Green Building Blog

low cost eco-building

NEW REPORT: Low Impact Communities in Britain March 27, 2012

I have recently given several talks around Britain about how we can encourage the building of more low impact communities. I have collated the talks into a short report on the topic, available here as a PDF: Low impact communities in Britain.

The report identifies three key types of barrier to low impact communities: political, economic and cultural, and outlines what these barriers entail and some possible solutions. It also outlines four different case studies, and some other issues which are important to consider when encouraging eco-housing. Finally, the report outlines common pitfalls and the best way to successfully build low impact communities, which I argue involves:

      1. Use hybrid materials or straw bale
      2. Have a mutual housing ownership or a rental model
      3. Build collectively
      4. Have a pioneer and a risk taker driving project
      5. Share key infrastructure, by having a co-housing organisational structure
      6. Build on ‘marginal’ land or remove land from the market mechanism
      7. Build small with an open plan design
      8. Use locally available materials
      9. Minimise use of technology
      10. Plan long-term maintenance
      11. Establish strong community agreements
      12. Have a good simple passive design

 Please share the report freely and I would welcome any comments.

[27th March, Leicester]


Map of low impact communities in Britain March 19, 2012

Filed under: Inspiring examples,Project outputs and findings — naturalbuild @ 10:34 am

I have produced a map of the location of a broad selection of low impact communities in Britain. This is useful to help us see the sheer variety and growth of these communities, and also to understand how they are clustering in certain places. These are all actually existing projects which have been completed except for LILAC (Leeds), which is in the process of being built.

For the purpose of this map I have defined low impact communities as constituting those projects which:

  1. Seek autonomy and self reliance, and thus seek to generate all that they need
  2. Often have mixed goals but tend to include becoming more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable
  3. That tend to share values. Thus some are intentional communities, others less so, but most have community agreements by which all occupants agree to abide
  4. That the ethos is self-build and do-it-yourself
  5. That are structured around living and building collectively and often include sharing communal space
  6. Involve a care and consideration for others. This can include deliberately seeking to reconfigure existing relationships, such as practicing gender equality
  7. Are low-cost and often build affordability for perpetuity into the long-term design
  8. Can requires a change of lifestyle and/or income generation
  9. Seel minimal resource use (in construction and life-cycle)
  10. Have low visual impact
  11. Are built from local, recycled or natural materials
  12. Are often small scale

These then include rural and urban projects, despite urban projects often having less space from which to generate energy or alternative incomes. Overall such communities are concerned with much more than just the architecture, instead it is about the way people live, and live together, which is significantly more important. In terms of how these communities compare to eco-housing per se, the novelty is the way in which they bring all these different aspects together in one place.

The map is also available as a PDF here: Low Impact Communities map. Please feel free to use it, but please acknowledge its source.

I would welcome any comments, correction or additions.

[Leicester, 19th March 2012]


Lectures on eco-housing March 14, 2012

I have recently been teaching the environmental geography of eco-housing to final year undergraduate geography students here at the University of Leicester (Britain). It has been a fun process of trying to organise my thoughts and recent research into a coherent story. I am not sure if they are of interest or use to anyone beyond the classroom, but in case they are I have attached them here. They are designed as two-hour long lectures and there are no additional notes – I tend to talk around each slide. So they are quite long.


The topics are:

1. Ecohousing and architectural geographies

2. Politics of building

3. Low Impact Development

4. Transition, scale and replication

Please note: I do not have copyright permission for some of the images included in these slides. The majority of them are mine, but some have been borrowed from online so please do not use them without returning to the original source.

I am publishing the slides online under creative commons, so please feel free to use and evolve the ideas and material included here.

As always any feedback and comments would be most welcome.

[14th March, Leicester]


Learning from Lilac: Low Impact Affordable living in Leeds, Britain March 5, 2012

Filed under: Britain,Building materials,Cost of housing,Inspiring examples — naturalbuild @ 8:22 pm

Apologies to those not in Britain, but there is a really interesting workshop coming up on 10th May in Leeds. Lilac stands for Low Impact Living Affordable Community. It is a member-led co-operative housing society building an affordable, cohousing community in Leeds. They are using a co-housing design approach to build 20 houses and a common house from strawbale and timber through a prefabricated product called Modcell (enabling cheap, quick, collective and local construction).

They have just started building (on a 0.7 hectare site in inner city Leeds) and there is a lot to be learnt from this project. In particular they have deliberately organised the project to remain affordable in perpetuity using a mutual home ownership model. In effect each resident pays just 35% of their net household income towards the costs of living at Lilac (and thus if you earn more you pay more). This is not just paid as rent however, all residents co-own the project (through equity shares) and as such all have a vested interest to make it work and maintain it. In order to ensure that the project was within their available budget they have had to make compromises, such as using gas as an energy source, and only aiming to achieve Level 4 of the UK Government’s Code for Sustainable Homes. This was done in part, however, to balance the energy needs of occupants with the cost limitations and is indicative of a participatory and considered approach to low impact and lost cost building.

Lilac also received a £420,000 grant from the Homes and Communities Agency (UK Government) and have funded the bulk of their initial costs through a loan from the bank Triodos.

The group have spent several years reaching this point and have spent considerable time ensuring that the process of the project was democratic and inclusive. They have developed several ‘community agreements’ which all residents have to agree to abide by and include forgoing have tumble dryers and dishwashers in their personal units, using the communal washing machines, and outlines how the communal spaces will be managed. They are also restricting the number of cars on site, insisting on car pooling and have tried to ‘design out’ carbon intensive activities. Overall, this is an exciting project and definitely one to follow. I am not personally involved, however, several of my long time friends are central to the project so I might be a little biased!

++++ Learning from Lilac: An invitation to a day workshop ++++

In association with the UK Cohousing Network (

Thursday 10th May 2012. 10am – 5pm
School of Geography, University of Leeds. University Road. Leeds. LS2 9JT.

Lilac is hosting a day to share its learning to help other similar projects develop their ideas into reality. This day is aimed at those who wish to set up housing projects who have an emphasis on being – community-focused, low impact, co-operative, affordable, member-led, mutual. Topics in the morning will briefly cover:

.       The Lilac project in brief so far – key milestones, challenges, successes
.       How to go about finding land
.       Options for financing your project
.       Developing good group process and making decisions collectively
.       Attracting members
.       The Project Manager and what they will do for you
.       The Quantity Surveyor and what they will do for you
.       The Solicitor and dealing with legal issues
.       Ways forward, networking and supporting projects

Additional topics will be covered in the afternoon reflecting the interests of participants. Please use the form below to state the topics you would like to see covered (for example Lilac’s Mutual Home Ownership model, Lilac’s environmental strategy, grant finding, what is cohousing, the role of a common house).

+++ To Book your place +++

Places are limited to 30 participants. To book your place please send a cheque for £10 payable to ‘The University of Leeds’ and the booking form to: Paul Chatterton, School of Geography, University of Leeds, University Road, Leeds, LS2 9JT.

For further information about the day contact:

[Leicester, 5th March 2012]