Home health & energy, proposals, food, collaboration, biodiversity fragments

Network News July 2020

Healthy homes series #2 – Location and Orientation  

-Mikala Dind

In this six-part series, Narara Ecovillage member 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.


While “location, location, location” might be the catch cry for real estate agents because it indicates access to shops/public transport/schools, has views, or fits a certain lifestyle, other questions need to be addressed in respect of your home’s location.

For instance, while living near a main road can be convenient, it will also bring air pollution, such as diesel particulates, that you may need to filter out from your internal air space.  Nearby industry can also produce air pollution (eg silica from cement recycling, dust, soot, noxious gases).  Ideally it is good to be 500m from main roads, 2km from light industry and 8kms from airports.  

Heavy industry (including mining) can generate air particulates that travel long distances (for instance, coal dust can travel 10kms from coal piles).  Thus, it is a very good idea to ascertain where the predominant breezes come from, and research if any industry is located in that up-wind direction.  (This Bureau Of Meteorology page provides wind data for 81 locations around Australia.)  If you already live near any such facilities, a good air purifier (that has a HEPA filter, a carbon pre-filter, and does not generate any ozone) will remove particulates from the internal air of your home.

Similarly, being near a golf course, turf farm, park or agricultural area may mean that herbicides might drift into your property (in particular your breathing space).  A distance of 2km will reduce your exposure to these toxins.

Another consideration, if you are a light sleeper, is being close to train lines and main roads, which may lead to difficulty sleeping (and then require installation of double glazed windows).

It is also important to find out the previous use of the site.  Was it a waste facility, farmer’s market, service station, chemical refinery, or meth lab?  Did the previous owner paint or use glues/solvents at home?   Previous uses may have led to toxins leeching into the soil or into the fabric of the home itself, and thus now contaminate garden beds/veggie patches, or be off gassing into the home.

If you have allergies (eg hayfever), look not only at the vegetation around the house but also the surrounding areas (particularly in the direction of predominant breezes).

Image: Wind speed and direction indicators: Wind Roses for Selected Locations in Australia


The way a home is oriented (north, south etc) will influence many things including warmth, cost of heating/cooling, condensation etc.  I am not an architect, so will only touch briefly on some of these issues.  However, a fabulous resource for passive design is Your Home, a free guide to environmentally sustainable homes in Australia

Image: Your Home 

Heating and cooling 

In order to gain maximum benefit from the sun’s light and heat, a home should generally face north (unless it is in the tropics, where facing south will keep the house cooler).  Having larger windows/glass sliding doors on the northern side will also take advantage of the solar input to your home.  (Don’t forget, glass not only allows heat in, but also lets it escape once the sun goes down.  Thus curtains or blinds will reduce heat loss during the night.)

Given that there is usually no direct sunlight/heat entering from the south, fewer windows on this side will mean less heat loss (which is particularly important in winter, while in summer use open windows to remove warm air).  Similarly, fewer windows on the western side will mean less heat gain from the hot afternoon sun.

Also pay attention to the surrounding landscape (ie the 5kms around the site).  Are there hills/trees to the west that mean that the sun will “set” early?  Get a shadow map generated for your home which will give you a good idea of the available sunlight throughout the year.  You can also go to SunEarthTools.com  to generate a map showing the sun’s summer and winter path over the home.

Image: Solarchoice.net.au

Condensation & mould

The southern side of a house will generally have more problems with overnight condensation as the rooms there get coldest overnight.  Combine this with single pane windows, metal window frames and moist air exhaled by sleeping occupants, and you have the perfect conditions for condensation.  Either mopping the moisture up or using a dehumidifier to capture it can be the difference between a healthy bedroom and a mouldy one.

Image: Homebuilding.co.uk  

I once did an audit for a family who had symptoms of mould illness.  When I went to their rental “home” I realised that the owners had simply built a granny flat of sorts below their balcony and pool – on the southern side of their house.  In theory it sounds like a good use of space (especially if someone is willing to rent it from you).  However, the downside is that the rear half of the flat was either built directly into the sandstone the house was built on, or backed up closely to the damp, dank sandstone beneath the pool.  Effectively the flat was a damp cave with a few sliding doors at the front.  No cross ventilation or direct sunlight, and constant high humidity (as moisture from the sandstone migrated through the walls), meant this was mould heaven (despite them using a dehumidifier every day).  As you can imagine, it was also bone chillingly cold in winter.  My advice to them?  Move out (though my report did set out a plan B in case this was not possible, as they had recently re-signed the lease).  Fortunately the owners let them break their lease.  However, I suspect someone else is now suffering from such a poorly designed living space.

