Desert Rain House Earns First Residential Living Building Certification

Desert Rain House located in Bend, Oregon, has become the first residential compound to earn Living Building certification, the most ambitious and optimistic international standard of sustainability in the world. Developed by the International Living Future Institute, the Living Building Challenge certification requires actual, rather than modeled or anticipated, performance across environmental, social and community impact. Therefore, projects must be operational for at least twelve consecutive months prior to evaluation.

“Barbara, Tom and the entire project team made a serious commitment to becoming what is now a powerful demonstration for regenerative design,” said Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute. “They have also provided a beautiful and compelling blueprint for others to be inspired by and to follow. Certification of the Desert Rain marks a defining moment in the Living Building Challenge – a fully certified, multi-family residential project that is beautiful, just, and has a net zero impact on the environment.”

Six years in the making, Desert Rain earned certification by demonstrating that its five buildings produce more electricity than residents use each year and that 100% of water requirements are met by captured rainwater. In addition, toxic chemicals were screened from all building materials and all wood was reclaimed or Forest Stewardship Council certified. Human waste from the three residences is composted on site and all greywater is processed and reused for irrigation.

“Barbara and I built Desert Rain as a demonstration project and personal residence. If a residence and two apartments like this can be built in downtown Bend, Oregon, they can be built in any municipality,” said Tom Elliott, co-owner with Barbara Scott. “We hope the project will inspire others to reflect on the possibilities in their own built environment.”

Desert Rain has produced more energy than it used in each of the past three years due to its highly efficient design incorporating passive solar and a very tight building envelope.

“We can’t continue thinking we are building a better world by making a “less bad” version of the world we have created,” said Elliott. “The Living Building Challenge forces us to think in terms of a new paradigm.”

Barbara Scott, co-owner of Desert Rain, said, “It’s important to remember, Desert Rain is the loving and hard-earned result of a multi-year collaborative project between owners, designer, contractors, sub-contractors and the community at large. Bend is now home to one of the greenest buildings in the world.”

James Fagan, one of the owners of the general contractor Timberline Construction said, “Desert Rain was at least as much process as project. The technical challenges were many and some quite daunting. Together we managed to find our way to a fulfilling and beautiful outcome. As a general contractor on our first Living Building project, it was inspiring to be able work through this challenge with such an amazing team.”

“Dozens of design, engineering, and construction team members embraced the highly integrated design/build format vital to making the Desert Rain dream a reality,” said Al Tozer of Tozer Design, LLC.  “A pioneering residential effort, Desert Rain showcases what the world needs now more than ever – commitment to a clearly stated goal, collaboration of all stakeholders, open minds and creative thinking – to solve our planet’s most pressing environmental challenges.”

“Plants take longer to grow in the desert, but when there is a bloom it is stunning. The Desert Rain House is the product of years of thoughtful planning, design and perseverance led by two courageous owners,” said Jason F. McLennan, Board Chair of the International Living Future Institute and Founder of the Living Building Challenge. “What they have achieved is an example for us all: a better way of living and perhaps more importantly for all people touched by the project, a new way of thinking that will seed further blooms of change.”

About the Desert Rain House

Desert Rain is a residential compound consisting of three residential units and related out-buildings encompassing a total of 4810 square feet. The first residential compound in the world to be fully certified under the stringent Living Building Challenge, Desert Rain is also LEED Platinum certified and Earth Advantage Platinum certified.

Built as a demonstration project, Desert Rain is one couple’s exploration of the question, “How do we remake our human-made systems to align positively with what we know creates sustainable and resilient communities?”

Learn more about Desert Rain through our extensive case study:

Desert Rain House: Resilient Building, Sustainable Living in the High Desert  by Ecotone Publishing

About the International Living Future InstituteDesert Rain House-Resilient Living

The International Living Future Institute is a hub for visionary programs. The Institute offers global strategies for lasting sustainability, partnering with local communities to create grounded and relevant solutions, including green building and infrastructure solutions on scales ranging from single room renovations to neighborhoods or whole cities. The Institute administers the Living Building Challenge, the environment’s most rigorous and ambitious performance standard. It is the parent organization for Cascadia Green Building Council, a chapter of both the United States and Canada Green Building Councils that serves Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. It is also home to Ecotone Publishing, a unique publishing house dedicated to telling the story of the green building movement’s pioneering thinkers and practitioners.

The Kitchen Sink Faucet

Living On Rain: Water Collection and Conservation

Water collection, conservation, and treatment is a part of daily life at Desert Rain. it plays a profound role at Desert Rain- influencing not only the design of the home, but the site development as well. Tom and Barb have prepared and practiced mindful water usage for some time – even before moving in to Desert Rain. And now they want to share and inspire that same thoughtful conservation.

The Kitchen Sink Faucet

The faucet in the Desert Rain kitchen pours delicious rainwater.

The Living Building Challenge Water Petal

Earning the LBC Water Petal poses a very real challenge for Barb and Tom. It requires that they use only water that has fallen as precipitation on the property, and that the site retain all of the water collected and used. Doing so requires large cisterns and onsite water treatment facilities for gray water and black water. The limited nature of this resource is especially apparent and easily measurable for Tom and Barb. Living on rain means the couple and their guests will have all of their water needs met by the 11.2 inches of precipitation that falls each year in Bend.

A Shared Acumen: Water is a Precious Resource

Desert Rain Bathtub

Taking a bath is a very special treat.

All of the appliances and fixtures at Desert Rain have been selected for their water efficiency, yet the most important component of water conservation is the person with their hand on the tap. From rinsing dishes in the sink and running the tap to get the desired temp, to brushing teeth and taking a shower, each of us is ultimately in control over the water we use.

