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   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


We look forward to meeting you!

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.


A Bridge to Mindfulness – The Living Future unConference


mindfulness Desert Rain is currently in the company of over 100 world-wide projects pursuing  the goal of meeting some or all of the Living Building Challenge petals.  Barb Scott and Tom Elliot, Desert Rain owners, recently attended the seventh annual International Living Future Institute’s ‘unConference held in Seattle, Washington. Desert Rain team members, Al Tozer, designer, with Tozer Designs, James Fagan, builder, with Timberline Construction, and ML Vidas, LBC consultant also attended the event. Living Future is the forum for leaders in the green building movement who are seeking solutions to current global issues.  The unConference is rooted in the Living Building Challenge and offers advanced educational sessions, provocative keynote presentations, technical information, tours, workshops, and conversations that inspire learning and networking.

Jason McLennan - founder of the Living Building Challenge and CEO of the International Living Future Institute - one of the keynote speakers.

Jason McLennan – founder of the Living Building Challenge and CEO of the International Living Future Institute – one of the keynote speakers.

The theme for the 2013 event was Resilience and Regeneration asking the questions: “How do we build, design and innovate in a changing climate? How can we reconcile our relationship with the natural world and form resilient, regenerative communities? “ The program for the three day event was chock full of interesting and compelling programs, summits, breakout sessions, trainings, and tours providing the opportunity to engage in the conversations of regeneration and resilience in the future environment.

Keynote speakers

  • Jason McLennan CEO of the Living Future Institute and founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge. He is considered one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement today.
  • David Suzuki,  Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. 
  • Paul Hawken environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author
 has dedicated his life to sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment.

(information source – The International Living Future Institute website)

Desert Rain provides a learning experience for LBC water petal.

Desert Rain provides a learning experience for LBC water petal.

One of the educational sessions focused on the lessons learned from Desert Rain. Morgan Brown, president of Whole Water Systems and ML Vidas, architect and Living Building consultant for Desert Rain presented the program entitled; LBC Water Petal Solutions – Technology and Permitting Challenges; Lessons Learned on the Bleeding Edge. The session highlighted the three year process of Desert Rain seeking approvals for cutting-edge blackwater, graywater, and rainwater harvesting systems. The odyssey of the water systems and the challenges motivated Morgan Brown to propose this presentation for the unConference. In Morgan’s words, Whole Water and Desert Rain owners and team members ‘share the objective of setting an example that expands sustainable limits, is worthy of emulation and is financially accessible.’

The challenges of the LBC water petal at Desert Rain.

The challenges of the LBC water petal at Desert Rain.

Barb, Tom, and the Desert Rain team members came home regenerated and energized. I asked Barb if there was any one thing that was significant to her.  She brought up one of the breakout sessions she attended; Regenerating the Existing Housing Stock. Matthew Grocoff, is a presenter and pioneer in net zero homes, and also a young father. His words about materials and products used in home building struck a chord with Barb. ‘ I don’t give my clients a choice. I couldn’t sleep at night if I knew I was putting toxins in someone’s home’.  That statement reflects mindfulness.

The Living Building Challenge promotes the idea that buildings should contribute to and regenerate the environment creating resilience. The Living Future unConference annually brings together designers, builders, and home inhabitants that are thinking mindfully and fostering awareness about the concept of living buildings.  There is a need in the built environment for connectivity and practicing mindfulness.  The unConference is creating a bridge.

Morgan Brown with Whole Water Systems and ML Vidas, LBC consultant present the water challenges of Desert Rain while Tom listens with the audience.

Morgan Brown with Whole Water Systems and ML Vidas, LBC consultant present the water challenges of Desert Rain while Tom listens with the audience.

2014The 2014 Living Future unConference – Beauty and Inspiration. Information at the Living Future Institute


The Educational Element

When Barb and Tom started the process of the Desert Rain project, they knew that demonstration and education would be part of the goal. Hundreds of people have visited the site to learn about the leading edge technologies for the built environment, the process of building to meet The Living Building Challenge, and to view first-hand the materials and construction techniques being used on Desert Rain.

Barb and Tom, Desert Rain owners, and Jim Fagan the general contractor with Timberline, tell the students the Desert Rain story.

