Thanksgiving Monday saw us take the first step toward the Greening of Knight, our project to build a self-sustaining house, when we had a meeting with an architect keen to examine our project idea. He’ll remain anonymous for the immediate future as we haven’t finalized our working agreement yet and I am not sure if he will take on our project. Needless to say, both Josée and I were impressed with what he said, the options we might have going forward but most importantly the fact that he could identify with our project and be willing to think outside the proverbial box.
Over the last few months, I spoke with a number of architect firms and project designers. While some of them were interested in our project, I was disappointed that many of them looked at the negatives of such an endeavour; it will cost too much, the technology is not advanced enough, why not just use conventional construction strategies? Both Josée and I like to dream and think big – look at the glass half full, a world of opportunities! We plan to think through every idea and strategy, incorporate them into this house project then weed out what we can’t use or what is too expensive – it’s a sort of reverse engineering process, I guess!
Our first meeting basically consisted of us outlining some of the ideas we have regarding building styles, alternate energy systems, net zero construction, material types and sources and a draft timeline. We have no real idea where things will go from here but I suppose that is the topic for my next post. Stay tuned – more updates to follow as additional developments happen.
As many of you know, I’m quite interested in alternate energy, recycling and reclamation systems, self sufficiency and sustainability. My knowledge is growing but I have a long way to go. That said, I’m happy to announce that I’m starting a new section on my blog titled “The Greening of Knight.” Over the next two, three, four years (I don’t know the actual time frame), Josée and I hope to build a new house on our property. This project will have four pillars of construction:
- ENERGY: The house will be self-sufficient as regards energy consumption. We may use a combination of energy sources and systems: geothermal, solar, gravitational dynamos, wind. Both passive and active systems will be engaged. Our initial plan was to build an off grid residence but after additional consideration, it would be more of a challenge (which we relish) to build a grid-connected house, producing a regular surplus of energy which could be sold back to the grid. Obviously this will only work if proceeds from a sale would result in a cash rebate, rather than energy credits.
- COST: Over the past months, I’ve spoken with a number new home owners who were interested in non-conventional construction strategies but when confronted with the cost quickly turned tail and went with the status quo. This is an understandable decision. Our project needs will be designed such that it costs exactly zero dollars more per square foot than conventional construction. This is the only way that contractors, municipalities and other individuals will consider alternate construction methods as valid. In addition to an equal (or lower) construction cost, we will implement a cost recovery tracking system. I want to monitor our energy consumption in order to determine exactly when our benefit (energy production and re-sale) has exceeded our cost (implementing the systems).
- LOCAL: I feel it important to source materials locally and use local labour, local skills. I’m not sure if this is entirely feasible at this point but additional research over time should determine the viability of this requirement.
- IMPACT: We wish our project to have zero impact on our property. Some of the concepts we will implement include rainwater harvesting systems, grey water reclamation, radiant flooring heat (hey, the Romans had it!), on-demand geo or solar heated water and the list goes on. I’ll add more detail as we go but for the time being suffice it to say that the ideas come thick and fast – some practical and probable, some in-exact and borderline insane!
This journey will be an interesting challenge on several levels. The nay-sayers are out there; I’m bumped into a few already! Josée and I are quite excited about the possibilities, especially as we are in the brainstorming phase – no idea is a bad idea. In subsequent blog entries, I’ll write more on the professionals who will be helping us on the project. In the meantime, if you read this and want to join our team, please contact me. Stay tuned and if anyone has suggestions, ideas or input, please jot down a comment or email us.
Yesterday, I went with my brother to the Pigeon Lake Dump or whatever it is called nowadays. It was a terrible experience and one which really had an impact on my soul, consciousness or whatever you want to call your inner being. While I can appreciate the fact that the dump site is well maintained, organized, quite clean and tidy, it nonetheless presents a mirror into which I did not want to look, a mirror on my life, a commentary on our society.
Thankfully, we didn’t have much to dump; some renovation waste (drywall etc) and some household garbage. Nevertheless, the simple action of emptying the trailer into a bin, our garbage just adding to the mountain of refuse in the distance, was a painful experience. I haven’t been to the dump in years and with my knowledge of alternate energy and consumption growing slowly (painfully so!), the effect of my visit on my psyche was substantially greater than during previous visits.
I wandered over to the metal bin and saw a perfectly useful bed frame lying next to a well used outboard engine. I know this metal will be recycled but that isn’t really the point. Producing the metal in the first place took massive amounts of energy; recycling will require more. Whilst Tim emptied most of the junk, I took mental stock of the constant parade of vehicles crossing the scales, ready to dump more and more and more…it never stopped and this is the Comox Valley – what must it be like in a city of millions?
I’m not trying to preach and I know I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to consumption, recycling and monitoring my usage patterns. It was a good reminder for me, however, to continue to bolster my efforts to educate myself and reduce my footprint as best I can. I encourage you to do the same.
Holidays. A time to relax, unwind…work on another project! Well, with a heat-wave pending, I decided that I better get the garden ‘soaker’ system set up. First step was to dig out some trenches for the water pipe, black 75 PSI. Here’s a tip; don’t buy irrigation materials (hose, connectors, faucets etc) in the irrigation section of your hardware store – they’re twice as expensive as the components in the plumbing section. I checked into wholesale prices but didn’t have the volume to get deals. Anyway, I looked at a brass faucet manifold (one hose connection, expanding to 4 faucets) and it was $99. Crazy. Anyway, if you can’t buy it you can make it. The manifold I made, with two tap faucets and two ball joint faucets cost me about $25 and some time and I think it actually works quite well.
So after the trenches were dug and manifold complete, I laid out the water pipe, added some connectors then Josée helped me to lay out the soaker hose. We can now water the entire veggie garden (about 25×40 in the main garden, 15×40 in the corn and bean garden) with the flick of one ball joint tap lever. In addition, I calculated that if we use the soaker hose at night, we’ll reduce our water consumption for the veggie garden by about 70 percent versus conventional sprinkler watering. This fact along with the ease of watering made this project very satisfying from a few perspectives.
Next project – retaining walls!
Another flushing success
As noted in past posts, in the next two to three years Josée and I hope to build a house on our property. Our main aim is to build a self-sufficient, off-grid house, renewable house with a cost at par with or lower than conventional construction costs. This might encourage builders and their clients to look at the options rather than settle for conventional construction methods. Anyway, I’m always looking for new and interesting ideas to add into the house and I was reading this morning about the sink toilet. Now before you have visions of kneeling before the porcelain god, washing away the stress of the day by dipping deep into the bowl of horrors, NO – the sink is used after the toilet and is a separate and distinct entity!!
The Mona Lisa of Toilets
Basically, the pictures show all you need to know. Water used to wash your hands drains directly into the toilet cistern, with an overflow valve in case of OC handwashing. Gray water from the sink is then used to flush the toilet, reducing clean water usage. The toilets themselves have the dual flush system which further reduces water consumption.
In Japan, there are over 100 million of these toilets in use but they haven’t yet become mainstream in our “over-consuming, McMansion” North American society. The dual flush system in our house works quite well but I think in our new place we might look at adding in these sink toilets.