Desert Rain is more than a home for us. It is an outer expression of our inner values and beliefs—an effort to live in greater alignment with our core values in a life and world that is fraught with inconsistencies. When we purchased two lots near downtown Bend six years ago, our intention was to build a super-green “residential compound”—five buildings, including a main house, two smaller residences, garages and infrastructure—to LEED Platinum standards. We wanted to break the pattern of “one lot, one house” in favor of denser development that fostered a strong sense of community.
For us, building green started with the careful deconstruction of two old buildings on the site. We recycled almost everything, and ended up with one small truckload of material for the landfill. We had compiled a comprehensive list of design criteria, and sent out a written invitation stating our intentions to local architects and designers. Through that process we assembled our “green team.” Nearly a year into the design process, we heard Jason MacLennan speak about the Living Building Challenge. We knew immediately that’s what we wanted to do, even if it meant letting our entire team go. Fortunately, our designer and builder both responded with enthusiasm.
At first we sought to retrofit the LBC standards into the existing design, which by then was fully developed. But once we received bids, near the end of 2010, we realized we needed to start from scratch. Two of the biggest changes were to downsize the main house—from 3000 square feet to 2236 square feet—and to go from two stories to one, to gain roof area. Water was the limiting factor for this project. To meet LBC standards, a project must harvest all water onsite. Bend receives an average of nine inches of rain per year, which meant we need enough roof area and storage capacity to supply eight people—the living capacity of the three dwellings—with water, even through droughts. The Water Petal also requires us to manage all wastewater onsite. Being within city limits precluded a septic system, so we decided on a constructed wetland that could handle graywater, and a series of vacuum-flush toilets, central composter and solar evaporator for solid waste. Working with the City and Oregon DEQ to approve the wetland proved a long, painstaking process. Oregon’s graywater code was (and is) fairly new; there simply weren’t any permitted Tier II residential systems to serve as precedent. Now there’s at least one. We hope the trail we blazed will make it easier for future projects.
All LBC projects require an integrated design approach, and Desert Rain was no different. We held regular team meetings at the job site—and our dinner table, for we wanted to foster community, as well as educate people about the LBC and sustainability in general. We required every single person who worked on the job site to attend a presentation on the LBC. We also invited the local paper to cover the project through an ongoing series of articles, but insisted on complete transparency; we wanted them to cover the mistakes and frustrations as well as the triumphs. Finally, we opened the site to tours.
We believe our communities will not be saved by heroic feats of technology, or design, or government intervention. Ultimately, our choices in the world are a personal matter, and the future will be insured only through countless individual acts of forbearance, care, and innovation. Completing Desert Rain, which we view as a demonstration project as much as our residence, was much more difficult and much more expensive than we dreamed it would be. Our new house is beautiful and inspiring, but, we recognize, far out of reach for most people. We believe Living Buildings are where we need to go as a society, and want to contribute to promoting them any way we can. With that in mind, we are planning our next project, what we’re calling “Market Rate LBC.” Stay tuned!
Builder: James Fagan, Timberline Construction of Bend | Bend, OR Architect: Al Tozer, Tozer Design LLC | Bend, OR Water System Consultant: Morgan Brown, Whole Water Systems, LLC | Seattle, WA Landscape Architect: Chris Hart-Henderson, Heart Springs Design, LLC | Rick Martinson, WinterCreek Restoration | Bend, OR Interior Designer: Sarah Currier and Wendy Knight, Tozer Design, LLC | Bend, OR
Alternative Building Systems: Staggered 2x4 stud framing with thermal break and foam insulation (10" to 12" thick)
Appliances: Energy Star appliances and all electric, including induction ranges. The home also utilizes an exterior solar oven.
Automotive: Charging for 3 cars
Building Envelope: R36-47 Walls/ R70 Roof / R43 FLoors/ACH - 0.65 Main House
Caulks and Sealants: LBC red list compliant
Cabinets: FSC and reclaimed wood - FSC Fir
Countertops: Solid surface local concrete tops and reclaimed walnut
Decks: Native Basalt and Pavers - Local reclaimed sidewalk slabs
Door/Hardware: Reclaimed wood doors / LBC compliant Rocky Mountain hardware
Electrical: MC cable for EMF shading, Enphase microconverters
Exterior Finishes: Local lime stucco mix plus reclaimed wood and FSC cedar
Flooring: Solid Surface, 4' Diamond Polished Concrete and Salvaged Oregon Myrtle Wood
Furniture: Local crafted, no formaldehyde, no VOC
Garage Doors: Rusted steel facing
Home Controls: Lutron
HVAC/ducts: LBC compliant in floor radiant, solar thermal
Insulation: BASF spray foam
Landscaping: Local moss rock, native plants
Lighting: LED, primarily reflected lighting with extensive high-efficient windows
Paints and Stains: LBC compliant/most surfaces finished without pain/stain
Pavers: Holland Pavers Victorian Blend
Plumbing/Plumbing fixtures: Low flow fixture, vacuum flush toilets
Renewable energy systems: 14.97 kW PV, solar thermal-heat+domestic water
Roof: LBC compliant steel - rain collection. Steel on sloped roofs and TPO on flat roofs
Specialty Products: American clay walls, salvaged rusted corrugated roofing
Structural Components: FSC wood, high Flyash concrete mix
Ventilation: Whole house, ERV
Water filtration: rainwater collection with filtration and UV treatment
Water heating: solar thermal, supplemented 300% EE Daikin air to water heat
Water management: Drip GW irrigation
Window coverings: Hunter Douglas Duette Honeycomb Shades
Windows, skylights, patio doors: Loewen FSC fir and metal clad, Low E tempered, triple glazing, argon gas filled with thermal spacer bar: U-factor .20, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient .45, Visible Transmittance .54.
Other: Solar hot air evaporator system for liquid waste, advanced composting system composer, Heliodyne and thermal solar panels, Solar World PV panels, constructed wetland bioreactor, low flow fixtures, vacuum flush
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