Clean air, Houses of mud & straw, Families, Rats!

Network News October 2020

Open Day at Narara Ecovillage Sat Oct 31

All Welcome

Join us for tours of the ecovillage, next Saturday 31 October, 1–3pm.

Our Open Day Tours give you a window into what Narara Ecovillage is all about, and show how we are putting our ideas around ecological, social and economic into action, including stops at:

  • shared food growing, natural retreats and Permaculture spaces
  • shared community and work places
  • examples of highly efficient low-carbon homes
  • And more based on what you’re interested in on the day!

Tour Times

  • 1 pm
  • 1.30pm
  • 2 pm
  • 2:30 pm

Bookings essential:

Check out our website for more events & info about the village.

Healthy homes series: #5 Internal Air Quality

In this six-part series, Narara Ecovillage member and building biologist, Mikala Dind, shares her knowledge about what makes houses healthy or unhealthy. While this article is about existing homes, the information will definitely assist anyone seeking to build a home.

The quality of internal air in a home has an impact on the health of anybody spending time there, though some will be impacted more than others.  There are always multiple reasons behind why some people are more susceptible or resilient to health challenges (eg genetics, lifestyle [diet, exercise]).  

While there are various reasons for poor air quality (both internal and external), it will generally involve  either particulates or gases.


According to NSW Health, “there is currently no evidence of a threshold below which exposure to particulate matter (“PM”) does not cause any health effects”. This article goes on to identify various health impacts of both large (PM10) and small (PM2.5) particulates. (Reference: Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).

PM10 refers to particles up to 10 microns across.  These can enter the nose and lungs, causing respiratory and cardiac issues.  PM2.5 are a subset of PM10, and are so small that they can enter not only deep into the lungs, but also the bloodstream.

Particulate sources


Diesel emissions, in particular, have been shown to create or aggravate existing lung and heart conditions, and inhaling such particulates needs to be minimised (Reference:  Diesel emissions and their management in NSW).

I once had a client who thought  there was mould growing on their metal window sills.  I tested the black dust for microbes, but the test indicated minimal microbial activity.  Thus the dust was probably diesel particulates, which makes sense given how close the house was to a main road.  


Burn-offs, bush fires or other outdoor sources of smoke can also raise particulate levels in the air around your home. 

While watching an open fire can be mesmerising, having one inside the home will introduce an abundance of particulates into the internal air space, potentially causing eye and respiratory irritation.  Having an enclosed fire is a much healthier option for the occupants of a home.


As I mentioned in an earlier article, knowing the direction of the prevailing winds in your area will help you to figure out what sources of particulates may be headed in your direction. 

A client recently wanted me to assess a home she was seriously thinking about purchasing.  Her major concern?  Would the smoke from neighbouring chimneys come in through her windows (as this makes it difficult for her to breathe)?  Fortunately for her, the prospective home was on a hill, which has less chance of being impacted by neighbouring wood smoke than a home in a valley where smoke can get trapped on a still night (particularly due to temperature inversion).

Rising smoke in Lochcarron forms a ceiling over the valley due to a temperature inversion. The picture was taken on an afternoon after a cold night. Source: JohanTheGhost 


Did you know that the standard filter on a vacuum does not trap fine particles and so they are pushed through the filter and exit via the vacuum exhaust back into your breathing space?  And that by using a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, these particulates will be trapped?  Make the switch if you can (some vacuums can simply have their standard filter swapped for a HEPA one) and ensure that you renew the filter yearly to keep it working efficiently.


If gardens are planted against the home (particularly on the southern side), these can be sources of mould spores (from the usually moist much/leaf litter that is continuously breaking down).  An open window above such a garden will draw mould spores (and mould-produced gases) into the home, which can become an irritant to the occupants.

Those who suffer from hay fever will benefit from not growing flowering plants (particularly any that they have a specific sensitivity to) around their home.  However, also ensure your neighbour is not growing daisies on the other side of your fence.


Particulates not only refers to solid particles, but also liquids suspended in air, such as pesticides and other air-borne toxins.  Thus, pesticides sprayed anywhere around the home (including the neighbour’s and any other sources such as golf courses, turf farms, agricultural and council spraying) can be a source of particulate pollution.