Barb and Tom, Desert Rain owners, and Jim Fagan the general contractor with Timberline, tell the students the Desert Rain story.

One group of recent visitors were sixth and seventh grade students from Powell Butte Charter School. They are studying sustainability in the classroom.  They were excited to be up close and personal to a sustainable project and see elements such as the extensive array of photovoltaic modules.  Barb and Tom reviewed the Desert Rain story – from the deconstruction of the existing homes to the current state, visibly a home, coming closer to completion.

Students from Powell Butte Charter School make decisions about lunch leftovers: what can be recycled, composted, or landfilled?

Students from Powell Butte Charter School make decisions about lunch leftovers: what can be recycled, composted, or landfilled?

Desert Rain manages construction waste differently than a traditional construction site. There is not a dumpster on site. Materials are separated into piles to be composted, upcycled or re-purposed, recycled, or land-filled. The students were asked to manage the waste from their lunches in much the same way; deciding what could be recycled, what could be composted, and what would go to the landfill.

The students take a detour to the 'secret terrace' garden below Desert Rain.

The students take a detour to the ‘secret terrace’ garden below Desert Rain.

The students from Powell Butte Charter School had a sunny day to tour the site, learn about the process of sustainable building, and be introduced to the Living Building Challenge. The following day a Clean Energy Service Corps team arrived in a bitter, cold, rain to view first-hand some of the latest technology in sustainable building design.  Clean Energy Service Corps is one of the programs under the umbrella of the Heart of Oregon Corps.  Both organizations have a mission ‘to inspire and empower positive change in the lives of young people through jobs, education, and stewardship’.  The CESC group here in Bend partners with Habitat for Humanity to learn about energy-efficient home design, weatherization, and construction skills. Part of their service is to give back doing a variety of community service projects, primarily focused on insulation installation.

The Clean Energy Service Corps meets in the old garage on a windy, wet day to hear about the Living Building Challenge petals.

The Clean Energy Service Corps and a few additional guests meet in the old garage on a windy, wet day to hear about the Living Building Challenge and the 7 Petals.

Desert Rain is an excellent demonstration site for the CESC team to view alternative energy technologies and insulation materials. They primarily work with the standard, fiberglass insulation batts so they could appreciate the eco-friendly ECO-Batts, the benefits of the spray-foam, the blown-in cellulose, and the recycled cotton batts used at the Desert Rain site. The team was familiar with blower door testing to determine the tightness of the building envelope. They were surprised by the extremely low numbers of the tests conducted at Desert Rain.  The goal for Desert Rain is to meet or exceed the Passive House standard of .60 Air Changes per Hour (ACH). In the preliminary test conducted before drywall was installed and without under-floor foam insulation – Desert Rain had an impressive .65 ACH!  For more on the insulation story, please read the blog, Making the Grade

Tom and Barb continue the tour amidst the on-going construction in the main house.

Tom and Barb continue the tour amidst the on-going construction in the main house.

Barb and Tom’s vision of reaching out to community and sharing the process of their extreme, green, dream has brought 18 groups of visitors to the site to date. The groups vary in numbers and ages but everyone can come away from a tour at Desert Rain with an idea, an insight, or a dream of their own about sustainability in the built environment. Andrew, one of the Clean Energy Service Corps team members even went away with a piece of Desert Rain. He was inspired by the memorial plaque of the ponderosa pine that had been removed from the site. Barb sent him away with a giant slab of that ponderosa pine. He is contemplating a project that will be a reminder of his visit to Desert Rain and what he learned here. Desert Rain is very much an educational process; for Tom and Barb, for the design/build team, for the sub-contractors, material manufacturers, local businesses, and for the many visitors that toured the project. The educational element will continue as the building process moves forward and on completion, Desert Rain will remain as a visible demonstration of what is possible.

Andrew was enamored by the ponderosa pine memorial plaque. Barb sent him away with a slab of his own for a creative project.

Andrew was enamored by the ponderosa pine memorial plaque. Barb sent him away with a slab of his own for a creative project.

Rethinking Construction Waste

Striving for Zero Waste is a worthy goal.

