Solar Collector Panels at Desert Lookout

The Challenges of the Living Building Challenge: an Unglorious Look at Our Experience

We haven’t spent much time discussing the challenges of the Living Building Challenge, but this month certainly exemplified some of the challenges we have faced throughout the process of creating Desert Rain. August has been marked by delays, unknowns, and revisions – all of which, over time, have weighed on Tom and Barb as well as the rest of the Desert Rain Team.

Don and Bill

Don Kruse and Bill Mastous of TAC are all smiles after finishing the wood siding and soffit for Desert Lookout.

Living Building Challenges

It’s important to point out that we have been fortunate to have a team brimming with optimism and dedication from the start. Without each person’s willingness to work through problems, discover solutions, and muscle through the tough times, our project would surely not be as beautifully functioning as is it today. That said, there have been many challenges that pushed each team member near their breaking point.

Struggling with Solar Collection for the Blackwater System

Throughout the construction of Desert Rain, we have had to seek out unique materials, often struggling to find products that met the LBC requirements. We have had to trust technologies that our entire building community was unfamiliar with, and often we have gone down one path, only to realize that we needed to backtrack and try again.

The solar collection panels for our blackwater system are a prime example of revisions done on the fly. As construction of Desert Lookout was progressing, the team realized that there were unforeseen issues with the panels that will collect solar heat to help the blackwater compost and evaporate. When the team realized the originally planned placement of the panels would not allow for enough direct sunlight, we had to take a hiatus in construction. This pause in construction, though driven by the placement of the collector panels, then delayed the ducting and electrical work being done inside and some of the exterior finish work.

As the team gathered additional information, we realized that because Desert Lookout is situated directly north of the garage for Desert Rain, creating more shade in the area, and keeping the ambient air temperature considerably cooler than areas with full sun. In addition, we realized the overhang of the eve shaded the panels too much during the summer months, thus reducing the amount of heat they deliver to the evaporator system.  After recalculating solar angles and panel efficiency throughout the year, the team decided to add an additional west-facing panel and lower the panels somewhat to improve year-round efficiency.  Since the original overhanging eve would still cast shadows on the panels, we also decided that the eve will need to be trimmed back – only a few weeks after the siders finished installing the gorgeous reclaimed T&G soffit.  Sigh…a time-consuming and expensive oversight on our part.

Striving to Move Onward 

While these struggles certainly affect us, Barb and Tom and the rest of the Desert Rain Team are committed to moving forward. Challenges, after all, will make us all more suited to support future LBC projects of our own and of others.  We will continue to make progress –  the solar collector panels were installed late last week.

Solar Collector Panels at Desert Lookout

The solar collector panels on Desert Lookout will provide heat for the backwater composting/evaporating system.

If you or your team are considering undertaking a Living Building Challenge project, we whole-heartedly recommend you do so. And we are more than willing to share our experiences with you. What challenges are you most concerned with? Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

apple trees

August 2014 – Progress in Pictures

As the end of August approaches, the  sun is just slightly lower in the sky these days and the dog days of summer are perhaps behind us. It’s a perfect time to look back at the month’s progress in pictures, knowing the days are still plenty long and there is quite a bit of work to do for Desert Lookout.

apple trees

The apples trees along the northern edge of the property are filled with apples.

We had the team from Winter Creek Restoration on site optimizing the irrigation system, placing boulders, and planting native vegetation.

The Winter Creek Restoration Team

The Winter Creek Restoration Team: Dayne Galish, Andy Dwyer (OSU Intern), Calina Merrow (OSU Intern), Conor Bidelspach, Kimber Warnock, and Rick Martinson (owner).

The Elite Plaster team is preparing for exterior stucco.

David Sr and David Jr Kaiser from Elite Plaster

David Kaiser Sr. was more than happy to work along side one his sons, and co-owner of Elite Plaster, David Jr.

A young service berry tree reaches seems to reach from the completed garage to the newest structure in-process.

The gap between DL and DR

Old and new meet: The completed garage along side Desert Lookout in process.

And… we’re ready to install the solar collector panels that will help the backwater compost and evaporate.

Solar Collector Panel

Lyndon Moore, owner of Moore Climate Control, and Jeremy Bennet show off one of the new solar collector panels

A Visit from G. Russell Case

Vermillion Cliffs in Desert Rain kitchen

This painting of the Vermillion Cliffs, by G. Russell Case, has a special place in Desert Rain.

