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.

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.

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

Creating Harmony

The top of the posts of at the Chinese gate are carved with symbols representing yin yang.

The top of the posts of at the Chinese gate are carved with symbols representing yin yang.

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.

The raindrops carving representing yin - the feminine, softer side.

The raindrops carving representing yin – the feminine, softer side.

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.

The Great Blue Heron is one of the posts adorned with local wildlife images.

The Great Blue Heron is one of the posts adorned with local wildlife images.

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.

The lichen on the weathered, barn boards may continue to live and grow bringing beauty and nature.

The lichen on the weathered, barn boards may continue to live and grow bringing beauty and nature.

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.

Andrew Scott - woodworker, acupuncturist, and creator of harmony. (characters are upside down in this photo)

Andrew Scott – woodworker, acupuncturist, and creator of harmony. (characters are upside down in this photo)

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.’

The Chinese character for tranquility is on one of the entrance posts, the other, is harmony.

The Chinese character for tranquility is on one of the entrance posts, the other, is harmony.

 

 

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 entrance arch curve reflects the radius of the Miro wall and creates an artistic frame.

The entrance arch curve reflects the radius of the Miro wall framing the beauty within. The Chinese characters for tranquility and harmony are on top of the arch posts.

 

100 Stories

Today’s post will be a milestone of sorts; one hundred posts covering the last 18 months of progress at Desert Rain. Though the blog wasn’t underway at the beginning of the story, Barb and Tom had the forward-thinking idea of documenting the process of Desert Rain. When the project is finished, it will be sustained through the words and the stories.

Desert Rain on the day of the tour - many chapters in the making.

Desert Rain on the day of the tour – many chapters in the making.

Earlier this week Desert Rain owners, Tom Elliot and Barb Scott, hosted a  Living Building Challenge presentation and tour.  Builders, designers, homeowners, and people interested in sustainable building attended the event.  ML Vidas, sustainable architect and the LBC consultant for Desert Rain, presented the LBC orientation program.  ML volunteers as an ambassador, sharing the concept of LBC. She said she has given many presentations but this was the first time she had given one at a LBC project site.

Tom begins the presentation telling the story of the dream for Desert Rain.

Tom begins the presentation telling the story of the dream for Desert Rain.

In order to share the scope of the LBC and ensure all the workers at Desert Rain have an understanding of the project, Barb and Tom have a requirement.  Everyone working on the project in any capacity is required to attend or view a LBC orientation presentation. This stipulation is not part of the LBC but ML believes it would be a good idea for other projects to embrace.  It helps bring the contractors and subs on board with the scope of the challenges on a job site that is far from ordinary.

ML Vidas, Sustainable Architect presents the Living Building Challenge to designers, builders, writers, and people interested in green building.

ML Vidas, Sustainable Architect presents the Living Building Challenge and the metaphor of the flower and its petals.

The people involved with Desert Rain have an understanding that they are part of a project pioneering change in the built environment.  Contractor, Bob Claridge said, ‘there is a vibe on this project site’. Bob’s company, Bobcat and Sun Inc.  installed the solar thermal system and infloor heating.  Barb and Tom agree with Bob’s statement. There are innovations in building techniques and materials that demand research and ‘out of the box’ thinking. There are many stories throughout the process that emphasize the team spirit at Desert Rain: the lime plaster recipe, the metal roof being manufactured on site, adjusting nail guns to use American nails, a sub contractor picking up metal posts and wrapping them in blankets to avoid excess packaging that couldn’t be recycled – endless tales in the telling of the Desert Rain story. Please browse the blog for these tales and many more.

Tom explains some of the exterior elements of Desert Rain to part of the tour. Visitors included designers, builders, contractors, and homeowners from the local area and as far away as Germany.

Tom explains some of the exterior elements of Desert Rain to part of the tour. Visitors included designers, builders, contractors, and homeowners from the local area and as far away as Germany.

ML’s presentation encompasses the 7 Petals of the Living Building Challenge. She emphasizes the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge based on the metaphor of a flower; ‘like a flower it’s rooted in place and lives on the resources that it has at hand.’  Like a flower, the project grows and lives. Barb apologized for breaking into the presentation a few times to tell a story. She admits to being the ‘story person’.  More than four years in the making of their dream to reality, Barb and Tom have been sharing their stories.  They are sharing what they’ve learned in the challenging process of building to LBC standards. The ongoing tours and opening of the home and site are part of their commitment and belief in the Living Building Challenge.

Visitors tour the home and explore the elements and materials.

