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.



Desert Rain – Green+Solar Tour

Desert Rain has undergone many changes in the past year.

Desert Rain has undergone many changes in the past year.

Desert Rain has undergone a major transformation in the past year since the last Green+Solar Tour. Please join this year’s tour to see for yourself this extreme-green home striving to meet the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge.

The High Desert Branch of Cascadia Green Building Council is proud to present Central Oregon’s 13th annual Green and Solar Tour. We are excited to highlight both commercial and residential projects that exemplify sustainable choices both for new construction and remodels. Check out the Tour website CLICK HERE and FACEBOOK PAGE HERE .

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

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

This Tour, which is free to the public, has historically drawn some 700 people through the doors of highlighted projects.  With this Tour, we are helping Central Oregon realize tomorrow’s living future through the sustainable choices and actions we make now. Tour starts with a Kick-Off event with informational tables and exciting keynote speakers at COCC’s Health Careers Building. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. with first Keynote Speaker at 9:00 a.m. Homes and commercial buildings are open at 10:30.

About Cascadia Green Building Council: Cascadia is a chapter of the US Green Building Council and the Canada Green Building Council, with offices in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Cascadia’s mission is to lead a transformation toward a built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.

The Desert Rain owners and team are pleased to be part of the 2013 Green+Solar tour. Welcome!


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

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

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

Do reclaimed materials increase affordability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is affordable? In Bend, Oregon, according to – 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.

Good Wood

To meet the Materials Petal of the Living Building Challenge, all lumber used on the Desert Rain structures must be either reclaimed or  Forest Stewardship Council – certified.  As stated on their website, the mission of the Forest Stewardship Council  is to ‘promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial, and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests’.  The process of FSC certification aims to protect and maintain natural communities, biodiversity, and high conservation values within the forests. The social aspect assures that the rights of workers, communities, and indigenous peoples are respected and upheld.  FSC has a vision to meet current forest product needs and sustain economic viability, without compromising the health of forests.

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

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

FSC certification process assures that the wood is coming from responsibly managed forests as defined by their standards. Certifiers are independent of FSC and the companies they audit. FSC believes this third-party verification is crucial to the integrity of their system. One of the certifications of FSC is ‘Chain of Custody’. This process tracks the certified material through the entire production process from the forest to the end consumer. The FSC certified material is identified and kept separated from non-certified material throughout the supply chain.  FSC declares on their website that ‘any company in the supply chain, including harvesters, processors, manufacturers, distributors, printers, retailers or anyone that is taking ownership of the forest product before the end user, needs to be FSC certified to be able to label or promote their products as FSC certified’.

Dimensional FSC-certified lumber may be 10 -20% higher in costs. FSC cedar siding, hardwoods, and plywoods is more competitive with traditional lumber.

Dimensional FSC-certified lumber may be 10 -20% higher in costs. FSC cedar siding, hardwood, and plywood is more competitive with traditional lumber.

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

The scope of certification and tracking would indicate that FSC products would be significantly cost prohibitive.  ‘Not always’, said KC Eisenberg, Director of Sales at Sustainable Northwest Wood in Portland, Oregon. KC worked with Desert Rain builders and Parr Lumber in Bend to source FSC dimensional framing lumber, plywood, and cedar siding for the project. She said while some products, such as dimensional lumber, may be higher, other products are competitive.  FSC certification may add 10 to 20% to the cost of dimensional lumber, typically due to the mills covering the costs of auditing and additional paperwork required to maintain the chain of custody.  KC said that their FSC certified plywood, cedar, and hardwoods do not necessarily cost any more than box store lumber. Sustainable Northwest Wood works directly with local mills eliminating middle men and keeping the supply chain short.

Desert Rain showcases 'good wood' using either FSC - certified woods, reclaimed, or salvaged wood.

Desert Rain showcases ‘good wood’ using either FSC – certified woods, reclaimed, or salvaged wood.


Sustianable Northwest Wood considers themselves a different kind of lumberyard. They offer only sustainable, restorative, and FSC certified lumber products – all harvested and milled in the Pacific Northwest.  As a subsidiary of Sustainable Northwest, Sustainable Northwest Wood was founded in 2008 as a for profit, guided by a mission of supporting small mills in rural communities to bolster sustainable, economic development.  KC said, ‘the company was also created to help make FSC lumber more available’. She acknowledged that the demand for FSC lumber has been increasing annually since the company began.  They have been the source for other LBC projects and LEED projects throughout the northwest.