On a Southwest backpacking trip a few years ago, Barb and Tom happened upon the Maynard Dixon Studio and were drawn to a painting of the Vermillion Cliffs by G. Russell Case.  They purchased the piece and created a special place for it in Desert Rain. On a return trip, Tom and Barb took friends to the studio and saw more amazing work by Russell on display. Serendipitously, Russell was in the area and the gallery organized a meeting. When Barb and Tom learned that Russell would be showing in Bend, at the Mockingbird Gallery, they invited him to stay at Desert Rain.

Artist Reception for G. Russell Case

Our community is so fortunate to have G. Russell Case visiting. There will be an artist reception on Saturday, August 9, from 5-8pm, at Mockingbird Gallery

ALL are welcome!

Directions to the gallery are available here.

"Desert Homestead" by G. Russell Case

“Desert Homestead” by G. Russell Case

More about G. Russell Case

G. Russell Case is a western painter, painting directly from the nature and landscapes tat inspire him. He transports viewers into a world created by shadow and light, of immense vistas punctuated by jagged mountains and inhabited by lonesome cowboys.

"White Pine Peaks" by G. Russell Case

“White Pine Peaks” by G. Russell Case

Born in the small town of Brigham City, Utah, Russell Case’s artistic enthusiasm was first fostered by his father, Garry Case, who was also an artist. His father encouraged Russell’s artistic talents and helped him seek exposure through marketing and local galleries. For fifteen years the younger Case translated his surroundings into watercolor, creating a foundation for the liquid vibrancy found in his later oils. This transition developed during his college years, where Case studied with the intent to become a professor of art. After graduating from Utah State University in 1990 and with the support of his wife, Susanne, Case decided to dedicate himself to painting full-time. It comes as little surprise that Case’s work eventually attracted the attention of a collector Dr. Mike Edson and his wife Karen. Case credits Edson as being a major factor in his success due to his attentive monitoring of the young artist’s progress: his vigilant observation, unwavering support, and learned guidance helped develop Case’s talent and channel his artistic energy.

Landscaping with Restoration Principles

Rick Martinson, owner of Winter Creek Restoration, is passionate about incorporating restoration principles into created environments.

Rick Martinson, owner of Winter Creek Restoration, is passionate about incorporating restoration principles into created environments.

Rick Martinson and the team from Winter Creek Restoration have been on site this past week, creating an ecology-based landscaped area surrounding Desert Rain. By incorporating restoration principles into the landscaping, Winter Creek Restoration will be creating something that is both remarkably beautiful and astoundingly smart.

The Winter Creek Restoration Team: Dayne Galish, Andy Dwyer (OSU Intern), Calina Merrow (OSU Intern), Conor Bidelspach, Kimber Warnock, and Rick Martinson (owner).

The Winter Creek Restoration Team: Dayne Galish, Andy Dwyer (OSU Intern), Calina Merrow (OSU Intern), Conor Bidelspach, Kimber Warnock, and Rick Martinson (owner).

Speaking with Rick about his work, one quickly realizes that he is both passionate and knowledgeable about the way native plant ecosystems function.  He was kind enough to take time from the busy day to explain the science behind the work the team will be doing and the long term process that the Desert Rain landscape will go through.

Resource Islands

The most common landscaping strives to support plant-life evenly throughout a space. Shrubs, flowers, and grass are watered and given nutrients, regardless of the shade created, natural flow of water, and nutrient deposits. This type of landscape requires more water and more nutrients, and also requires more weed control. In an effort to conserve water, soil nutrients, and effort, Desert Rain is looking to the natural world for inspiration.

Planting shrubs near rocks helps create "resource islands" - areas that will support plant-life with very little water or resources.

Planting shrubs near rocks helps create “resource islands” – areas that will support plant-life with very little water or resources.

Looking closely at the natural vegetation in the sage steppe area in places like Central Oregon, you can see that plants clump together in small “resource islands,” surrounded by spaces that have almost nothing growing.  Rick explained that these clusters of plants are supported by, and create, nutrient pools – or areas rich with nutrients, water, and shade. A large sagebrush, for example, creates shade for smaller plants and sheds leaves to create a layer of mulch to keep moisture from evaporating from the soil. Similarly, a large rock creates shade as well as collecting solar heat. Rocks also cause water to collect and even provide nutrients.

A Wyoming Sagebrush is at the center of this "resource island."

A Wyoming Sagebrush is at the center of this “resource island.”

As a variety of plants begin to grow near the rock or shrub, they create a microclimate that other species can also take advantage of.  Conversely, the spaces in which no plants grow are all but nutrient void. These voids don’t support the growth of weeds like Cheatgrass and Russian Thistle. Winter Creek Restoration is using this understanding to plant native small grasses and flowers near shrubs and rocks, creating resource islands that will require very little water and maintenance, yet will offer immense beauty.

