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For a Vancouver Island, Canada, couple, the objective was to live a reasonable life where their home becomes an extension of nature; where the systems within the house incorporate bio-mimicry for both function and beauty. For twenty months, the Bairds lived in a trailer on their property and built the EcoSense home with their own hands, using mud, clay and straw and other natural materials. The result is a home that achieves sustainability with grid-tied solar PV and wind power, solar thermal heating, rainwater harvesting from its vegetated roof, a composting toilet, graywater re-use, and passive solar design. And, they report, it’s probably North America’s first code-approved seismically-engineered load-bearing insulated cob residence, where three generations currently live (as of October 2010). EcoSense defines natural building as “the use of plentiful local and marginally-processed natural materials to build a structure with systems (water, energy, waste, recovery) with the most neutral ecological footprint,” considering the building footprint over its entire life span. The owners also believe in sharing what they've learned, so they hold classes and tours to help educate others in sustainable design, building and living.
by RobAid, 2010
Ann and Gord Baird’s Eco-Sense house is described as North America’s first code-approved, seismically-engineered, load-bearing, insulated cob (clay, sand and straw) residence. The cob used in EcoSense also incorporates pumice to boost insulation (estimated at R-20). Roof insulation is insulated with R-40 formaldehyde free fibreglass insulation, while the floor is insulated with R-12.5 rigid Styrofoam. Many interior walls are constructed with light clay infill. High fly-ash concrete was used where needed to the reduce carbon footprint. The exterior lime plaster is almost carbon neutral, and its pigmentation is achieved with iron oxides.
The multigenerational family home for six employs passive solar design with no windows on the north wall. However, the house has window overhangs, natural chimney, light tubes, operable high-efficiency fiberglass frame windows, and selective window glazing, which all ensure abundance of natural lighting and fresh air. The power is generated by a 2 kW grid-tied solar array, while 60 solar evacuated tubes are used for hot water for hydronic in floor space heating and for potable domestic use. Additional winter heating is achieved by a wood gasification wood stove which is 85 percent efficient.
The custom-designed vegetated roof was built with less manufactured materials, including EPDM, armtec 400, perlite, filter cloth, pumice, leaf mulch, native plants and creeping thyme. Aside from its aesthetics, the living roof benefits noise insulation, fire resistance, increases roof r-value, reduces roof temperature, and provides natural stormwater management and a mini-watershed for water filtration. The home’s natural materials such as earthen floors, earthen counters, natural plasters and natural milk paints have no VOC’s, thus they produce no toxic off-gassing.
Rainwater harvesting provides 37,854 liters (10,000 gallons) of water for irrigation of food gardens. Domestic indoor water comes from an existing well on site. Water conservation is achieved by no-flush toilets, low-flow fixtures and no bathtubs. The composting, odorless toilet (no water used) is based on the Humanure http://astore.amazon.com/solaripedia-main-20/detail/0964425831 system. Compost is tested after two years for bacterial pathogens to make sure it is safe to use in the food garden. Graywater is also used for filtration of organic solids into worm castings, and water is re-used for fruit and nut tree irrigation.
The house is wired for 24vDC and 110vAC, plus the workshop has 240vAC.
The house includes LED lighting, DC appliances (2 fridges and one shared freezer), HE front-loading shared washer, drying room in mechanical room, and a clothes line. There are no electrical kitchen appliances; the family uses propane cookstoves in both kitchens where they cook food from scratch and eat mostly local or home-grown food. Bedrooms have a master AC switch to turn off power which ensures there are no phantom loads. Most plumbing and lighting fixtures are recycled, as well as 80 percent of the wood used in construction.
EcoSense House Article Harrowsmith JUNE 2010 (3,118 kb)
EcoSense House Info Sheet (224 kb)
EcoSense House Brochure 2008 (193 kb)