The Good Life With Homework

BUYING rural land to build a country lifestyle for yourself requires more specialised knowledge compared to purchasing a residential property.

If you buy an established rural property with an existing house and other structural improvements then a thorough expert inspection of each is recommended – just as you would if buying a residential property in a metropolitan area.

One of the challenges confronting people looking to purchase a rural property is to find out if the sale price is a reasonable figure.

You can research the value of a rural property in a few different ways.

One is to choose the area you wish to buy land and then monitor the asking prices of similar district properties and compare the types of improvements built on each.

As the turnover of rural property is not as frequent as metropolitan or suburban house sales you will need to be patient to track this information.

If you find the sale price of a bare block of land in a rural area you want to live then you are in luck as this figure will allow you to calculate a base figure per acre or hectare to use to compare the values of other properties with, or without, buildings.

Another step to consider is to look for a commercial database of sold prices of rural properties in the area you are interested in.

In Australia there are private companies that collect rural and regional property sales results and record the results in databases. These are commercial operations so trawl the Net and see what rural property sales research websites you can find.

Government departments in Australia record property sales results so this is another avenue to explore to research rural property sales results.

There are also a number of other practical matters to be aware of when purchasing rural land to build on as previous uses could have affected the land significantly.

Land that has been used to graze sheep can present the unsuspecting buyer with weeds they never new existed.

In winter inspecting a property grazed by sheep may present as land with short grass and sheep. In spring the same ground could turn into land with metre high weeds and grass hiding the same sheep.

Livestock will try to eat virtually anything to stay warm and so weeds and plant seeds can get excreted right across a property.

It could take years to control a weed-infested property especially if you are against using herbicides or if the ground gets saturated.

If you intend grazing livestock then think about getting a block of land that has high and low country.

One advantage of having higher and lower paddocks is if floods occur then you have got somewhere to put stock. A high point on your land offers more wide ranging the views too.

In summer lower country with some strategically located mature shade trees can offer stock some comfortable places to camp.

In Australia giant red gums growing on rural land indicates an abundant source of water is occasionally available on that land.

Red gums need plenty of water to survive whether it is flood water or subterranean. So if you see mature red gums thriving on a block of land you know this is a property where plenty of water is going to occur above or below ground sooner or later.

Tree plantations in strategic spots across a rural property are beneficial for the land and stock. Mature trees located to deflect prevailing harsh wind and weather will improve growing conditions on a rural property.

When you purchase a property in the country do what the early Australian pioneers did – camp on it for all four seasons before you choose where to build any structures.

After you have owned your land for a while you will get to know the prevailing wind directions, different soil types, identify boggy ground and springs and learn if any other natural phenomenon occurs on your new property.

You can then get a reasonable idea on where to build sheds, form laneways, situate rainwater tanks, dig dams and locate essential services such as underground power cables.

Do you want to buy a property near a forest? Forests are lovely to walk through and admire but when there is a drought they are fuel for bushfires. Forests are also havens for vermin. Foxes, feral cats and dogs kill livestock.

Australian forests can become havens for native fauna and in some areas mobs of kangaroos will compete with livestock for food. Wombats can dig huge burrows on a property and undermine roads.

If you want to live next to or in a forest be aware you will have to protect any trees, vegetables or flowers you plant with suitable fences. In Australia many kangaroos can jump 2 metres vertical from a standing start!

So ask people who are already living in an area you are researching so you can get an idea of what to expect and what to avoid it if you choose.

A parting thought for some of the more senior members of our society who may like the thought of going country.

People inevitably get physically affected as they age.

This should not discourage people who are mature from owning and living in a rural environment.

Instead you should ensure you are within a reasonable driving time to a larger regional centre that can provide various services including health care.

New Ruralism – A Return to Our American Roots

In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans seem to be seeking a return to a simpler way of life. They desire to reconnection with food and nature. Reducing waste and expenses has become a priority. Living a little “smaller” than previously is essential. Unfortunately they are being told the only way to live responsibly is to move back into a dense urban setting.

Land planners, environmentalists and governments are pushing for a more centralized, urban life. Their fundamental belief is that by increasing our density in urban settings we can reduce our dependence on automobiles, use fewer resources and lessen our impact on the environment. While this may satisfy a segment of our society, some people desire a quieter, rural lifestyle. The question is can we balance the need for space with relatively high density. One answer is New Ruralism.