Part of any construction site is the waste generated by the building process.  Scrap lumber, cardboard, metal, plastics, and other packaging material make up the bulk of construction waste .  Building a 2,000 square foot home typically generates 8,000 pounds of waste that ends up in a landfill.  Data collected by the Sustainable Cities Institute  indicates that, ‘construction and demolition waste materials make up to 45% of what goes into the landfills in the United States. This contributes to the reduced life of landfills, operations and maintenance costs, as well as environmental impacts. Diverting construction and demolition waste avoids the costs of new landfills, and can support local businesses that can use the waste material as a resource.’

Wood waste is a major contributor on a construction site. At Desert Rain wood is re-used when possible or recycled at the county facility.

Desert Rain has been recycling and/or reusing the construction waste materials since groundbreaking. The Living Building Challenge  requires that a percentage of waste is recycled or reused. There has never been a dumpster or trash trailer on the Desert Rain site. The contractors are educated about separating the materials into various piles – the most important step to maintaining an effective recycling program.  Anna Vacca works with Timberline Construction as the recycler for Desert Rain. She comes to the site as materials accumulate, loads them into a trailer in appropriate piles and hauls them to the local recycling center and landfill here in Bend.  Even with the contractors on the Desert Rain site being aware of the process, the waste materials often have to be re-sorted.  With the influence of Desert Rain, Timberline Construction has bumped up recycling on some of their other projects.  On those sites a recycling trailer is in place but Anna still finds recyclable materials in the landfill pile. She believes education and simplification of the process would be the best tools to encourage recycling on a construction site.

Construction waste from Desert Rain has been tracked using an offloading sheet. The sheet is divided into categories: metal, rock/soil/ compostable material, cardboard, upcycled material, recycled/repurposed material, and landfill.  A good portion of the recyclable material (25 ½ yards) has been compostable wood/brush.  Cardboard from materials packaging is a major contributor. Diverting and recycling the construction waste at Desert Rain has created significant results. To this date less than 600 pounds has ended in the landfill.  In addition to construction waste, close to 800 yards of rock was hauled off the site to a crushing facility. Most of that rock accumulated during the process of excavating for the 35,000 gallon cistern. Some of that rock returned to the site in the form of gravel.  The Living Building Challenge requires the design/build team to encourage manufacturers and distributors to reduce, use a recyclable alternative, or eliminate packaging. This also has contributed to the reduction of waste generated.

Anna Vacca, Desert Rain recycler sorts all the materials before they are hauled to the recycling/landfill facility. Only the black garbage bag ended up in the landfill. The rest was recycled.

Using reclaimed materials is a required element of the Living Building Challenge and essential to the goals of Desert Rain.

Inspired by the numbers at Desert Rain, Jim Fagan, general contractor, with Timberline Construction would like to see a local construction waste recycling program in place. He, Anna, and some other interested individuals are in the talking stages of creating a non-profit that could provide seed money to encourage contractors to set up recycling on their building project sites. A cost analysis of the labor required to recycle waste, verses dumping in the landfill, will be a necessary step to quantify the process.  Anna thinks homeowners in the Bend area tend to be more conscientious about environmental impacts. Educating homeowners and proposing the idea of construction waste recycling may be the catalyst to encourage contractors to be on board. Good planning is the initial step to an effective waste reduction strategy.  Designs that are based on standard sizes, quality materials, and reclaimed materials, decrease waste by not producing it in the first place.  Jim said,  ‘incorporation of on site recycling may have to be a requirement at the design stage’. Looking at other projects in place there is evidence that waste diversion goals that are proposed and/or required as an element of design are more likely to be realized.

Many cities have construction waste programs in place throughout the USA.  Some cities require a recycling program as part of the building permit.  According to the Sustainable Cities Institute,  ‘Most of the effort required will be centered around enforcing any new regulations and educating contractors on how to comply. Enforcement is made easier by incorporating the diversion requirements into existing permitting procedures, but industry buy-in is crucial for achieving desired results and creating stable material markets.’

This Timberline banner was made from lumber packaging material by a local ‘upcycling’ company – Sara Bella in Bend, Oregon – an excellent example of recycle reuse.

Necessary steps toward an effective program include: identifying the construction and demolitions waste materials that will likely be generated on a building site, procedures used to collect and sort the materials, resources to haul the materials away, locations that will accept the material, and how those materials will be used. Some materials can be recycled directly into the same product for re-use. Others may be reprocessed into new materials. Many can be donated to be used as reclaimed material.