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

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

The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington is built from 100% FSC -certified wood!  Read more HERE.

The structures at Desert Rain showcase a variety of wood building products.  The exterior soffits, interior ceilings, trim, doors, floors,and some of the interior walls are reclaimed or salvaged lumber.   FSC certified lumber was used in the framing, floors, cedar siding, Loewen window frames, and the cabinets. The FSC website states that ‘FSC-certified wood was found to be the most specified green-building product in McGraw-Hill’s database of 60,000 project specifications collected annually, surpassing even EnergyStar’. FSC declares that Oregon has 137,950 acres of forests being managed by their standards. For Desert Rain and other green-building projects in Oregon – that’s good news for good wood!

Soffits use reclaimed wood. The upper cedar siding is FSC. The Loewen window frames are FSC.

Soffits use reclaimed wood. The upper cedar siding is FSC. The Loewen window frames are FSC.

Honoring Trees

The timber frame construction on the sign reflects the essence of the business of Oregon Timberworks.

In France, there is an ancient guild of craftsmen known as the Compagnons Du Devoir. Within the guild, dating back to 1226 AD, there are twenty-one different trades, one of which is carpentry, and more specifically, timber framing. In France, Compagnons built and continue to build everything from the great cathedrals to farmhouses and barns. It is a time-honored system of ‘stagiaires’ (trainees), working to become ‘aspirants’ (candidates), striving to become compagnons – the masters. The Compagnons must then pass on their knowledge, values, and ethics assuring dignity within their noble profession. The system fosters the perfection of character and education in each person resulting in more than 800 years of quality craftsmanship in building history.

Barb Scott and Bill Sturm of Oregon Timberworks with the ponderosa plaque in the background.

It was this history of the Compagnons and the legacy of the buildings that inspired local timber framer, Bill Sturm to pursue his passion.  Bill, owner of Oregon Timberworks, recently worked on a project for Desert Rain. He created a massive memorial plaque from a slab of the 201-year-old ponderosa pine tree that was removed from the building site.  I visited Bill at his shop to learn more about his craft and the materials he works with.

Some of the timbers in the stack.




Bill began his career as an architecture student at Georgia Institute of Technology.  He spent a year in Paris studying design and architecture where he was intrigued by the heavy, timbered structures, wooden joinery, and longevity of the built environment.  He attended the Design/Build program at University of Oregon, worked as a carpenter on traditional framed houses, and eventually found his way to a timber frame shop in Sisters, Oregon.  In 2000 he created his business, Oregon Timberworks.

Bill Sturm, owner of Oregon Timberworks, milling timber on site at his shop.







In the early years, Bill said there was very little use of reclaimed wood.  ‘Green’ was not yet a common term in the building trade and Bill did not intentionally choose timber framing as a sustainable profession.  Today he finds his craft and his business have all the elements of meeting environmentally conscious and sustainable building practices.  The quality of workmanship, materials, and design creates a structure with longevity.  He uses reclaimed materials when available.  The reclaimed timbers tend to be large diameter, high quality wood from demolition projects – grain elevators, commercial structures, barns.  Any new timber he uses comes from small mills. Bill often knows the source of the timber as he visits sites to choose the standing trees.

This reclaimed timber is an impressive 20″ x 24″ and was 50′ long when Oregon Timberworks was called to come in and cut them to smaller lengths.

Oregon Timberworks builds furniture, signs, houses, and barns. A recent project was a 40’ high tree house in the Willamette Valley. The process is math based so pieces can be designed and cut at the shop and then shipped to the building site. One house went to Hawaii in two containers. Bill likes to maintain control of the process so he works with a crew on site to construct the frames on the building sites.

Bill is adamant about not wasting wood or what he calls, ‘drop’.  He is a self-proclaimed timber hoarder, saving almost all scraps of 24” lengths and sometimes even shorter, if he likes the wood. Eventually, this ‘waste’ may end up in a project – a furniture piece, bench, or saw horses.  After many cuts some small scraps find their way to the firewood pile. Even then, Bill admits to occasionally rescuing a piece.

Bill has a story and enthusiasm for almost all the timbers stored at his shop. He exudes knowledge and a love for trees, timber, and his craft. Port Orford Cedar was used for the tree house project. Though not a true cedar, it is native to southwest Oregon. It has an interesting history and is considered a spiritual tree by the Japanese.