As welcoming hosts, Barb and Tom want to share their mindfulness about water conservation with their guests. And their guests are very enthusiastic about learning more and doing their part. But how do we waste water and what does personal water conservation truly look like?

How much water does is take for a person to live a healthy and prosperous life? The answers vary widely. The Average American uses 400 gallons of water per day, while the average African uses 5 gallons of water per day. Some US municipalities have set goals of 140-170 gallons per person, per day. Barb and Tom have set a goal of 30 gallons per person, per day.

Typical Home Water Usage

By living within this goal, Desert Rain will collect and recycle enough water for Tom and Barb and their guests to be graciously hydrated, clean, and surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

Life on the Blue Planet

We live on a planet made of water. Why bother? Because all the water that will ever be is, right now.

While the thought of all the water in the world is unfathomable, water is an intensely precious resource. Three quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, 98% of that is salt water and not fit for human consumption.  What’s more, of the 2% that is fresh water, about 70 percent is locked in glacial ice and 30 percent in soil, leaving under 1% readily accessible for human use. Each drop is irreplaceable.

We invite you to read more about Water on the Desert Rain compound.

Additional Water facts via:

Solar Collector Panels at Desert Lookout

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

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

Don and Bill

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

Living Building Challenges

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

Struggling with Solar Collection for the Blackwater System

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

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

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

Striving to Move Onward 

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

Solar Collector Panels at Desert Lookout

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

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

Living Net Positive – Is it Possible?

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

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

Green, Net Zero, and Beyond

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

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

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

July 8 power graph

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

*Click here to see Average Household Energy Consumption.

Living Net Positive

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

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

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

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

The Desert Rain Repurposed Custom Commuter Bicycles

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

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

Biking Around Town

Head Badge on Tom's Bike

Barb and Tom – ready to ride despite cool temps.

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

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

Made by Our Community

Wood Fenders

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

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

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

Tom's Bike

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

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

A Chance to Talk About the Living Building Challenge

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

Head Badge on Tom's Bike

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

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

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

Straw used in Stucco

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

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

The Living Building Challenge ‘Red List’

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

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

American Clay

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

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

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

Declare – A ‘Nutrition Label’ for the Building Industry

Declare Nutrition Label for Building Materials

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

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



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

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

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

Do reclaimed materials increase affordability?

In April, Desert Rain received an e-mail from Ben’s Cabinets in Sisters, Oregon. With Ben’s permission we are including it in this post as he presents a question that is in the minds of many who are following the Desert Rain story.  “I’ve been in the construction industry since 1977. I’m well aware of the green movement we’ve all witnessed with great interest in our trade. As I’ve watched you go through this process and the approval of every aspect of the construction and site development, I can’t help but come away with the impression that this type of building would be totally unaffordable to the common family. I would hope that you would address the affordability aspect of this project to your audience as cost is of critical concern to most people when it comes to building a home.”

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

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

Desert Rain owners, Tom Elliott and Barb Scott, reply: “Your point is very important to us as well.  We hope to take what we have learned at huge expense and translate that into an ‘affordable’ living building challenge house elsewhere.  Desert Rain is a demonstration project and, as such, is clearly unaffordable by most.  We have been very fortunate to be in a position to make that investment toward the future. I do think many of the practices and technologies will become more affordable as demand increases.  We also see many ways we can adapt the technologies in Desert Rain to serve many homes at the same time, thus bringing the cost down for all.  Once we get through the current project we are excited about exploring this possibility further and will definitely be addressing this issue on our website.”

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

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

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

As Desert Rain moves closer to completion, Tom and Barb have been revisiting the idea that they have named, LBC Light. Currently the idea is in the very early stages of the process that they envision leading to an affordable  Living Building Challenge, residential project. The seed of the concept has been in the back of their minds since they began work on Desert Rain. At a team brainstorming session Barb said, ‘– We don’t want to build Desert Rain and be done. We believe in the LBC and feel it is our responsibility to propagate building with these guidelines. The educational element continues as new people learn about the project and the LBC.  It has to be affordable.’ Tom adds to that comment, ‘We would build an affordable LBC project or see it built – help make it happen’.

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

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

Tom and Barb own a  lot located behind the Desert Rain site. That site is one possibility for a two or three household project. Ideally, they would like to have the project pre-sold and an owner that is involved with the process. The concept of ‘scale jumping’, creating a project with shared infrastructure in a small development, may make more sense economically. James Fagan, with Timberline, builder for Desert Rain says, ‘Building (LBC) in an affordable realm can be done; super- simple design, modular construction, accepting more standard materials, using more reclaimed materials, getting innovative with rainwater storage’ – all necessary to an affordable, LBC home.

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


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

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

Meeting the rigorous LBC guidelines – net zero water, net zero energy, with approved, non-Redlist materials, and meeting the imperatives of the Seven Petals is a challenge. Building to those guidelines and making it affordable raises the bar of the challenge. Desert Rain has been setting precedence and opening doors in Central Oregon and beyond.  LBC has some new support tools in place that will save research time and help make building more affordable. Other LBC projects are underway or have been completed creating a template for affordable, green home construction.

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

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

Tom and Barb and the team at Desert Rain believe it is possible to build an affordable, Living Building Challenge home. There are many questions to answer.  Perhaps, YOU have an answer.   We welcome your thoughts and ideas for building an affordable LBC home.  Stay tuned to the Desert Rain website for upcoming information on affordable LBC projects, materials, systems, designs, and incoming ideas from our followers.  The quest for LBC Light begins!

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

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

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   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!