3 Keys to Understanding Biophilia in Landscaping

I recently sat down with Rick Martinson, owner of Winter Creek Restoration, to discuss Biophilia as it relates to landscaping.  Biophilia is a philosophy based on the bond between human beings and other living systems and while it has gained some traction in the architectural industry, it only just beginning to be explored as a methodology for landscaping.

Tom and Barb have certainly embraced the principals of biophilia for the entire Desert Rain project.  To someone unfamiliar with the concept, its application in landscaping is a great starting point.

Whether you have had a chance to chat with Rick and his team from Winter Creek at Desert Rain, or you have run into him at your favorite local coffee shop, it only takes a moment to understand that Rick is intensely passionate about the relationships between plants and people.  But when pushed to winnow the philosophy down to a few key points, he happily offered these 3.

New plants for Desert Rain

3 Keys to Understanding Biophilia in Landscaping

It’s not the current norm to give considerable thought to how each created landscape functions as an ecological and integrated system. Most frequently, we see landscapes that have been designed solely as an aesthetic component of a built environment. But if we look at the landscapes of our homes, businesses, and municipal spaces with a perspective based in biophilia, we can see that landscapes are functional systems.

Rick offers the analogy of a traditional zoo.  Until recently, zoos were a collection of exotic creatures living essentially together, but never really interacting. When we plant trees and shrubs merely for their aesthetic value, it is easy to neglect to understand how they will interact together.

#1 Landscapes are Working Systems

A landscape that is designed as a dynamic system considers not only the broad climate of site, but also the effects of the system on wildlife habitat, soil condition, water and air quality, and human health (mental and physical). Using a biophilia methodology requires that we consider how the plants selected will interact with each other, how they will be affected by the space itself, and what they will contribute to this created environment. Plants, soil bacteria, and fungi work together to create shade, conserve water, access nutrients, to ward off disease, pests, and even survive natural disturbances like droughts and floods.

You can read more about the relationships between plants in a previous post explaining “resource islands.” 

#2 Plant Richness and Plant Density Create a Self-sustaining System

Landscaping elements can be divided into functional groups (trees, mosses, grasses, shrubs, fungi, etc), each occupying a specific environmental niche. Each group is made up of a huge variety of species. When you increase the number of functional groups as well as the number of species within groups, you do something amazing for your landscape or created environment.

Plant group and species diversity with plant density increase nutrient cycling at a microbial level. This means the landscape system is able to feed itself without the use of added fertilizers.  Biodiversity increases ability of the landscape to survive pests invasions. Because most insects and diseases are plant specific, an infestation will only affect one or two species within a diverse plant palette. A rich plant pallet will attract a greater variety of birds, mammals, and insects. This, in turn, helps spread native plants that will contribute to and thrive within the landscape system.

While this richness may seem novel, it also creates a landscape that can take care of itself. A thoughtfully created environment becomes one that changes and adapts to disturbances and contributes to all beings’ welfare (including humans) rather than being a tax upon others.

#3 Landscapes Require Plants that are Appropriate to Each Location

You may look around your hometown and note that many of the plants you see are the same – surmising that these plants do well in this climate and therefore are the best choice for your landscape. That may lead down the wrong path. Often, landscape designers and installation companies work with the same small plant palette. In fact, across the country, a similar, narrow plant palette is used regardless of the landscape location.

You may also look around the wild or undisturbed areas near you and see very similar plants. A wild space near Madras, Oregon may look a lot like a wild space near Brothers, Oregon – a sage field with juniper.  What you don’t see are the differences in the understory. For example, the understory of both of these locations include buckwheats, but they are actually different sub species specific to the slightly different rainfall and soil types of the areas.

Choosing the right plant for the environmental conditions in that site is crucial to creating a healthy functioning landscape system. Choosing the right species and sub species reduces the resources needed to get them to work as a system and increases the success rate of the landscape.  Even a carefully created landscape will need some support (water, mulch, etc) when it’s first installed. After about 3 years, the system will have created small micro climates, established networks between the fungal communities in the soil and the plants, and will be able to take care of itself.

