Tag Archives: solar PV

I’m Nuts over Hazelnuts, Puppy, Vaccines, Cats, Solar, Goats, Garden, and Gord

I finally got my garlic planted, 350 Hazelnut trees have arrived in the nursery, the puppy is sleeping, municipal elections are over, goats are milked, it’s raining finally, and Gord is on a job site today…so I can sit down and write a quick blog post.

Nina Died

Our amazingly special Nina dog has died. It was a gut wrenching shock for us both to have to make the final decision of her life with virtually no warning. She basically collapsed one evening after a council meeting and in the middle of the night, after an emergency scan, we learned that fluid had built up around her heart…ironically just like our last dog Boo. Apparently there was also a mass on her heart likely causing the fluid build up. We brought her home and buried her right out front and had our own special ceremony. We are becoming more acquainted with death and felt gratitude for sharing 7 years with this special being.

Municipal Campaign

Nina’s death occurred right at the beginning of a very busy election time. Our campaign was filled with learning, listening, reflection, collaboration, excitement, and the ever-present uncertainty of what the results will be. The good news is that both of us were easily re-elected…the bad news is that Gord received 8 more votes that me.


The campaign took a lot of time and energy, so we really have not spent much time in the garden or nursery, and also got behind in some fall food processing and harvesting. However, because of the incredibly long fall and seemingly never ending summer, we got some extra time to catch up.

I just got the last of my 320 garlic planted in four different garden beds. Still have to harvest fuzzy kiwi, and persimmons.

Last years garden plan

This past garden year was different…very different. Very poor pollination of apples, pears, and plums due to the wet cold spring, still no walnuts, and only one chestnut. But for every crop that fails, we have crops that thrive. Perennial veggies thrived, as did olives, broccoli and cauliflower. Our root veggies kicked butt this year. Hazelnuts are proving to be rock solid for us.

Thanks to our cats, the rats didn’t eat all our olives this year.


Our tiny cats Stormy and Sparky are thriving and bring us a rodent most days. They are truly amazing little hunters that fill us with such joy and gratitude for their gifts, cuddles, and cat antics. Our gardens are safe from excessive rodent predation but yes we still do some sharing…especially with the abundant bird population thriving on this land. Since we embarked on the re-wilding of this land with human created food systems, we have actually put the system out of balance. More intense food availability means more creatures eating it…which means denser populations of birds and rodents can be supported. Adding two cats who mostly hunt rodents, yet still kill a few birds does not negatively harm the ecosystem overall…in fact adding predators into the system can help bring a system like ours back into balance.


Our goats, Dabha and Gemma are thriving with all the goat food growing here in the food forest and the annual gardens. Too much zucchini is impossible. Sometimes we take them to the food on a leash, and sometimes we bring the food to them. Our goats eat about half the amount of hay that they would otherwise eat without the food inputs from this land. We no longer have to bring in outside inputs (manure or mulch).

Dabha’s milk production has slowed whey down, so it was time for a trip to my neighbours for servicing by her buck Giordie. Dabha was clearly in heat with lots of tail wagging, calling, and frisky behaviour and Giordie did not disappoint. It was love at first sight with lots of kissing, nibbling, nuzzling, and frisky fore play. Success…we think. Due date is March 5th if all goes well.

Hazelnuts have arrived in the Nursery

Woohoo, it’s time to go nuts. Hazelnuts have become a food security tree for us on so many levels. The trees grow fast and produce lots of nuts in a very short number of years. The leaves are a goat favourite and the trees are very generous producers. Hazelnuts are also used successfully in grey water systems. Roots of hazelnuts produce thick carbon sequestering mats. Yes, squirrels do eat the nuts, but they also plant more trees everywhere. The invasive grey squirrel is also good eating if you are so inclined. The little native brown squirrel gets to eat all the nuts they desire. We are grateful to the generous hazelnut tree and Nina, Stormy, and Sparky for alerting us to squirrels.

We bulk ordered 350 EFB resistant hazelnuts so that we can offer a really good price in the nursery. Most trees are $35 with only “Dorris” being offered at $40. Includes GST. All in 1 gallon pots. We prefer to sell these in groups of three or four for the best pollination.

Option 1: Dorris, Yamhill, Theta for $110

Option 2: Jefferson, Yamhill, Theta (or Gamma or Eta) for $105

Option 3 (four trees): Dorris, Jefferson, Yamhill, Theta (or Gamma or Eta) for $145

Please enquire with us for options for 5 or more trees.

All sales are by private appointment. Full Inventory list is here:

Please email at ann@eco-sense.ca

Stormy the cat is in the back of the box.

Pumpkin, our new puppy.

So with Nina now pushing up daisies in our front yard, we open our hearts again to a new love. Pumpkin Pie Baird is our new rescue mutt. She came into our hearts on Halloween at the age of 8 weeks. She will likely be a mid sized dog just like her mom Joni. They both look like Huskies. She’s smart, affectionate, busy, and full of love and cuddles. She is being partly raised by cats and has already learned how to hunt rats with the cats, hide in boxes, and vocalize and swat like a cat. Part of the team! Pumpkin Storms are common around here with hours of play…the best being when Stormy hides in the paper bag and pumpkin pulls her around and then sits on her.


