Since December, Desert Rain has been home to Tom and Barb. They are settling in, becoming familiar with the uses and mechanics of the many systems that are part of the site and structures. Last week the installation of the control panels was underway. When the work is completed the status of those systems will be visible data that may be used to monitor and optimize efficiency.
To receive Living Building Challenge certification, Desert Rain must meet a series of rigorous performance requirements. For a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy the data will be archived to determine the effectiveness of the working systems installed at Desert Rain. The permit is still pending for Desert Lookout, a structure that will have a dwelling space and house the proposed composter/evaporator system for blackwater and dishwasher waste. The clock will not begin until all systems are in place and functioning.
Powers of Automation a local, family oriented, Bend company designed and built the control panel equipment. President and founder, Steve Powers said this is the first residential project they have been involved with. They typically provide control and validation solutions to municipalities and large scale industrial companies. He had not heard of the Living Building Challenge when he was referred to the Desert Rain Project through a parts supplier. He looks at this project as a potential way to diversify his business. Desert Rain will be sharing information about the monitoring systems and results with the Living Building Challenge community.
Powers said he used the same approach with the Desert Rain as he uses for larger system integration projects. He interviewed Tom and Morgan Brown, of Whole Water Systems to determine the need and importance of the data to be gathered. Powers works with local manufacturers as much as possible to find components for the control systems. The Powers of Automation team use these components as building blocks to assemble custom control panels specific to the project requirements. Tom said, ‘the system provided by Powers of Automation is much more sophisticated than originally planned and will provide more information than the requirements of the LBC.’
The control system currently being installed will provide the following functions:
The 35,000 gallon fresh water cistern and distribution system will be monitored for level and flow. Two pumps will be utilized alternately and monitored by a pressure sensor that will adjust speed to maintain desired pressure. Once the LBC monitoring phase begins, water in the cistern may only be replenished by collection through rainwater harvesting. The LBC allows the fresh water cistern to be charged initially by filling with city water.
There are 7 pumps in use throughout the systems at Desert Rain. Each pump will be monitored and connected to an alarm/warning system in case of failure. The grey water, bioreactive wetland, reclaimed water tank, and irrigation system will be monitored by a flow sensor to determine efficiency of water flow and track evaporation. Flow meters and level controls will assure there are no water overflows by alerting Tom to water levels and allowing to re-adjust set points.
For LBC certification Desert Rain must be net zero energy. The solar photovoltaic system is monitored with web based software. The power production is monitored and the data archived. Power consumption will be monitored at individual and grouped sources to determine what is using energy and why. The temperatures and/or energy use of the hot water, air to water heat pump, hydronic radiant floor heating system, and electrical circuits will all be visible with the control panels.
When completed, the composting, evaporator, and vaccum system will be monitored for levels and alarms before any overflow could occur. The evaporator tank and reclaimed water tanks each have an overflow connected to sanitary sewer. Any over flow could invalidate the LBC water petal certification.
In addition to systems monitoring, Desert Rain will be outfitted with a weather monitoring station that will track barometric pressure, dew point, temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed, and wind direction.
Tom and Barb are eager to have the control panels in place so they will have time to watch the systems, determine what is working, and maximize performance before the official monitoring period begins. Tom and a friend will be developing a dashboard to graph the information so it may be more easily viewed and eventually shared. All the research, design, development, and installation of systems will be under scrutiny as the data tells the story. Desert Rain will be playing the role; as a home, and as a demonstration of sustainability in the built environment.
When a circa 1949 potato barn in Prineville, Oregon was under deconstruction, tranquility and harmony were not the words to describe the process. Three years later, under the thoughtful eye and hand of woodworker, Andrew Scott, the reclaimed lumber from that potato barn is creating tranquility, harmony, and beauty in the Desert Rain landscape. Scott is using the reclaimed wood from the potato barn to build gates and fences that create privacy and frame the views on the site. For the Desert Rain project, he wanted to represent the energy of the Living Building Challenge while respecting the environment, keeping a light footprint, and reflecting the nature of the project.