Visitors tour the home,explore the elements and materials, and engage in dialogue about the project and sustainable building.

This week’s presentation brought designers, builders, homeowners, and interested people from the local region and as far away as Germany.  Juliet Grable, a freelance writer from Ashland, Oregon came to learn more about Desert Rain. Juliet will be writing an article about Desert Rain for an upcoming issue of Home Power magazine.  Barb and Tom are reaching out to the media to help spread the word about The Living Building Challenge and the Desert Rain story. The Bend Bulletin has printed more than 20 articles featuring Desert Rain. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLES

Barb shares a moment with helper, Zoe. Zoe's mom, Amy Warren is the owner of Green Apple Construction. Amy and her partner, Josh applied the American Clay on the interior walls throughout Desert Rain.

Barb shares a moment with helper, Zoe during the presentation. Zoe’s mom, Amy Warren is the owner of Green Apple Construction. Amy and her partner, Josh applied the American Clay on the interior walls throughout Desert Rain. Now Zoe is part of the story.

As you browse the 100 posts in the blog, the gallery photos, the pages of people, materials, design, and construction; you will find the Desert Rain story. It is a story of starts and stops. It is a story of trials and errors. It is a story of frustrations and sometimes, failures. It is a story of elation, joy, and successes. Most of all, Desert Rain is a story of what is possible. The story is still unfolding.

You’re Invited: Upcoming Tour and Living Building Challenge Presentation

Tour InvitationWould you like to learn about the Living Building Challenge? Would you like to see the structures, systems, materials, and components that make Desert Rain an ‘extreme green’ project? Would you like to meet the owners and hear how the dream began? Join us for the upcoming tour and Living Building Challenge orientation presentation by ML Vidas, the LBC consultant for Desert Rain.  Pizza and drinks will be served to accommodate the lunch hour and our passion to propagate any and all of the LBC.

When:Tuesday, August 13th from 12:00 – 2:00 pm 

Where: on site at 22 NW Shasta Place, Bend, Oregon  (Please park on Shasta Street below the house and walk up our trail to the green garage where we will conduct the presentation. )
Please RSVP to desertrainhouse@gmail.com   or call 541-647-1000
 

feature barrier blogDesert Rain House Primary Structures:

1. Main House (2236 sf) + Detached 2 (electric

car) Garage (758 sf)

2. Accessory Dwelling Unit (489 sf) + Detached

Garage/Shop (489 sf)

3. Desert Lookout Second Dwelling Unit (850 sf

upper living quarters above a garage, exercise

room and central composting system)
OLLI tour

 

The Living Building Challenge is the built environment’s most rigorous performance standard. 

Desert Rain House located in downtown Bend, is one of the world’s first residential candidates for certification under the international Living Building Challenge standards. This residential compound,comprised of 5 structures is nearing completion and will be entering a 12 month Living Building Challenge audit phase.
miro color

• 100% net-zero energy

• 100% self-contained rainwater collection

• 100% on-site processing of wastewater

• Carbon neutral and Red List approved materials

IMG_2867

We look forward to meeting you!

Leading the Way to ‘YES’ – Permits and Policy

The 3 ½ year epic journey over water is ending a chapter this week as work begins on the constructed wetland at Desert Rain.  For Morgan Brown, President of Whole Water Systems, ‘ the odyssey through the permitting process has been intellectually and professionally, frustrating and fascinating’. Whole Water Systems analyzed water and wastewater needs, then designed and engineered the systems that can meet those needs and the requirements of the Living Building Challenge Water Petal.

After 3 years of wading through policy and permits, excavation is finally underway for the constructed wetland.

After 3 years of wading through policy and permits, excavation is finally underway for the constructed wetland.

To receive the LBC Water Petal certification, Desert Rain must collect all water on site for all domestic and irrigation use and process 100% of the wastewater on site.  The harvesting of rainwater to meet all water needs in an arid climate was overcome by designing hard-working roofs. The structures at Desert Rain have roof surfaces that maximize collection of the minimal, average precipitation of less than 11” annually.  Desert Rain is a pioneer project in the state of Oregon, as it received approval to use the rainwater for all domestic use, including, drinking water. The State of Oregon Chief building code official told Morgan Brown, ‘we’ve never had a system like this push the limits of our new state rainwater harvesting guidelines’.