Port Orford Cedar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is a cypress known by the name Lawson Cypress in the horticultural trade, or Port Orford-cedar in its native range although not a true cedar. C. lawsoniana is native to the southwest of Oregon and the far northwest of California in the United States, occurring from sea level up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) altitude in the Klamath Mountain Range valleys, often along streams. (source Wikipedia)


Scarf joints are used to join two timbers together to make one longer timber that is structurally strong.

Bill has a spiritual philosophy about trees as well. His most eloquent words give perspective and reverence to his chosen craft of timber framing and working with natural timber.  ‘We have to appreciate that this timber was a living-breathing tree. The best way to honor a tree is to never let it see a burn pile. We must always let it keep its value’.

The plaque that Bill made for Desert Rain is mounted on a wall inside the house, honoring that Ponderosa pine.  The rest of the ponderosa story will be unfolding in an upcoming post helping that tree keep its value.

Some of the massive, reclaimed timbers in the pile came from Powell Books in Portland. Bill is always on the lookout for reclaimed timber.



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!





Making a Road

My writer friend Rebecca says, ‘writing is like teaching squirrels to talk – first you have to catch them’.  Today, I am chasing those squirrels; so many thoughts about what to post for a blog, yet I can’t seem to grasp and hold on to only one. It could be the crisp, autumn weather prompting me to run around gathering nuts and potentially, squirrels. It could be that recently, there has been a flurry of activity and interest about sustainable building and Desert Rain that has filled my cache with ideas that need to be shared.

Tom, Kevin, and Jim on hand to answer questions as the visitors tour Desert Rain.

Last Saturday, Desert Rain was one of the nine homes on the Twelfth Annual Green and Solar Home Tour presented by the High Desert Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council.  I attended the ‘kick-off presentations that were held at Central Oregon Community College.  I arrived with no expectations and left with thoughts, inspirations, and admiration for what has been done and what is being done, to move us toward a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

Ani Cahill of Heartsprings Design, shares the landscaping plans with visitors.

Keynote speaker, Ron Pitt, CEO of Ecodog, (ecodog) emphasized that broad acceptance of sustainable living is ‘not there’. He believes that in order to get more of the population on board, solutions must be cost neutral; save money and save energy. He thinks it is important to keep score, to monitor energy use so there is  documented data that directly reflects energy efficiency with monetary savings. Pitt stated, ‘technology needs to address the issues of minimizing negative impact on life style and maximizing positive impact on tangible results’.  House specific, energy monitoring systems are available and will become a common system in most homes within the next 10 years.  While traveling, Pitt has seen areas of the United States that show little evidence of a bent toward sustainability. His conclusion – green motivation is regional. 

In our region, especially in Bend, ‘green motivation’ is prevalent. We are fortunate to have a number of sustainable organizations in Oregon and in our area:   The International Living Future Institute based in Portland, The Cascadia Green Building Council with a High Desert Branch right here in Bend, The Environmental Center in Bend, Building a Better Bend, to name a few. The interest in Desert Rain and the Green and Solar Home tour also supports the idea that the local community is embracing the concept of sustainability.

Dansky Handcrafted had an on-site display of the cabinet materials. There were also samples of the re-claimed barn wood before the milling – an amazing transformation from deconstruction to useable lumber.

The people who toured Desert Rain arrived with interest, questions, and encouragement. Some of them had been following the project through The Bend Bulletin articles. Some were friends and neighbors of Barb and Tom. Some were builders, sub-contractors, and designers. Many were simply members of the community that want to learn more about sustainable building and get a first-hand glimpse of available systems and technology.  Desert Rain was the only home on the tour still in the construction phase. This presented the opportunity for visitors to see the inner workings of the systems and components. The staggered framing, spray foam insulation, the cistern, chicken wire lathe, solar and PV modules, hydronic radiant heat tubing, energy recovery ventilator, concrete thermal mass floor, reclaimed and FSC lumber, and other construction details were all exposed to demonstrate the options implemented in the building of Desert Rain.  Tom Elliott, owner, Jim Fagan and Kevin Lorda, the builders with Timberline Construction, E2 Solar owner, Mike Hewitt, Ani Cahill with Heartsprings Design, and Will Lebeda, owner of Energy Conservation Insulation, were all on site to answer questions and talk with the visitors.

