Building, Energy, & Land Use
A holistic approach to sustainable development begins with land use and community design. Rather than plopping buildings in areas that make construction easy, we want to work with the natural contours of land and look at how overall designs work. How do buildings relate to each other? To the forest? To the sunshine? Would neighbors like to see each other often, or have more privacy? Where will the community garden go?
These questions and others will be part of the organic development of the ecovillage. Your input as a community member will help shape the direction of the land.
This site will incorporate a number of summary articles and links to websites that relate to green building, natural building, permaculture, energy, etc. All of these models will assist in the design of the ecovillage.
Wood Burning Summary is a short, fact-filled celebration of wood as a renewable energy source in a forested area such as Laytonville. Contains comparisons of woodburning stoves, resources for information on air quality and efficiency, etc.
PARCEL DEVELOPMENT SCENARIOS
This is a proposed parcel development scenario that can be configured in many ways. Each parcel at the Laytonville Ecovillage can support two residential homes, so sharing development has many possibilities.
There will be two, two-bedroom homes, detached studios, carports, a shared well, shared septic system, a shared outdoor wood boiler for hot water and space heating, a shared bio-diesel generator for electrical energy back up, and a shared diesel tank to fuel the generator and back-up fuel for the outdoor boiler.
Each home will be off-grid and solar/generator powered. Residents could later apply for PG&E hook-up.
Any system that requires energy/money to run and maintain will be separately monitored and a maintenance contract will be established to ensure a fair and equal monetary relationship. For example, someone living on the land three months out of the year would pay less for generator maintenance than someone living on the land full-time.
Each parcel can support four bedrooms based on engineered septic system capacity. Additional septic capacity could be determined by additional soil/perc testing. I’m choosing to build two, two-bedroom homes. This does not determine the number of people who can live in each bedroom. Non-bedroom rooms in homes can function as “bedrooms.” And detached cottages with electricity and no plumbing can be “bed sheds” and/or separate abodes.
Driveways leading up to the homes could be shared or separate. Carports will be post-and-beam structures large enough for 2-3 vehicles and could serve as temporary overhead shelter for an RV while someone is living on the land and building their home. It’s important that the carport not be the first thing you see when pulling into the driveway. Too many American homes celebrate the automobile with the garage being conspicuously placed in front. While the carports might ultimately need to be up front, placing them on the side will keep the vehicles at least partially obscured. An additional carport-type structure could be available for guests. A simple post-and-beam carport would be an attractive aesthetic alternative to a garage, and a covered pathway from the carport to the house would keep the rain off while walking to the house.
The center of the parcel will be the dividing line between the two homesteads and the space they share. Some kind of commons will emerge, be it a garden, outdoor hang-out, and/or just beautiful landscaping. The center would also offer a logical place to put shared mechanical things, but if so then they need to be housed in an aesthetically nice building and utility shed so that their function doesn’t define the space.
Each building will have roughly an acre of land each, with the point towards the center of the parcel being whatever shared space there is. Different configurations are possible; for example, the center could be landscaping or a living fence, and the shared mechanical resources could be split between the two sides.
A biodiesel generator will power up each home’s batteries. When the generator runs, it’s more efficient to charge two sets of batteries instead of one. Each home usage per kilowatt hour will translate into an amount of biodiesel, and each home will thus pay for the biodiesel accordingly. Generator will be an ultra-quiet unit and fully automated to start when batteries are low. A large tank will be filled once a month or as needed by Yokio fuels. This means that instead of paying PG&E for power, the payment will go to a local business that makes all of its biodiesel from Mendocino County oil/grease waste.
Each home will have a large fiberglass tank for collecting rainwater, and these tanks will also be fed by an on-site well when rainwater runs short. The well will run on a float valve and only turn on when needed. If enough storage is in place, then the well water can be diverted to landscaping while the better quality rainwater is used before filling the tank with well water. The point is to use rainwater for household use and then revert to well water when needed. If and when the county ever brings water to this subdivision, a line will run to a distribution point…but that doesn’t mean that any of the parcels have to hook up to it.
Outdoor Wood Boiler
A large outdoor wood-fired boiler generates hot water that’s moved through a hydronic heating system to heat domestic hot water and radiant heat in the cold months. More efficient than wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, once or twice a day the boiler will be filled and stoked with firewood that doesn’t have to be split or cut down to standard firewood sizes. Smaller material normally put into burn piles can also be used. A “dual fuel” unit can run on biodiesel and an automated biodiesel backup when the firewood gets low. A sensor will light up in the homes to signal that the unit is running on biodiesel instead of firewood.
An Orenco “four-bedroom” aerobic septic system will manage blackwater from both buildings. The leachfield is a flexible plastic sheet that only needs to be 12” below grade and can be woven around trees, as opposed to four foot trenches requiring lot’s of rock, perf pipe, geotextile fabric, labor. The leach-field could be a shared landscaping space. Effluent from this type of system is very clean.
Note that the Orenco septic systems are the systems designed and approved for the Laytonville Ecovillage. Each parcel has an approved system design on file at the Environmental Health Department.
A shared garden can be large or small and is up to the folks living on the. Small herb and vegetable gardens close to the house are efficient and permaculture to boot.
Each home will be roughly 1,200 sf, one story, with two bedrooms, open kitchen/dining room, storage room, office, utility room, and “entry/mud rooms” for both front and rear entries. Framing will be 2×8 walls with compact insulation, roof overhang will be two feet, roof material will be metal, cladding will be board and batton, floors 1×6 t&g oak, window sills will be large madrone or other on-site materials, etc.
Homes will be designed for easy expansion/additions.
SOLAR, ENERGY, HEAT
The site has poor solar gain but will significantly improve when the forest is thinned and building footprints are cleared. I will offer to thin the neighbor’s adjacent forest for free. Upper canopy thinning can keep trees standing and bring in a lot of sunlight.
Parcel #4 could support a community solar energy array and provide 1-2 kilowatts per house. High voltage transformers would be required to send electricity to each home. With time and money a larger village-scale energy system could be developed.
The same applies for solar hot water. Each home will have 120 gallons of storage that will be heated by either solar or the outdoor boiler (or both). An on-demand propane hot water heater will provide back-up hot water when needed.
Another heating strategy to consider is to not use the outdoor boiler and use wood burning stoves instead. Because the buildings are off-grid, California allows for wood burning as a primary heat source. But the advantage to having an outdoor boiler is that it requires less feeding, less maintenance, and can support a radiant heating system that will heat every room in the house. And an outdoor boiler doesn’t trigger an increase in insurance premiums. I will be putting together a basic overview of the cost of installation, efficiency of systems, long-term savings, etc.