Other sources

Other sources of particulates include major roads (road dust), industrial areas, coal mining/storage, freight trains with open coal carriages, quarries, and even property development/renovations.

Managing particulates with air conditioning 

If a building has a ducted air conditioning system that takes in fresh air (eg like a commercial system usually does), it is important to know where that fresh air inlet is.  If the inlet is on the roof, say, near the exhaust for a neighbouring restaurant, the quality of the air being drawn in could be poor.  Filters on such systems usually remove larger particulates.  However, filters capable of removing PM2.5 particulates are more expensive to install and maintain, so are often not used in commercial situations.

Likewise, with a domestic air conditioning system, ensure that the filters are maintained regularly so the system can work efficiently and effectively.


Sources of gases


I’ve mentioned in an earlier article that noxious gases (called mycotoxins) released by some moulds can seep up through floorboards and through the tiniest of gaps around the home.

Off-gassing paint, furnishings & clothes

New paint, curtains, carpet and furniture that off-gasses for up to several years after manufacture.  Even new clothes, sheets etc can off-gas and need to be washed before use.  Ever put dry cleaned clothes straight into the wardrobe and then noticed a really strong odour when you next open the wardrobe door?  That’s the dry cleaning chemicals being released.  So hang the clothes outside the wardrobe for a few days to get rid of those gases.

Gas heaters 

A big no-no for heating is an unflued gas heater.  These not only produce a lot of humidity (which is why you get so much condensation while using them), but also release noxious gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide (Reference: Unflued gas heaters – Fact sheets).

Cars and unventilated rooms

Another gas that needs to be kept in check is carbon dioxide.  For example, if you drive your car with the air inlet on recycle (rather than fresh air), you will soon be in a situation where oxygen is depleted and carbon dioxide levels are too high, leading to drowsiness, which can be incredibly dangerous while driving.  Of course this also applies to unventilated rooms (eg small bedrooms, meeting rooms) with multiple occupants.

Image source

What can you do?

How can you reduce particulates in the internal air space?  Thought air filtration – either via a ducted system or using a stand-alone air purifier.  What about gases?  The best way to mitigate gases is through ventilation.  Open the windows (even just a little and especially in winter).  The gold standard is to both ventilate (to bring in fresh air and remove stale air) and filter (to remove particulates).

In this article we have looked more closely at internal air quality.  In the next article I will go into more detail about further internal sources of air pollution, and present some mitigation strategies.

Of course, each home will have its individual needs/requirements which I can’t cover through articles.  However, I am available to do a home audit to provide a detailed report and plan (contact: 0424 586 610).

Natural Building at Narara Ecovillage – Update

-Edited by Linda Scott

Welcome to our natural building update for those following our builds and who also would like to know what’s on the drawing board.

Ben’s House

 Ben’s workshop

We’ve had a great Winter on the build of this round recycled home, with plenty being done to get us from a bare slab to a roofed and walled light-straw-earth and cob home, thanks greatly to the help of some pretty awesome workaway volunteers (big shoutouts to Euge and Fran, Lois & Koen) and our designers/natural builders Will & Kenney of Integrated Biotecture in particular. 

At the end of August we held a workshop to fill our walls and we totally exceeded expectations. Massive thanks to the 41 people who came for one or up to six days – we smashed it! The external walls were filled using the light-straw-clay method, amongst tunes, dancing and conversation, and the internal walls were cobbed with the addition of some unique mixing methods. 

It’s been rather humid since then, so the walls are still drying – we’re keeping an eye on it. and once we think it’s ready we are intending to hold a rendering workshop. In the meantime, we are building some hanging stairs, windows and doors of recycled timber and a cob bottle wall. 

And then we will get onto the earthen floor too (another workshop!). We don’t have dates yet, but if you are interested in any of the aforementioned building techniques, or volunteering on a natural build, get in touch and we’ll keep you in the loop. Benjamin (

Linda’s House

Building Linda’s house

With the end of the year only 2 months away, it’s been all-hands-on-deck at 21 Syncarpia Crescent to ‘lock up’ the ‘Cobbit Studio’, with more wall rendering planned and the final earth floor layer.  This follows a successful workshop, led by Will and Kenney, with so many applicants we had a waiting list.