Finally, ensuring that your roof extends beyond your walls (to create an eave) means the ground at the base of your external walls will dry out quickly after rain (reducing the likelihood of algae and mould growth) and therefore the risk of increased humidity in the room on the other side of that wall.  All windows require decent eaves over them to protect window frames (particularly if they are wooden). 

The more your window frames are in contact with sun and rain, the more weathered they will become (which will lead to greater maintenance costs to prevent water intrusion through unnoticed wood rot).  Again, note which side(s) of the house get the predominant weather (especially storms).

In the next article I will discuss drains and gutters.


Energy Freedom Home Workshop. Sept 19 – Save Money on Heating and Cooling

Affordable Strategies for Comfort Workshop from Beyond Zero Emissions

In this very informative workshop you will learn energy-saving tricks to keep your house warm, even if you are renting. House types covered include cavity brick, brick veneer and weatherboard. Case studies will be presented, including Narara Ecovillage’s “Dorothy”, with a guided tour afterwards. Attendees may also purchase a pdf of the Energy Freedom Home book, by donation.

About BZE: Beyond Zero Emissions is a climate change think tank, showing through independent research and innovative solutions how Australia can reach beyond zero emissions.

  • When: Saturday 19th September 10am-12pm
  • Where: Narara Ecovillage Visitors Centre, 25 Research Rd Narara NSW 2250
  • Cost: $30 per person or $25 for NELN members  The Narara Eco Living Network (NELN) is a not for profit educational and outreach body established by members of Narara Ecovillage Co-operative to promote more sustainable living in all its forms. All are welcome to join. Join the Network here     
  • Bookings essential, as numbers are strictly limited – TICKETS here
  • For more information, contact Liz: learning@nararaecovillage.com 

Sociocracy in Action Workshop, July 25 – Proposal Shaping with Aplomb

Part of the Sociocracy in Action series

Did you know there is an art to writing proposals?

If you want to get your idea adopted by a community group, a family or a business, it helps a lot if you put forward a well-formed proposal. In the practice of Sociocracy, there are steps and principles that have been worked out over many years to help groups in forming effective proposals.

Join this interactive workshop where we will practice these steps and discover:

  • What are the keys to effective proposal shaping?
  • How can a group take a collection of issues and opinions and form them into a useful, coherent proposal?
  • How do you put together a good proposal, so it is likely to receive support and buy-in from the group members?
  • This course presents the skills that have been honed through decades of Sociocratic practice to make these processes work.

In this workshop you will learn:

  • Why is proposal shaping important for good decision making?
  • Who should create the proposal? How many people should be involved?
  • How do you incorporate contradictory needs in a proposal?
  • What are all the elements of a well formed proposal?

This two-hour workshop, held at Narara Ecovillage, gives you the opportunity to learn and practice skills essential for fully understanding an issue and all its elements and then generating potential solutions that include everyone’s best thinking.

  • When: July 25th, 10 am to 12 noon. Morning tea and lunch available at our own Ecovillage Coffee Cart.
  • Where: Narara Ecovillage Visitors Centre, 25 Research Rd Narara NSW 2250
  • Cost: $30 per person or $25 for NELN members  The Narara Eco Living Network (NELN) is a not for profit educational and outreach body established by members of Narara Ecovillage Co-operative to promote more sustainable living in all its forms. All are welcome to join. Join the Network here   
  • Numbers are strictly limited, so register here to guarantee your place. 

Open Day at Narara Ecovillage, July 25: booked out!

Corona virus continues to disrupt our lives.  Due to the escalation in Victoria and growing uncertainty in New South Wales, plans for this month’s Open Day at Narara Ecovillage have had to change.  At this moment, the event is still on, but the ecovillage is responding to the new restrictions by containing the number of visitors and building flexibility into the program.  

Ecovillage organisers are very sorry to have to make changes to the program, but limiting numbers and reinforcing social distancing is essential. The tours are now fully booked, so there will not be an ‘open door’ this month, unfortunately.  It is also possible that the numbers of participants in each tour may be reduced, and smaller groups set off at staggered intervals to ensure that space between people is maintained. 

These changes may also mean that we will not offer a personal presentation by the founder, Lyndall Parris. However, the online Open Day Preview  with another pioneer member provides the core messages. Furthermore, very valuable information for first time visitors is also available online here: Frequently Asked Questions.  