Construction waste recycling has many benefits. Environmental impacts from extraction, transportation and distribution of raw materials is reduced.  Regional landfills will have an extended life expectancy. Energy costs are reduced overall. Possibilities may extend beyond the building site to create jobs associated with a regional recycling industry.  Most contractors do recycle some percentage of the construction waste.  Desert Rain is raising the standard and once again, demonstrating what is possible with a conscientious effort to build sustainably.

8,000 pounds verses 600 pounds in the landfill – you do the math!





Desert Rain – Breaking Barriers

More visitors take a tour with Tom to learn about Desert Rain and sustainable building elements they may incorporate into their own projects.

From the beginning of the design and building process, Tom and Barb envisioned the Desert Rain project as a demonstration site with an educational element.  Along with their dream of building and living in their own extreme, green home, they have an objective of setting an example of what is possible in sustainable building. They are making an effort to expand ideas and push barriers with regulatory agencies, contractors, product manufacturers, and building materials.  In Tom’s words, ‘we’re not saying everybody should go build a home like this, but we think there are elements of this home that could and should be incorporated into just about any structure that is being built.’   There have been a number of people who have toured the site and been inspired by one piece or another of the project. They  may not be interested in building a Living Building Challenge home but they may be looking for methods or materials that they can utilize in a home being built or remodeled. For example a tighter building envelope saves enormous amounts of energy, no matter the source of the heat.  Insulation, windows, framing methods, passive solar design, and alternative heating systems may be pieces of the project that many people would implement when building a green home.

The 35,000 gallon cistern – a large piece of the Water Petal puzzle.

The water systems at Desert Rain have created the largest hurdles and are perhaps the least applicable for others to embrace.  Not many homes will have the extensive rainwater harvesting system and 35,000 gallon cistern collection tank that Desert Rain is using. Nor will the average, green home have a graywater system that treats all household wastewater for reuse to the standards that Desert Rain is setting. The proposed solution pioneered by Tom, Barb, ACS, Whole Water Systems and Tozer Design Design, to use efficient, conventional toilets that process blackwater and solid waste through a solar evaporator and on site composting facility is remarkably, innovative.  These systems that are currently difficult to encompass for the average homeowner, may prove to be the most educational element of the design and building process of Desert Rain.

Inspired by Desert Rain
As a result of his work with Desert Rain, Morgan Brown, President of Whole Water Systems has proposed a Living Future Talk for the Living Building Challenge. LBC Water Petal Solutions – Technology & Permitting Challenges; Lessons Learned on the Bleeding Edge
“Navigating the bleeding edge of LBC Water Petal technology and regulatory approval can emphasize the “Challenge” in Living Buildings. This session will focus on lessons learned from Desert Rain, an LBC home located in historic downtown Bend, OR. The session will highlight the 3-year Odyssey seeking approvals for cutting-edge blackwater, graywater and rainwater harvest systems and the joys of stretching city building codes and new state guidelines to the breaking point. An overview of Water Petal solutions by early LBC projects followed by audience participation in Fantasy LBC Water Design will help others learn from pitfalls and avoid costs.

‘Some of the above came about out of necessity – given the current situation – in order to achieve the Living Building standard. Others are a result of inflexibility and shortsightedness in interpretation of regulations. ‘ said Morgan Brown, president of Whole Water Systems. He refers to his work on Desert Rain water system solutions as a ‘3- year Odyssey.’  Brown sees each of the water systems: rainwater harvest, graywater, and blackwater as cutting edge. He believes, ‘that if these systems are realized they have the potential to become extremely influential.  That they are state-of-the-art green systems pushing the limits, that they will be a vehicle for valuable study, that others will want to emulate them, and finally, that they will make it more affordable for those that follow.’

Tom sees Desert Rain as an opportunity to break through hurdles. He and Barb are hoping to leverage this Desert Rain b experience by building an affordable Living Building Challenge home that could then be replicated by others.  He also hopes that Desert Rain will create an awareness of possibilities that might benefit the community in a larger sense. The idea of ‘scale jumping’ – taking some of the elements of Desert Rain that may not be cost-effective or make sense for one home – and incorporate them at a larger scale. A constructed wetland for a single residence may not make sense but a constructed wetland that can serve a small residential development of 15   homes makes a lot of sense toward decentralized and sustainable water treatment.