Humans are in OVERSHOOT. I don’t think there would be a population biologist in the world that would disagree with this statement. If you disagree with this statement I would suggest you hit the textbooks or skip this section.

When any population, (whether it be rats, monocultures, bacteria in a petri dish, or humans), exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, nature will re-balance the population with built in systems like disease and pests.

In our current human situation we long ago reached this OVERSHOOT point but we put our smart brains to work and figured out how to expand into new more hostile environments with less easy resources. But humanity still didn’t take the hint with scarce resources and further utilized our amazing technologies to grow more food and extract even more energy from the earth…with great costs to the atmosphere, the soil, the air, and the oceans.

Humanity has now reached EIGHT BILLION PEOPLE and there is not enough habitat or resources left on planet earth for all the other living beings to exist. It’s not simply about “fixing” climate change or sharing resources more equally amongst the 8,000,000,000 people, it’s about how much of the earth is covered in our bodies and absorbing our wastes. We are large mammals…there’s only so much space on planet earth for large mammals…PERIOD. This is precisely why in the last 50 years the earth has LOST 50% of the wildlife.

Here’s a puppy and cat video to change the subject.

Which brings me to vaccines…and Covid, and viruses, and any disease really. This is what nature does when a population is in OVERSHOOT. But yet the human brain kicks in again and creates vaccines to protect people from disease. Vaccines work. Do I want a disease? NO! Do I want my family and friends or community to get sick? NO! Do I want anyone to suffer? NO!

So yes, Gord and I are fully vaccinated and we urge others to get vaccinated too. But isn’t this a contradiction that will allow humanity to go even further into OVERSHOOT by using vaccine technology? YUP! The basic ecological rule in OVERSHOOT is that the further a population or system goes into OVERSHOOT the harder it will be to rebalance the system…but the system WILL rebalance.

No time to get depressed however, there is much we can do to help nature rebalance HUMAN OVERSHOOT in a more ethical controlled way. De-growth will occur, but humanity can still have a say as to how that will happen. Will it happen with war, scarcity, and disease, or will it happen with love, sharing, global family planning, education, equity, compassion, and re-wilding the earth? Here’s an essay to read or listen to by Robin Wall Kimmerer on “An Economy of Abundance”. https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-serviceberry/

Gord is currently experiencing his own personal OVERSHOOT and he knows that he must slow down before his health suffers. We all know it’s much better to be proactive in these situations. Gord will be taking the next few months to catch up on some of his work commitments while saying no to some interesting opportunities that come his way. He loves his work…but there’s only one Gord. Personal de-growth in productivity balanced with growth in Well-Being.

Solar PV

No, we don’t think solar is going to save the world from OVERSHOOT…only de-growth in a cooperative nature-based relocalized economy can perhaps help. But electrifying our energy grid is a small piece. For us our solar and other food, water, and waste systems certainly bring more resilience.

Our first goal was to reduce our use of burning firewood and propane (GHGs). So we looked into a heat pump. But with our current heating infrastructure it seemed very inefficient…not to mention the use of more climate damaging refrigerants. There is heat pump technology that uses CO2 as the refrigerant and heats hot water. This would tie in beautifully to our existing high temperature in floor heating system that ties in with our solar hot water. This would be a sweet system indeed…but sadly is not yet doable unless we purchase a new separate industrial system rather than tie into our existing solar boiler. To make a long story short, we are going to supplement our heating requirements with our electric element in our solar boiler. Simple and with the least amount of new infrastructure.

By swapping out our sixteen 170W solar PV panels with twelve newer 480W panels we more than double our PV output and can heat our home, charge our ebikes, and use electricity for cooking rather than propane. With the costs of all forms of combustion based energy rising this makes the most ecological and economical sense for us. Firewood this year was $500 a cord!

We will be selling our sixteen 170W panels along with two Outback MX60 charge controllers sometime in Feb. Please contact us with enquiries.


Ann and Gord

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building

Here is link to the Cascadia report on Eco-Sense.  One year Research Project funded by a grant from Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation.  Gord and Ann have over 425 hours into this…250 of which was volunteer…we missed our summer.

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building  (Written for the public.)

Also a link to the Technical Report  which served as the basis for the Cascadia report.  Written by Gord Baird, Christina Goodvin of Goodvin Desgins, and Ann Baird.  Lots of graphs, tables, and building science analysis for the earthen walls in four seasons (temperature, humidity, dew point),  full technical analysis of sustainable energy systems (solar PV, Solar Thermal, wood gassification), full policy report, full water analysis (grey water, rain water harvesting, composting toilets, water balance tables, and more).

See research page on blog  for all the individual reports (water, solar PV, building code, wall performance, and energy comparison reports)

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.


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.