In Land We Trust

The Earth We Walk On

"When designing a community, my first priority is all about the canvas. The land a village occupies breaths energy and life into every aspect of a community, so that is where we start." Garnet McPherson

We are often approached to help our clients find the perfect locations for an eco village. So we are always on the look out for land with just the right qualities to make and excelant site for an eco village. In terms of situating a community development the rule of thumb is still location, location, location!

For any kind of Eco Village to succeed the right kind of land needs to form the “canvas” for it to be created on. Over the three decades we have been Developing Intentional Communities we have learned that if a community is intending to grow its own food there are few criteria more important for the site than the topography of the land and the soil that the community will be built upon.

In more than a small way the earth the community is located on provided the vital energy that the community grows from. It is the very first thing we examine and the second is water quality. Any community site needs to have at least these two resources going for ig if it is to support a successful community.

SITE - The ideal site would be surrounded with wild lands providing a depth of biodiversity that supports the eco systems of both the local environment and the community itself. It needs to be organic land that has not been impacted by common agri business chemicals for at least 5 years. There needs to be a sufficient layer of top soil to support sustained croping and a healthy quantity and variety of symbiotic microbes in the soil.

The ideal topography would be gently south slopping to extend the growing season of crop fields and there should be appropriate locations for structures. It would need an ample supply of clean water to support the needs of the community. It should have the potential for the production of renewable energy sufficient to power the needs of the community.

SOIL - As seen here is what a hypothetical soil profile should look like. In some areas the top layer (O horizon)is much thicker than in other layers. This layer is composed of organic material. The A horizon is the top most mineral layer of a soil profile and provides most of the mineral nutrients to plants. Next is an E horizon where minerals are leached out into the lower B horizon where they are concentrated. In Southern Ontario for example the B horizon is typically a darker color due to the high amount of minerals in the soil. The C horizon is unconsolidated parent material and typically has more rock in it. The C horizon also contains more ground water. Finally the lowest horizon is the R horizon which is bedrock. When it comes to soil quality, if all the basics of the land are there than you can always improve soil quality through a variety of techniques and technologies.

TYPOGRAPHY - The typography of the land is also an important factor we consider before recomending a site for a project. A suitable site and more specifically the “building lot” consists of typical physical attributes such as: size; shape; access; location; elevation; slope; soil type; depth of soil and water table etc. The lot can be: level; sloping to front; sloping to rear; sloping to sides and undulating.

SLOPE is important to consider. A gentle slope of 10% (one foot of rise for every 10 feet across) or less is ideal. It simplifies site drainage and is easy to regrade to make a level yard if desired. Slopes of 15% to 20% are ideal for a walk-out basement, which can be finished for relatively inexpensive living space. Beyond 20%, the slope may start to impact construction costs and may leave you with little level land for lawns and gardens. The compass orientation of the slope acts similarly to sun exposure. A south-facing slope is particularly helpful in cold climates as it tends to be warmer, and more sunny for more hours than a north-facing slope. An east slope receives more morning sun and a west slope receives more afternoon sun. Also pay attention to whether the land is upslope or downslope from the road, assuming the lot has road frontage. On an upslope lot, you may be looking over the road at views. A downslope lot may have more privacy, but depending on the topography runoff from the road may end up in your yard.

SUN ANGLES effect the way the structure functions greatly. To assess the a site’s sun exposure is not difficult, although for a precise analysis we use solar design tools that show sun angles throughout the year. If the winter angle shown is obstructed by tall trees, a hillside, another building, or other obstacle, you won’t get much sunshine at that time. Hardwood trees, which lose their leaves in winter, will allow a good percentage of winter sun to reach the house – the amount depending on the density of trees and branches. Pines and other conifers will block the sun year-round. We often spend some time walking around the site at different times of day to get a good feeling for sun exposure.

LANDSCAPE - When a site does not have much tree cover at all we often will optimise the landscape with hardwoods on the south to maximise the winter solar income and evergreens on the north to provide protection from the cold north winds of winter.