Scott wanted to soften the lines and hard edges of the structures with natural and organic imagery. His background in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine and the design of the project inspired his work. Images and symbols are carved on the tops of the posts – some visible, some out of view unless one knows where to look. The Chinese gate that enters the courtyard is supported by posts appropriately carved with a sun symbol on the right and raindrops or a snowfield on the left. The carvings represent yin yang, a primary guide to traditional Chinese medicine describing how contrary forces are complimentary and interconnected. Simplified, the yang side is male, fire, light. The yin side is earth, female, softness, water. How fitting that the name ‘Desert Rain’ invokes the concept of yin yang – contradictory yet interdependent, as the house needs the sun for energy and the rain for its water source.
Scott often incorporates hummingbirds into his woodworking and there is one at Desert Rain. Images of other regional wildlife grace the posts -an osprey, rattlesnake, and Great Blue Heron. The resident deer are represented by deer tracks at the entrance. The sense of discovery will be a delight to visitors as they tour the site and find art in the timbers and structures of the landscape.
Scott had not heard of the Living Building Challenge before Desert Rain. The biggest difference for him with this project was using reclaimed wood. He spent hours sorting through piles of 2” x 12”, weathered, barn boards searching for the right pieces that would sandwich the Forest Stewardship Council certified plywood on the privacy panels. He wanted wood with character; knots, grain, and lichen attached that will hopefully, continue to grow, bringing life and natural beauty to the boards. The challenges came with the FSC plywood that he could not have delivered to his shop as he is not FSC certified. Since the fences and gates are near the last elements to be constructed in the landscape, Scott had a very long wait to begin his work.
When asked how he became part of the Desert Rain team, Scott said he is friends with Barb and Tom. They spent 18 days together when he rowed for them on a float trip through the Grand Canyon where he got to know them well. He sees Desert Rain as a beautifully designed prototype to encourage other similar projects. Scott said, ‘I honor Barb and Tom for their vision and their energy and willingness to spend the money with this project. I am most fortunate to have been involved with this.’
Scott appreciates the artistic license he was given to be inspired by the site, the design, and the project. The top curve of the entrance gate gracefully curves upward. The curve is the same radius as the Miro wall that flows through the structure and into the courtyard interconnecting beauty and design. The posts that create the arch are carved with Chinese characters chosen by Scott for their significance to Desert Rain. Everyone who follows the path through the entrance gate will be embraced by Andrew Scott’s artistry and inspiration, into the realm of tranquility and harmony.
The construction door is gone. In its’ place is a beautiful, reclaimed wood, front door that opens to say ‘welcome home’ to Desert Rain owners, Barbara Scott and Tom Elliott. It has been a long journey from their idea and dream of building an extreme green home to this week of moving in. After nearly five years of dreaming, planning, purchasing property, designing, permits, redesigning and construction – Desert Rain and the adjacent accessory dwelling unit are ready for occupancy.
Ground-breaking began in August 2011. Striving to meet the stringent guidelines and the seven petals of the Living Building Challenge created hurdles and delays far beyond what an owner or contractor would encounter with traditional construction. The Desert Rain team has embraced the challenge and found the answers to keep the project moving forward to completion of a livable home.
One obstacle remains before Barb and Tom can begin the one year auditing phase that will monitor the water, energy and air quality systems to show that Desert Rain meets the LBC criteria for certification. The blackwater system (waste water treatment from toilets and the dishwasher) has not yet been approved. Plans for the system were in the process of design and engineering well before construction began. After many months of research, design, and working with the regulatory agencies involved in permits a proposal for the blackwater system should be ready to submit this week. (Stay tuned for more information in a future blog). In the meantime, Tom and Barb will be utilizing city systems that were required to be in place for the initial permit process.
Living in a net zero water and net zero energy home will require a commitment to lifestyle that Barb and Tom believe they can embrace. With the bleeding edge design, construction, and systems in place Desert Rain is not an ordinary house. The mechanical room, monitoring equipment, solar panels, and technology are highly visible – a daily reminder to be conscious of meeting the LBC requirements.
Living a normal life within the parameters of the LBC may be a challenge. In a recent interview with the Bend Bulletin, Barb said, “We don’t know how this works because we’ve never done it, nor has anyone else”. Barb and Tom are confident they will find the balance between the mechanical and technical elements that are imperative to a functioning house and the LBC, and the comfort and beauty that will make Desert Rain House their home.
