Eco-Homes Tour and Symposium

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

Family Jam Camp!

Building a house certainly requires a lot of dedicated hard work, but it also requires the balancing scale of summertime camping trips and lakeside music jams.  Considering the many years of hard work it will take to actually complete the dreams we have for the property, we would probably exhaust ourselves early if it were not for the times that we take to stretch other parts of our bodies and relax our busy brains- besides, it would be a disservice to our children to get so worn out and stressed with constant attention to the house.

Last July, we had the great opportunity to join the Jam Camp family up at Mabel Lake, BC, started by a young family with whom we met and became friends with on Pender Island some 8 years ago.  Thomas and Celina, with their three children,  together with Celina’s sister Theresa and her family, host Jam Camp as the Jam Camp Society, a registered non-profit organization. Camps have been held primarily in the Mabel Lake Valley, British Columbia since 2003, using the Mabel Lake campground as well as providing camps on the Shuswap River, Bowen Island, Japan, and new this year at Christina Lake.  We took part in the camp designed for families with children under the age of 9.  For 4 days, we camped with the multinational crew of facilitators, and explored music that celebrates life, nature, and cultural diversity. There were  instruction sessions, in which we could sign up to learn to play the fiddle, banjo, guitar, or explore the rhythms of African drums.  We had group sessions in which we explored percussion instruments, shared our voices in song, and made clay whistles.  Each day, we met in smaller groups and focused on writing a song about our groups’ animal that we could share along with an art activity in a final lake side performance.  Colin and I offered to volunteer for some of the instructional times, teaching beginner banjo and fiddle, as well as help the group leaders with song writing and crafting.  Believe it or not, we still spent a few hours everyday swimming, canoeing, walking through the forests, or resting on the beach.  It was during these unstructured times that jams could happen and collaborations would manifest- adding the all important skill of creating music with someone else in the moment of flow.  The role of the facilitators is to create a space where as musicians they can collaborate with the participants in creating new, original and improvised music. During the collaboration process, creativity and expression are emphasized over perfection and precision, bringing a wholesome, integral, and lighthearted approach to music into a world that is steeped in high-profile and competitive music industries.  Where making music is a regular part of family and community life, there is an important value of equal creative contribution upheld for everyone- young, old, beginner, or professional.  It is a gift to be surrounded by a supportive group of musicians extending their skills and passions for sharing such universal expressions of connecting through sound.  The heartwarming embrace of Mabel Lake and the forests of hemlock and cedar give inspiration to the beauty and richness in the simplicity of ancient songs and new melodies.

We will be heading to Mabel Lake again this year in August to deepen friendships, create new ones, and find those places where melodies, harmonies, and rhythms intertwine and overlap in unique expression- sometimes exuberant, sometimes playful, sometimes quiet, but always an authentic step we can bring back with us into the journey of everyday.

To find out more, please take a look at Jam Camp’s website, www.jamcamp.org.  Dates, places, cost, and information about youth camps (we can’t wait to get into these camps in a few more years!).  Biographies of the musicians involved in the camps are worth reading through for a taste of the diversity of styles, skills, backgrounds, passions, and instrumentation.  There are just too many amazing stories and talents for me to go into here!

My Voice

So here are my first words going out into this big space….and right now it feels as if I am only myself, writing to myself, writing my thoughts to only my own voice and consideration.  But I am also acutely aware of the possibility that I am writing to the immense and infinite number of voices out there, to the potential of a vast network of ideas and solutions that support a new picture of the world that we live in.  Even if I inspire one person out there with one idea, I will have accomplished the purpose of this blog- which is to give of what I have inside.  To inspire, in spirit, from my spirit to you and to the spirit of the universe, visions that will lead us into a future that connects and sustains our selves within the living entity of the earth.  The universe is reflecting back to us that which we give, and as I look around at what we are currently living amongst, I am strongly motivated to encourage thoughts and actions of beauty, respect, and love.  Imagine the world that you want to live in- let those visions inspire you to take the actions that will create that world.  Let the world around you help inspire your visions!  It can be easy to let fear become the motivator for the things we do, instead of feeling the positive waves of action that come when we are inspired by something or someone, no matter how big or small.  So let the spiral of inspiration begin!  Or rather, let it join up with the spirals that already swirl around us, expanding us exponentially.

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