Some friends of ours saw a unique moment of opportunity some years ago, when their four children were young, to take a full year and travel around the world. What an adventure! Tom and I, having each lived abroad and traveled quite a bit, were green with envy when we learned about this.

We don’t foresee such an opportunity for ourselves. But early on in our house project we came to the conclusion that aiming for Living Building certification would be tantamount to a trip around the world, filled with challenges, obstacles, new friendships and unexpected joys.

And what a trip this is! As when traveling, we’ve encountered unanticipated experiences, making us scramble and learn and stretch and change.

Language is, of course, often the first hurdle when traveling abroad. For us, we’ve learned a whole new vocabulary and a new way of thinking about energy, water, waste and growing food. Who would have dreamed we would discover Trombe walls and incorporate them into our design? Who would have thought we’d actually find ways to use harvested rainwater and to return waste to the environment in a healthful, productive way? (Yep, our local health officials have yet to give the green light; but we’re patient and we’re confident things will eventually change.) Who could have predicted we’d be planning to restore our 15 acres of land to health and productivity using principles of permaculture – not even knowing a few short years ago that such methods existed? That’s just a sample of the new vocabulary and concepts we’ve encountered and learned about.

Stone for north wall of house from Michigan quarries; roof tile from Ohio

Stone for north wall of house from Michigan quarries; roof tile from Ohio

Transportation can be a trial in a foreign country: How to find one’s way to a desired destination? The Living Building Challenge requires that building materials be sourced close to home, thus reducing the energy cost of shipping. But did you know that most light fixtures are made in China? Did you know that even seemingly trivial items such as foundation anchor bolts are shipped from China? Again, this is the tip of the iceberg – and we’re only partway into construction. Bob Burnside, our builder, and Amanda and Ben from Catalyst Partners, are staying plenty busy researching and finding locally sourced products.

And of course, there’s the biggest challenge of all with foreign travel: understanding unfamiliar customs and traditions. The Living Building Challenge includes an education component: As we learn about and implement regenerative and healthy construction methods, we’re charged to pass on our knowledge so others might follow in our footsteps. A main component of our education work begins in a month, with the first in a series of construction tours, showcasing each component of the home: site considerations; energy, water and waste systems; thermal envelope; materials vetting; indoor environment; and more. Dates for these tours are September 26–27, October 24–25, and November 21–22. Watch this web site for information on tour registration.

Finally, a trip might be a long undertaking: a year abroad; or a Living Building project. We most definitely took our time designing this home – not surprising, since we love thinking through the details. We were surprised at the work required not just for beautiful building design but also for planning into the building all the strategies for making it live in harmony with the environment.

Surprisingly again, that phase of the project now seems like a piece of cake compared to the effort now of making sure every material used in construction meets LBC requirements for nontoxic components and local sourcing. What a trip this is!

And what fun it is! Hard – very hard – at times – yes. But there’s great joy in knowing we’re causing ripples in the conventional building industry that will affect the average homebuilder; joy in new friendships with team members and with others we’ve connected to because of this project; and deep satisfaction in acting on our convictions that our well-being is bound to the well-being of the natural environment, trusting that we can and should build this home to be a living building, to regenerate its surroundings and to nurture the lives and health of those who live and visit there.

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