Understand Where You Live

Whether you are considering a new landscape or are just interested in learning more, you can conduct your own research project that will give you a richer understanding of where you live.

Identify your eco region and identify the plant associations within your specific eco region.

First, find your eco region (level 4*) by using this map. This is very different than the USDA growing regions that you may be familiar with.

ftp.epa.gov/wed/ecoregions/or/or_front.pdf 
*level 4 indicates the level of specificity

Next, you’ll need to identify native plant associations. You can start by looking for a reference community – an undisturbed space within your eco region that shares similar features (rocks, shade, exposure to sun, etc). You can use online resources like native plant societies in your region, survey maps from the 1800’s, and GLO maps.

You’ll soon realize that this is not an easy or quick project, but it will be one that is quite informative.  Let us know what you discover or reach out with questions.

Tom and Advanced Systems Composting

Installing the Composter for Composting Toilets

Last week, Glenn Nelson from Advanced Compositing Systems (ACS), made the trek from Whitefish, Montana to Bend, Oregon to deliver and install our blackwater composter. Earning the LBC Water Petal requires that all of the water on the Desert Rain property is collected as well as treated for use again and again. Having a system of composting toilets means that all of the backwater onsite will be treated, making it safe to reuse for landscape irrigation. (see graywater and blackwater permitting)

 

Tom and Advanced Systems Composting

The Phoenix Composting Toilet

ACS manufactures the Phoenix Composting Toilet out of rotationally molded polyethylene. The polyethylene used in the interior baffles is post-industrial recycled. The Phoenix Composting Toilet

How does the Composter work?

At first, the composting chamber is “charged” with wood shavings, peat moss, and water to provide an environment that will be conducive to biological decomposition. Waste, brought from the residences toilets to the composter via a vacuum system, will gradually build up in the tank and decomposes through the action of aerobic bacteria. The Desert Rain system will include vermicomposting – adding worms to aid the process. Within in the composting unit, there is shaft with tines that is rotated to mix the decomposing waste and ensuring adequate oxygenation.

Blackwater Composter

Closing the Loop

In the immediate future, the traditional water toilets will be replaced with vacuum toilets. We’re looking forward to seeing the first installed in the ADU so we can conduct some initial testing on the system. Then, it’ll be all systems go!

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: http://living-future.org/powerofzero

Mission Control

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.

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

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

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.

 

 

The maze of wires and components in the control panels.

The maze of wires and components in the control panels.

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 Control Panels will monitor flow and levels in the constructed, bioreactive wetland, grey water tanks, and the irrigation system.

The Control Panels will monitor flow and levels in the constructed, bioreactive wetland, grey water tanks, and the irrigation system.

  • Fresh water distribution monitoring and pressure control
  • Reclaimed water monitoring and level control
  • Power usage and production monitoring
  • Composting system monitoring
  • Data acquisition
  • Alarm notification

 

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.

Dan McCullough, Project Manager with Powers of Automation in 'Mission Control' room. Mike Wagnon, electrician with All Phase Electric Service works on installing the control panels in the background.

Dan McCullough, Project Manager with Powers of Automation in ‘Mission Control’ room. Mike Wagnon, electrician with All Phase Electric Service works on installing the control panels in the background.

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.

A weather station will be linked to the Control Panels to track precipitation, temperatures, wind, dewpoint and

A weather station will be linked to the Control Panels to track precipitation, temperatures, wind, dewpoint and

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.

Powers of Automation supports local business. For Desert Rain:
Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) in Bend provided the motor controls, programmable logic controllers, and touch screens.Dent Instruments in Bend provided the power monitor systems.All Phase Electric Service is performing the installation of the control system. They have performed all the electrical work at Desert Rain.Field Instruments in Boise provided the flow instrumentation

Awards for Wood – Desert Rain a Winner

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.