Tom baked scones in the solar oven. He is looking forward to next summer with plans for a solar BBQ.

Tom Elliott and Barb Scott, the owners and inspiration behind Desert Rain, have been sharing their experiences of the process of building their ‘extreme green dream’.  Tom gave an engaging and stimulating  presentation as part of the ‘kick-off’ event for the Green and Solar Home Tour. The theme of the presentations was ‘behaviors’.  Tom believes that we tend to change our behaviors with what we measure.  Because of the measuring and monitoring that will take place once the home is occupied, Tom and Barb won’t only be living at Desert Rain, they expect to interact with Desert Rain.  One of the requirements of the Living Building Challenge certification process is 12 months of monitoring the systems to meet the goals of net zero water and net zero energy. The ins and outs of water, energy, and waste will be tracked. Tom said that ‘building Desert Rain is an expression to align inner values with the outer.  It is a reminder of who I want to be’.  Tom and Barb are committed to the idea that we are all deeply inter-connected; that our individual choices have an impact on all. He said ‘ideas happen horizontally.  Often those ideas come from energy and creativity of people who have dropped out’.  Those people work underground as agents of change. Eventually, there is a shift in behavior and thinking as the underground, out- of -the -box ideas become accepted by a broader community. To sum up the idea of behaviors and shifts toward a more sustainable future, Tom referenced the proverb; ‘There is no road. We make the road by walking it.’ Desert Rain, with the inter-connected  force of Tom and Barb, the designers, builders, contractors, support people, and the visitors showing their interest and encouragement, is making a road.

Kevin answered the many questions about Desert Rain components, materials, and systems.

Go Green – Visit Desert Rain

If you have been reading about the Desert Rain project and would like to visit the site for a first-hand look, there will soon be a couple of opportunities.

The first event is the Environmental Center’s ‘Green Drinks’ program. Green Drinks is a monthly event to network, learn about other businesses and their sustainability efforts and have a green drink or two! It’s free and open to the public.
This event will be hosted by Timberline Construction of Bend, ( Timberline Construction )the General Contractors for Desert Rain and will take place September 27th from 5 – 7pm right here at Desert Rain (24 NW Shasta Place, Bend, OR)
Take advantage of this special opportunity to see the inner workings of Desert Rain, learn more about the Living Building Challenge, and meet some of the people working on the project.
Please come join us for a truly green drink, bring your own cup and consider alternatives to driving alone such as carpooling, walking, biking and transit.

The second opportunity to visit Desert Rain will be coming up on Saturday, October 6 during the 2012 Green and Solar Home Tour. Desert Rain is one of the nine homes featured on the self-guided tour.

What the Environmental Center has to say about the event: The High Desert Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council is excited to present the 12th Annual Green + Solar Home Tour. This leading sustainable home tour will continue to showcase the premiere sustainable homes, featuring the most innovative technologies utilized in Central Oregon. Techniques include renewable energies, new and reclaimed building materials, low energy consumption and water conservation technologies.

This FREE Tour will kick-off at the Central Oregon Community College Campus Center [Wille Hall] at 2600 NW College Way, Bend. Hear about the homes and the various technologies you will see on tour, as well as a presentation about how our behaviors impact our energy consumption in the keynote talk, “Social Challenges of Home Energy Monitoring” by Ron Pitt. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. Presentations start at 9:00 a.m. The homes on the tour will be open for viewing from 10:30am to 5:00pm.

The Central Oregon Green+Solar Home Tour will showcase many of Central Oregon’s greenest and most sustainable homes. The tour is hosted by the High Desert Branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council with the help of  generous sponsors: Sunlight Solar, Energy Trust, The Garner Group, Home Heating and Cooling, EcoDog and Resource Conservation Technologies. With energy costs continuing to rise, and resources dwindling, there has never been a better time to “go green.” The Green & Solar Homes Tour is a chance for the community to explore green homes first-hand and talk directly to the builders and homeowners, learning how the latest green building technologies are installed and how well they function.

The nine homes on tour this year feature many outstanding green and solar features. See a Net Zero home, a home built for Collaborative Living, a Geothermal home, and Central Oregon’s 1st Living Building know as “Desert Rain.” You can also preview rainwater collection and reuse systems, a Concrete Insulated Form [CIP] home, solar installations and the most advanced sustainable finishes and energy efficient systems available.