 

Two of the most challenging issues for Living Building Challenge projects involve the Water Petal.
 Net Zero Water
100 percent of occupants’ water use must come from captured precipitation or closed loop water systems that account for downstream ecosystem impacts and that are appropriately purified without the use of chemicals. 
Sustainable Water Discharge
One hundred percent of storm water and building water discharge must be managed on-site and integrated into a comprehensive system to feed the project’s demands.

The graywater and blackwater systems became a much longer story as the process moved through uncharted territory.  Initially there was verbal approval and e-mail approval from the City of Bend public works for an on-site, wastewater pre-treatment system.  As more details of the design and systems unfolded more questions and requirements impeded permit approvals. There was dialogue between The City of Bend Public Works and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality about jurisdiction for the project. DEQ relinquished authority to the city but the city wanted a DEQ stamp of approval to proceed.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Principal Engineer with Whole Water Systems, Morgan Brown, President and Founder of Whole Water Systems, and James Fagan with Timberline, look over the wetland plans.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Principal Engineer with Whole Water Systems, Morgan Brown, President and Founder of Whole Water Systems, and James Fagan with Timberline, look over the wetland plans.

The composter/evaporator for blackwater was proving to be the largest challenge since on site pre-treatment and eventual on site treatment and reuse has never been done when there is access to a public sewer district. In order to move forward the decision was made to apply for the graywater system permit first. The new State graywater program issued final rules in August of 2011 and began issuing permits in 2012. The rules are based on recommendations of a statewide advisory committee with limitations and safeguards for reuse of the graywater. The rules define three graywater types and a three-tiered approach to permits based on the extent of treatment, volume of water and allowed uses.

Monty with McKernan Enterprises compacts the soil.

Monty with McKernan Enterprises compacts the soil.

Desert Rain is one of the most innovative graywater projects to apply for a permit utilizing a primary, pre-treatment tank, then processing the graywater through the on site constructed wetland, into a 1,000 gallon holding tank, then pumping to a 5,000 gallon storage tank to be distributed for irrigation use. Due to the graywater being stored, Desert Rain had to apply for a Class II permit.  The Class II permit process is more involved requiring a system description and maintenance and operation guidelines.

Patrick Fitzgerald, PE for Whole Water Systems and Brent with McKernan Enterprises look over the inflow pipe.

Patrick Fitzgerald, PE for Whole Water Systems and Brent with McKernan Enterprises look over the inflow pipe.

 

After months of design, submittals, re-design, and re-submittals, the graywater system finally received approval. In an email from Morgan Brown on June 26, 2013, he wrote, ‘Thanks for all the team effort to achieve the first. We broke in new Oregon code for graywater (DEQ had expressed a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the system and overcame Building Division concerns about being on the bleeding edge.’

Being on the bleeding edge requires patience and persistence. There is much to be learned and applied for future projects and those who follow. It became evident that language is crucial in the application process and interpreting code at city and state levels. Determination between ‘code’ and ‘guidelines’ became a significant factor, as did the naming of materials. The initial plans submitted referred to the graywater tank as a ‘septic tank’. Under city code, ‘cesspools and septic tanks’ are not allowed within the city limits where a public sewer system is available.  The tank at Desert Rain would be used as a ‘primary treatment tank’. When plans were re-submitted with the new terminology, the permit was approved.

A rose by any other name... language became crucial in the permitting process. The naming of the 'primary treatment tank' was the difference between a 'yes' or a 'no'.

A rose by any other name… language became crucial in the permitting process. The naming of the ‘primary treatment tank’ was the difference between a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

 

Morgan admitted there were many moments of frustration. There was a point of ‘make this happen or give up’.  He acknowledges  regulations are in place to get all channels of standard approval; the DEQ, Health Department, and City Public works are the major channels. The City of Bend has some progressive sustainability language regarding building. On the other hand, it is someone’s job to cover the risk. ‘To get to ‘yes’, the risks must be removed, Morgan said. ‘The code book is full of reasons to say, no. We have to be able to find ways to, yes.’  In the end, the solution will most likely be political – lobbying for change in local and state building codes to embrace progressive, sustainable design.  Desert Rain systems have been pushing the limits of existing regulations. With the designs, engineering, and monitoring of the systems in place  –  Desert Rain can begin, leading the way to ‘YES’.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE ON THE WATER STORY AND SYSTEMS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE WETLAND, AND THE PENDING PERMIT FOR BLACKWATER

Morgan Brown (right) and Patrick Fitzgerald with Whole Water Systems stand in the wetland that has been pending approval for many, many months.

Morgan Brown (right) and Patrick Fitzgerald with Whole Water Systems stand in the wetland that has been pending approval for many, many months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plastered!