With the chaos of moving well underway, Barb and Tom are turning house to home. The harmony of home and extreme green building will be created when: a favorite wooden salad bowl finds a place in the Forest Stewardship Council certified cabinet; a steaming cup of tea waits on the salvaged, walnut countertop; an old farm table from Montana reflects the sunlight streaming through the triple pane, energy-efficient glass doors; treasured art pieces grace the walls that are covered with American Clay. When the view from each window becomes familiar; when shoes are parked in the entryway; when friends and family are welcomed with warm hugs; when music and laughter flow to the ceilings; when sense of place brings a sense of sanctuary – Desert Rain House will no longer be a project. Desert Rain House will become –home.
Congratulations Tom and Barb! May your pioneering spirit, your commitment to values, your belief in the Living Building Challenge, and your love of earth and life – bring you HOME.
Moving Day is here!
Barb and Tom take a moment from packing, hauling, and unpacking for an interview and video with the Bend Bulletin.
Click on the link below to watch the video.
To see all of the articles about Desert Rain that have appeared in the Bend Bulletin, please go to our Press page: Desert Rain in the News
Hidden from view, within the walls of Desert Rain is an innovative, structural element composed of Forest Stewardship Council certified wood. The staggered, double wall, framed construction of the building envelope is extraordinary. It was designed and developed to meet the stringent energy standards of the Living Building Challenge . Though the FSC wood is not visible in the building envelope – FSC wood and reclaimed or salvaged wood is abundantly evident throughout the project. Inside and out – Desert Rain celebrates wood as an integral part of the project.
This September, Desert Rain entered the 9th Annual Design and Build with FSC Awards competition. ‘Each year at the US Green Building Council’s Greenbuild, the Forest Stewardship Council US recognizes excellence and innovation in the use of FSC certified building materials in commercial and residential construction. Award winning projects demonstrate that wood from responsibly managed forests can meet all design and construction needs. Selection criteria include the amount of FSC-certified wood used, innovation, and efforts to advance market transformation. The awards honor designers and builders who are committed to using FSC-certified wood and creating a marketplace that promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.’
Eligible projects, including residential, must use at least 50% FSC certified wood (by cost) of any new wood used. Desert Rain uses 100% FSC certified wood in the structural framing, the cabinetry, exterior cedar siding, and the Loewen window frames. Other woods used at Desert Rain are reclaimed or salvaged. The exterior soffits, interior ceilings, and trim showcase the lumber that was reclaimed from the deconstruction of the two original homes on the site and a nearby, potato barn. That lumber was re-milled and stored to be used as the construction progressed. The myrtlewood flooring is sourced through Slice Recovery in Coquille, Oregon. Myrtlewood from Slice Recovery is harvested as salvage, a by-product of the timber industry, cleaning up after the logging operations in fir and pine stands.
A significant component of the FSC certified wood use at Desert Rain is visually evident in the cabinetry. As a Living Building Challenge project, Desert Rain was obligated to use a FSC certified shop and cabinet maker. Owners, Barb Scott and Tom Elliott wanted someone local who understood the design, aesthetics, goals, and challenge of the project.
Gabriel Dansky, with Dansky Handcrafted joined the team. Dansky has been building custom, sustainably minded cabinetry for decades. He had used FSC certified wood in other projects. Desert Rain was the catalyst for Dansky to take the next step – becoming a certified FSC cabinet shop. Though the paperwork, auditing, time, and expense of the process could be daunting, Dansky forged ahead recognizing that market demands will drive FSC certification. He sees that people who request FSC wood are generally looking for a quality product that goes beyond price.
Dansky Handcrafted has now renewed their FSC certification to complete the work on Desert Rain. Dansky has embraced the Desert Rain project where he said, ‘everyone can take pride in the quality of their work’. Dansky worked with project designer, Al Tozer with Tozer Design to develop a design that showcases the beauty of the wood. The cabinets are an art form; the veneers are grain matched, flowing, and peaceful as they blend and accent the other elements and materials within Desert Rain.
From the structural framing to the finely, finished cabinetry Desert Rain celebrates wood. Wood is an essential and significant ingredient in the function and beauty of Desert Rain. On October 23 notice arrived that Desert Rain was the residential winner for the 2013 Design and Build with FSC Awards. Barb and Tom will soon attend the ceremony to accept the award for Desert Rain and the team. It is time to celebrate – the FSC, good wood, and Desert Rain! Congratulations Team Desert Rain!