Tom and Barb deserve much appreciation for their pioneering spirit, persistence, and vision for breaking barriers with the Desert Rain project.

Desert Rain is an educational tool demonstrating what is possible. Tom compares the process of building extreme green to Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile. “ It couldn’t be done. It was humanly impossible, bio-mechanically impossible, physics wouldn’t allow  it – just couldn’t be done until Roger Bannister did it. Then all of a sudden everybody was breaking the 4 minute mile.’

Breaking Barriers
In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile is the act of completing a mile run (1,760 yards) in less than four minutes. It was first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister in 3:59.4. The ‘four minute barrier’ has since been broken by many male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners. In the last 50 years the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds.   resource – Wikipedia 

Desert Rain has been pushing the limits of new state rainwater harvesting guidelines and local and state codes for pre-treatment and reuse of graywater.  The blackwater, human waste system design is innovative and untold. Thanks to the persistence of Tom and Barb, and the Design and Build Teams, Desert Rain is jumping the hurdles, breaking the barriers, and setting some records in the built environment.  Like the breaking of the 4 minute mile, Desert Rain may be setting some new standards.

The Desert Rain Design/Build team – thanks to their persistence and innovative thinking, Desert Rain is pushing the barriers of the built environment.

Materials – Choices for Change

Building to meet the stringent requirements of the seven Petals of the Living Building Challenge has been an eye-opening and educational experience for all involved with the Desert Rain project. While each petal has presented challenges, the Materials Petal has had a tremendous impact on time and research. According to the Living Building Challenge, the intent of the material petal is to promote a ‘successful materials economy that is non-toxic, transparent and socially acceptable’. The LBC requires that every material or product used in the project is carefully scrutinized for distance from the source to the site, quality, durability and longevity, aesthetic appeal and beauty, energy efficiency, and effects on health.  These considerations are applied to each level of the process from raw material extraction, to manufacturing, to installation, and use.  In addition, labor practices at all phases of material production must be acceptable.

Framing on the garage over the cistern with FSC lumber and American nails.

The rigorous process of tracking and approving materials for Desert Rain is the work of ML Vidas, a sustainable architect and the LBC/LEED consultant. ML collaborates with the designers, builders, owners, and Living Building Challenge staff to arrive at approved or denied status for each item. She has an extensive spread- sheet of the materials that have been considered, approved, denied or pending. Each product must meet the intent of the Materials Petal and the imperatives and must not contain any of the 14 materials/chemicals that are on the Red List.

LBC Materials Petal
No RED LIST materials/chemicals
Embodied Carbon Footprint
Responsible Industry
Appropriate Sourcing
Conservation and Re-use

Keeping all that in mind as I walk through the Desert Rain site  – it is mind-boggling to think that every component of construction has undergone this approval process. Each material element can be a complex story. For example, the house is wrapped in a weather barrier called Hydro-Tex. Parr Lumber in Bend is the local supplier for the material that is made by a family owned company – Fortifiber Building Systems Corporation in Fernley, Nevada. As a product, Hydro-TEX falls within the LBC/LEED requirements. It is comprised of 22% post consumer waste. It does not contain any of the Red List materials or chemicals. It enhances the durability of the structure, reduces maintenance, and helps to minimize energy consumption. It is manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. Fortifiber actively works at improving their products and their facilities to raise the bar on sustainable standards. Those are the kind of details that must be researched for every material used in the construction of Desert Rain.

Thousands of pounds of concrete were used for the 35,000 gallon cistern, the 5,000 gallon gray water cistern, footings and foundations of the structures.

Concrete is a major element visible on the project site. The aggregate for the concrete footings, foundation, and cistern, is sourced through a local Bend company, Hooker Creek.  The cement and fly-ash originated in Portland.  Fly-ash is a byproduct of the coal industry. It was used in the house foundation but not the cistern.  The cement slab floor in the main house had the addition of crushed lava rock, recycled from the cistern excavation process.  The slab was then polished creating a beautiful finished floor without using any additional building materials or resources. Concrete forms were re-used lumber and timbers.

