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.

2 replies
  1. J. R. Anderson says:

    Thank you very much for sharing the progress of designing, building, and including the good and bad experiences in progressing through the project.


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