Last Saturday Desert Rain welcomed participants of the Green and Solar Tour. The tour, presented by the Cascadia Green Building Council High Desert Branch included five commercial buildings and five private residences. Desert Rain was considered one of the most innovative and energy saving homes on the tour. Desert Rain is aiming for third party certification through the Living Building Challenge .
With landscaping well underway, arriving visitors were able to walk on the partially completed paths leading to the main house or to the accessory dwelling unit. The landscape design focuses on water conservation by using drought tolerant and native plants, permeable pavers and surfaces, and reusing the captured greywater for irrigation. The ‘Miro’ wall gracefully leads into the home and continues through the structure creating continuity between the indoor and outdoor spaces.
The hardscaping includes the use of lumber salvaged from the ponderosa pine that was removed from the site. Timbers are incorporated into the privacy fencing separating the accessory dwelling unit from the interior courtyard.
The textures, materials, and natural color tones of the hallway create a welcoming ambience. The American Clay on the walls, salvaged, myrtlewood flooring, FSC and reclaimed woods, and diamond polished cement floors are some of the elements helping Desert Rain achieve the Materials Petal for the Living Building Challenge.
The highly energy-efficient, triple paned, Loewen sliding glass doors open onto the south patio and interior courtyard. As part of the passive solar design, 90% of the windows in Desert Rain are south facing. The paving stones and decomposed granite used on the patio and pathways create a permeable surface allowing rainwater to flow through into the soil.
All the structures at Desert Rain are designed to maximize roof surface for rain water harvesting. The captured water is filtered and flows into a 35,ooo gallon cistern located beneath the garage where it travels through additional filtering processes before it arrives at the low flow (1.5gpm) faucets. The harvested water will be the source for all domestic water use, including drinking water.
Some of the Desert Rain team were on hand to help tell the story of building extreme green. Amy Warren (left) owner of Green Apple Construction and her partner, Josh applied the American Clay plaster throughout the house. Ani Cahill (right) is with Heartsprings Design, the landscape design team. E2 Solar owner, Mike Hewitt explained the 14.8kw photo voltaic modules to interested visitors. Tom Elliott, owner, Al Tozer designer with Tozer Design, and James Fagan and Kevin Lorda with Timberline Construction answered many questions about the design, construction, materials, and features of Desert Rain.
Green and Solar tour participants view, inquire, and admire the elements that put Desert Rain on the ‘bleeding edge’ of sustainability in the built environment. The Living Building Challenge stipulates education as part of the requirements of meeting certification. Desert Rain owners Tom Elliott and Barbara Scott have put out the welcome mat for a multitude of visitors during the past 3+ years that the design and building process has been underway. They recognize that Desert Rain is their dream and a demonstration project. Their hope is that each visitor will go away with ideas, inspiration, and awareness for what is possible.
Desert Rain has undergone a major transformation in the past year since the last Green+Solar Tour. Please join this year’s tour to see for yourself this extreme-green home striving to meet the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge.
GREEN + SOLAR TOUR | SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2013
The High Desert Branch of Cascadia Green Building Council is proud to present Central Oregon’s 13th annual Green and Solar Tour. We are excited to highlight both commercial and residential projects that exemplify sustainable choices both for new construction and remodels. Check out the Tour website CLICK HERE and FACEBOOK PAGE HERE .
This Tour, which is free to the public, has historically drawn some 700 people through the doors of highlighted projects. With this Tour, we are helping Central Oregon realize tomorrow’s living future through the sustainable choices and actions we make now. Tour starts with a Kick-Off event with informational tables and exciting keynote speakers at COCC’s Health Careers Building. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. with first Keynote Speaker at 9:00 a.m. Homes and commercial buildings are open at 10:30.
About Cascadia Green Building Council: Cascadia is a chapter of the US Green Building Council and the Canada Green Building Council, with offices in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Cascadia’s mission is to lead a transformation toward a built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.
The Desert Rain owners and team are pleased to be part of the 2013 Green+Solar tour. Welcome!
The garage from the original homes on the Desert Rain site is in the process of deconstruction to make way for Desert Lookout. The new structure will have an office/apartment, a garage, a yoga studio, and will house the composting/evaporator unit for blackwater. Engineering and the permitting process is still underway for the blackwater systerm. Materials from the old garage will be salvaged when possible. The concrete slab will be broken up to be used as patio stone in the landscaping.