We're looking forward to watching the northern slope of Desert Rain grow.

We’re looking forward to watching the northern slope of Desert Rain grow.

Rick’s wife, Karen Theodore, runs Winter Creek Nursery and has supplied all of the plants for our project. We’re looking forward to watching plants like Western Yarrow (Achillia Millifolium), Wyoming Big Sagebrush (Artemisia Tridentata var. Wyomingenesis), Desert Spray (Holodiscus Dumosus), and many more native species thrive in a landscape that mimics their natural settings.

Currently working on his doctorate, Rick hopes that ecology-based landscaping will become more of the norm in the landscaping industry and more appreciated by municipal planning departments. We’re looking forward to hosting some of Rick’s future educational workshops and seminars on the Desert Rain site.

July 2014 – Progress in Pictures

Summers are always busy, and the crews of tradespeople working on Desert Lookout are making the most of longer and warmer days.  We started this July with a minimally framed structure, and have watched the roof go up, the windows go in, and now the exterior siding is being installed. Inside, rough electrical is being installed.  It’s hard to believe how much construction progress has been made.

Cory Tennison from TAC wrapping up the framing process.

Cory Tennison from TAC – in the middle of the framing process.


Blue skies in Bend.

Blue skies in Bend.

Quality Truss delivered our trusses.

Quality Truss delivered our trusses.

Part of the TAC team - Kenton Lueck and Marvin Raby stalled the Desert Lookout Roof.

Part of the TAC team – Kenton Lueck and Marvin Raby stalled the Desert Lookout Roof.

Desert Lookout - Ready for windows.

Desert Lookout – Ready for windows.

Tom - taking a break to check out the siding prep and new windows.

Tom – taking a break to check out the siding prep and new windows.

Salvaged wood waiting to be installed as soffits.

Salvaged wood waiting to be installed as soffits. Read more about it here.

Don Kruse and Bill Mastous from TAC are installing the siding.

Don Kruse and Bill Mastous from TAC are installing the siding.

Mike, from All Phase Energy is installing the rough electrical.

Mike, from All Phase Energy is installing the rough electrical.

Bill Kaiser from Elite Plastering is on deck. We'll be ready to start the exterior siding soon.

Bill Kaiser from Elite Plastering is on deck. We’ll be ready to start the exterior siding soon.






Living Net Positive – Is it Possible?

When we think about monthly bills, we tend to think of them as something we have to pay, rather than a statement of what we have earned. Remarkably, green building is shifting that paradigm – as Tom, Barb, and many families living in green homes can attest to. In fact, last month, Desert Rain produced five times (5x) the amount of energy that Barb and Tom (AND the construction of Desert Lookout) consumed. What if we all lived Net Positive? The potential is thrilling for homeowners and communities alike.

The Control Panels will monitor the hot water temperature and energy production produced by the solar thermal and photovoltaic modules.

Green, Net Zero, and Beyond

As green building has evolved, High Efficiency has become a mainstream concept. Leaders in the sustainability community have pushed us to consider creating and retrofitting homes and buildings to be Net Zero. Net Zero Water and Energy means collecting or harnessing as much water and energy as the people in the building consume. But is that enough?

“Net Zero is a powerful yet evolving model—one that must integrate other needs such as biophilia, social equity, beauty and a sense of place. From a technological standpoint, the Net Zero approaches to energy and water are still emerging, and the norms of today will soon become yesterday’s news.” ~ Living Future Institute

What if we were able to contribute more than we consume, giving back to the grid, easing the strains on people and the planet? When Barb and Tom saw their energy report for the month of June (2014), they realized that this isn’t a far-fetched notion. It is achievable.

July 8 power graph

Even during the dip on July 8th, nearly 5x more power is collected (6.29 kW) than a typical American household consumes on average (1.33 kW).

*Click here to see Average Household Energy Consumption.

Living Net Positive

It’s understood that we produce more energy in the sunny, long days of summer than we will in the short, low-light days of winter. Simultaneously, we know that merely producing more energy is not the complete answer; we also need to be wise about the energy we use. Fortunately, our society’s understanding about using energy and water has become more sophisticated and building technologies are more advanced, making conservation an easier task.

We’re optimistic that living Net Positive is in our immediate future. We’ll continue sharing our triumphs, questions, and challenges as we strive to meet this goal. If you have experience living Net Positive, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Please contact us.

The Living Future Institute shares the belief that living Net Positive is an achievable goal – so much so that they have included it as a requirement to meet the Living Building Challenge 3.0.  We are asked to “look far into the future, consider the endgame and shape our efforts to create productive, thriving communities.”  

