Spring 2010 – A quick update from Ann and Gord

As usual, we have been trying to cram too much fun into everyday and we never seem to have time for our passionate updates.  Everyday there is so much we want to share, but we find we seldom have time for more than a quick facebook post.  So here it is…a very quick update with lots of  links and photos.

Earthen Counter Sample

Tours: 3 public tours coming up this summer.  June 6th, July 4th, and August 8th.  Click here for details.  Cost $20 and all tours 10am to noon.

Workshops: 3 one day courses here at Eco-Sense: Grey water; Earthen Floors and Counters; and Natural Plaster.  Click here for full details.


  • The Harrowsmith article on Eco-Sense is due out for the May/June 2010 issue.
  • Documentary “Powerful” by David Chernushenko is coming out this Fall.  Eco-Sense is included.

Living roof sample

Saturday (April 17) at CanWest Mall in Langford: Yes, Ann is going to spend the entire day at the mall participating in an Earth Day celebration.  Our Highlands community will have 3 full tables.  Eco-Sense will have our full display out…come on down and say hi.  The Highlands is taking Climate change, rising energy prices, and social sustainability seriously and has produced an exceptional “Sustainability Task Force Report”.  View on line here.

Recent tours: We have hosted recent tours with John Horgan, Andrew Weaver, lots of couples and family hoping to build sustainably, school groups, youth groups, Camosun College technology chairs, and many others.

Ann took our BC Property Assessment to the review board.  In  summary, the eco-sense home was appraised at the fair market which includes all of the sustainable energy systems which comprise 22% of the cost of the home.  This 22% represents our FUTURE energy. Essentially this results in extra municipal taxes (before home owner grant) of $400 per year (or $10,000 in a 25 year period).  We are considering taking this to the next level of the review board and have also written a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell.  The BCSEA is working on a Small Scale Renewable energy Barriers Project that has included municipal taxation.  Three possible solutions have been identified.

Gord and Ann have been doing many different presentations around town.  Gord is also doing some teaching on energy systems with a recent 7 hour presentation to the “Sustainable Building Advisor Program” at UVIC.  Ann is jokingly calling him “Professor Baird”…hehe

Grey Water Friendly Cleaning Products: Still trying to source more eco-friendly cleaning products.  Most brands, even the “green” brands have nasty preservatives in them that the manufactures are reluctant to disclose…they claim that they are in such low concentration that they are not harmful.  Our dish soap claims to be…good for the environment…good for our grey water…or so we thought…it has a REALLY nasty preservative in it…but we are told by the company that it is so little…not to worry. 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol.  When we look it up it rates a 10 on the nasty toxicity rating scale. Should we worry, or is this OK?  Sometimes Ann wishes she didn’t stud organic chemistry..ignorance would be easier…but not safer.

New Grey Water worm filter

New grey water worm filter

Water/worm bin filtration It is ideal to use potassium based soaps which are hard to find in Canada and expensive to ship from the USA.  Too much sodium is also bad for plants.  Oasis is a good brand, and we are trying to find someone to make something similar locally or we may just need to buy a whole case.  Here are a couple links to learn more or to look up specific products.

Grey water irrigation of plum tree

Grey water: Gord has improved the “worm bin” for grey water filtration and we have installed another grey water system from our clothes washer.  Check out our grey water course offered this summer if you would like to learn more.

Chickens, Coops and Chicks: 2010 – the year of the Chicken

We built a new Luxury chicken house with some new and used materials complete with living roof, and rain water harvesting to keep the chicken water full at all times.  The site we chose was the unused septic field.  We have deer fenced the area, and are planting smaller walnuts, hazelnuts, and fig trees.  The chickens will fertilize the trees, eat the bugs, and the trees will help protect the chickens from the eagles and hawks.  Since there are grey water pipes already down at the septic field we are able to divert the pipes to create another branched drain irrigation system for the fruit and nut trees. The chickens have a small safe yard/ compound and then access to the large septic field area where we can plant some grains (alfalfa, and wheat) to supplement their diet.  Happy chickens, happy nut/fruit trees, and happy us.

Chicken run, we cleared out the broom and blackberries and lots of green growing now.

