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.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *