Tag Archives: living building

Tour with Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Building Code Renewal

Here is a quick summary of the meeting with John Horgan, Naomi Yamamoto and her assistant Raechelle Williams.  Jeff Vasey, Executive Director, Building Standards was unable to attend as he was ill.

  • new ministry just created, lots to learn and set up.
  • Likely not too many big changes will happen until the new Liberal leadership is sorted out.
  • Laying groundwork for future changes once the political scene gets established
  • Very impressed that both John (NDP) and Naomi (Liberal) were so willing to work together for common goals leaving any politicking behind. See attached photo.
  • We discussed how useful Alternative Solutions could be now and in the future ESPECIALLY with a less prescriptive code.  Education of all involved parties is critical.  All seemed to agree that moving towards more sustainable building practices does involve less prescriptive codes.  We briefly discussed ASRi.  (Alternative Solutions Resource Initiative)
  • We emphasized that a truly sustainable building is customized to the site to maximize system integration with the available features of the site…like a living building.
  • We also emphasized the benefits of passive solar as the most cost effective way to build greener.
  • We discussed the critical need to allow some innovation.  Discussed the Living Building Challenge and that Clark County is allowing 5 special permits (projects) per year for LBC innovation.  We discussed how this could be a very useful way to advance green building policy here in BC.
  • We put in their hands a number of items.
    • Info sheet on our home
    • Policy/barriers report written by Ann for Cascadia as part of the full case study to be completed on Eco-Sense paid for by the Vancity grant
    • The BCSEA report “Ten Barriers to small scale Renewable Energy Systems” http://www.bcsea.org/solutions/government/policy/ten-barriers-to-small-scale-renewable-energy
    • All the current graphs from our energy monitoring and mass wall performance data
    • David Eisenberg’s card (shared info on DCAT)
    • Building cards for local green building professionals (engineers, designers, builders, etc)
  • Both Raechelle and Naomi seemed very friendly, personable, and they seemed very much to enjoy their tour.

Once again, BIG thanks to MLA John Horgan for organizing this tour.



John Horgan (MLA), Gord, Ann, Minister Yamamoto

Energy Composition: Solar Thermal, solar PV and Wood

The latest data from the research and data loggers for the energy inputs.

Energy composition:  Solar PV, Solar thermal and Wood.  Solar thermal brings in a LOT more kWhrs than Solar PV.  The wood used so far this year translates into 1.26 cords of Douglas Fir.

Energy Composition for 6 months

In this graph, this documents the generated energy, not necessarily the energy used; the solar thermal gain in the summer time is partially used.  From this graph we can easily see that trapping and storing the solar thermal would have been a wise investment, possibly with the addition of another 30 tubes, we may not have needed the gassification boiler.  The $6500 put into the boiler could have gone into a large highly insulative storage medium, thus avoiding combustion.


November 2010 Eco-Sense Update

Just Telling StoriesIt was six years ago when Gord set his eyes on a fiery little red head wearing gumboots, a yellow floater suite and driving a boat named ‘Brutus’; she drank scotch…straight, could catch and clean a crab, use a chain saw, and lived off grid with a humanure bucket in her very classy bathroom.

Ann's Car - 'Brutus'

Ann's Wise Island bathroom with 'Humanure toilet'

Within three months they were engaged, and in six months married.  Gord brought two little kids into their family, and not to be outdone, Ann brought her parents.  Another short six months passed, and together this new multigenerational blended family purchased the Eco-Sense land and sold everything to move into two trailers to make this piece of land in the Highlands their home…forever.   It was five years ago that this passionate couple embarked on a journey to create a life that would transition two somewhat sane normal people into living in a mud house and pooping in a bucket and teaching others about how to live sustainably.

Beginning our new Journey...only 5 years ago

This past month (October 2010), our story culminated in being presented an international award where the Eco-Sense home achieved ‘Petal Recognition’ in the Living Building Challenge.  (See next weeks post for full details of the LBC certification)

Just married

The Living Building Challenge is the greenest building rating system on earth, surpassing LEED, Architecture 2030, and Passivehaus standards.  Until the next home is assessed we oddly have the label as “The World’s Greenest Modern house”.  As you can imagine it got a bit busy around here with all the media.  See this link for many of the recent articles.  https://ecosenseliving.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/media-list/

Living Building Challenge Award

BUT… lets put this into perspective.  There are millions more sustainable houses that exist… virtually all indigenous peoples around the planet…   Our family’s story is just a part of a bigger new story that is unfolding as our culture moves towards a more sustainable and just future.

Stories told in the present connect our past to our future

Stories have been at the core of humanity right from the early hominids.  This is how social evolution occurs.  Think back to how our early ancestors told their stories… how First Nations told their stories; then try to think how we tell our current story, of our culture, of our social rights of passage, of our status, of the place we inhabit.  Stories appeal to our common values from our ancestral humanity and NOT to our modern day inhumane culture of over consumption and distraction from our sense of place. Our current consumer culture is probably the only one that has ever excluded the past and the future.  We have become a me-now culture.

Three generation family of six - our new home and life

In today’s realm we are not painting pictures on cave walls, or performing the same dances with song and symbolism… we are not passing culture, values and stories on from one generation to the next;  we are so much more efficient and sterile at getting the distorted message across!  So much more modern!  Hell we have TV, billboards, Youtube, video games, advertisements, corporate lobbyist, and of course email updates from crazy people living in MUD houses.

Family dance party in the house

Special 2nd anniversary treat from the kids

Our Eco-Sense real life story is easily lost in the bombardment of the masses with the fictional news we call reality.  We think happiness comes from a new iphone and that meaningful existence on earth can only come from monetary growth.  Our culture believes money is real wealth; that GDP is more important than millions of years of evolution; and that the earth’s resources only have value in terms of their use to us this second. To hell with our evolutionary past or our descendants of the future…we want, so we take;  This is our right, ‘cause we earned it.  What a crock of SHIT!  Obviously there is no use looking at the facts… else we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in… excuse us as we should clarify that our kids wouldn’t be in the position we put them in.

Solar Kids

Chickens, dogs, kids, trailer and Gord

OK, so your saying “I know where you’re going”.  Really?  How did you come to wear the clothes you do, buy the food you do, throw away the stuff you do, and program your kids for this dysfunctional culture.  What… you grow your own food… why?  Hope you don’t buy local meat because hey that’s dangerous (according to our cultural rules that protect us from the improbable risks while exposing us to the probable risks), and how dare you think of drinking raw milk! ( All those poor babies being malnourished by unpasteurized breast milk… we really need to be milking all moms, healthy and unhealthy, combining all their milk and pasteurizing it because raw milk is dangerous you know).

Obviously most stories come through the media…mostly because we hardly ever bump into each other any more (we’re all in cars or watching TV).  The news has become advertisements selling consumption and fear coupled with celebrated arrogance and ignorance.  You can listen to the radio and hear about bootie; watch TV and envision driving a beautiful car; play a video game like Street Fighter and pretend you can kick the ass of every stranger;  you can even google all the loveless sex out there.  What story do I learn from these messages?  I could do whatever it takes to kick someone’s ass, to get a nice car and get some bootie and have sex in unfulfilling ways and feel that I have reached the penultimate of humanity… twice as much would demonstrate ultimate.  Ah the story of our culture!  I find this reality demented!  I’ll take the mud house and bucket…

This is our story

What stories should we start to tell?  David Eisenberg, a policy guru from Tucson was in town for a lecture and a visit.  He told us many stories, all linking the reconnection of people to the environment and community.  One story in particular differentiates western reality from many indigenous peoples reality.  Our culture sees trees, land, water, and minerals… as resources to be stripped, mined blasted, drained …

Sharing our story with our community

One friend of David’s explained that the earth is their family, that it is no different then a brother, grandmother or sister.  A hard one for our consumptive culture to wrap our head arounds, but if you viewed the place you existed with such reverence would you clear cut your grandmother, would you stuff radioactive waste in your daughter, would you blow up your son?  A different story… a different reality.  We belong to this earth…not the other way around.

All of our scientific study with earth sciences, life sciences, and social sciences tell us conclusively that the earth actually functions with all life, energy and resources… as one.  But our modern culture has strayed so far from this reality to the point that many among us actually won’t accept well supported scientific evidence.

The story of the Frog and the Basil

Some even condemn the science while gladly accepting the benefits that this same science provides in the form of extremely clever technologies.  Our species is clever, but profoundly lacking in wisdom.

Telling Different Stories

Obviously people are not genetically programed to listen to facts when it goes against their social programing…so the only hope is to start telling LOTS of different stories…because we ARE programed to respond to stories.  People won’t listen to facts about climate, our failing unjust monetary system, species extinction, but they will, oddly enough, listen when they visit our home on tours.  They leave inspired, and desiring what we have…you know a MUD house, a bucket, less money, and a lifestyle that uses 90% less water and energy.  I love that people that I otherwise wouldn’t connect with desire a beautiful healthy home like ours… I want them to crave it…  If tours of our home and lifestyle can leave someone who cares not about climate change, human exploitation, or the pillaging our our planet, craving a lifestyle where you work 1/3 of your time, spend a 1/3 of your time in the garden, and spend the last third doing whatever (like being with friends, doing art, or being active in our community), while at the same time having a lower ecological foot print… then bring it on!

We all LOVE zucchini - baked with butter and garlic

For a look inside the human mind from a biological and cultural perspective check out these lectures by Dr. William Reese.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F9cDA-R4J8&feature=related

showing the kids how separate the Quinoa

A friend from our first workshop back in 2006 told us that if he could teach his kids just one thing it would be  “When you tell the story of your life, tell a good story as the story you tell, becomes your story”.  So there you go…it’s that easy.  Start telling the story about your life as the life you crave with the values you hold…tell it into reality.

The new story of technology

We watched an interview of Barry Lopez by Bill Moyers.  In the interview Barry Lopez told an old story, but one in which is really significant as a new story, (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04302010/watch3.html).  It is the story of Zeus and Prometheus.  Prometheus came and stole fire, a symbol of technology.  Here is Barry Lopez’s version of Zeus speaking to Prometheus.

“Okay, you stole fire. Great for you. Now your people have technology. Wonderful. But here’s something you don’t know. You lack two things. And if you don’t take these two things that I will give you, this will be a failure. Technology, you know, fire, all your magic, it will fail completely. It will be your undoing. And the two things that you need to make it work are justice and reverence. And if you have these two things, you won’t get in trouble with this third thing that you thought was the be all and the end all.”

Technology can help our kids...or REALLY mess them up


...and frightening

The point of this story… reverence is the ability to have awe and respect for  all things including those that can’t always be known.  Justice combined with reverence will control for the ill effects that technology brings with it.  So Technology will fail without justice and reverence.  Very wise indeed.

Technology can be very messy

The story of Transition. What happens when there is a story that is positive, full of energy, and good news.  Well we only have to look as far as the Chilean Miner rescue.  In our own little world here, it seems this past month that our story is becoming popular once again.  With our enjoyment of our home, our new levels of food self sufficiency, reaching our goal of balancing work/home/volunteering, beginning to understand our role in the wider community, and the final results of the Living Building Challenge.  We have stories  galore that have been written for updates, then left to be forgotten on the solemn hard drive.

But it is important for our stories as well as all the others to be told; these are good ways of living and being, good ways of shifting towards a richer culture, and sharing where and how transition has occurred.  These stories of transition need to permeate and surpass the ass kicking muff nuzzling self indulgent images of our current culture.  Stories filled with justice and reverence that harness our explosive technology will ultimately prevail because down deep we all still crave our genetically programed human values of love, sharing, and community.

A sad political Story

It seems our federal government and their media friendly supporters had been trying to push to idea that climate change and climate science was inaccurate; this has been quietly dropped from the mainstream… except perhaps the national enquirer.  The new story being told in mainstream is how Canada is going to be a “winner” with climate change.  Warmer weather for growing, access to the oil rich arctic… great outcomes from a really shitty reality.  But what is missing in these corporate sponsored stories?  What about the collapse of ocean life; what of the collapse of other countries and cultures; what about the famine, drought, fires, and floods, what of the immense pressures for migration to the only habitable places on earth… and I use the word migration over immigration on purpose.  What of the stories of world unrest while resource wars are fought; and what are the stories of the costs incurred by monsoon patterns, wiping out our food production season after season washing away roads from coast to coast, followed by droughts.  What is the story for the sockeye that have their rivers flooded at the wrong time of year.  What of the story of the Amazon that all but dried up in drought as the great hurricanes pulled the moisture from the Amazon.  What of the story on planning for geo-engineering?  These are all happening…but not in the mainstream news.

Our kids LOVE chard

The mainstream story tellers we rely on don’t have the freedom to tell the whole story, they only tell the piece that fits into a 30 second sound bite, or that can fit between the advertisements on a page written for a grade nine education;  it best not insult the corporate sponsors, or for that matter be muted and diluted from the PMO’s office.

Where to find the stories?

There are places out there where you can get a different fun and inspiring story.  Here are a few:

Peak Moment Television

The Story of Stuff; Story of CosmeticsStory of Electronics

Sir Ken Robinson – Education Paradigm Shift

RSI animate“History of oil”

RSI animate “What motivates us”

We believe that our Western Civilization will be ending its current bad story within this century, in our kids Parker and Emily’s life time.  Changes are underway and we all need to pull together even more to adapt to this changing world.

This painting tells many stories

The future is in our hands

Western Culture is just a story similar to many other cultures before; like the Roman’s, the Mayan’s, the Easter Islander’s… and undoubtedly there will be new authors for the next versions of failed culture.  Our story is Eco-Sense… our family has a story, and the house on the front cover is not glamorous or expensive, but it is beautiful…  its simple… it’s full of good news offering hope and inspiration.

So let’s celebrate all the new stories out there… let the bad ones die out and sit on the history shelf for reference.  What we say and do today is our collective story that will become the past of future generations.

Check out our blog for up to date posts and for the list of recent media on the house.

Update on the Living Building Challenge coming soon.

Gord and Ann Baird

Interview questions from Custom Home Builder Magazine about the “Living Building Challenge”

Home is constructed out of very similar materials to the food gardens.

Who designed the house’s plan and overall aesthetic? The shape of the house was determined by the site orientation, the previous damage on the land, and the existing bedrock.  A Geotechnical engineer mapped out where we could build and then we transposed this to paper.  We divided the house into two living spaces, one on the east, and one on the west.  The East side had to include a one level suite for my parents, and the west side included the living space for Gord and I and the kids with our bedrooms upstairs.  It was all very practical…Nature was the head architect, and we designed the space for Function and Beauty with the help of a friend (Cindy McCaugherty of http://www.raincoasthomes.com) who translated all our drawings into AutoCad for the Structural Engineer.   Cindy helped a great deal with many of the details…both structural and the functional layout of the rooms.  The layout of our living/dinning area was in all honesty inspired by a big slug that our daughter Emily (7 at the time) proudly showed off wrapped around her little hand in a beautiful “S” shape.  I saw this and immediately made the connection and translated this shape into our home.  I’ll never forget that moment as we had struggled for quite some time as to how to lay out the space to create the feel that we desired.  As far as the overall aesthetic goes…we didn’t plan it…it just kind of evolved.  The odd thing is that Gord and I never considered ourselves to be creative…we are actually kind of techie/ science nerds.

Why did you decide to pursue the Living Building Challenge?  We had already broken ground when the LBC was launched.  When we heard of it we realized that we already had the same vision.  Up until then we had felt kind all alone in our ideals, but then suddenly there was a name for our dream and a sense of belonging to a wider community that understood the same basic ideals.  We had looked into the LEED program but there was nothing yet in Canada for homes.  The LEED for homes pilot program was just getting going in the US and not yet in Canada.  The LEED program also seemed  too commercial and prescriptive for our approach.  The beauty of the LBC is that it is not prescriptive in the petals or prerequisites.  The visionary LBC program itself was actually more like an ecosystem, which from a systems perspective IS the only type of proven long term sustainable system.  The Eco-Sense home and all of the systems were not fully designed before we started building…they evolved.  System integration has become our specialty as we design with a whole systems approach which is very much in line with the LBC.  Because we were mostly just the two of us and we had limited prior knowledge of how things were SUPPOSED to be done it enabled a creatively and systems thinking approach that was very original.  Like I said earlier, nature was the architect, and we designed following this lead with a whole systems ecological approach without any preconceived ideas of how things were supposed to be done.

Was it difficult to incorporate the challenge’s requirements into Eco-Sense’s design/building plan? Nope, it all made sense.  We didn’t change very much.

Your house achieved 4 of the 6 “petals” in the challenge–What could you have done differently to achieve the remaining two petals: energy and materials? Would you have done this if you’d been able to? We met the requirement for 12 of the 16 prerequisites.  The energy petal was not possible for us at the time.  Our family is net zero electricity selling excess to BC Hydro and we have 60 solar thermal hot water tubes for domestic hot water and in floor hydronic heating, but we still use propane for cooking and wood gassification for extra winter heating.  To meet the challenge, combustion or fossil fuels are simply not permitted.  We could have tripled our 2 kW solar PV array, and put in two electric cooking ranges.  This also would have enabled the use of a heat pump powered by solar PV.  For us at the time using a wood gassifier (smokeless, and 85% efficient) was a good local choice as we live on 8 acres surrounded by trees.  However saying this we do agree with the requirements of the LBC for NO COMBUSTION.   If we were to do it again, we now have the knowledge/ability to design from the ground up a much more efficient envelope with expanded solar thermal heating and possibly, very small heat pump back up.

The MATERIALS petal also proved to be problematic…see details of the 5 prerequisites in this petal:

  • PR05 Materials RED List:  YES!  We successfully avoided the toxic materials red list (the toughest of all prerequisites).
  • PR06 Construction Carbon Footprint: YES!  Eco-Sense home has a ZERO carbon footprint…no carbon offset payment required.
  • PR07 Responsible Industry:  NO! 100% of wood must be FSC, recycled, or milled on site.  But alas, we only achieved 90%.  (We tried but couldn’t at the time source FSC certified local plywood.)
  • PR08 Materials service radius:  NO!  Scored perfect…except for the imported Bamboo.  (better planning on our part…our focus at this time was to get our family into the house and not spend another winter in the trailer).
  • PR09 Leadership in Construction Waste:  NO!  The three generation family of six produced one can of garbage every two weeks during the build (includes domestic garbage and construction waste)…but alas, we did not fully document our achievements.  We also gassified all the wood waste from all the recycled wood for winter heating.  Combustion not allowed.  (but we did compost all the sawdust)

Why did you choose cob construction? Beauty, local, affordable, fun to build, minimal carbon footprint, 500+ lifespan, healthy, no plastic in the walls, no mould, thermal mass, cool in the summer, very quiet, excellent acoustics, seismically engineered,  healthy natural non toxic materials, temperature and humidity moderation, proven in our climate which is similar to the UK. etc…i could go on.

Did you complete it by yourselves, or did you have some professionals helping out on some aspects? We had an electrician, a plumber, a structural engineer, and a friend to help with framing the roof and other jobs.  We did a couple of cob building workshops, but these were more fun/ teaching events as we would actually get more done just the two of us.  We have made life long friends from these workshops.  Met some great people.

It’s a beautiful house, and a fine example of truly sustainable living, although most people would consider it far from the mainstream. Why is this the right house for your family, as opposed to a more conventionally constructed sustainable home? The home fits our family and values…we simply love our home.  The home was also $148 per sqft including $80K in sustainable energy technologies and our own labour.  Yes, this is not right for everyone.  Our homes should reflect the inhabitants.  DIVERSITY is essential in natural systems, in people, and in ecological design.  A truly sustainable home is going to look very different depending on the occupants, the function, the climate, the site, and the creative preference of the occupants.  We are all different and our homes should reflect this.  Our homes should reflect who we are, our values, and not what industry tries to sell us or is the latest fashion.

What on Earth is a “Living Building”…reposted from BCSEA.org

By Ann Baird on October 21, 2010

The BCSEA has many friends and allies, whose work we support and promote. Two of these are Ann and Gord Baird, who walk the talk of sustainable living in the multi-generational cob home they have built in the Highlands, just west of Victoria. Its features include passive solar design, solar PV with grid tie, net zero electricity, energy and water conservation, and solar thermal hot water.

It also includes composting (no flush) toilets, rainwater harvesting, grey water re-use, a living roof, earthen floors, and natural finishes into their exceptionally beautiful, modern and affordable version of earthen architecture.

Their Eco-Sense home has been called “The Earth’s Greenest Modern House”.

So what is a Living Building? Ann writes. . .

A Living Building is a human created structure that functions as if it evolved in place. Because a Living Building is site, climate and occupant specific, there is no limit to creativity in the form and ingenuity of the integrated systems. The building actually participates within its eco-system where energy, water, and resources are shared for mutual benefit.

What a concept eh? But is it possible? You’re damn right it is! Three projects in North America have achieved this visionary ideal…and Eco-Sense, right here in the Highlands near Victoria, BC, is demonstrating one of these exciting possibilities.

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) calls for a fundamental shift in how we conceive of the built environment,” said Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the International Living Building Institute. “These three projects…are quite simply the greenest buildings in the world.” See full press release PDF.

To achieve their ‘Living’ status, all program requirements must be met and proven through a full year of operation. Eco-Sense was the first completed project, the first to be audited, and the only family home so far. The LBC has taken off and now has over 70 projects registered globally.

A Living Building is rated in 6 areas or petals (for LBC version 1.3), which includes meeting 16 prerequisites. The six petals are: Site; Net Zero Energy; Net Zero Water; Materials; Healthy Indoor Quality; And Beauty & Inspiration. For LBC version 2.0 a seventh petal, Equity, has been added.

Ann and Gord Baird, the owner/builders for their Eco-Sense home achieved 4 of the 6 petals by meeting the requirements for 12 of the 16 prerequisites. Jason McLennan referred their home as “The Earth’s Greenest Modern House”. Eco-Sense has earned “partial” Living Building Certification or “petal recognition” for site, water, beauty & inspiration, and healthy indoor quality.

The Baird’s didn’t fully meet the net zero energy requirement. The family uses net zero electricity, selling its excess to BC Hydro, and it has 60 solar thermal hot water tubes, but they still use propane for cooking and wood gasification for winter heating. To meet the challenge, combustion or fossil fuels are simply not permitted.

The MATERIALS petal also proved to be problematic.
• Materials RED List: YES! They successfully avoided the toxic materials red list (the toughest of all prerequisites).
• Responsible Industry: NO! 100% of wood must be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), recycled, or milled on site. But alas, they only achieved 90%.
• Materials service radius: NO! Scored perfect…except for the imported Bamboo.
• Leadership in Construction Waste: NO! The three generation family of six produced one can of garbage every two weeks during the build…but alas, they did not fully document their achievements. They also gasified all the wood waste from all the recycled wood for winter heating. Combustion not allowed. (But they did compost all the sawdust.)

So, if a couple of passionate and driven people without engineering and architectural degrees can pull this off, just think what is possible if we collectively take our heads out of the box, unleash our individual creativity, and get to work employing NATURE as our lead architect…just think…

The Bairds’ passion and knowledge is expressed in their work consulting, building, advancing policy, researching, and in the hundreds of tours they have given through their home. They teach that if it isn’t affordable it isn’t sustainable, and they live their motto “Less life stuff…More life style!”

For more media links, click here.