After months of excavation, dirt piles, holes, and dust – plants have arrived and Daniel Balyeat, owner of Balyeat Landscaping, and his crew are amending soil and planting. The vegetation is bringing new life to the site, softening the edges of construction and adding a glimpse of the courtyards, gardens, and pathways that will grace the grounds. In addition to the stones that were salvaged from the deconstruction of the original structures on the site, large rocks were rescued from a construction project and hauled to the site to be used as paths and borders.
The landscaping plan utilizes a large selection of drought-tolerant and native plants. The Living Building Challenge requires that 35% of the plant material on the site must be edible to either humans or wildlife. In addition to the apple trees that were saved from the original homesite, there will be an area devoted to raised beds for vegetables. A good portion of the edible plants will provide berries and fruits for wildlife.
Mountains of dirt have been leveled and moved. Moss covered rock and stones have been carefully set in place. Piles of pavers and reclaimed rock have been transformed to pathways and patios. LED lights have been installed outside creating a warm, glow on the texture of the lime-plastered wall. Trees and shrubs are placed to provide privacy and create a sense of nature.As exterior elements are being completed, it is evident that the beauty and detail that have set the standard inside Desert Rain is gracefully flowing outward.
In April, Desert Rain received an e-mail from Ben’s Cabinets in Sisters, Oregon. With Ben’s permission we are including it in this post as he presents a question that is in the minds of many who are following the Desert Rain story. “I’ve been in the construction industry since 1977. I’m well aware of the green movement we’ve all witnessed with great interest in our trade. As I’ve watched you go through this process and the approval of every aspect of the construction and site development, I can’t help but come away with the impression that this type of building would be totally unaffordable to the common family. I would hope that you would address the affordability aspect of this project to your audience as cost is of critical concern to most people when it comes to building a home.”
Desert Rain owners, Tom Elliott and Barb Scott, reply: “Your point is very important to us as well. We hope to take what we have learned at huge expense and translate that into an ‘affordable’ living building challenge house elsewhere. Desert Rain is a demonstration project and, as such, is clearly unaffordable by most. We have been very fortunate to be in a position to make that investment toward the future. I do think many of the practices and technologies will become more affordable as demand increases. We also see many ways we can adapt the technologies in Desert Rain to serve many homes at the same time, thus bringing the cost down for all. Once we get through the current project we are excited about exploring this possibility further and will definitely be addressing this issue on our website.”
As Desert Rain moves closer to completion, Tom and Barb have been revisiting the idea that they have named, LBC Light. Currently the idea is in the very early stages of the process that they envision leading to an affordable Living Building Challenge, residential project. The seed of the concept has been in the back of their minds since they began work on Desert Rain. At a team brainstorming session Barb said, ‘– We don’t want to build Desert Rain and be done. We believe in the LBC and feel it is our responsibility to propagate building with these guidelines. The educational element continues as new people learn about the project and the LBC. It has to be affordable.’ Tom adds to that comment, ‘We would build an affordable LBC project or see it built – help make it happen’.
Tom and Barb own a lot located behind the Desert Rain site. That site is one possibility for a two or three household project. Ideally, they would like to have the project pre-sold and an owner that is involved with the process. The concept of ‘scale jumping’, creating a project with shared infrastructure in a small development, may make more sense economically. James Fagan, with Timberline, builder for Desert Rain says, ‘Building (LBC) in an affordable realm can be done; super- simple design, modular construction, accepting more standard materials, using more reclaimed materials, getting innovative with rainwater storage’ – all necessary to an affordable, LBC home.
Meeting the rigorous LBC guidelines – net zero water, net zero energy, with approved, non-Redlist materials, and meeting the imperatives of the Seven Petals is a challenge. Building to those guidelines and making it affordable raises the bar of the challenge. Desert Rain has been setting precedence and opening doors in Central Oregon and beyond. LBC has some new support tools in place that will save research time and help make building more affordable. Other LBC projects are underway or have been completed creating a template for affordable, green home construction.
Tom and Barb and the team at Desert Rain believe it is possible to build an affordable, Living Building Challenge home. There are many questions to answer. Perhaps, YOU have an answer. We welcome your thoughts and ideas for building an affordable LBC home. Stay tuned to the Desert Rain website for upcoming information on affordable LBC projects, materials, systems, designs, and incoming ideas from our followers. The quest for LBC Light begins!