Reclaimed materials

Reclaimed stone and lumber from the on-site deconstruction will used in the building and the landscaping.

Empire Stone and Willamette Graystone in Bend are the source for masonry lava rock, landscape gravel, boulders, and pavers. Other rock to be used for landscaping was reclaimed from the on- site deconstruction. This includes broken sidewalk pieces that will be used as pavers for a patio on the north side of the house. LBC highly suggests using as much material as possible from the home site; eliminating waste, transport, and the use of new resources.

All lumber used on the project must be either reclaimed or Forest Stewardship Council Certified. All framing lumber, interior and exterior is FSC.  Wood sheathing was one of the items that received a ‘temporary exception’ status. The added formaldehyde in the composite wood products, is a Red List item. Sustainable Northwest Wood based in Portland worked with the builders and Parr lumber to find FSC lumber harvested within the 600 mile zone.  Siding is FSC cedar. The exterior soffits are covered with reclaimed lumber from on-site deconstruction and from a potato barn in Prineville.  The lumber was re-milled.  Re-claimed lumber will also be used on the interior ceilings and some of the interior walls.  American made nails were used in the framing instead of the commonly used, made in China nails.

Jeff and Spencer with River Roofing work on the stainless steel interior gutters.

River Roofing of Bend provided sources for the metal roofing, fascia, and belly- band that was coated with a LBC approved coating.  The roofing steel arrived in a continuous roll from Kalama, Washington.  River Roofing crew fabricated the panels on site. Jim Fagan, builder with Timberline Construction, said, ‘Steel is one of the things that LBC refers to as globally sourced.  There is a lot of recycled content in almost all steel now – there is no virgin steel. Obviously, if we can buy a coil of steel from somewhere in the Northwest, we’re going to stay close.”  River Roofing also supplied the two-part gutter system.  There is a stainless steel gutter set inside the coated steel gutter.  The stainless steel was used for its durability, longevity, and resistance to residue build-up since the gutters will be collecting rainwater for domestic use, including drinking water.

Loewen Windows

The Loewen windows were chosen for their superior quality and energy efficiency.

Local sub-contractors were also the suppliers of many of the construction elements.  They did the research to find appropriate materials from local and regional sources. The solar thermal system was supplied by Bobcat and Sun Inc. in Bend.  The photovoltaic modules installed by E2 Solar were sourced from, Solar World Oregon, a company in Hillsboro, Oregon. The general rule of LBC guidelines is the larger and heavier the material, the closer the source should be to the project site.  The Loewen windows were an exception to this rule. Though they were supplied through Glacier Windows and Doors in Sweet Home, Oregon, they were manufactured in Manitoba, Canada. The extended distance was balanced by the superior quality and energy efficiency of these windows.

Canada was also the source for the LED lighting cannisters.  All Phase Electric Service in Bend is the supplier of all electrical wiring, conduit, outlet and switch boxes.  Finding non-PVC plumbing pipe and fittings was quite a challenge.  PEX and BPEX tubing from Uponorpro were used for the hydronic, infloor heating system and water lines.  All insulation materials were supplied by Energy Conservation Insulation in Bend from a variety of manufacturers. Some of the spray foam insulation contains Halgenated Flame Retardant, a Red List chemical.  The approval for use required a LBC exception and a letter to the manufacturer advocating alternatives for the future.

Electrical wiring, conduit, switch/outlet boxes and other components were supplied by the sub-contractor, All Phase Electric Service.

With so many material elements comprising the Desert Rain project, I have shared only a small portion of the depth and detail that is required for this LBC process. Some of the stories are still unfolding. The structures are currently being prepped and tented to receive the exterior lime plaster. Elite Plastering in Bend is a family owned business committed to learning and growing toward a more sustainable built environment.  Coming on board with the Desert Rain project, David Kaiser Jr. developed a non-toxic, lime based plaster recipe to cover the exterior walls of the structures. All of the materials in the mix are available very close to home – lime from Washington, clay from Prineville, and pumice right in our backyard, a few miles south of Bend. Lime absorbs carbon monoxide from the atmosphere to chemically change it into limestone, it is durable and will last for decades. The plaster significantly demonstrates a successful story of meeting the imperatives of the Materials Petal.

