Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Drinking From A Fire Hose!

We've spent the last week on Vancouver Island!

There was lots to see and do ... the legislature buildings in Victoria, breathtaking scenery, composting toilets and ferry rides.

Did I manage to sneak that one past you? I saw more composting toilets in the last week than I have seen in my entire life!

Vancouver Island has a reputation as a sustainability mecca, and this past week was a whirlwind tour of compost, composting toilets, humanure and yes ... MORE composting toilets. We actually visited and saw lots of other sustainable things; cob and strawbale houses, an earthship and an aquaponic garden to name a few. The highlight for me was the compost ... the kids no longer think it is funny when I talk about black gold!

A friend of mine from my software development days in Toronto used to describe a steep learning curve when encountering something new to be like drinking from a fire hose. So much new information is coming at you that you drink a tiny bit and get soaked by the rest before it disappears down the drain. Well, this last week the sh#t was coming so fast that I ... I guess I should give up on the analogies but you get the idea!

We visited so many neat places and met such interesting people that I am not sure where to start ...

I guess like any good story I will try to start at the beginning!

We began our trip on Vancouver Island at O.U.R. Ecovillage Cooperative. This intentional community has a 'vision to create a model demonstration sustainable village community'. This group has pioneered new land use zoning in cooperation with the local building authority. The land of the Ecovillage has multiple use zonings (a first in Canada), that allows the same piece of land to be residential (up to nine homes), commercial (one business) and agricultural at the same time. This work is now being used by other organizations as they pursue similar goals. These people are attempting to redefine the way the commons (common resources and property shared by a community) is viewed and valued. More people need to be thinking about this!

I made a reservation to stay overnight at the Ecovillage the week before we left on our trip. Over the phone I was told to pack only biodegradable toiletries as the worms would appreciate it. I sat in stunned rapture after getting off of the phone ... these people use worms to process the gray water from their sinks. I could tell I was going to enjoy this visit!

Sandra and I discussed our toiletries, and decided that the active ingredient in Head and Shoulders is probably not biodegradable. This led us to a 'green' grocery in Kamloops to buy shampoo and conditioner. We payed a small fortune (its not easy being green) on Color Reflect shampoo and conditioner by ShiKai. Ironically, we discovered on actually reading the labels (after buying them) that there was no statement that these plant based products were in fact biodegradable. All I can say is that if you guys have any problems with the worms ... it was not us or our shampoo!

We took a tour the afternoon that we arrived that started in the garden. The garden included the obligatory plants and cute animals (pigs, geese, chicken, sheep), and right in the middle was a composting toilet jokingly referred to as the Credit Union. You can guess where I spent most of my time. They collect the waste from the toilet (politely called humanure), compost it using strict procedures and they get crumbly, fragrant humus after a couple of years.

The tour also included the building sites for the houses, the existing buildings and a walk around the property. After the tour Brandy Gallagher gave us a presentation that covered the history, goals and future aims of the Ecovillage.

That night we slept in a cob building called the healing sanctuary. This is one of the first alternative buildings constructed at the village and the government of Canada continues to monitor this building for long term compliance with the Building Code.

We were very excited to stay in this building as cob finishing techniques are very similar to earthship finishing details. This was the first time we were able to show the kids what our finished building might look like. To this point all they have been able to see is a bunch of tires and pop cans!

This building uses natural finishes extensively. We hope to use earthen floors in our home but had not actually seen one until we stayed in this building. The floors are very attractive and warm due to in-floor radiant heating. This is definitely something we hope to do.

That evening we had dinner with the village residents. One of the residents cooks for everybody and that night we had lasagna and fresh bread. The meal was wonderful and everybody was quite friendly. I was a bit nervous leading up to dinner as there is a 'circle' before dinner that seems to involve holding hands. I am not a hugely touchy-feeley person outside of immediate family and close friends, much less people I've just met. I'm happy to say I survived this experience with no ill effects or long term consequences!

The next morning after breakfast we met with Ecovillage residents who were interested in our building project and talked for about an hour.

When we left we talked about coming back in the summer and trading our tire filling experience for some pointers on wall finishes.

I also picked up a copy of the Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans. I have done some reading about these stoves, and I think one would work well in an earthship.

Thanks for the wonderful experience Brandy et al.

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