Designing Tomorrow: A Deep Dive into Sustainable Housing in the Witchcliffe Ecovillage

There are few informational events more aligned to the values of the Witchcliffe Ecovillage (WEV) than Sustainable House Day by Renew. Considered one of the world’s most sustainable residential communities, the Witchcliffe Ecovillage sets a high bar, not only when it comes to the sustainability of the homes, but holistically across all social, environmental, and economic measures.

The Witchcliffe Ecovillage is a privately owned, joint venture project led by developer, Sustainable Settlements, under the management of partners Mike Hulme and Michelle Sheridan. The Ecovillage principles are based on the Permaculture ethics of “earth care, people care and fair share” and its these core values that are attracting like-minded people from around the country to make their life here.

Our buyers know that this is no ordinary residential subdivision, where you buy a block of land, plonk on a project home, build a fence and close the blinds to the street. Without doubt, the primary reason residents are drawn to the Ecovillage is its authentic sense of community and shared values around what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle. Everything we have designed and built supports this idea, from the layout of our community garden clusters and their generous communal infrastructure, to the shared ownership of nearly 40ha of Ecovillage Commons land, including our magnificent Community Centre. It’s all designed to facilitate the creation of a cohesive, sustainable, supportive community.

Sustainable housing is paramount to this idea, and we have poured countless hours of research and work into creating a comprehensive guide to help our residents build the most sustainable home they can. It’s called the Witchcliffe Ecovillage Sustainable Building Design Guidelines (BDGs) and all homes must comply with its requirements to ensure the sustainability principles of the Ecovillage are upheld.

What does this mean in practice?

Along with loads of helpful advice and guidance, our BDGs specify that all Ecovillage homes must:

  • be 100% self-sufficient in rainwater
  • be 100% self-sufficient in renewable energy from household PV and connecting to our cluster-level microgrids, batteries and EV charging stations
  • be passive solar designed with sufficient thermal mass for winter warming
  • be carbon negative, calculated using Cerclos’ RapidLCA tool, which measures Global Warming Potential as a negative percentage.
  • achieve a minimum 8-star NatHERS thermal efficiency rating (Ecovillage homes are averaging 8.3 stars out of 10.)
  • have a high degree of insulation, i.e. minimum R2.8 in the walls and R5 in the ceiling.
  • have double glazed windows.
  • use natural building materials sourced locally wherever possible, such as FSC certified or recycled timber, hempcrete, straw bale, recycled bricks.
  • be plumbed ready for greywater (installing the system is optional)
  • and so much more…

Free design review service

Our in-house design team manages the WEV design review process to which new homeowners and their builders are required to submit their house plans for approval. This free service ensures that all Ecovillage homes comply with the BDGs and Local Development Plans. Homeowners then receive a Certificate of Compliance, which they submit to the Augusta Margaret River Shire along with their Building License application.

Within the parameters set by the BDGs, homeowners have complete flexibility as to how they undertake their house build. For example, you can choose your own architect or designer and appoint your own builder to create the custom home of your dreams. Or you can take a more efficient and cost-effective route by choosing one of our six Ecovillage pre-designed homes and opting for one of the tried and tested local builders who have been working in the Ecovillage since the outset and are familiar with the BDGs. Unsurprisingly, this option has been very popular as homeowners receive a complete design with approved engineering drawings, life cycle assessment and NatHERS rating (thermal efficiency) for a minimal design license fee and they can whip through our design approval process with ease. We also have plenty of skilled owner builders creating their own beautiful homes in the Ecovillage.

Building materials for sustainable houses

Ecovillage homes are predominantly built from timber frame with solid timber or fibreboard cladding, hempcrete, straw bale, or reverse brick veneer.

Well insulated timber homes are the most common and affordable choice of structural material in the Ecovillage and there are many beautiful and varied examples using either timber cladding or painted Hardie fibreboard.

Hempcrete has proven to be very popular and is a natural, breathable material that is highly thermally efficient, fire retardant, anti-microbial, and acoustically quiet. We’d estimate that close to 35% of our homes in the Ecovillage are using this material, which means we’ll most likely have the biggest concentration of hempcrete homes in the southern hemisphere by project end.

Straw bale homes are renowned for their beautiful organic curves, deep window seats and fantastic thermal efficiency, and we have a couple of stellar examples in the Ecovillage.

Reverse brick veneer is known for its durability and high thermal performance and is used in several homes in the Ecovillage.

Energy use and consumption

Energy consumption and usage at the Witchcliffe Ecovillage exemplifies our dedication to sustainability. Each cluster is equipped with Tesla Powerpacks or household BYD batteries, ensuring our energy supply is entirely renewable. Typically, our clusters utilize only 20-40% of their batteries each night, which confirms how efficient the homes are. Through NMI meters and SwitchDin Droplets, we remotely monitor energy metrics, fostering awareness and accountability. Our 100% electric homes are averaging energy use of 8.3kWh/day, which is less than half the national average. Our considerable surplus solar energy is used to charge our batteries and hot water tanks (ReClaim heat pumps) during peak solar hours, which enables us to contribute to the grid on the shoulders of peak solar to extend our sustainable impact beyond our community.

Community life in the Witchcliffe Ecovillage

In conclusion, community life flourishes within the Witchcliffe Ecovillage, enhancing our commitment to sustainability with vibrant connections and shared values. Beyond our environmental initiatives, it is the warmth and companionship among residents that truly make our village a cherished and vibrant place to call home.