Deciding to move to Cloughjordan, and build a house in its ecovillage, was easy to some extent. We are a family with two children, aged 12 and seven, and want somewhere great to bring the kids up, where they can play outside with ease.
Community, and living a more environmentally-sound lifestyle, are important to us. It is too easy to slip into eating junk, driving everywhere and not really knowing many people well in the isolation of a typical housing estate. We hope that Cloughjordan ecovillage will provide a supportive framework for the way we’d ideally like to live.
More than 40 groups in the town of Cloughjordan cater to all sorts of activities and interests — from Amnesty to the ICA, meditation to Tidy Towns — so it is very active. We hope we’d get some of the benefits of urban living — like-minded people doing interesting things — along with the benefits of rural living: Cloughjordan has its own community farm, there are woods nearby for walks, a few festivals each year, and people in general are more chatty and neighbourly than is sometimes the case in bigger towns and cities. The thousands of trees, including fruiting trees, which have been planted recently will mature nicely over the years. The ecovillage being part of the town was also attractive to us: we didn’t fancy a remote right-on spot, removed from normal life.
The ecovillage site is just under 70 acres, one-third of which is residential. An ecocharter defines some of the building rules and materials. The residential part is quite concentrated, which can surprise people. Different types of living arrangements can be catered for. Not everyone is in a ‘traditional’ family. Some people want, for example, smaller apartments or innovative shared co-housing options. The ecovillage also has a woodchip-powered district heating system, which works better if the housing units are close together.
We aren’t self-builders, and aren’t into expressing our identity through our house or anything lofty like that: we just want a straightforward, compact, affordable, eco-house built so we can get on with the fun, rewarding bit — living in the ecovillage.
The structure will be a simple timber frame construction, with recycled paper insulation. Aptly, one of the options we’re investigating for insulation involves old copies of the Irish Examiner: I’ve written for the paper for ten years now, so it would certainly be something else if the Examiner kept me warm for the coming years. Rock wool seems to be the cheapest option, but recycled paper is a lot more environmentally sound, and almost as affordable.
Our detached site is quite small, and is in a built up part of the site. Because of this, and because there are four of us, we are planning to go ‘up’ rather than ‘out’. We had to be creative in how we invented space for ourselves, and our architect, Miles Sampson, has been great in coming up with ways to do this.
We want to put in lots of south-facing windows to maximise solar gain. The first-floor balcony and reasonably sized office / recreation room with large window should help the place feel spacious. I work from home, so having an attractive office space, one that I could also bring people to for meetings, will be advantageous. We have no desire for numerous bathrooms or big bedrooms.
Space-saving plans include a stairs that winds around our long, tall bookshelves. We love books, have hundreds of the things, but they are also eye clutter So we thought we’d put the books in their own place, one that has plenty of traffic so they are not out of access.
On the open-plan ground floor, a row of high windows in the kitchen will let in early morning light but maintain privacy, as they are above head height. The kitchen also has a higher ceiling to create a sense of space, and a wall bench for the kitchen table and breakfast unit, again with space-creation in mind.
Two grass roofs, with sod from some of the surplus soil from the ecovillage site, should work on a number of fronts. Local soil and grasses on our roof would be the most apt in terms of taking hold successfully, while it would also be both affordable and very eco. We also would like a water trough to affordably capture some usable water.
We’d like the exterior finish to be a combination of render and shingle (wood cladding): 2/3 shingle and the bottom 1/3 render. It should be possible to have that nice warm wood finish on at least a proportion of the house in a way that won’t cost any more than render.
We got some good news in early December, when we found out that our designs were accepted by the planning authorities. So that’s the end of the beginning, and the start of our next phase.
*Served by a train station on the Limerick-Ballybrophy line (which links up with the Cork-Dublin line) Ireland’s first ecovillage is in Cloughjordan, Co Tipp. First conceived of in 1999, it moved towards planning in 2005, with the first house (of more than 50 now built) occupied by 2009. It has scope for about 120 homes, with a range of sustainable and community services being delivered. Site prices were reduced in July 2012, and now range from €39,000 to €69,000.
*Oliver Moore is a columnist in the Farming supplement with the Irish Examiner on Thursdays.