Look for the next Net Positive Conference in January of 2015:

On the Fresh Edge of Green Building

Recently, we welcomed Michael McLandress to the Desert Rain Team. Adding Michael adds a friend, a neighbor, and someone incredibly dedicated to sustainability and green building.

Recently, we welcomed Michael McLandress to the Desert Rain Team. Adding Michael adds a friend, a neighbor, and someone incredibly dedicated to sustainability and green building.

With more than 30 years of experience building high-end commercial and residential buildings, Michael established his company, Brightwater Collaborative, in Bend in alignment with his passion for green building. Michael’s mission is to focus on sustainability in the built environment and when Timberline Construction brought him on as the Project Manager for Desert Lookout, we were thrilled.

On the Fresh Edge of Green Building

Michael came to Bend from the Bay Area, and started off on the green (or right) foot. His first job in Bend was as the Project Manager for the construction of Miller Elementary. This school was an important ‘first’ for Bend LaPine Schools as well as for our community. It was the first school on the east side of the Cascades, and the third in the State of Oregon, to be LEED for Schools Gold Certified. The $40 million project set the trajectory for Michael to work on more cutting edge, green projects in Central Oregon.

As Brightwater Collective, Michael is also currently working with OSU Cascades. The new 4-year, college campus will bring innumerable changes to our community and Michael is involved in planning for and development of the college’s multi-modal transportation plan. By working with Commute Options, local businesses, and citizens, Michael is looking to implement a plan from which the whole community can benefit.

As an engaged citizen, Michael, along with Tom, is on the Board of Directors for The Environmental Center.  He works with the rest of the board and staff on the non-profit’s mission to “embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon.” He’s also helped the non-profit meet some of it’s own operational needs by coordinating the donation of paint and painting services to keep the 25 year old center in good, structural condition.

Leading the Way for Desert Lookout

Michael McLandress and Lyndon Moore (Moore Climate Control)

Michael McLandress and Lyndon Moore (Moore Climate Control)

Michael professes that he loves being part of the Desert Rain Team, “I’m honored to be part of this cutting edge green building project. It’s a model project for Green building and sustainability.”

Desert Lookout makes the Living Building Challenge feasible for Desert Rain. This newest structure houses the composting system for our site’s blackwater – playing a crucial role on helping our home meet all the requirements of the LBC water petal. This structure, by way of obtaining a city permit to treat blackwater onsite, also allows the City of Bend to see that onsite water treatment will work on an individual, residential level.

A Peek Inside Desert Rain – Progress in Pictures

Since Barb and Tom moved in to their new home earlier this year, we’ve had many requests for pictures of the finished interior. While aspects of our project are still underway and we will be taking many more photos in the future, we’ve put together a small selection to share with you now.

desert rain living room

A place to gather and connect: The living room is a place to connect with friends and family as well as the beauty outside.

Desert Rain Kitchen

The warmth of the reclaimed wood makes the kitchen an inviting place to gather.

Desert Rain Dining Room

The dining room, just off the kitchen, has windows on three sides, creating an openness and connection with the outdoors.

Looking at the kitchen from the living room

The open floor plan keeps the kitchen and living room connected.

Study and Guest Room

Barb and Tom wanted space for guests and space for contemplation. This room can be used for either.

Desert Rain Hallway Bench

Small spaces like this bench in the hallway create a space to reflect and find solitude within the openness of the Desert Rain floor plan.

The Desert Rain Repurposed Custom Commuter Bicycles

Earlier this year, members of the Desert Rain Team (Al Tozer, ML Vidas, Morgan Brown, and Timberline Construction) surprised Tom and Barb with custom, commuter bikes as house warming gifts.  These bikes are repurposed steel mountain bikes that have been beautifully refurbished by a local bike shop: Bend Velo. It was such a special surprise to receive a gift that is so in-line with the philosophy of the Desert Rain project and the Living Building Challenge.

“I like that the bike frames are beautifully reconditioned–something new from something old. Giving something near the end of its expected life-cycle a new life reduces the carbon impact on everyone.”  -Tom

Biking Around Town

Head Badge on Tom's Bike

Barb and Tom – ready to ride despite cool temps.

Barb and Tom are avid cyclists. They’ve done a variety of bike tours, including crossing the US just before Desert Rain construction commenced. They ride for the exercise, as a meditation, and as a way to more directly connect with people and places.

