccessible and/or contaminated ground water 0

Moist climate (near balance of rainfall to evapotranspiration): in southern and central Victoria – rainfall > 1100 mm 5, 900–1100 4, 750–900 3, 600–750 2, 450–600 mm 1, < 450 mm 0

Freedom from frost: frost free 5, 9 months frost free 4, 7 months 3, 5 months 2, 3 months free 0

Stormwater harvesting potential (flows of moderately contaminant-free water that could be diverted by gravity to site): stormwater creek 4–5, adjacent roofs 1–3, Street gutter 1–3

Freedom from large trees (reducing productive potential of land): only minor, seasonal and beneficial shade 5, canopy over whole site 0

Effective summer shading trees and vines (deciduous shade to house and/or outdoor living, livestock and vehicle spaces): fully effective with minimal downsides 5, mostly exposed 0–1

Established food trees: several fruit and/or nut trees of bearing age and good health 4–5, a few young trees or old trees in poor health 1–3

Established veggie garden beds: accessible annual vegetable, sun exposed beds > 50 m2, with capacity to fully water all summer and friable organic rich well drained soil at least 300 mm deep 5, lower quality established beds 1–4, no established beds 0

Established animal systems: well-constructed housing, with water and feeders that allow productive and humane husbandry with well managed nutrient cycling to gardens 5, less than optimal animal systems 1–4, no animal systems 0

Greenhouses/shadehouses: depending on climate, well-designed and built for propagation, extended seasonal growing and exotic species 5, some climate-controlled growing houses and/or structures including sunroof porches 1–4

Drip and high-efficiency irrigation: well-designed and functioning systems with timers 5, well-designed and functioning manual systems 4, some installed systems 1–3, hose and bucket watering only 0

Freedom from problem plants (mostly rhizomatous grasses, oxalis and other hard to manage perennials, depending on climate and soil): benign grasses, soft annual weeds and easily managed perennials only 5, full couch or kikuyu ground cover on clay soils in coastal climates 0

Appendix 2: Vegetables and tree crop growing systems summary
Appendix 3: Animal systems summary
Appendix 4: Retrosuburban diet
Appendix 5: Integrated design examples
You can use the patterns in this book in a great diversity of design contexts found across suburbia, but I’ve avoided presenting classic permaculture property designs.

By their nature, or at least their documentation, property designs tend to pass over the critical importance of the behavioural domain. Individual circumstances, capacities and preferences will be critical in determining the success in the early stages of rolling out retrosuburbia. However, focusing the text on Melbourne and other Victorian towns has allowed me to be quite specific about design systems and even species to illustrate the patterns.

After many years break from any professional permaculture design work, especially at the backyard scale, one of the outcomes of writing this book was a burst of creative retrosuburban design thinking. The need to provide rough sketches for an illustrator seemed straightforward, and even without a specific property in mind, let alone clients, I found myself fitting patterns together in new ways. This rang alarm bells about the potential danger of readers taking these designs as blueprints for their own situations, as well as the problems with permaculture design through the assembly of elements (articulated by Dan Palmer in his critique of permaculture; see Retrofitting permaculture on page 30).

Nevertheless, it seemed appropriate to document some of these design outcomes of writing RetroSuburbia in an appendix to help stimulate and inspire readers to get cracking on their own design ideas, with or without the help of a professional designer or a Permaculture Design Course.

The following notes for each design only provide the skeleton of the design logic behind each.

In this chapter

Design 1: Medium house on ‘quarter acre’ corner block

Design 2: Larger outer suburban house

Design 3: Federation cottage on small block

Design 4: Large house on steep block

Design 3: Federation cottage on small block

Build: weatherboard on stumps with little clearance; corrugated iron roof

Location and soil: East-facing with verandah to street line; poor soil with possible contamination (eg inner Castlemaine or Bendigo)

Land size: 378 m2 (13.5 x 28 m)

Buildings: house 115 m2, front verandah 20m2, shed 12 m2

Outdoor space: 231 m2 (61% of lot)

Total potential water collecting roof area: 165 m2

Rainfall: 500 mm

Annual potential roof water yield: 82,000 litres

Existing features and issues: tall eucalypt street tree provides morning shade to house; old fruit trees in backyard

Built Field retrofits:

· outhouse retrofit to a greenhouse and store, over a 10,000 L bladder water tank

· roof and walls insulated and repainted a light colour to improve thermal performance

· wood heater/stove with wetback

· old carport on north side removed and replaced with pergola maintaining vehicle access for unloading

· north-facing windows added

· pergola to west face of house

· raised conversation seat under street tree and bench for food and drinks over front picket fence

Biological Field retrofits

· grapes on N and W pergolas

· passionfruit vine on south fence and up to house eave on curved reinforcing mesh

· tubs along back wall for herbs and winter greens

· wicking beds for rotational vegie production

· backyard orchard developed through top-working old fruit trees and new plantings

· citrus, macadamia and feijoa along sun exposed south fence sheltering movable guinea pig house with free ranging in backyard orchard

· berries and worm farm in shade along north fence

· pigeon loft and outside compost toilet built in back corner

· high pruning of street tree to maintain winter sun to verandah

· verge garden wicking bed for globe artichoke, asparagus and other perennials

Retrofits for Behavioural Field

· ute parked on street storing bulky, low value items

· bicycles hung on verandah

· bartering juice and wine made from large grape surplus

· street-focused outdoor living

· consistent use of outdoor toilet leads to removal of flush toilet and conversion of space to bulk food store/ cool cupboard with underfloor inlet vent from south side


Appendix 6: Common and scientific names

Retrofit your Life from the inside out!

Enter your details below to get the free PDF and juicy tidbits via email on how to get the most out of Chapter 25.

Pin It on Pinterest

Subscribe to the
RetroSuburbia Newsletter

Our newsletter is filled with all kinds of permaculture goodness, just like our compost!