Building a house that uses cutting-edge ecological features to tread lightly on the land would be commendable on any property. To do so while restoring a degraded brownfield site is downright remarkable.
Ann and Gord Baird, of Victoria, British Columbia, have met and exceeded this goal with their home, Eco-Sense, which was recognized by the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute as the first residence ever to be certified under its Living Building Challenge program.
To earn Living Building Challenge certification, a structure must meet strict environmental standards in at least three of seven “petals,” or performance areas: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. By designing their residence to fit the surrounding property, incorporating multiple water conservation systems and using nontoxic materials, the Bairds have earned “petal recognition status” in the four categories of Site, Water, Health and Beauty.
“We chose the building to fit what the bedrock would allow with the least disturbance,” said the Bairds in their Living Building Challenge case study. “The curves of the home follow the curves of the land.”
The previous owners of the 7.5-acre site had damaged about two acres of the property with blasting, the addition of fill and the introduction of invasive plants. To ensure that no further environmental damage would occur, the Bairds decided to build the house, a workshop, a chicken coop and gardens only on the two impacted acres and leave the remaining undisturbed. Since beginning the project five years ago, the Bairds have ameliorated some of the ecological degradation by installing living roofs and replanting the grounds with native flora.
The 2,500-square-foot building—which houses Ann and Gord Baird, their two children, and Ann’s parents—employs non-flush composting toilets as well as systems for solar water heating, rainwater collection and grey-water filtration for reuse as irrigation. About 80 percent of the food consumed by the family is grown and processed on site.
One of the structure’s most striking features is that it appears to have sprung from the ground on which it sits. This effect comes from the use of “cob,” a mixture of clay, sand and straw, in the construction of the floors and the two-foot-thick load-bearing walls. The gracefully curved cob walls not only reduced the need for wood in the house’s construction by 50 percent, they are also built to withstand earthquakes and help insulate the house against temperature extremes year round.
Although it did not quite meet the Energy Petal requirements—partly because a portion of the energy used in the house comes from the burning of wood and non-renewable propane—Eco-Sense includes both passive and photovoltaic solar energy systems, wind turbines, and LED lighting. All told the house was able to achieve net-zero energy use, generating 2,469 kilowatt-hours and selling excess energy back to the B.C. power grid.
For more information about the project and to request a tour, visit the Eco-Sense website.