The next Open Day is Saturday 29 August – so please put that in your diary now – and the ecovillage also offers personal tours for individuals, families and small groups. These allow you to explore the ecovillage with a resident guide, and bookings can be made here.

Open Day June 2020

Coming in September: Sustainable House Day at Narara Ecovillage

Put this in your diary

Sustainable House Day at Narara Ecovillage will go ahead this year on Sun September 20. 

Due to COVID, this event will be at least partly online, but depending on the legal restrictions in place in September, we hope to include some socially-distanced guided and self-guided tours, as well as talks. 

  • More information and how to book tickets will be in the next Network News
The hobbit house construction July 2020

News from Narara Ecovillage -Producing food

-Meng Ng

During the lockdown, several members of the Narara Ecovillage used their time preparing land for growing food. Many could be found spending days weeding the slope north of Gugandi Road adjacent to the Grafting Shed and the terraces to the west of this road.

A trailer load of manure was applied to the soil, which was then planted with a variety of green leafy vegetables, carrots, spring onions, etc. After many weeks, their efforts are plain to see in the offerings available at the Food Co-op. 

This is truly a communal and productive  effort, and has contributed to food security for the village.  Members of the wider community are welcome to participate in this and other Narara Eco Living Network and Village activities. Check out the top of the Narara Ecovillage events calendar, or Facebook for updates. 

From our Network

The values behind sociocracy

-via Liz Bassett

What is sociocracy?

Sociocracy is a set of powerful collaboration tools that allow large and small numbers of people to make decisions and work together effectively.  We use these tools at Narara Ecovillage, and I think it’s fair to say that sociocracy has been key to the strength, resilience and energy of our village.

I recommend this article from Sociocracy for All, because it succinctly explains many of the elements that make sociocracy work at both the organisational and human level. Here are some snippets:

The ABCDE of culture change by Ted Rau

I am one of the lucky people who learned sociocracy the way a person learns their first language — finding myself immersed in practice. I did not learn it by instruction; I learned it … when I joined a self-managed organization that had been doing sociocracy for a while.  … 

I remember the first time I noticed meetings there were different. It was one of those moments when you say something and then notice it is true when I heard myself say: “I am leaving the meeting more refreshed than I came, more inspired and feeling more connected to everyone in this group.”

The tools … looked simple and easy to do, but they made for big effects. I became interested in what values were embodied by those tools. You might call it the “hidden curriculum” of sociocracy.

A is for Authenticity

Authenticity gives us the ability to be seen and known as who we are, a universal need we all share.

B is for Balance

Balance happens when we see value in competing or opposing views and then find creative solutions that make the best of those differences … Sociocracy supports the both-and mindset in a subtle but powerful way.

C is for Connection

Connection is the basis for care, for collaboration and it is the social glue for everything we do.

D is for Discovery

As an organization and as individuals, the open, “growth mindset” is how we learn and improve …The humbling idea of “ok, let’s see what happens” is a useful trait in a world as complex as ours.

E is for Equivalence

Every authentic voice is equally valuable. And … every person has a piece to the puzzle that we’re all trying to put together.

The full article takes about ten minutes to read.  SoFa also offers free introductory videos and guidance for anybody interested in learning about sociocracy. Narara Ecovillage will also continue to offer in-person training, such as the Sociocracy in Action workshop listed above.

  • Sociocracy for All is a US-based global group including several people from Narara Ecovillage.

Do a Thing a Day

Bat boxes at Narara Ecovillage

Urban biodiversity fragments

Don’t be too tidy

Increase biodiversity in your garden or footpath planting by providing shelter & food sources for insects like bees and butterflies, small animals like lizards and frogs, and flying animals like birds and bats. 

  • Don’t cut all the grass: leave some long
  • Let leaf litter build up in some areas
  • Leave logs & rocks on the ground

Well that was easy! 

For even more easy things you can do to encourage biodiversity, check out this Gardening Australia video & factsheet about a garden designed for biodiversity. 


And while you don’t want a monoculture, not all plants are desirable.  If you are unsure if a plant is a weed, Weeds Australia is beta-testing a key to help you identify it here

Coffee Grounds

Oh, and take care to compost your coffee grounds before putting them on your garden. According to this article from Sustainable Gardening Australia, uncomposted coffee grounds may reduce plant growth.

Street trees

Here are some final thoughts from Your Home 

Just saying

Source: Google Earth