There’s also much progress on the octagon house (the main residence).  Living spaces are now framed, curved walls laid by professional block layer, Jimmy, and – most exciting of all – the installation of sturdy bamboo beams for strawbale infill and much anticipated reciprocal roof. 

Over 200 people: crew, volunteers, members, have helped on my build in the past 12 months.  Everyone’s contribution echoes in the walls and floors and roof, and are appreciated.

With the earth berming around the studio well underway, much gratitude goes to neighbour Tracey for allowing us to store earthen materials on her lot.  It’s a timely reminder that to build natural houses, much more space for materials is needed than mainstream house building.

Our next workshop Octagon Strawbale wall raising is Tues 17, Wed 18, Thurs 19, Fri 20, Sat 21 November 2020. For more details, and to join our emailing list contact: Linda (

 Jimmy’s blocks

Matt & Majella’s straw bale panel / mud brick dream

Picture 1- balsawood model of Matt & Majella’s house

-by  Majella

My dear husband, Matt, has created and recreated many cardboard/balsa wood versions over the past 5 years, to assist my spatially challenged self, as our plans developed and changed (see picture 1).

After a 5-year process, we are very excited to have finally lodged our plans (see picture 2) to the Central Coast Council for permission to build (just in time for the council to announce that it is going bust; plus la niña wet weather warnings for the next 6 months!!) 

Stay posted for updates on our journey, and for opportunities to join us in workshops, having some fun with cob walls, mud floors and clay and lime renders. 

-Majella, Matt, Sinead 12 and Michael 9

 Picture 2 – house plans

Questions and answers about family life evolving at Narara Ecovillage

-Lyndall Parris

 Q Could family life be just a little bit easier, more connected and purposeful?

  • School holidays come and go: can I get help to entertain my kids and manage my day-to-day life?
  • I need some time with my partner: can I ask my neighbours to mind our child for a couple of hours?
  • Our home seems cramped: can I access more space for the kids to play and have fun?
  • Sometimes I feel sad, isolated: can I find easy and supportive social connections?
  • I love free-range eggs and free-range children: can I have both at Narara Ecovillage?
  • I feel that I’d like to contribute to something bigger than my immediate world: can I do this with others there?

A Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!

 At our ecovillage, school holiday activities are jointly organised; play dates happen organically; neighbours share care to allow parents time out; connections are made and deepened at our Coffee Cart, in the veggie gardens, in our adventure playground. People come together in the village for Solstice and Equinox celebrations, yoga, meditation, dance, singing, shared dinners and through projects that arise spontaneously.

 Q Sounds good, but what about the dollars? Can we save money living in this ecovillage?

A Another big ‘yes’!  Quoting from one of our parents:

“Our family is better supported socially, we are empowered to live more gently on the earth, and we are saving money at the same time.” 

This mother of three goes on to say: “In the last 12 months we have saved $16,424 by living here instead of a comparable ’normal’ suburb … We have received furniture, clothing and plants, as well as less tangible rewards such as foraging and food growing advice. Another way we save money is through the logistical perks associated with living closely with a village of other people. 

We coordinate grocery trips, mail drop-offs, library returns, school bus runs, child-care, as well as maintenance work on our own homes and gardens. Saving trips saves petrol, parking, and overconsumption. It also frees up my time to work, care for children, volunteer around the village, or just relax on our beautiful property.”

Interest in Narara Ecovillage is accelerating, and Stage 2 is filling up fast: it certainly seems to be a project whose time has come. We have survived a Global Financial Crisis and a Global Pandemic and feel that we are as resilient as we can be, facing the future together in the best interests of our children and our children’s children. 

 For more information see of FAQ section on our website:

We hope you can come and visit us soon.

From our Network

Beyond Zero Emissions: Energy Freedom Home Know-how

In September, BZE Hunter volunteers held an amazingly comprehensive workshop at Narara Ecovillage near Gosford! Job well done managing strict COVID rules while sharing knowledge and tools that empower renters and house owners to adapt to carbon neutral and even carbon positive household practice! 