New Ruralism is loosely defined as development that balances the need of minimizing overall land usage for shelter and maximizing land usage for greenspace or sustainable agriculture. Other elements of New Ruralism are regaining connections with our neighbors, learning to respect our food by understanding how we raise it and reconnecting with the outdoors. A large part of what it once meant to be an American was a sense of independence based on self-sufficiency counterbalanced by the ability to count on a neighbor for assistance. In modern America we have lost much that defined us forefathers.


A central element of the New Ruralism concept is high density housing. At first that seems to contradict the rural idea of New Ruralism, but it results in more greenspace. There are various examples to draw upon for the framework of New Ruralism. An excellent example that has stood the test of time is the Israeli moshav.  Unlike the Israeli kibbutz where the land is owned collectively, the moshav has private land for farming as well as land for a private home. The homes are arranged on relatively small lots while the majority of the land is left for agriculture. The close proximity of the houses lends itself to closer community leading neighbors to interact with each other. Unlike urban settings the overall feeling is pastoral and relaxing. Interestingly there have been some attempts in the US to draw city dwellers to the country to farm. Unfortunately they take huge tracts of land and leave many feeling just as isolated as they were in the city.


High density housing lends itself to larger open spaces that can be used in agriculture or left as greenspace or a combination of both. The agriculture piece can come in many forms. A communal garden can be planted and worked collectively. Alternately individual owners could lease parcels for their own gardens. With large enough spaces commercial operations can be used to supply an on-site restaurant. In Georgia, the development Serenby has a 25 acre farm that supplies vegetables to an on-site restaurant and bed and breakfast. Other developments like Montaluce use vineyards farmed on-site to supply grapes for wine. Some attempts to include agriculture have simply been tailored to the rich and not really an attempt to bring people closer to their food.


In New Ruralism, homeowners become more connect to their food. With a global market we are able to purchase fruits and vegetables outside of the local seasons. Processed foods further disconnect us from the plants and animals that we eat. Our children have no idea from where the foods they eat come or how they are raised. By enticing homeowners to participate in growing fruits and vegetable or raising livestock, New Ruralism gives them a new respect for the food they eat. 


Along with regained respect for food, homeowners are drawn out into nature. We have become so lost in television, internet and other forms of indoor entertainment that we have forgotten the beauty of our surroundings. The same open space used for agriculture can also be used for green spaces. Systems of trails and parks can help relax homeowners as well as result in better health.


Certainly there are limitations to New Ruralism, but it is a valid concept that gives people an alternative to urban living. We are constantly told that suburban sprawl is fundamentally wrong and that we need to move back to the cities. Infill is a development priority. There is something American about being contrarian. New Ruralism is a great expression of our fundamental pursuit of freedom.

Greener Homes Built and Under Construction

After the recent meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Harper it became apparent that the environment is now a high priority for the governments of both Canada and the United States. This probably means that suddenly everyone has to start thinking ‘green’ both at the office and in their homes. Energy conservation, renewable energy, recycling and many other environmental issues will be front and center in the very near future.

However, for the past decade one company in Calgary—Kanas Corporation—has been developing energy efficient and smart technology for Green Buildings and at the same time providing affordable housing. Their experiences to date, plus their research into new technology, ensures that we have a leader for the greening of our lifestyles right here in our own backyard.

Kanas Corporation began in 1997 with the concept of developing buildings with Insulated Concrete Form Construction (ICFC) and locally produced recycled steel joists and interior wall studs to create a superior building envelope to which smart technology could easily be incorporated. “We had a passion to develop a better building with a green emphasis but to really focus on efficiency with affordability,” says Robert Sipka, President of Kanas Corporation. “Our pilot project, now completed, was Parkhill Manor with nine rental apartments and currently under construction is our prototype Lomond apartment building with fifteen rental units. This fall we will break-ground and commence construction on our major performance project the Lumino with 318 units in the Manchester community.”

Defining a green project encompasses the building construction, the energy efficiency of the structure, the use of smart technology for energy conservation plus the surrounding neighborhood in terms of close proximity to public transit and amenities to include a reduction in the resident’s carbon footprint. A typical Kanas building meets R-2000 criteria and a Platinum Rating by Enervision’s Built Green program that evaluates “green” construction techniques which reduce the environmental impact of buildings. These prestigious ratings are achieved by Kanas through the ICFC construction method, the use of recycled steel, the acrylic stucco exterior, hot water solar panel heating systems, triple-glazed Low-E windows, low-VOC paints, concrete counter tops, low-flow fixtures and toilets, plus smart technology applications.

“Our buildings are greater than 50% more efficient relative to traditional construction methods. Plus the triple-glazed windows ensure no cold drafts or heat loss in winter and year-round noise reduction for a noticeably improved comfort level for the residents,” says Sipka.

