The Desert Rain house, built by Tom Elliot and Barbara Scott, looks to be on track to be the first residential Living Building in the world. Congratulations, Tom and Barb! Your example as well as the willingness of all your team members to share information has been invaluable.

Tom (Burbeck) and I met Tom and Barbara at the 2013 unConference, the annual gathering for the Living Future Institute. When asked for advice on completing an LBC project, their answer to us was to be prepared for it to take longer than might be reasonably expected. They advised us to stay flexible as we navigate the ups and downs of planning, materials vetting, working with local officials, and construction.

rainwater harvestingGood advice! One hurdle already jumped, though not entirely to our satisfaction, is that of water use and waste disposal. Ideally, our water source would be 100% rainwater, filtered and purified to potable level. Our local building and sanitation officials, though, find no accommodation in the building code for this, and so have denied this. We’ve also presented our case for installing a type of composting toilet that would allow us to recycle wastes on our land. Again, there’s no provision in local codes for that, and our appeals board hearing offered the appropriate regrets that their authority does not allow them to overrule the applicable building codes.

So we’ll use well water and a traditional septic system for water and waste. But we’ll install underground water tanks and collect and use rainwater for outdoor irrigation. And hopefully the local codes will be reviewed and eventually changed, helped down that path by our project. We are still hopeful we’ll drink our purified rainwater in the next five or so years, and be allowed to install a Swedish-designed toilet composting system, still provided for in our construction plans.

This process has been a great example of the need to be flexible – not the first, and likely not the last. So on we go, facing each obstacle with ingenuity and with hope for building a home that is not just less bad for the environment, but rather one that regenerates its surrounding ecosystem.

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