Free and happy in ecovillage Fri og Fro

Fri og Fro is a young ecovillage in the North of Zealand with room for 16 households. Over the last fourteen years, the families have built or are building their ecological dream houses on the communally owned plot of land. The houses are designed and (partly) built by the inhabitants themselves, giving them full freedom to realize their ecological dream houses. They collectively treat their waste water in a willow field and each household grows their own food on the relatively big plots. By setting a maximum price per m2 for selling the houses, the original idea was to keep the houses small and thereby also the mortgages low. Loan-free living with a small ecological footprint in a close community was the dream. I talked with community member Ziggy Stardust who has been a part of the community since the very start, and with Sven, who moved to Fri og Fro with his children two years ago. Tomorrow is the day the construction of his dream house will finally start and with gleaming eyes he is looking at the plot of bare grass full of potential in front of us.

The welcome sign and map at Fri og Fro community.

The beginning
Fri og Fro started 14 years ago with a group families sharing the dream of building an ecovillage. Wanting to move to a region in decline with many young families and economic activity, they had a very good bargaining position with municipalities to get a good plot of land, with very favourable tax conditions. They decided to keep all the land in communal ownership, so the households pay rent to the community for building and living on their plot. This ensures that they can communally decide who comes to live in a house when it goes up for sale. The original vision was to keep the houses cheap so that members would not be stuck with big mortgages. Enabling a free and ecological life, accessible for people with different financial situations. They tried this by putting a maximum selling price per m2 on the houses. A few years ago, ten years after the start of the community, they had a big discussion about this topic and changed this system a bit more towards the house market conditions. Families had ended up building bigger houses, with bigger loans. Also, because the ground remained in communal ownership, the banks gave loans with very high interest rates because they were afraid the houses could not be sold easily if they are not on private ground. Some community members wanted to change the capped m2-price rule to a more market based price forming on the houses. This is how the prices are made now, although the houses are still very cheap compared to other ecovillages on Zealand. This can be attributed to their vision of building houses of a small size and with low building costs.

One of the most well known houses in Fri og Fro is the so-called snail house.

Each household rents a relatively large plot of land to build their houses on, this was done with the vision that each household can provide their own food on their land. One of the inhabitants is a bee keeper and sells ecological honey to the wider region. Each house has a different heating system. Ziggy’s house for example uses a cleverly designed bio stove which reaches temperatures up to 600 degrees with which she heats a tank of water. This water is led through floor pipes. The system enables here to only have to light the stove one time in the morning to heat here house the whole day. Many houses also sport solar boilers for additional hot water in summer time. Sven is planning to build his house in such a way that he will not need heating, because in his opinion burning wood (however efficiently) is still not very sustainable. He plans to surround the core of his house with greenhouses on three sides and on the north he will have a closed, highly insulated wall. Ziggy uses paper cellulose for insulation, only 20 cm is needed on the ground floor, in the upper floor she has a bit thicker walls. All of the communities waste water is treated in a willow field. The houses provide electricity with solar panels, and a connection to the grid.

The tallest house of the community, also using passive heating through the large facade towards the south.
A house at Fri og Fro that is still under construction. With an open facade to the south and a closed off wall to the north, this house will need very little heating.
A round house at Fri og Fro with many PV panels on the sheds to be self-sufficient with renewable electricity.
Another ecologically built house in the community, with a view on the willow fields used for waste water treatement.

Communal life
Starting an ecovillage is always a challenge, particularly because the first few years you are not able to live in your house and there is no communal building either yet. This gives a high risk of little sense of community and harsh living conditions. To deal with this, at Fri og Fro they had a temporary communal building from the start, in which they had shared diners. In the beginning the shared diners were every day, which really created a high sense of community. Nowadays this is reduced to three times a week. Just last summer, they finished building their permanent communal house, which provides space for shared diners, meetings and parties. It is a nice building made of straw bales, clay plaster and wood.

A look inside the recently finished communal building where today one of the young members of Fri og Fro is having his birthday party. The building is completely constructed with strawbales, which have been plastered with clay on the outside. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity.

Ziggy also really thought cleverly about the development of her house. She, like most community members, did not hire an architect but instead designed her house by herself and does most of the building herself. To lower the risks, she cleverly managed the construction into stages. She started with the construction of her kitchen and bathroom and made sure this was water and windproof so she could already move in there. She says these two rooms are the most expensive parts of the house so she did not want to end up with too little money for them in the end. After this she build an indoor workshop, because she knew she wold spent a lot of time constructing elements of her house and then it would be nice to have a warm indoor workspace for this. Many other community members did not do this, and lost a lot of good materials to the rain and wind and had more harsh working conditions. In the future when Ziggy is done building she thinks of making the workshop into a spare room which she can rent out. Slowly after building the workspace she finished room after room in her house over a period of 10 years. Today she is not building, but holds an artistic workshop in her beautifully lit attic.

Ziggy’s house with solar boilers in front of it.

Popularity of living in community

Sitting next to the campfire on his plot of land, Sven’s eyes are sparkling with enthusiasm about the build of his own house. He really wants to start living in it. For him, it is not so much the element of building his own house, but much more the benefits of the social live in an ecovillage that drew him here. He notices how nice the environment is here for his children who can just run around through the village, playing outside in nature. There are no cars driving around for Sven to worry about and his children have many friends of their age in the village. Also the shared diners and communal feeling of support and connection to your neighbours, which the ecovillage offers are much appreciated by Sven.
Despite being so young and not even finished, Fri of fro is such a success locally that there is now a second ecovillage in development just down the street. This village is planned to house another 25 families. Ecovillages like Fri og Fro can bring activity back to deprived regions, boosting local economic activity. While for the inhabitants they offer the possibility of living in a village-like situation, where all neighbours support each other, share facilities and are connected to nature. As much as the inhabitants look forward to having more like-minded neighbours, I am looking forward to a future where many more initiatives like this are realized.

Despite some changes in the original vision, which is inevitable in any communal project, fri og fro indeed offers a free and happy space for living in community with a small ecological footprint.

Read more about Fri og Fro here:

One of the many different houses at Fri og Fro, made with clay plastering and shells, the house is an example of building with local, ecological materials.

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