Blog

Now and Then

Forty years ago, I was an AFS exchange student. I spent a year in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, living with the most wonderful host family imaginable, and essentially repeating my senior year of high school.

When I learned where I was headed, I began to form an idea in my head about what my year abroad would be like – to live in a tiny village in a predominately Catholic country, speak Dutch, eat new foods . . . Try as I might, I knew I couldn’t imagine it fully. I suspected, however, that at the end of the year, I’d return home with a different perspective on many areas of life.

drivewayOur house-building journey feels similar. All along the way, we’ve envisioned the architecture and design, the components of a living building and life in that home. But we’ll never know until we get there what it’s really like to keep our water and energy use and waste at net zero, to restore our land to health and productivity, to live with a heightened awareness of our connection to the earth. In the end, we’re sure we’ll live in a comfortable, well-designed home where we’ll welcome friends and family to share in the beauty of our surroundings and the produce from our land. We expect to have learned what it takes to live in a way that builds rather than destroys the environment. And we look forward to that.

In the meantime, we’re making our way through our red list vetting process. We’re working with the county health department to convince them that really, it would be safe and sane to flush toilets with harvested rainwater. And we’re nearing completion of construction documents . . . with a few new design thoughts yet to be implemented. Our team members remain hard-working, helpful, cheerful; without them this project would be impossible.

Not a campaign

Over Thanksgiving dinner, as Tom and I were describing some of our vision for growing food at Beacon Springs, our younger son made a helpful observation and asked a follow-up question: first, Mom and Dad, here at this table, you’re preaching to the choir – and second, what can we, Eric and wife, and older brother and wife, DO?

Tom’s recent reminders come immediately to mind: that Beacon Springs and Living Building Challenge are not a campaign for us. We’re not out to change the world by building and publicizing the greenest house around or by coming up with a way to grow food that renews the earth, pays our bills, and feeds hungry needy people in Washtenaw County. As the project unfolds, we find ourselves thinking more and more about THIS piece of land, THIS group of people who are touched by our project. The challenge is not to the world, but it’s to us, Tom and me, to revitalize the 15 acres we now own – to live in a way that makes this corner of the world as healthy and productive and full of life as we can possibly make it.

We hope our example is one that inspires others to follow a similar path. That IS where saving the world can happen. But we’re not on a campaign.

A note on the LBC red list and on teamwork

Most of the 20 imperatives of the Living Building Challenge are, well, exactly that: a challenge. You have the net-zeroes – energy, water and waste – and these are made possible largely because of the strong team of specialists we have assembled.

For our project, with such a focus on passive solar design and the passive ventilation tower, the energy imperative seems quite manageable.

Water, with our rainwater harvesting strategy, is relatively easy, except that our local health and safety regulations are not designed to accommodate rainwater as potable water. A well was already dug on our land at purchase, so we have a Plan B for potable water if we can’t get approval for rainwater as a source for potable water.

Toilets and net zero waste: That’s another one that gives the county authorities the willies, but there are precedents in our county, and it appears that this one won’t be too difficult. Once again, we have a pre-dug septic field on the parcel, so we have a Plan B. Nevertheless, I cringe at the thought of putting in a large septic tank and field for such a small task; it also would be like throwing away valuable water and fertilizer so desperately needed by our worn out farm land.

But it’s the Red List that’s the onerous challenge. Thank God we have Eric Doyle and Catalyst Partners as our LBC project manager and Red List cops. It’s through his dogged pursuit of all those manufacturers, with assistance from interns attending nearby colleges, that we have any hope of vetting everything. Even our challenges with FSC compliance, with our solution to have the cabinet shop onsite since we cannot find FSC kitchen cabinets, pale in comparison to the task of vetting all materials against the LBC Red List.

Our LBC team is the only way we have a prayer of meeting the challenge. Without our team of impressively qualified professionals, I’d put this project in the “Hopeless” category. The core team – Michael, Brian, Eric, Bob and Shannan – are a delight and our lifeline. For me, it’s the friendships I’ve made among these professionals, and the enjoyment I experience in working with them, that brings new life in daily living long before our Living Building becomes tangible. Thank you for that, team!

We’re live!

Our first public presentation of our Living Building Challenge project is Thursday, September 26, as part of the AIA (Huron Valley)+2030 Professional Series.

Vince Martinez, Director of Research at Architecture 2030, Eric Doyle, Living Building Challenge consultant for Burh Becc at Beacon Springs, and Jan Culbertson of A3C Collaborative Architecture, look at setting and achieving energy goals with integrated design.

AIA + 2030 Session I:
The 2030 Challenge: Setting + Achieving Energy Goals with Integrated Design
September 26, 5–9:15 pm, at Henry Ford Community College
Rosenau Board Room; Andrew A. Mazzara Administrative Services and Conference Center

Learn more . . .