ePod: Environmentally Sustainable Housing


  1. Introduction
  2. Apartment Worm Farms
  3. Solar Powered Car Pools
  4. Smart Apartment
  5. Low Cost, Quality Housing

    See Also

  6. Canberra's centenary in 2013


City Edge Apartments

In 2005 the Australian Capital Territory Government asked for ideas on how to celebrate Canberra's centenary in 2013. This is one suggestion. It proposed to investigate the construction of low cost, high quality, environmentally efficient housing in Canberra. This would be based on developments such as "City Edge" at O'Connor, which includes a mix of private and community housing, specially adapted apartments for the disabled, solar power and heating, advanced computer controlled energy systems and broadband access. Some further steps which City Edge does not have could include online assistance to residents for apartment worm farms and solar powered car pools. Pilots for this would be set up in Canberra, in a simialr way to the energy efficient home display in Canberra (February 2006 to May 2007) and the results discussed at a global conference in Canberra in 2013. By 2013 students, researchers and companies would be attracted to Canberra as a world center for responsible urban design.

While these proposals are for long term research and development, so may be used to address urgent social (and political problems). Two examples are low cost community housing and transport for disability group homes.

Computer Assisted Apartment Worm Farms

apartment balcony worm farm

Worm Farm on Apartment Balcony

Home worm farms can save a considerable amount of food scraps, and some paper, going to landfill. They produce a useful compost and liquid fertilizer. However, users need training and support in their use, particularly when used in an apartment complex. This training and support could be provided via community TV, web and podcast services, provided via networking in the building complex.

The ACT Government, with Canberra tertiary institutions, could provide online support materials for home users of worm farms. Short instruction videos on how to set up a worm farm would be made and provided free via the broadband backbone in the apartment complex. Interactive multimedia web sites would provide question and answer sessions for common problems which occur with worm farming. A digital hot line would be available for people with further problems.

This material would be made "open source" and available for use world wide, with a spin off commercial service. As a result Canberra would be come an internationally famous centre for sustainable development. Canberra tertiary institutions would incorporate the material in their courses. At a conference in 2013 leaders in the environment and IT fields would be invited to Canberra to discuss the results. The conference would be podcast on the web world wide.

Solar Powered Car Pools

    Australian electric car by Shaun Williams

Car pools would be established at cluster housing in Canberra. Computer based systems would be used to administer the booking and payment. The cars would be available to disability based group houses, as well as the general community. Some cars would be battery or hybrid operated and recharged from solar panels (designed in Canberra) on the roof of the houses. The software and engineering would be done in Canberra and used in teaching at Canberra Institutions. In 2013 world experts in transport would be invited to Canberra for a conference podcast worldwide.

Community concern has been expressed in Canberra over the availability of disability transport.

The ACT Opposition says a number of Canberra families have raised concerns about reduced transport services for children with a disability.

Opposition disability spokeswoman Jacqui Burke says ACT Minister John Hargreaves has advised there has been no decision to withdraw transport to group homes.

Mrs Burke says there are concerns the Government's fleet of 60 cars will be reduced by 10. ...

A spokeswoman for Mr Hargreaves says the Government is consulting with families about the potential changes but there will not be a reduction of transport to activities.

She says the Government is looking at the possibility of car pooling to activities rather than using individual vehicles.

From: Concerns raised over disability transport service review, ABC, 18 December 2005. 12:32 (AEDT)

One option would be to share the cars with the wide community, through a computer mediated car pooling service, such as GoGet.

Becoming a GoGet member means we look after all your driving needs at a fraction of the cost of car ownership.

When you're ready to go, simply book your GoGet car online or via the phone for as little as an hour (or for longer if you need it). Once booked the car is yours. All you do is jump in, drive and bring it back to the same spot.

At the end of each month you get an itemised account for exactly what you used, much like a phone bill. What you don't get are mechanical, insurance and registration costs, cleaning hassles and everything else that goes with car ownership.

All our cars live in special reserved parking spots (we call them "pods") making them easy to find and even easier to get a park.

From: "How does it work?", GoGet, 2005

Pods of cars could be made available at cluster which includes group homes for the disabled. The parking spaces could be fitted for recharging of battery and hybrid vehicles, when the technology becomes affordable. One of the models of car used by GoGet has already been successfully modified in Australia and approved for use on Australian roads (see the accompanying proposal for "Canberra Electric Highway"). The vehicles would be recharged by solar panels invented in Canberra, mounted on the roof of the housing.

Low Cost, Quality Housing

Techniques for rapid modular construction of quality housing could be investigated in Canberra. This could be used to overcome problems with the provision of low cost housing responsive to community needs.

ACT MLAs have expressed outrage at the treatment of tenants who are to be evicted from a Narrabundah caravan park.

Residents say they were assured they would be able to remain at the Long Stay Caravan Park, when it was sold by the Koomarri Association to a private company earlier this year.

But last night, more than 100 tenants received eviction notices. ...

Caravan park eviction angers local politicians, ABC News, Wednesday, May 10, 2006. 10:32pm (AEST)

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructed

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructed

The Hyde Group, is a housing association, which provides housing to 75,000 people in the UK and is using innovative methods of construction, including BUMA steel frame prefabricated apartment modules. An Australian example is the PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard. This reduces construction time from months to weeks and could be adapted to include broadband cabling and solar panels.