The plaster story started almost a year ago when the installation of the chicken wire lathe on the structures began. This week, David Kaiser Jr., owner of Elite Plastering and his crew are wrapping up the final stages of the exterior, lime plaster.  It has been a long process. Hand plastering and the preparation for plastering is time consuming but the extended lapse of time from start to finish is more indicative of the challenges of custom building, especially within the criteria of the Living Building Challenge. That time reflects waiting, weather, and the sequence of other pieces in the construction puzzle. David did not want to take the risk of cracks during the curing time frame due to impact on the structure while other trades were completing their work.

The plastering process began in July 2012 with the installation of chicken wire lathe on the exterior of the structures.

The plastering process began in July 2012 with the installation of chicken wire lathe on the exterior of the structures.

Once the chicken wire is in place the plastering can begin. With anticipation, the structures were draped in a plastic tent in December 2012. The covering allows for humidity and temperature control during the curing process.

The ADU was wrapped in a plastic tent way back in December, anticipating the beginning of the plastering.

The ADU was wrapped in a plastic tent way back in December, anticipating the beginning of the plastering.

David Kaiser developed his own lime plaster recipe for the Desert Rain project. All the materials; lime, clay, and sand, come from locations close to home – Deschutes River Woods, Prineville, and Washington state. The lime based plaster formula is based on the traditional mixes that were used during the Roman Empire. The use of lime in plastering applications dates back to the construction of Egyptian pyramids about 4000 B.C. It has since been refined and has found a place in green building applications.

The materials needed for the lime plaster mixture.

The materials needed for the lime plaster mixture on site with plastering pending due to weather.

Lime finishes, naturally high in pH, create an anti-bacterial surface neutralizing the development of organic substances such as mold and fungus. It is a breathable material that allows water vapor to permeate freely so moisture evaporates quickly. Roman plaster and slaked lime products absorb carbon monoxide from the atmosphere to chemically change it into limestone. This reaction not only increases the strength of plaster over time but has a great environmental benefit. Roughly, every 100 pounds of lime that is used will absorb approximately the same amount of CO2 that a tree does in a one year period. Lime may be beneficial in absorbing other toxins as well, passively removing them toward the outside environment.

David Kaiser Jr. and his crew begin the initial mixing of lime, sand, clay, and straw to help bind the mix.

David Kaiser Jr. and his crew begin the initial mixing of lime, sand, clay, and straw to help bind the mix.

Victor loads the plaster mix ready for application to the wall.

Victor loads the plaster mix ready for application to the wall.

Emanuel applies the first coat or 'scratch' coat over the wire lathe.

Emanuel applies the first coat or ‘scratch’ coat over the wire lathe.

The plaster at Desert Rain is a three coat process with the color being added to the final layer. Work began on the accessory dwelling unit. The first coat contains straw that acts as a binder to help the plaster adhere to the wire lathe. The layering process aids the curing process and creates consistency in the appearance and coverage.

The entire house was all wrapped up pending the plaster - ready for any kind of weather.

The entire house was all wrapped up pending the plaster – ready for any kind of weather.

Juan working on the second coat of the main house.

Juan working on the second coat of the main house.

A side note to the plaster story: Barb and Tom have set a guideline that everyone who works on the Desert Rain project must attend a Living Building Challenge presentation so they are aware of the scope of the project, the restrictions, and the goals. If contractors and subs cannot attend a live presentation they watch a video. Barb visited with the Elite Plastering crew. Comprised of mostly Hispanic workers, some with limited English, Barb was concerned they may have had difficulty comprehending the Living Building Challenge points and petals. As a result, the Desert Rain project will soon have a Living Building Challenge presentation video available in Spanish.

Barb visits with some of the crew as they install lathe on the garage.

Barb visits with some of the crew as they install lathe on the garage.

The final coat of plaster contains the color coat. The initial mix was applied to one of wall of the ADU as a trial. After drying, it wasn’t quite the color that was anticipated. With some tweaking of the tints, a color was approved and the plastering continued.

David Kaiser Jr. and Juan working on the initial color coat.

David Kaiser Jr. and Juan working on the initial color coat.

The north side of Desert Rain in various stages of plastering from second coat to final finish.

The north side of Desert Rain in various stages of plastering from second coat to final finish.

With the weather heating up this past week, the plastic sheeting has been rolled up revealing the final layers of plaster on Desert Rain. After a year of anticipation – the lime plaster exterior will soon be finished.