The FSC certified cedar siding glowing in sunlight.

The FSC certified cedar siding glowing in sunlight.

FSC certified wood was used in all the cabinetry.

FSC certified wood was used in all the cabinetry.

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.’

Doors, floors, ceilings, and trim use reclaimed and salvaged wood.

Doors, floors, ceilings, and trim use reclaimed and salvaged wood.

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.

Forest Stewardship Council is the gold standard of forest management. Find out why!   CLICK HERE

 

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, Tom and Barb look at the cabinets.

Gabriel Dansky with Dansky Handcrafted, Tom and Barb look at cabinet details. Dansky Handcrafted is a FSC certified cabinet shop.

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.

Cabinets throughout the structure are made from FSC- certified wood.

Cabinets throughout the structure are made from FSC- certified wood. The grain in the veneer is meticulously matched creating visual flow and artistry.

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!

post detail blog

Wood is an integral and beautiful element of Desert Rain – a cause for celebration!

Putting Out the Welcome Mat

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.

welcome path

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.

design signs

hallway 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.

 

view from sliding door

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.

landscape signs

Ani and Amy

 

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.

 

people on tour

Desert Rain – Green+Solar Tour

Desert Rain has undergone many changes in the past year.

Desert Rain has undergone many changes in the past year.

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 .

The south patio with pavers, rocks, and basalt steps.

The south patio with pavers, rocks, and basalt steps.

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!

heart

A message left by the American Clay Plaster crew, Amy and Josh, sums up the team spirit at Desert Rain: it is a project of labor and love.

LBC Light – the Quest for an Affordable Living Building Challenge Project

Reclaimed lumber is used on exterior soffits and all the interior ceilings.

Do reclaimed materials increase affordability?

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.”

The 35,000 gallon cistern - is there an affordable option for harvesting and storing rainwater to achieve Net Zero water?

The 35,000 gallon cistern – is there an affordable option for harvesting and storing rainwater to achieve Net Zero water?

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.”

Affordable, Net Zero Energy - solar, wind, alternatives?

Affordable, Net Zero Energy – solar, wind, alternatives?

What is affordable? In Bend, Oregon, according to Zillow.com – the average price of a home is currently $259,500 – affordable to some, not so for others. How do we define affordable?

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’.

The Accessory Dwelling Unit is a small, efficient space - small is key to affordable.

The Accessory Dwelling Unit is a small, efficient space – size is key to affordability.

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.

Learn more about the Living Building Challenge 2.1  Click here to see the Standard

 

Other LBC projects may provide answers and options. Finesko 13 was the winner of the Aleutian Design competition.

Other LBC projects may provide answers and options. Finesko 13 was the winner of the Living Aleutian Home Design competition. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

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.

Scale jumping - sharing infrastructure, such as a constructed wetland, for multiple dwellings makes economical sense.

Scale jumping – sharing infrastructure, such as a constructed wetland, for multiple dwellings makes economical sense.

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!

Send us your ideas, thoughts, links to projects that could meet affordable, LBC guidelines. Please leave your commentS here or email us: desertrainhouse@gmail.com 
Educational tours, sharing ideas, networking -

Educational tours, sharing ideas, networking – finding the way to LBC Light and Affordable LBC building.

Progress in Pictures

Every trip to the Desert Rain site reveals changes and surprises as many aspects of the project are coming together and nearing completion. Color and texture abounds in the materials inside and out. The landscaping is underway with pavers, boulders, and gravel being installed. It is getting easier to walk about the site as holes get filled and ground is leveled. Electrician, Mike Wagnon has been diligently installing the LED lighting system throughout the project creating a warm glow. The myrtlewood flooring in the main house is being sanded. Many of the cabinets and built-ins are in place. Tile is up and grouted. Browse the photos for a current peek at the progress. We are working on a new photo Gallery page for the website that will keep you updated. Please check back and visit our Gallery/ New Progress.

