A comment that we hear regularly from those visiting our strawbale house is that not everyone who wants to have a naturally built house is capable of doing it themselves. Indeed, it takes a lot of hard work, research, material searching, building skills, tools, and time to go through the process as a home builder of any type of project. Anyone without such prerequisites but with a desire and willingness to learn certainly can go for it, but there are many out there for whom it is more realistic to hire someone else to build them a home. This is prevalent within the conventional building industry, but where does one look to find a straw bale crew? A natural plaster expert to source materials and use their knowledge of crafting healthy walls? What about an architect who will consider the natural light and water conditions of your chosen spot? All of these job positions are readily available for the standard house, but difficult to find for alternatives.
On Pender Island, a group of people wanting to promote various aspects of natural building have formed the Eco-Homes Network, in hopes of being able to provide services and information for anyone seeking to build a healthy home, as well as networking with other builders in the community to create a greater awareness of alternative materials and systems. Education for clients as well as builders is a large step towards integrating healthier building practices into any house or project, whether it is classified as “eco-friendly” or not. Why limit ourselves with labels and categories? Any system that takes pressure off the resources of the earth and saves money in the long term is just a good idea to consider. The Eco-Homes Network consists of Rob Zuk – a solar systems consultant, Ken Rempel – an architectural designer, Garrett McLeod – a traditional timber framer and carpenter, Colin Hamilton – artistic woodworker and natural builder, Tracy Calvert – an extensive natural builder and master of earthen plastering, and Jude Farmer - a woodworker and man of many skills. In fact, everyone in the group has many crossover skills and knowledge spanning many years of different experiences within the building industry, including roofing, tiling, stonework, workshop leadership, landscaping, flooring, and planning.
For two years, the Eco-Homes Network has set up a demonstration zone at the Pender Fall Fair and has hosted an eco-homes tour as part of an effort to educate people about natural building practices, and to showcase the many beautiful homes around us that incorporate different aspects of the industry. At the Fall Fair, everyone has been invited to squish their toes in cob and plaster mixes, and try their hands at spreading the mix over a demonstration wall of bales in a timber frame. There also has been many books to gaze through, knowledgeable people to talk to, and a photo board of projects to look over. Many people get a good sense of the simplicity, creativity, and beauty that encompasses the building of a natural house. The Eco-Homes tour, which takes place a week later on Labour Day, is a self directed tour of up to 10 houses around the island, and has showcased houses made with chip-slip walls, strawbale, cob, cordwood and Faswall blocks (compressed recycled wood chip blocks), and including features such as earthen floors, living roofs, natural plaster, rain water catchment systems, hydronic in-floor heating, solar hot water, passive solar, composting toilets, and countless other details and creative touches that make up a complete picture of a natural house. Some of the houses have been in the construction phase, allowing visitors to see the layers of some of the processes. There have been over 150 people from the locals to travellers from the mainland and Vancouver Island each year, asking many questions and hopefully taking some ideas back to their own homes. All proceeds from the previous tours have gone to the Pender Community Hall and to the Pender Island Farmland Acquisition Project. This year, proceeds will help the growing Pender Community Transition movement, to build a more sustainable island.
The Eco-Homes Network is adding a new element to the tour this year. On Sunday, September 4th, The Building Around Water Symposium will be a day focusing on water systems and living roofs as well as a mini tour featuring houses with such systems for viewing. The six houses on the tour will be open for visitors in the morning, then symposium events will be commencing at the community hall in the afternoon. All the homes are located along Port Washington road, within a few kilometers of the hall, and would make a beautiful morning walk, jog, bike ride, or car stop! Lunch will be available for purchase at the hall at noon, with speakers beginning at one o’clock. Water on the gulf islands, as well as in many other climates world wide, is a concern needing immediate addressing and rethinking in terms of efficient usage and collection systems. Droughts and shortages have become more widespread as our climates shift, reminding us of the valuable place that water holds in our lives. Adam Scheuer, president of Water Tiger Rainwater Harvesting, will give a talk and answer questions regarding rainwater collection systems. Living roofs are a great way to incorporate water catchment, as well as maximize water absorption and minimize water evaporation while providing more habitat for birds and bees. Living roofs are gaining lots of attention as features of large commercial scale developments, but they are also beneficial for residential homes, and so there will be a presentation on the installing and maintenance of green roof systems. In our marine climate zone, there is much concern around the use of vapour barriers. Many alternative wall systems, such as strawbale, cob or chip slip, provide a breathable wall which does not require a vapour barrier but does now require an envelope engineer such as Ben Martin, who will talk about designing and building with thermal mass wall assemblies, vapour barriers and codes. Starting at 6:30, there will be a show and tell slideshow by our local builders demonstrating their own creative, recycled, sustainable, and artistic projects. Anyone wishing to add their 5 minute, 10 photo presentation to the line-up can contact Colin Hamilton at 250-629-6608. This part of the day will be free to all. The rest of the days’ events are $20 per adult, children under 18 are free. The Eco-Homes Network has a new website to help promote the vision of building healthy homes. www.ecohomesnetwork.com