Part of the Living Building Challenge goal is to create catalysts of change among the owners, builders, sub-contractors and suppliers.  They want each project to ‘figure it out’. The Desert Rain team is on the ‘bleeding edge’ of this goal; doing their due diligence, pioneering, researching, creating, to meet the challenge of a sustainable, built environment.

                        Resource and

Desert Rain on the left and the accessible dwelling unit on the right – tented and prepped for the lime plastering.

The Future of Green

Earlier this week I met with a group of young people involved with the work program – Clean Energy Service Corps.  I came away from the meeting energized by their questions and enthusiasm.  The group visited Desert Rain a few weeks ago to view first-hand some of the latest technology in sustainable building design.  Clean Energy Service Corps is one of the programs under the umbrella of the Heart of Oregon Corps.  Both organizations have a mission ‘to inspire and empower positive change in the lives of young people through jobs, education, and stewardship’.

The Clean Energy Service Corps team: Bob (crew leader), Jody, Jesse, Rey, Tim Fissori (instructor) and Carlos.

The CESC group here in Bend partners with Habitat for Humanity to learn about energy efficient home design, weatherization, and construction skills. Part of their service is to give back doing a variety of community service projects.  They have done landscaping and painting but their primary focus is energy conservation.  They have conducted blow door tests and then performed the work of installing insulation and applying caulk as needed to make the homes warmer and more energy efficient.  The group of six, 18-24 year olds started their 6 month program in July. In addition to a weekly stipend, at the completion of their service, they will receive an education award.  The students had no previous experience with construction.  They signed up for the project for the opportunity to learn a skill that they may use down the road.  Though there didn’t seem to be any in the group that would continue in the insulation field, they all expressed an interest in learning more about building green. Bob, the crew leader, has a personal goal of building his own eco-friendly house.

Their Desert Rain visit inspired them to think about alternatives in the built environment.  Since they have been working with fiberglass insulation batts, they could appreciate the idea of the spray foam insulation that they saw at Desert Rain.  We had a good discussion about wastewater.  The students were interested to hear about the process of constructed wetland bioreactors and how that eventually could replace the current trend of centralized waste disposal sites with miles of expensive pipe.  I could see some wheels turning in these young and energetic minds.

Highland Elementary students rode their bicycles to Desert Rain. Tom welcomed them for a tour.

Tim Fissori, the instructor, was a residential building contractor for 25 years. He is completely invested in the program and his students.  He said the group was intrigued by Desert Rain and would like to continue to watch the progress. He is hoping in the future, students from the Youthbuild and Green Energy programs can be involved with affordable green building projects, “those programs would be a natural fit to allow young people to learn about and contribute to those efforts’.

ML Vidas LBC and LEED consultant for Desert Rain and Barb Scott with the students and teachers from River Bend School.

A group of junior high students from River Bend School also visited Desert Rain recently.  Their instructor, Jen Goodman has been teaching a section on Sustainability. The students had seen a video about the Living Building Challenge so it was exciting to have a LBC project in their ‘backyard’ .   ML Vidas, architect and the LBC and LEED consultant for Desert Rain gave a classroom presentation, tailored for the group, reviewing all 7 Petals of the LBC and talking about the process of building Desert Rain.  The following week they met ML at the site and had a close-up tour of the project. 

Earlier this fall a group of Highland Elementary school students combined a Commute Options, Walk/Bike program with a field trip.  The students rode their bicycles from the school to Desert Rain to explore a sustainable and living building project.

Desert Rain attracts many visitors of all ages, interests, and occupations.  It is perhaps, an indication that there is beginning to be a shift for change in the built environment – a shift that promises a future.  It is inspiring to see these young people interested, curious, and wanting to learn more about sustainability.  It is also inspiring to see that Desert Rain may be the catalyst for some of these young people.  It is a starting point to ask questions, learn, think, and dream.  It is place that shows them they can make a difference.  It is a project that demonstrates that our choices today and their choices tomorrow will be the future.  Hopefully, they are envisioning that future in ‘green’.

Highland Elementary Students at the end of their tour – energized and ready to bicycle back to their school.