Canberra has a history of relocated and prefabricated buildings, with some of the earliest located near City Edge in O'Connnor:

In 1947 disused sleeping huts from Tocumwal air base where transported to Canberra and refitted as family homes. The huts had been built originally to resemble houses rather than barracks to avoid aerial detection and bombing. They are of weatherboard and fibro construction and have wide verandahs. 100 of the "Tocumwals" were erected in O'Connor around a central park. Some Tocumwals were also located in Ainslie. Many are still standing to this day. Unusually, the houses were erected without concrete foundations in order to save time and money; the brick footings sat on a double row of bricks laid directly onto the ground in a shallow trench.

In 1946 the government began experimenting with concrete construction, with a test concrete wall being added to a house in Turner. An initial contract of 100 monocrete prefabricated houses was tendered in 1946 for construction in Turner and O'Connor. A further group of 45 houses was scheduled for Yarralumla in 1948. Monocrete houses were also constructed in many other Canberra suburbs.

Other forms of prefabricated housing were tested during this time. The Beaufort aircraft factory built a prefabricated steel house in Ainslie. In 1948, a timber prefabicated house was imported from Finland and erected in Canberra. Riley-Newsum prefabricated houses were constructed at Duntroon, Ainslie, O'Connor and Deakin in the early 1950s. ...

from: "Public housing in the Australian Capital Territory", Wikipedia, 26 February 2006.

Australia has an industry manufacturing modular buildings. These are usually seen as being for single "granny flats" and for temporary accommodation. However, with suitable fit-out they could be indistinguishable from traditionally constructed buildings.

Hi-Tech Homes is a family operated company offering affordable granny flats, dual-occupancy and manufactured homes, as well as quality cabins, site offices and function rooms. Prices of our range in the brochures start at $35,240.00 (installed) for a small one bedroom granny flat with ensuite. ...

All Hi-Tech Homes are constructed on a Galvanised Steel Chasis with Galvanised Steel Joists @ 450mm centres, comprising of 200mm x 75mm Galvanised Lipped Channel. Each home is erected on a tongue and groove termite treated particle board flooring. The frames and roof trusses are also termite treated timber. All Hi-Tech Homes have a stringent insulation criteria. Walls have a rating of R3.50, Celings rate R2.50 and Roof insulation comes with sisalation foil, rating R1.50. ...

Hi-Tech Homes does a complete start-to-finish project, including free site inspection, council approval and our Plumbing and Electrical contractors can quote you for on-site connection of services. As the homes are manufactured inside a 2000-square-metre factory, you don't ever have to worry about weather delays. All homes come with a 50-year guarantee for exterior cladding, seven-year structural guarantee and 12-month appliance guarantee....

from: "Hi-Tech Park Homes, 2002

Gewild Wonen is a residential area in a new town in The Netherlands built using modular housing techniques:

housing at Gewild Wonen Gewild Wonen (Sought-after housing or spontaneous housing in English) is a residential area in the "new town" of Almere. Gewild Wonen is an "experimental" neighbourhood that presents a large number of different housing solutions, where house buyers have the possibility to participate and to influence the design of their house.

From: "planum - Culture of cities data bank - Fourth Biennial of Towns and Town Planners in Europe", 2001

Professor Eric van Heck of RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam discusses details in his book "Smart Business Networks":

"... A recent trend in this industry is the mass-customization of newly built houses. Due to increased demand for customized houses and changed governmental regulations, the Dutch housing industry tries to shift to more customer participation. This brings ... project was called "Gewild Wonen', which may be translated as Sought-After Housing. The Gewild Wonen project was analyzed to see which of the participating networks were "the smartest'. That is, which of the networks outperformed the other ones, in terms of degree of customization, financial measures and customer satisfaction. The starting hypothesis for this investigation was that networks that were designed "in-sync' would outsmart networks that..."

From: "Smart Business Networks ", Peter H. M. Vervest, 2004

Smart Apartment

North side looking eastCommon property looking eastPatch Panel

The Smart Apartment was established in 2001 in the City Edge development in O'Connor Canberra, as a living experiment in usable hi-tech living. It is not a mock-up in the PR area of an IT corporation, but a real dwelling in an inner Canberra suburb. The apartment survived the 2003 Canberra bushfires and continued to function despite power loss and degraded of the telecommunications system. This is a practical test of what is affordable and can be lived with.

The City Edge development includes solar lighting and heating, community housing and was built as a partnership between the ACT Government, non-profit community groups and companies. It serves as one model of a livable future.


Transact Optical Cable in Basement

The apartment complex is served by direct fibre optic connection to the basement. "The broadband service to the building provides most of what is needed for a hi tech home.

Many of the home's functions are available using a low cost (less than $200) hand held infrared remote control. The one unit controls the air conditioning, TV, VCR, digital set top box, DVD, CD player and radio.

Apartments designed for the disabled

Adjustable height kitchen sinkElectric door opener

There is a case for more automation in the home to assist the disabled. Several apartments in the same complex as the Smart Apartment are specially adapted for the disabled. These use some simple technology, such as an adjustable height kitchen bench with the mechanism from an ergonomic office desk and a powered front door operated by a garage door remote control.

University of Canberra Interior Design Project


The architecture students at the University of Canberra designed a home office for the apartment (students the Bauhaus Dessau also studied the design). However, in practice a laptop computer and cordless phone on the dining table may be sufficient.

The Future

The Australian National University is researching technologies which may find their way into future homes and offices, including the Access grid.

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