The kitchen area in the ADU with FSC wood cabinets, salvaged myrtlewood flooring, and recycled backsplash tiles.

The kitchen area in the ADU with FSC wood cabinets, salvaged myrtlewood flooring, and recycled backsplash tiles.

The living space in the main house showing the reclaimed wood ceiling in the glow of the LED lighting.

The living space in the main house showing the reclaimed wood ceiling in the glow of the LED lighting.

The den in the main house with American Clay wall covering, salvaged myrtlewood flooring, and LED lighting in place.

The den in the main house with American Clay wall covering, salvaged myrtlewood flooring, and LED lighting in place.

LED lighting system currently being added in the dining area.

LED lighting system currently being added in the dining area.

LED flower lights create ambience in the guest bath with light reflecting in the recycled, glass tiles.

LED flower lights create ambience in the guest bath with light reflecting in the recycled, glass tiles.

Appliances are in place in the main house kitchen. FSC wood cabinets and recycled material tiles.

Appliances are in place in the main house kitchen. FSC wood cabinets and recycled material tiles.

Hardscaping is underway outside with installation of pavers and driveway.

Hardscaping is underway outside with installation of pavers and driveway.

The south patio with basalt steps, boulders, and pavers in place.

The south patio with basalt steps, boulders, and pavers in place.

Attention to detail: the pavers have been cut with graceful curves to accent the boulders.

Attention to detail: the pavers have been cut with graceful curves to accent the boulders.

The first art in the garden is placed at the memorial planting for the ponderosa tree that was removed before construction.

The first art in the garden is placed at the memorial planting for the ponderosa tree that was removed before construction.

Beautiful contrast of earth tones, light and reclaimed wood on the west patio.

Beautiful contrast of earth tones, light and reclaimed wood on the west patio.

Excavators and people don't seem to bother the resident buck as he takes an afternoon siesta under the apple tree.

Excavators and people don’t seem to bother the resident buck as he takes an afternoon siesta under the apple tree.

Water in the Wetland

The constructed wetland at Desert Rain is nearly finished, full of filtration materials, and holding water. After many months of design, permits pending, frustrations, and perseverance (see July 25 blog, Leading the Way to Yes)– watching the water flow into the wetland is a welcome sight.  Whole Water Systems president, Morgan Brown, and engineer, Patrick Fitzgerald were at Desert Rain last week to oversee the project.  The Living Building Challenge requires that 100% of the water used on the site is produced and collected on site. In addition all wastewater must be processed on site and reused, recycled or evaporated. Patrick said, ‘ what sets this project apart from most others it that wastewater treatment of any kind has not been done within city limits where a public sewer system exists. The design of the system at Desert Rain is pretty much the same system used in other projects that Whole Water Systems has been doing for 20+ years.”

The 1000 gallon graywater holding tank.

The 1000 gallon graywater holding tank was the first piece installed.

The wetland at Desert Rain will be used as a pre-treatment processor for all the graywater from the sinks, showers, tub, and washing machine. The water will drain to a primary treatment tank, then flow into the first of the two-chamber wetland. Water will spill over the 3′ dam into the second chamber where it will be retained in the wetland filtration process for approximately seven days to maximize the treatment of the water and generate appropriate flows. After treatment it will flow to a 1,000 gallon holding tank located below the wetland. From there is will be pumped to a 5,000 reclaimed water tank to be used for irrigation purposes and to fill an outdoor water feature. The water feature will help dispose of excess, treated graywater via evaporation, during the winter months when the water is not needed for irrigation.

construction underway

McKernan Enterprises crew, Brent and Monty with construction underway as Morgan Brown, Whole Water Systems checks the dam elevation. The dam divides the two chambers of the wetland.