The Desert Rain bikes are designed for upright riding, something Barb loves. “I am able to sit up facing the world and quite proud on my new bike.” Tom enjoys that these bikes aren’t for racing through life. They are perfect for just cruisin’ around. Whether they are going to the office, to get groceries at Devore’s or Newport Market, headed out for dinner downtown or the Old Mill, or running errands to ACE Hardware, these bikes make are an enjoyable way to get around. Sometimes, they just cruise down to Riverside Market for a cold beer in the evening. Many days go by when they don’t even go near their car.

Made by Our Community

Wood Fenders

Barb’s bike has a lighter blue, mixte-style frame. The wood fenders on both bikes are made from remnants of our flooring – salvaged myrtle wood.

In addition to being repurposed, Tom and Barb’s new bikes incorporate some of the people and elements of our project. Both bikes have beautiful wood fenders. Local fender maker, Woody’s Fenders, used remnant wood flooring from Desert Rain – salvaged Myrtlewood. Barb’s bike is a step-through style bike that required some modification of the original frame. Hans Erikkson, the local welder and metal fabricator who worked on our project, regularly does this for all the Bend Velo step-through frames. The inclusion of local trades people, talented craftsmen, and our community’s businesses has been important to Barb and Tom throughout the Desert Rain project as well as in their professional and personal lives.

“I have been blessed to be able to bring local craftspersons into a dream project like Desert Rain.  I like the idea of meeting and greeting the people who make the things I choose to have around me.  These people and their work become special stories to carry around in my heart as well as share with others.” – Barb

Tom's Bike

Tom’s bike is a deeper blue, men’s-style frame.

When asked why he and Barb have made supporting local businesses a priority, Tom explains, “Whether we see it or not, we are all deeply inter-connected. One way to make these connections more obvious is by supporting local tradespeople. A project like Desert Rain is much larger than the two owners–it is more embedded in the community because so many local tradespeople have had a role in making it a reality. Desert Rain was started in the midst of perhaps the most significant financial/building slump in the history of Bend.  The financial support afforded by jobs on the project eased that painful period for many trades people and retained those dollars in the local economy.”

A Chance to Talk About the Living Building Challenge

The beauty of this his and hers set of bikes has invited questions from many friends and colleagues. Additionally, the J. Livingston line of bikes from Bend Velo is quite well known in our community. When people take a closer look at these bikes, they can see that they are emblazoned with the Desert Rain logo in addition to the traditional Bend Velo markings.

Head Badge on Tom's Bike

Bend Velo gave up their own space on the Head Badge in order to brand these bikes with the Desert Rain logo

These bikes have proven to be a great entrée into talking about all things sustainable. The LBC Equity Petal asks us to consider the impacts of design and development to foster a true sense of community. Barb and Tom’s bikes help them connect with the people in our town. They provide transportation that considers the community as well as the environment.

Declare – Support for Identifying Materials and Avoiding the LBC Red List

Straw used in Stucco

For the exterior stucco, we used a mixture of lime, sand, straw, and bentonite.

One of the biggest hurdles in building Desert Rain has been identifying and sourcing construction materials that are approved for the Living Building Challenge. The Living Future Institute’s recent launch of Declare is encouraging for new projects striving to meet the challenge.

The Living Building Challenge ‘Red List’

The LBC ‘Red List’ was created to help projects select materials that are replenishable and have no negative impact on human and ecosystem health.  Red List materials are overwhelmingly abundant in the construction and decorating industries. So much so that early in the design process, our team decided to have a dedicated member, ML Vidas, verifying every product used for the project.

At the recent Living Future unConference, we were asked time, and time again, about the Red List. For many projects, it is a hurdle that is financially prohibitive to overcome. Finding healthy and safe material selections has required hours upon hours of research by our team. Often, companies were less than forthcoming with the ingredients they use. Other producers wanted to support our material search, investing time in sourcing approved materials.

American Clay

Amy Warren applying American Clay – a 100% natural product that promotes a healthy environment and radiates warmth and beauty.

The Living Building Challenge ‘Red List’ is a list of materials and chemicals that cannot be used:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene43
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants44
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides45
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

Declare – A ‘Nutrition Label’ for the Building Industry

Declare Nutrition Label for Building Materials

The Living Future Institute created Declare as a ‘nutrition label’ for the construction industry – helping designers and builders identify what is in a particular product. We are heartened by the willingness of many material producers and suppliers to re-evaluate the chemicals and processes they use and to seek better options for the people creating them, the people using them, and the environment. Identifying and sourcing green materials can still be a time consuming process, and we hope the inclusion of the Declare label will make the Living Building Challenge achievable for more projects.

Whether you are striving to meet the Living Building Challenge, or simply want to incorporate LBC principles into your project, you can access the Declare product database or explore GreenWizard – a tool for consumers.