Learn more about these and other environmental events at:

Join us for Green Drinks on September 27th, or stop by during the Green and Solar Home Tour on October 6th – both great opportunities to visit Desert Rain and see for yourself what we mean by ‘extreme green’. 


When Mud is Green

Barb with the children at a Maasai village in Kenya.

Hearing the stories and seeing photos of Barb and Tom’s recent trip to Kenya, I was intrigued by the idea of the traditional houses of the Maasai tribe as sustainable housing. It is interesting to realize that these simple dwellings are highly green in regard to size and materials. The Maasai are traditionally a semi-nomadic people and the original houses were designed to be impermanent. Women are the builders of these homes that are called, enkaji. The structure is formed with timber poles fixed directly in the ground and interwoven with smaller branches to create a lattice. The oiti tree is used as it has a natural resistance to termites and grows in both highland and lowland areas. The enkaji is built entirely with local and readily available materials. It is plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, urine and ash. The roof is overlaid with grasses. The small houses fulfill all household needs; cooking, sleeping, eating, storage, and socializing. The houses are enclosed in a circular fence that is built by the men, usually of  thorned acacia, a native tree. All livestock come inside the enclosure at night to keep them safe from wild animals. The fencing has an environmental benefit as it has significantly reduced the need to kill lions and other predators.

A Maasai dwelling built entirely of local materials.

The enkaji, designed for short-term use, does have some problems as a permanent home. The structures are low and dark. Repairs are frequently needed for leaks in the plaster and grass roof. Ventilation is poor. Cooking fires are a major concern for health and hazard.  One of the homes Tom and Barb visited had a small gas cook stove.  The Maasai home owner had set up a system to convert cow manure and urine into methane gas to power the stove.

The cook stove powered by the gas from the methane converter.

The water-urine, manure mixture is fermented in a large bladder/tank. The byproduct of the fermentation is forced out of the tank by the gases and serves as an excellent source of fertilizer. There are  bio-gas educational programs available in many areas of Kenya  that are teaching individuals and villages how to construct their own projects. This is not only creating better cooking facilities, it is helping to reduce the depletion of the limited forested areas that are being cut for firewood.

Bio-gas Video One of the bio-gas projects in Kenya.

The ‘bio-gas’ converter – fermenting cow manure and urine into cooking fuel.


Recently, due to changes in land ownership, farming, fencing, and sprawl of towns and cities, the Maasai have been forced to give up their nomadic lifestyle.  As a result there is a need to build better, more permanent homes. Practical Action, an international development agency that works with rural communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, sent designers to meet with groups of Maasai women. The goal was to develop a new, sustainable home that would be more comfortable, healthier, and did not need constant repair. After discussion with the women about the simple improvements they desired, designers came up with three possible building solutions – rammed earth, stabilized soil block walls, or ferro-cement houses. Working with the program, STEP (Sustainable Technology Education Project), one or two women from each region received training in the whole process of house building with the new technologies. These women then shared their new skills with other Maasai women.

The STEP website asks and answers, ‘Can you imagine building your own house at the age of 16? This is the challenge that faces Maasai women living in the Kajiado district of Kenya, where young women are responsible for designing and building their family home using skills that they learn from watching and helping their own mothers. According to a local saying, ‘the most important day in a woman’s life is the day she builds her first home’.

These new Maasai houses, based on the traditional enkaji, meet many challenges of building sustainably.  All of the materials used are available locally.  The building techniques cause minimal impact to the environment. The homes are healthier. They have better light, more space, and better ventilation. An added benefit, the Maasai women have increased their technical knowledge and skills. They are sharing these skills with other Maasai women. Not only are the homes sustainable, the tradition of building their own homes is sustainable.

Tom emerging from the doorway of a Maasai house.

From the simple and traditional houses of the Maasai, to the more complex design of Desert Rain, it is inspiring and encouraging to know that there are steps moving forward to more sustainable development.

Rammed earth houses – made by ramming soil between a wood form. Recycled tires are sometimes used as forms.
Stabilized soil blocks are made out of local soil and cement mixture, compressed in a moulding machine, then cured by drying. The blocks are then used for house construction. 
Ferro-cement houses – are built on a timber frame, with chicken wire or mesh (the ferro) stretched over the top. A thin layer of cement is then plastered over the wire to create more permanent, waterproofed walls.