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Eugenie Stockmann, The Green Swing

Eugenie is one of the four people behind The Green Swing, a small sustainable townhouse development close to the Perth CBD.

Eugenie and her husband Helmuth migrated from The Netherlands to Perth back in 2000 and settled in the Northern suburbs. It was a nice house, close to public transport and the coast. We had made it our own, we installed PV panels and the swimming pool had been replaced by a vegetable garden. Nevertheless, the house felt too big for two, the daily commute was long and we always had to travel to socialise or go out.

We often talked about moving closer to the city, and actively looked around, however could not find what we were looking for. Simply said, the single house on a big block was too expensive and too much work and a townhouse lacked garden space.

So instead of moving house we decided to spend our savings differently and took a year off. Much to our surprise though, the time off provided inspiration and courage to pursue our dream: building a small sustainable townhouse type development close to the Perth CBD. The first step towards this dream was the sale of our house. We moved into rental accommodation in December 2009.

Around that same time we partnered with Mark and Alana Dowley and together bought a small block of land (839sqm) on 96 Rutland Avenue, in Lathlain in January 2010. It was close to public transport, zoned for medium density and affordable.

While orientation and shape were not ideal, Griff Morris from Solar Dwellings accepted the challenge of working with The Green Swing team, and help design the townhouse development. Planning and building approval were not without hurdles. The project is currently under construction by Right Homes and estimated to be completed around December 2012.

When you approach the development you notice straight away that the design is very different from a typical townhouse development. There is no big driveway; cars and parking are limited to the front of the property. The layout encourages community feel: all front doors face a common courtyard and there are also some communal facilities such as a bike store and outdoor area. One of the townhouses is divided into two apartments to allow for diversity and affordability.

The orientation of the houses is different when compared to all other houses in the suburb. This is because all houses in our development face north; they have been designed using passive solar design principles with the aim to reduce energy for heating and cooling. The results were great, ranging between 8 and 10 star. We believe we are building the first 10 star two storey townhouse! What is important is this was achieved without loosing sight of the life cycle assessment results. The project is a unique display of different construction methods: conventional double brick with cavity insulation, reverse brick veneer and straw bale. Recycled materials were used where possible.

There will be rainwater tanks and the purple piping for grey water disbursement. You would not expect it, but we had to work to be able to install these water saving measures. The Department of Health classes a shared rainwater tank solution and distribution of grey water on strata owned land as high risk which means you have to comply with very strict management and monitoring requirements which are very costly. Our project received an exemption from these requirements.

I already mentioned the importance of a garden for me. Being conscious of keeping the buildings’ footprint to a minimum resulted in 60% of mostly green, open space for our development. But green space is not limited to your own back yard. We saw a great opportunity in the storm water drain on the neighbouring block. This drain is owned by the council and together with the local community garden association for the past 2 years we have worked towards a model which allows revegetation and use as a community garden.

You can imagine I am really looking forward to moving in. Our rental must have an energy rating of minus and gets very uncomfortable. There is still a lot of work to do. What is exciting though is it that the community garden next door is already underway: we planted nearly 1,000 native seedlings in September!

The Green Swing is all about the journey towards a more sustainable community. I hope our project provides inspiration for others to take steps in that direction.

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