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Castlemaine grows its eco hotspot reputation with second Living Building Challenge project

Castlemaine in country Victoria, known for its goldmining past, has cemented its reputation as a sustainable development hot spot after the announcement of a second Living Building Challenge project, adding to a host of eco activities in the thriving area.

The 1.39 hectare eco-village site, which is set to accommodate 25-30 homes, has on board Geoff Crosby, the former Hunters and Collectors keyboardist turned architect who was behind another Living Building Challenge-designed project in Castlemaine, the Bull Street Terraces.

“The Paddock” is being developed by husband and wife team Neil and Heather Barrett, who are using land next to where they have lived for more than 30 years for the project site.

Neil Barrett.

Neil Barrett told The Fifth Estate the couple had been wondering what to do with the site for a while, and the idea to do a Living Building Challenge eco-village had come about after talking to Crosby while he was working on another project for them.

“At the time he was doing [Living Building Challenge project] Bull Street. After we met him we knew he was the one to do the project.”

Crosby had been working closely with Thrive Hub director Dr Dominique Hes on the Bull Street project, and a meeting with the pair made the Barretts decide to go down the LBC route.

Not that they needed much convincing. The two have their thumbs in a whole host of environmental projects around Castlemaine.

“We’ve been involved in a lot of activity around town,” Barrett says.

“My wife and I run a solar bulk buy operation, through an organisation called the Hub Foundation.”

Geoff Crosby

The More Australian Solar Homes (MASH) project has been extremely successful, with 700 installations over the past three years.

“Castlemaine now has the second-highest solar penetration in Victoria.”

The town itself has a reputation for attracting sustainability-minded people, Barrett says.

“The environment is a strong focus for quite a lot of people here. There’s very strong environmental action.”

He says Castlemaine stands out amongst similar-sized towns for this activism, with several local organisations committed to making a more sustainable town.

A current project is trying to rid the place of plastic bags.

“It’s a growing movement.”

Meeting Living Building Challenge

As well as aiming for 8.5 star NatHERS ratings, the project is targeting the exacting Living Building Challenge, where developments must generate more energy than they use, collect and treat all water onsite, use local materials, avoid “red-listed” products, provide space to connect occupants to nature and community, and be beautiful and healthy places.

Hes says a lot of the lessons from the Bull Street project will be applied to The Paddock.

The homes will be built with timber, recycled brick and corrugated iron roofing, and will range from 1.5-4 bedrooms, with a smaller, more sustainable footprint of between 87 and 120 square metres. Barrett hopes this will attract “a range of ages and family sizes”. The plan is to create some dwellings with high accessibility standards to allow for ageing in place.

Materials will be mostly local, as will be the people building it. The CO2 emissions generated by the building work and materials will be offset by a one-off payment by the Barrett family to a carbon bank.

Two-thirds of the land is also being dedicated to shared food gardens, orchards, planted wetlands, small wetlands and native gardens, with the houses all facing onto central open space. Timber-framed wicking beds will be used to reduce water use. Car parking will be restricted to the perimeter of the site to maximise space.

The development will include 4kW of solar on each house, which Barrett says is significantly larger than most homes would include. Communal buildings and sheds will also incorporate solar.

Combined with the high thermal efficiency and a smaller size, it is expected to save owners a fortune, with the Australian Technology Association having performed some calculations.

“The energy bill savings for a Paddock home, compared to the average Victorian home, will be around $2000 per year,” ATA policy and research manager Damien Moyse says.

Hot water and space heating will be powered by electric heat pump, and there’ll be no gas.

Water’s a challenge, but things are looking bright

One issue that could be an issue is around water positivity.

“We have a pretty dry area,” Barrett says. “We’ve just come out of a 10-year drought.”

However, there has been ongoing discussions with regional water corporation Coliban Water to install a complete treatment system onsite, that could handle black and greywater.

According to Hes, the area’s water treatment capabilities are at capacity, so the utility has been actively looking at alternative treatment systems.

“If that happens we’ll definitely meet the LBC,” she told The Fifth Estate.

Other initiatives include six large water tanks to capture rainwater, which should meet the majority of residents’ needs.

Nature

Respect for nature plays a large part in the project, and for each hectare of development, an equal amount will be purchased and set aside in perpetuity through a land trust.

To increase habitat diversity, there’ll be an extensive planting program to reintroduce native plants to the site.

Hes says the plan is to see whether they can create the conditions to bring an endangered owl back to the site “through ensuring the whole ecological chain is there”. So providing the plants that attract the insects that attract the geckos that can attract apex predators.

It’s all about “nature becoming better rather than worse because of housing development”, she says.

Deliberative development

One exciting part of the proposal is that it’s actively seeking input from buyers into how the houses are designed and which elements are included in a community building.

Once interested buyers are identified they will be invited to attend four all-day workshops to learn about the process of creating and operating their homes, and also be invited to tell the designers what they want from the home.

“One thing we’re doing a bit differently is building a community centre, at least the size of a 3-4 bed house,” Barrett says.

“It will be part of the body corporate and available for all sorts of things. One thing it could be available for is renting rooms for guests. So instead of having a guest room in the house, we’ll have one in the community centre. It will also provide income for the development to pay some of the body corporate expenses.”

Barrett also says it could house a communal laundry, so people don’t have to take up space in their own homes.

“We’re aiming to create a development where people can live independently, so if people want to have an individual laundry they can, but we suspect they’ll wan’t shared one because it’s cheaper and a good social thing.”

Seven homes are currently for sale off the plan, with prices between $390,000 and $650,000.

Planning approval is expected in October with stage 1 expected to start construction in March 2018 and be completed in January-February of 2019.

The Paddock is being launched on 7.30pm Friday 16 June at Buda Historic Home and Garden, 42 Hunter Street, Castlemaine.

 

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