Topics covered included Insulation; Rooftop Solar, Lighting, Draught proofing, Hot water systems, Energy monitoring and control, Heating and Cooling,Cooking and Appliances & Glazing, as well as answering participants’ questions. 

By combining simple energy efficiency measures with quality electrical appliances and a rooftop solar system, your home can produce more power than it uses.  Moving towards Energy Freedom protects you from rising gas and electricity prices and puts the power back in your hands.

Learn more about BZE’s Energy Freedom Homes initiative at:  

The Global Ecovillage Oceania and Asia (GENOA) Online Gathering Nov 27-28 

Restore & Re-story

Coming Home to Ourselves, Our Communities, and Mother Earth

November 27th & 28th, 2020 

How might we collectively face the challenges of our times ? How might we learn from nature and ancient wisdom to heal ourselves and heal the Earth together? How might we embrace our grief and embark on the journey ahead with grace and gratitude? 

Join us in a 2 day journey to Restore and Re-story our past and present realities to design regenerative futures for all.

The Global Ecovillage Oceania and Asia (GENOA) is home to cultures formed by ancient wisdom and spiritual practices which are pillars of many integrative systems in the world today. 

Drawing from the roots of our culture, join us in a collective meaning making experience as we close this deeply transformative year with ways of reflection, renewal, and  reconnection. Gather with us as we share our stories from grief to gratitude, from healing to wholeness in caring for our common home, from self, to community, and to Mother Earth.

Home to most of the climate vulnerable nations in the world, GENOA recognizes that our hope and healinglies in designing not only resilient, but also regenerative futures. While this gathering is for all of us longing to come home to ourselves, our communities, and to Mother Earth, this is especially dedicated to the youth of today, with whom we must shape the future with, in order for us not just to survive, but to thrive for generations to come. 

The Program

In this two day gathering, we will journey through the process of Restoring ourselves back to resilience and Re-storying the regenerative future we want. 

Each segment hosts the following activities that engage the body, mind and spirit, coming from the rich traditions and practices of the Asia and the Pacifc region :

  • Body – Embodied Practices (Mindfulness and Somatic practices)
  • Mind  – Reflective – Dialogues (Panels and Webinar Conversations)
  • Spirit – Creative Cultural Activities (Music, Visual Art, Movement, and Performances)
  • Day 1 (Nov 27): Restoring Ourselves for Recovery and Resilience
  • Day 2 (Nov 28): Re-storying Our Narratives for Renewal and Regeneration

We invite you to walk with us on this path to Restore and Re-story. 

  • Pre-register via theGENOA Facebook page to receive more information and update about the event.

Do a Thing a Day – Taking care of rats!

Rat poison is still on the shelves, and it continues to endanger Australia’s owls and other birds of prey. What alternatives are there to using poisonous baits? 

Here is some advice from Birdlife Australia (source)

-Birdlife Australia 

There are lots of ways to minimise your need for rodenticides. Which of these bird-friendly changes can you commit to?

Make your house and garden less friendly for rodents:

  • seal potential roof/wall cavity access points that rodents might be using
  • pick up any fallen fruit
  • ensure excess pet food isn’t accessible
  • rodent-proof chook pens and aviaries
  • replace rat-friendly palms with owl-friendly natives
  • tidy up garden waste and limit access to compost heaps

Encourage native predators:

  • plant native trees
  • install nest boxes for owls to breed in.

Reduce dependence on poison baits:

  • consider other, non-poison pest control, like snap traps
  • only put out baits when you actually need to
  • read the labels on any poisons you buy and make the change to first generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARs) or other alternatives. Look for active ingredients like Warfarin and Coumatetralyl or natural constituents like Sodium Chloride, and
  • leave second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) on the shelf.

Encourage others to join you:

Photo gallery: Bowerbirds, Floodplain 

-Richard Cassels

Regent Bowerbird male (black and gold) and female in the mulberry tree

Heavy rainfall this week saw the Narara Ecovillage floodplain living up to its name.

Swamp Wallaby 

 Village by lake