The new Lomond development is located at Centre Street and 32nd Avenue N.W. with two bedroom apartments anticipated to be ready for occupancy late this year or early in 2010. Lomond is located close to public transit routes, giving residents a practical alternative to driving which results in financial savings and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. These homes will encompass some of the latest smart technologies recently discovered and tested by Kanas. Wherever possible Kanas chooses Canadian made products and materials to reduce shipping costs, lower transportation greenhouse gas emissions and support the Canadian economy.

Kanas has worked in conjunction with Alberta Government grants for affordable housing and the Lumino development is in partnership with the City of Calgary affordable housing program. This is an important part of the company’s philosophy to provide an environmentally friendly hand-up but not a hand-out.

” Our buildings are affordable by design and efficiency but the core is a really good building envelope to start with,” says Sipka. ” Although the cost savings may not be realized until several years after the tenants first move in, as the landlord we can afford to wait for these cost efficiencies to be realized.”

With Kanas Corporation as both the building developer and eventual landlord it would seem to indicate that they are fully prepared to stand behind both their construction materials and methods for a truly superior building with a focus on environmental efficiency.

Future Homes and Neighborhoods Will Likely Be Compact, Greener, and Friendlier

American home and neighborhood designs change constantly. If you put yourself randomly in a 20th century neighborhood, chances are that you could tell the decade it was built, even after the avocado-green siding is replaced. We may be in for an even bigger than normal shift in the next decade. How will a 2015 neighborhood be different than a 2007 subdivision? Here are some recent trends:

Movement to smaller, greener and more livable homes

New homes are undoubtedly getting smaller. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a house under construction fell 7.3 percent in the July-September quarter of 2008. A January 2009 survey of builders reported that 90 percent are building smaller homes.

Until recently, homebuilders focused on grand houses that maximize square footage and feature high-end upgrades. Today, builders are more likely to highlight how their homes save money and energy. “As people value operating costs more, they start thinking more about these things,” said Roger Voisinet, noted EcoBroker and President of “People are choosing solar and more energy-efficient heating and cooling.”

More attention is being paid to the quality of space rather than the quantity of space. “Time after time people leave the basement unfinished and put their money into good trim and quality elsewhere in the house.” said Voisinet. “People are also getting more creative with spaces.” He cited Belmont Lofts, which are popular condos in downtown Charlottesville where moveable, Shoji screen walls allow smaller rooms to be transformed into larger living spaces.

Economic fears are impacting design, suggests author and architectural psychologist Sally Fretwell. “People are now more simplistic in design and in building material. People are probably less showy,” said Fretwell, who also owns a paint store in Richmond, Virginia. Cost is more of a factor but by being more thoughtful, home purchasers focus on the details. “People are looking at things differently.” Said Fretwell, “They are a lot more creative. That’s wonderful”.

Migration to new urban centers with common greens and ready-built community

Besides moving into smaller homes, Americans are moving to communities with denser housing and “village” aspects that evoke neighborhoods of our great-grandparents.

Arthur C. Nelson, a leading housing expert who has studied housing trends for 20 years, expects that migration to denser living will bring sweeping changes to American society. According to Nelson, “Surveys indicate a growing preference for urban living. Roughly half of all households want the opportunity to live in neighborhoods and communities with higher density housing, a mix of housing types and household income levels, sidewalks, proximity to stores and restaurants, accessibility to transit options and other “smart growth” features associated with well-designed urban areas.”

Nelson predicts that there will be a surplus of between 3 million and 22 million homes on large lots (built on one-sixth of an acre or more) by 2025. He and other experts foresee these big homes in the exurbs eroding in value, with many of them being subdivided into multiple units.

Lifestyle has influenced people as much as economics in the growing taste for clustered, walkable neighborhoods. In an October 10, 2008 New York Times article, Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University describes the sense of well-being from being able to walk around and recognize your neighbors or even shopkeepers. Gerson said this sense of well-being is second only to being able to provide food and shelter for the family. “We know from studies that in close-knit urban communities, where private space is not as plentiful, public space becomes more central,” she said. Indeed, many families said they did not spend a lot of time at home. “There are always trade-offs in these choices. Families are resilient and find ways to adapt to whatever their circumstances.”

The community-oriented changes in where people choose to live coincides with new research on psychological studies of happiness. According to the Handbook of Psychology, by Irving Weiner and Donald Freedheim, “the strongest predictor of happiness [is] social connectedness. People who are relatively alone in the world are much less happy than people who have close connections with others. All other objective predictors of happiness, including money, education, health, and place of residence, are only weakly correlated with happiness.”