The wetland has approximately 600 square feet of surface area, about 450 square feet is the working area. The system at Desert Rain was originally conceived for full wastewater  treatment (blackwater and graywater), essentially for a multi-capacity, 3 home site. Including blackwater in the designs greatly impeded the permitting process.  The decision was made to get the graywater approval first. The system design was more challenging due to the storage of the graywater.  Storing graywater defines it as Class II with more stringent requirements for the permitting process. Class II Graywater also, cannot contain wastewater from a dishwasher due to organic food particles. Desert Rain is the first graywater system in Oregon to receive state and city approval for treatment and reuse for on-site irrigation.

primary tank and wetland

The primary treatment tank is the first step in the wetland process. Graywater flows from the tank into the first chamber of the constructed wetland.

The excavated, wetland surface area is covered with a geotextile fabric as a base for soil stabilization, filtration, and reinforcement. That layer is then covered with a product called Bentomat, a geosynthetic, clay liner.  The Bentomat is woven and unwoven geotextile that encapsulates a layer of sodium bentonite between. The layers are then needle punched to reinforce the mat and minimize shift. When wet, the bentonite expands between the layers to ‘glue’ the fabric together and seal the seams. Patrick Fitzgerald applied loose bentonite between the seams on the dam for additional sealing protection.

Patrick clay sealing

Patrick Fitzgerald, Principal Engineer with Whole Water Systems adds some clay to help seal the seam on the fabric.

The wetland then gets filled with gravel for filtering. Whole Water Systems uses a standard basalt gravel with larger fill on the bottom covered by a 6″ layer of pea gravel. Morgan and Patrick were interested in using local, red cinder for the Desert Rain project. The porous surface area would allow for more bacteria growth – possibly, 50% more.  The bacteria is the active purifier in a constructed wetland. More bacteria on the rock surfaces would ultimately make the wetland more efficient.  Morgan liked the idea of the red rock for aesthetic reasons also. Since it takes a couple of years for vegetation to cover the rock the cinder color would make a better blend with the environment at Desert Rain. There were some concerns about the possibility of ‘fines’ due to the brittleness of the cinder.  Terry Mckernan, with McKernan Enterprises would haul the cinder and distribute the material with a conveyor belt instead of dumping to eliminate impact and dust. The choice was made to try the cinder.

patrick and morgan rock decision

Whole Water Systems, Morgan Brown and Patrick Fitzgerald talk over the rock fill choices with Terry McKernan.

The price of building on the cutting edge: in the end, the cinder rock generated more dust than expected and the material was not acceptable for use in the wetland. The rock was removed from the wetland with a powerful vacuum on a storm water maintenance truck.  Trial and error provide good data for future projects. Options were discussed and the tried and true , gravel/pea gravel fill was used instead.

removing cinder

Removing the cinder rock that proved to be too dusty to use as filtration material.

conference

Morgan Brown with Whole Water Systems, Tom Elliott, Desert Rain owner, Terry McKernan with McKernan Enterprises, and James Fagan, project manager with Timberline, talk over the options for the rock fill and how to proceed.

The surface will eventually be covered in vegetation. Rock surface bacteria and root mass on the plants work as filters and purifiers.  Ironically’, Morgan said, ‘due to the maximized wicking capabilities, the constructed wetland may be the driest surface area on the property’. Whole Water Systems will work with local, plant expert, Rick Martinson of Wintercreek Restoration in Bend on plant material. Rick will also set up monitoring equipment to collect data on evaporation measurements and inlet/outlet flows. This will be a first data collection project for Whole Water Systems. Morgan was excited about having this information available for future reference. He said, ‘There has not been enough data collection and analysis done in the United States. Europe is more advanced in that regard. The information will help demonstrate how the wetland systems function, the limitations, and the numbers that will help make it easier to get approval for future projects.”  With water in the wetland, Desert Rain, once again, is demonstrating the educational aspect of the Living Building Challenge and the process of building to extreme green.

final fill

The constructed wetland filled with the basalt gravel and the initial fill of water. A few more details to complete and then vegetation will be planted.