The south side of Desert Rain sporting the new color of the final coat of lime plaster.

The south side of Desert Rain sporting the new color of the final coat of lime plaster.

The plastering process has been an on-going story for most of a year. The initial chapter began July 2012, CLICK HERE to read more about the process and the product. The last walls will soon be covered in plaster. In two to three weeks curing time, Desert Rain will be unwrapped, revealed and finally – plastered!

The view from Shasta Place on the west side. Soon, the plastic will be removed (reused or recycled) and the beauty of the exterior elements will be revealed.

The view from Shasta Place on the west side. Soon, the plastic will be removed (reused or recycled) and the beauty of the exterior elements will be revealed.

 

Outside the Box

Barb, Tom, Ani Cahill, and Rick Martinson collaborate on some landscape and planting decisions.

Barb, Tom, Ani Cahill, and Rick Martinson collaborate on some landscape and planting decisions.

The structures at Desert Rain can hardly be described as boxes. I have used the term loosely to imply two things: One – the scope of the project is seeing a surge in outdoor work, hardscaping, landscaping; two- the work taking place outside is beyond the realm of traditional yardwork.

 

Construction of the ‘Miro’ wall is well underway. The curved, masonry wall is a continuation of the interior wall. It gracefully curves between the main house and the accessory dwelling unit creating a courtyard of privacy and a backdrop for the memorial tree planting for the ponderosa pine that was removed from the site.

Rick Siers with Kevin Spencer Masonry building the 'Miro' wall.

Rick Siers with Kevin Spencer Masonry building the ‘Miro’ wall.

 

 

Chris Hart Henderson and Ani Cahill with Heartsprings Design have been on board since the beginning of the project. Ani has been working on planting modifications and underground irrigation plans. The original landscape design utilized plants that could survive in extremely low water conditions. With the approval of the gray water system and 5,000 gallon storage tank for irrigation, the diversity of plants has grown.  Though she will still use native, dryland, Mediterranean type plant material, Ani said she is now able to ‘juice up the palette of plants, particularly in the inner courtyard, making it visually more exciting. She will also be increasing the edible plant percentage to help meet the Living Building Challenge requirement of 35%.  The graywater will be processed through a bio-reactive, constructed wetland. Whole Water Systems  engineered the structure that will contain plant material, rushes, and sedges that will treat the graywater as it percolates through the system – about a seven day process. The Desert Rain wetland is the first graywater system in the state to be permitted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Permits with the City of Bend are pending.

The landscape plans continue to evolve  as new structures are added and more water is available for irrigation.

The landscape plans continue to evolve as new structures are added and more water is available for irrigation.

 

Native, drought-tolerant plants like these in the Wintercreek Nursery greenhouses, will be used at Desert Rain.

Native, drought-tolerant plants like these in the Wintercreek Nursery greenhouses, will be used at Desert Rain.

There is a collaborative effort taking place among landscape designers, landscape installers, and plant experts. Rick Martinson with Winter Creek Restoration and Nurseryhas joined the Desert Rain team. Rick has an ecology based approach to landscaping. He will be focusing on the steep, rocky west slope and the plantings in the constructed wetland area. Rick said the large rock outcrop on the west side has a diversity of microclimates as the rocks create pockets of intense heat, poor soil base, and shade.
Rick has worked with other green projects including LEED and Earth Advantage. He said Desert Rain landscaping will be a ‘demonstration of a system that functions with plant communities specific to the site to make the landscape sustainable. In his view, the demonstration aspect and the holistic approach of the Living Building Challenge is what makes the project important.

Winter Creek Nursery in Bend. Rick Martison and Karen Theodore specialize in native, local plant material.

Winter Creek Nursery in Bend. Rick Martison and Karen Theodore specialize in native, local plant material.

 

Thinking outside the box has been a necessary element in creating this Living Building Challenge project.  The landscaping and plant selections are no exception. The Desert Rain team of landscapers, with the designers and builders have been ‘cross-pollinating’ ideas to intermingle the structures with the outdoor spaces.  The landscape work will soon begin to blend function with aesthetics, to create a flow of inside and outside space. It begins by sowing the seed, propagating and planting, cultivating green growth and good living by thinking outside the box.

 

The Miro wall gracefully curves through the structure and emerges outside to enclose the courtyard.

The Miro wall gracefully curves through the structure and emerges outside to enclose the courtyard.

Educational Gardening

Yvonne Babb (left) and Dorothy Freudenberg tackling weeds. The team approach with good conversation and more hands makes the work more enjoyable.