Chicken run, we cleared out the broom and blackberries and lots of green growing now.

Chicken coop

New Chicken coop

Baby Chickens: We incubated 14 eggs, 8 of which turned out to be fertilized. What a magical experience it was to be a part of such a process right in our own living room.  6 of the little beauty’s hatched and we are hoping for most of them to be hens.  The roosters may end up being dinner as we are not quite vegetarians.  Our family has been preparing ourselves for this experience over the past year.  Not sure how it will go…as we recently watched food inc. and started to cry as the baby chicks went down the conveyor belt.  At 10 days old they are almost flying around the living room…should be interesting for our next tour.  Lots more chicken photos at the end of this post.

2 day old chicks

2 day old chicks

The Living Building Challenge: Eco-Sense has applied for certification and are waiting for Cascadia to accept our $1000 fee (donated by our community) so that our home can be properly assessed.  There will be three other projects assessed at the same time.  Eco-Sense is positioned to score very high but will not score 100%.  Our home is net zero ELECTRICITY; but not net zero ENERGY as we do use propane for cooking.  Combustion is not allowed under The Living Building Challenge…check out this link to read about our conversation with Jason McLennon from Cascadia regarding combustion.

Gord teaching about Solar Hot Water

And Just for the Energy Nerds: Eco-Sense and Cascadia have successfully obtained a grant from Vancity to study the energy and water systems of the home.  This will be a year long study with our engineers to determine how the mass wall system is performing.  This will include various data loggers for the solar hot water, many sensors embedded into the walls, and flow meters for hot water and domestic water consumption.  After the data has been collected there will be lots of report writing to do.  In addition to the reports available for peer review there will be extensive media outreach with Cascadia for systems, policy, earthen architecture, and overall sustainability.  This is truly a remarkable opportunity to learn from and improve upon the successes and challenges the Eco-Sense living laboratory provides.  We very excited about the doors that this data will open for others dreaming of building more sustainably and affordably.

And to sum up, we continue to try and stay positive in spite of some of the gloomiest science spewing the cold hard facts of climate change.  It seems daily that we read something really bad and observe our species continue to rape and pillage this planet in the name of stuff. But for all of these there continues to be the balance of the good news, and the stories of inspiration.  Here are a few links of interest in the many we have come across.

Gord putting the living roof on the cob bathroom

Ann installing the pine ceiling in the new cob bathroom

And finally here a couple photos of the soon to be complete public cob bathroom with composting toilet.  This has been a volunteer project that we are working hard on to get by the summer.

And this was just a small snippet of the last three months…whew…and… oh yeah…been busy planting the garden.  It’s been a wonderful winter eating kale and potatoes, but we are now ready for the new crops of the season and are celebrating every germinating seed.

Freshly hatched

hours old

Chicken TV

Kids and chickens

Boo (the dog) likes watching too

4 responses to “Spring 2010 – A quick update from Ann and Gord

  1. re: dishsoap

    We use the Natural Lemongrass Dish Soap from Nezza Naturals (Victoria/Galiano Island)which the label says contains: vegetable derived surfacants, spring water, essential oils of lemongrass and tea tree.


    Out of curiosity, would this be grey water friendly?

    Great news on the Vancity grant – look forward to seeing the results!

    • Hi Brandy, Yes, I have heard good things about Nezza products and have researched their ingredients. They have a store in victoria too. I would like to try it. We are currently using Nature Clean…also good ingredients…works great most of the time, but have to use quite a lot for greasy dishes. Two additional issues with products (even the good ones) and grey water. 1. Always use the minimum amount required to do the job. 2. Ideally plants prefer and even like soap/detergents that are based on potassium based salts…most are sodium based and the sodium can build up in the soil and eventually cause plant distress. We are lucky living here on the wetcoast as we get lots of rain in the winter to leach out excess salts that may build up in the summer through grey water irrigation.

  2. Jessica Woolliams

    Hi Ann and Gord,
    I love some of the pictures on this. Can I use them and credit you both? I am writing a report for municipalities on policy approaches that will lead them to net zero buildings (new and existing, public and private).
    Let me know,

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