LIGHT - Too many home designers and builders ignore the sun exposure when developing a floor plan and locating windows. Everyone loves a bright home with good natural daylighting, which you can maximize with south-facing glass. South-facing glass is also best for passive-solar heating as it receives the most heat gain in winter while naturally rejecting summer heat gain because of the high sun angle. Consider solar exposure when placing rooms and windows and you can have a light-filled home with natural warmth on sunny winter days.

SOUTH EXPOSURE - Whether or not you are designing a solar home, good south exposure is desirable in all but the hottest U.S. climate zones. For passive solar design, the southern exposure from 9 am and 3 pm are most important. To optimize solar gain, windows should be oriented within 15 to 20 degrees of true (solar) south. In a warm climate with significant cooling loads, southeast glass is better than southwest. South-facing windows will receive the most solar heat gain in winter when the sun is low and in short supply. In summer, the sun is high in the sky at mid-day, so south windows naturally receive less solar gain. With large areas of south-facing glass, you may need the additional protection of overhangs designed to block the summer sun. One caution: Vertical glass is best. Avoid sloped south-facing glass (e.g., in a sunspace), or overuse of south-facing skylights as these are prone to overheat in summer. In general, the total area south-facing glass should not exceed about 5% to 7% of your house’s floor area unless you use shading and thermal mass to prevent overheating on sunny days. A house with south glass up to 7% of the floor area is considered “sun-tempered”. Passive-solar homes typically have south glass equal to 9% to 12% of the floor area. In today’s tight, well-insulated homes, too much south glass without adequate shading can cause overheating on sunny days, especially in the spring and fall. A wall of glass can also cause excessive heat loss and a chilly feeling (from radiant cooling) on winter nights. So we have an experienced passive-solar designer who will factor in climate, glazing type, and insulation levels to come up with an optimal design.

EAST EXPOSURE - If you’re a morning person, it’s nice to enjoy breakfast near east- or southeast-facing windows. Look for site with unobstructed access to morning sun.

WEST EXPOSURE - West-facing windows are the most problematic. These receive a lot of solar heat gain in the late afternoon, when houses tend to be hottest in spring, summer, and fall. I’ve been in houses that overheat from too much west-facing glass in mid-winter. These problems can be controlled to some extent by using the right type of “spectrally selective” glass that blocks much of the solar heat gain. But, unless dramatic west views demand a lot of glass on that side of your house, moderation is advised.

NORTH EXPOSURE - Artists appreciate north light for its soft, even lighting quality and lack of glare and harsh shadows. While I wouldn’t overdo it in cold climates, new high-performance glazings allow you to put windows wherever you like without worrying too much about heat loss. On the other hand, if your building site has limited north sun exposure, that should not be a problem since north lighting is rarely direct in our hemisphere.

On a personal level, what is the perfect building site for your project is subjective. Some may like windswept mountain tops with dramatic views, others like shady hollows. Some like open fields; others mature woods. Ideally, a house should be designed to fit the building site – or a building site found that is a perfect fit for the house design you have in mind. In reality, most people have a house design in mind and then try to adapt it to the site they are able to afford. In some cases, this can work out fine, but it’s good to keep an open mind about changing the house design to truly fit the site. In any event, it is important to know what you are looking for in building sites, what are your top priority are, and what you would like to have if possible, but can live without.

Finding The Right "Canvas" We are always keeping an eye out for ideal locations featuring just the right land for intentional community projects and over the years we found several properties that held great promise. Some of them have already turned into intentianal communities.

Over the last few decades we have sited and developed permiculture based eco village plans for a number of projects.. Each with its own purpose and requirements but all designed with permaculture in mind.

We are still looking for good sites for other village projects so by all means let us know if you know of a good site for one of our projects. You can call us at 888-844-3444 x2.

Take a look at some examples of the Intentional Communities we have designed. Copyright © Earthwalk Inc.