Yvonne Babb (left) and Dorothy Freudenberg tackling weeds. The team approach with good conversation and more hands makes the work more enjoyable.

Yesterday at Desert Rain under a sultry, cloud filled sky, I met with Yvonne Babb and Dorothy Freudenberg.  I went to talk about on-site weeds and landscape clean-up. The conversation quickly traveled to education, art, and gardening as the three of us discovered common ground.

Last fall Yvonne eradicated unwanted shrubs to create space in the terrace garden.

Last fall Yvonne eradicated unwanted shrubs to create space in the terrace garden.

Desert Rain and the Living Building Challenge promote education as an element of the project.  Yvonne’s business, Your Garden Companion, combines her two passions, education and gardening.  She works with her clients to create productive, beautiful landscapes that grow in harmony with the unique Central Oregon climate and soil. Yvonne’s gardening philosophy is a good fit for Desert Rain and the goals of the Living Building Challenge. Yvonne has been gardening with Barb and Tom at their current residence. Her husband, Geoff Babb, from his personal experience in a wheelchair, has been consulting the Desert Rain team on ADA issues. Yvonne came on to the site last year to help with the ‘secret terrace’ garden clean-up, weeding the rye grass, cheat grass, and mustard that are the 3 worst culprits, and start some plantings on the steep, rocky terrain on the west side of the site. Yvonne has started to replace the rye grass with plantings of native Idaho fescue to help stabilize the disturbed soil on the steep terrain. The rocky outcropping is home to some native Rugosa rose, Oregon grape, sage, and bitterbrush, as well as a few rockchucks.

The 'secret' terrace garden showing the lush, greens of early summer - a respite in the hot summer days.

The ‘secret’ terrace garden showing the lush, greens of early summer – a respite in the hot summer days.

Weed removal is strictly mechanical, pulling by hand to eliminate the use of any harsh or toxic chemicals that would be harmful to the health of humans and existing wildlife. The work is physically demanding but working in crews lightens the load. Dorothy Freudenberg was part of the crew yesterday. Dorothy, a friend of Barb’s, is a photographer, artist, Master Gardener, and today – a weed puller.  Part of Dorothy’s artist’s statement on her website (Dorothy Freudenberg Art ) declares she is ‘continually engaging in experimenting and expanding her expressive capabilities’.  She appears to be embracing that philosophy with her involvement with Desert Rain as she takes on various tasks to help as needed.

Dorothy - photographer, artist, Master Gardener takes on the role as weeder.

Dorothy – photographer, artist, Master Gardener takes on the role as weeder.

Like every aspect of the Desert Rain project, the landscaping is very much a team effort.  Chris Hart-Henderson and Ani Cahill with Heartsprings Design, are the landscape designers for the project. Chris has been involved with the project since the very beginning – advising on existing vegetation, site orientation, and exploring possibilities as the original house design was scrapped and the new design for the Living Building Challenge was embraced. One of the landscape requirements of the LBC is that 35% of the vegetation must be edible to either humans or wildlife. Chris and Ani have incorporated that into the overall plans. On her website, Yvonne states that she ‘integrates native plants and/or vegetables into her projects that encourage wildlife to serve as pollinators, pest control agents, predators and workers in the soil, creating a healthy place for life. Gardening this way on a regular basis is not only a beneficial physical activity, it is a journey of cooperation and learning about what plants and gardening strategies will sustain us into the future.’

Chris Hart-Henderson, Barb, and Tom contemplating the steep, western slope at Desert Rain.

Chris Hart-Henderson, Barb, and Tom contemplating the steep, western slope at Desert Rain.

A favorite aspect of my job is meeting the people who comprise the Desert Rain Team.  With my background in organic gardening, farming, art, and outdoor education, I have found kindred spirits in Chris, Ani, Yvonne and Dorothy.  Among gardeners there is often sharing, encouragement, and lending of hands.  This is most evident at Desert Rain as many hands and minds collaborate for the good of the project toward the goal of meeting the Living Building Challenge and a sustainable lifestyle. To borrow from Yvonne’s statement: ‘it is a journey of cooperation and learning about what will sustain us into the future’.

Tom brings the trailer to load the yard debris that will be taken to the recycling center for composting. Yvonne's son, Emory, taking a break from U of Oregon,   to help with the clean-up.

Tom brings the trailer to load the yard debris that will be taken to the recycling center for composting. Yvonne’s son, Emory, taking a break from U of Oregon, to help with the clean-up.