beacon_springsFour years ago, at the start of this Living Building journey, the analogy of a trip around the world seemed apt. Tom and I were heading into unknown territory with a team of trusted and resourceful companions, but with no map, no known route, and not even a signpost along the way.

The metaphor has merit. Time and again we’ve faced situations without a template. Most recently, our building crew was stumped by the Trombe wall selective surface application.* Once the thin film is attached, a huge plate glass window is installed in front of the wall. If the selective surface peels away from the wall, repair is daunting (to say the least), since removal of those windows requires serious heavy-lifting machinery. Application of that film, therefore, must be done right – and of course no one on the building crew has done this before. Consulting with our Trombe wall expert (architect) Wayne Appleyard, we discovered a newer material than the one we’d specced several years ago which is far easier and more foolproof to install. Another jaunt through uncharted waters.

Trombe wall selective surface application

Trombe wall selective surface application

My experience of this trip around the world, though, is that we now seem to have come full circle, returning to and becoming ever more firmly rooted to this place, this piece of land, this community of people.

To start with, of course, a Living Building is anchored to a particular piece of land, drawing all its needs from it, and returning nourishment to it. As our move-in date approaches, we’re anticipating the challenge of calibrating our energy and other systems so that we’re net zero or even net positive after a year, fulfilling the requirement that we return as much to the land as we draw from it.

Our dream for our 15 acres, even before we encountered the Living Building Challenge, has been to grow food using principles of permaculture, for ourselves and for others whose access to fresh, wholesome food is limited. Soil restoration, swales, ponds, nut trees, fruit trees, perennial vines and other edibles, annual food crops, all beckon, calling us to thrust our hands deeply into this overused, misused, neglected land.

And as for people: We’ve formed deep and lasting friendships with many members of our project team. Our lives have been enriched by so many who have so generously helped us. We’ve met, and look forward to meeting and befriending, like-minded folks, who are concerned for the earth which sustains us all, and concerned about neighbors in need. Our connections with people because of this project provide us with endless inspiration and encouragement to press forward toward our goal.

Our amazing people connections include our new(-ish) friends and buyers of our Honey Creek house, Bill and Christy. A mutual friend connected us when he saw hickory planks in Bill and Christy’s garage several years ago and suggested that we might might find a use for them in our new house. We said yes. Not long after, a storm forced Bill and Christy to take down the second hickory tree in their yard. Those two trees worth of hickory boards are now the flooring in the long hall of our new house.

Hickory floor in long hall

Hickory floor in long hall

In the meantime, Bill and Christy, who were contemplating their own move to a new home, decided to (patiently!) wait for us. We agreed on a price at our – now Bill and Christy’s – kitchen table, and completed the sale with a bit of legal help and guidance from lawyer friends and real estate agent friend (yes, we paid them fairly!)

And now our cherry dining room set, on which the last round of remodeling/redecorating/cherry cabinetry in that (Honey Creek) dining room was based, is now, as part of the house sale, Bill and Christy’s, replacing their unrealized dream of a hickory dining table – a dream frustrated by a series of disappearing furniture builders.

But wait, there’s more: We knew several months ago that our new house would not be ready before our agreed-upon move-out date, so Tom and I began the search for temporary quarters. Christy remembered a friend who was deciding what to do with her then-unoccupied house. Christy connected us, and Tom and I are now happily ensconced in Laura’s delightful bungalow – which is even perfect for our two dogs, with fenced backyard, and two cats, with basement cat door. Beyond perfect! And oh by the way, it turns out that Laura and our daughter-in-law Vinal were already friends via work connections.

So here we are, back in our own backyard – well, three of them now, over the past month or so – with friends old and new, filled with anticipation and eagerness to plant our roots firmly in this place, on this Tessmer Road land, looking to care for the land and to care for our neighbors – a tall task, which we expect to complete only with continued help and encouragement from this community of which we’ve become a part during the past four years, and which we know will continue to grow.

* “Since ancient times people have used thick walls of adobe or stone to trap the sun’s heat during the day and release it slowly and evenly at night. Today’s passive solar buildings often improve on this ancient technique by incorporating a thermal storage and delivery system called a Trombe wall. Named after French inventor Felix Trombe in the late 1950s, the Trombe wall continues to serve as an effective feature of passive solar design. Trombe Wall Construction A typical Trombe wall consists of an 8- to 16-inch thick masonry wall coated with a dark, heat-absorbing material and faced with a single or double layer of glass. The glass is placed from about 3/4″ to 6″ away from the masonry wall to create a small airspace. Heat from sunlight passing through the glass is absorbed by the dark surface, stored in the wall, and conducted slowly inward through the masonry. Applying a selective surface to a Trombe wall improves its performance by reducing the amount of infrared energy radiated back through the glass. The selective surface consists of a sheet of metal foil glued to the outside surface of the wall. It absorbs almost all the radiation in the visible portion of the solar spectrum and emits very little in the infrared range. High absorbance turns the light into heat at the wall’s surface, and low emittance prevents the heat from radiating back towards the glass. For a 16-inch thick Trombe wall, heat will take about 8 to 10 hours to reach the interior of the building. This means that rooms remain comfortable through the day and receive slow, even heating for many hours after the sun sets, greatly reducing the need for conventional heating and cooling. Rooms heated by a Trombe wall often feel more comfortable than those heated by forced-air furnaces because of the radiantly warm surface of the wall, even at lower air temperatures.” Source:

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