What might a neighborhood of 2015 look like?

A recent Chicago Tribune article summarizes the eight great real estate trends of 2009:

  1. Smaller Houses
  2. More apartments
  3. Increase in attached housing
  4. More rental units
  5. New urban centers with homes close to shops and restaurants
  6. Common green spaces for outdoor enjoyment of homeowners.
  7. Creating Community – where the developer provides social features beyond land, bricks and mortar.
  8. Online marketing of homes


So, what might a Year 2015 neighborhood look like? There will probably be many variations of neighborhoods that adopt the above trends.

Cohousing as a Case Study

One kind of modern neighborhood is cohousing, which is mostly unknown in the U.S. but which constitutes 25% of new development in Denmark. Cohousing is a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood where single family and attached homes surround a common green. Homes are smaller and closer together than the typical 2007 house, but space is efficiently used and homeowners enjoy a large clubhouse, shared gardens, a large playground, and other common amenities. Often a cohousing neighborhood is located near an urban center – further promoting walkability and neighborliness. Marketing of the homes is typically online or through word-of-mouth. Private spaces and backyards are a standard feature of cohousing. Solar, geothermal and other green features are also very common. But markedly different than typical housing developments, there are social aspects built-in. Neighbors have the option of taking part in potlucks and common meals and also working together on common tasks (such as landscaping and decision-making). In summary, cohousing is one example of where people buy houses not so much based on raw home size but more based on improving their social and private lifestyle as well as reducing their carbon footprint. Proponents of cohousing refer to it as “yesterday’s neighborhood today,” as a shorthand for describing a community where neighbors know one another and have fun together.

More to Life Than Square Footage

The weaker economy and worries over energy costs may have spurred homebuilders to make smaller, clustered and more energy-efficient homes; however, a broader national mood towards simplicity, and a richer lifestyle is likely to drive further change. As they further realize there is more to life than square footage, people will change their tastes. Clustered housing around green spaces will not only alter the landscape but will foster neighborliness and improve the way people live and relate to one another.

Achieving Greener House Through These Easy Tips

Green is in – not just in the sole sense of its color, tones, and hues but also due to its association to efforts done to help preserve Earth and its resources. If you are a homeowner who is concerned of helping in the large-scale conservation efforts, making your house greener and more at tone with nature through the following easy tips can be your right start.

Cut down on what you consume.

Consumption reduction is probably one of the easiest ways to make your house greener. Cutting down on what you use and consume will reduce your household waste production. According to available stats, the United States generates an annual municipal solid waste of 208 million tons – and the figure has your waste contributions. By reducing your consumption of every thing such as toilet paper, bottled water, and other packed things- you are actually contributing not only in lessening waste production but also in reducing energy consumption needed to manufacture those things.

Replace old appliances with those bearing the Energy Star logo.

The use of appliances contributes to about 20% of a household’s electric bill. Of this 20%, a large segment comes from your old appliances. Replacing them with Energy Star compliant counterparts would cut down on your energy consumption. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the energy-efficient appliances utilize up to 50% less of what the standard models use. This is a huge slice on your average electricity usage.

Change your water usage behavior.

While a lot of water can be saved with the use of water-efficient fixtures like shower heads and toilet flushes – a lot more can be saved if you would change your water usage behavior. Simple things like turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth can save up to 4.5 gallons of water. Bigger volume of water can be saved if you will use a broom to drive away the dirt and sand particles on your driveway. This act alone is estimated to save up to 80 gallons of water.

Choose bamboo over wood.

If you are into replacing your floor for a greener feel, the use of bamboo is better than using hardwood. By using bamboo, you are actually contributing to hardwood resources conservation. You are also directly contributing towards lessening operating energy used when cutting the hardwood into standard dimensions. Although bamboo comes from nature, it is a fast-replenishing resource that just takes a maximum of six years to mature as compared to hardwood which normally takes 5 to 10 decades to grow mature enough.

Use compost instead of synthetic fertilizers.

Tune up your garden greener with the use of compost rather the commercially available synthetic fertilizers. Compost supplies your plants with all of the essential microorganisms needed to help the plants absorb the rich nutrients within the soil. Compost will not damage the soil’s pH as compared to the synthetic counterparts which have been proven to degrade the soil’s nutrient content through repeated use. Also, the use of compost as natural fertilizer can be your way to garden-to-table produces which are healthy options for your daily cooking.

Being green doesn’t mean you always have to go to the streets and bring a placard to join demonstrations. Action is greater than speaking loudly without actions at all. Be green now and start it right in your doorstep!