From blog

Can construction really be “regenerative”?

“The term regenerative development, on the other hand, carries within it a clear aim of regenerating the health and vitality of the nested, scale-linking systems we participate in. At a basic level regeneration also communicates not to use resources that cannot be regenerated, nor to use any resources faster than they can be regenerated.” Daniel Christian Wahl, “Beyond Sustainability? — We are living in the Century of Regeneration.”

At its most basic, construction requires taking a lot of stuff from somewhere and using it to build. It is an inherently destructive and consumptive process: no stuff = no building.

Because of this, it is has been hard to imagine truly regenerative construction: building in a way that not only does less harm to our ecosystems and environment but is actually a positive force, helping to repair some of the damage already done.

But now that we have started to explore the potential for strawbale and other biomass building materials to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely lock it up, the term ‘regenerative’ seems like less of a stretch. According to preliminary research done by the California Straw Building Association, a bale of straw locks up approximately 60 times as much carbon as was emitted making that bale. As long as that bale is used in a way that it will not break down — in a wall, for example — the carbon is safely stored. It’s a net positive way to sequester carbon that has the convenient side-effect of making beautiful, energy-efficient homes.

In addition to sequestering carbon above ground in the form of the visible plant, carbon is also ferried down into the soil by the roots. Research is just starting to scratch the surface of the potential for soil to sequester carbon. The next step is to question what role agriculture can play in helping (or harming) that process. Transitioning to bales made with perennial plants grown in a polyculture could increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Currently, it would be difficult — if not impossible– to find enough bales made this way to build a house, but it is an admirable goal.

Everyone wants to live in a strawbale house! A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.

The green building movement started by focusing on making buildings use less energy (operational energy), then only recently moved into exploring building with materials that are made with less energy (embodied energy which translates into embodied carbon), and is now just starting to look at building with materials that absorb more carbon than they created (carbon sequestration). From this new viewpoint, a mindfully-designed, carefully-placed, skillfully-built bio-based building can truly earn the label “regenerative.”

 

 

 

More info:

“Beyond Sustainability? — We are living in the Century of Regeneration”   by Daniel Christian Wahl

The New Carbon Architecture: Building to Cool the Planet,” by Bruce King and friends

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Hands-on Clay Plaster Workshop 3/10/18, Fallbrook, CA

Come and learn about natural clay plasters in a fun, supportive environment while helping to plaster a tiny strawbale building. During this one-day workshop, we will mix and install the base coat of clay plaster – also know as earth plaster – to the strawbale and straw-clay walls of an adorable 120 square foot building. The class will be a mix of talking about building and hands-on doing. This is a rare opportunity to participate in a real build where your safety and education are the primary focus.

click to see an animation of the building you’ll be working on

No previous experience with construction is required. All tools will be provided for your use during the class. Taught by Rebecca Tasker and Mike Long, general contractors and co-owners of Simple Construct Naturally Healthy Homes.

These workshops fill up quickly, so register soon. We will provide water and light snacks, you will be responsible for bringing your own lunch. Address will be provided with registration.


Here’s what former workshop attendees said about our workshops:

“Perfect amount of students. Easy to understand. Excellent presentation. Very knowledgeable instructors. Would highly recommend the workshops.” – A.C.

“It was a great experience– you guys have so much knowledge and passion for what you do and I appreciated the opportunity to learn from you.” – M.B.

“I loved the size of the workshops and how they were presented. Very easy to grasp the principles as they were presented. There was always time for questions and they were all answered honestly I feel. I felt that a great deal of consideration was given in the planning of the classes and there is nothing I can think of that I would want different. The information was extremely well presented. Both contractors were always very willing to answer questions and were very forthcoming with information. Often when attending this sort of thing there is a feeling coming from the people giving the class that they are better than those of us who do not know enough yet. I never once got the feeling like that from the contractors at this class. They were always very much interested in our needs and perception of the material.” – K.W.

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Embodied Carbon – the next frontier of sustainable building

Do you remember when few people understood what Net Zero meant? It wasn’t that long ago, but it’s certainly not the case anymore. Though there’s still some dispute about exactly how to define it, most people understand that a Net Zero building generates as much energy as it uses and a Net Positive building is one that generates more energy than it uses.

These metrics focus on the energy a building uses once it is built – known as operational energy – and have helped us decrease this energy use dramatically.

So now that we know how to make buildings that need much less operational energy, what’s next? How do we push the boundaries of sustainable building and save more energy?

How about considering the energy that goes into making the products that are used to build a building? This is known as embodied energy or embodied carbon, often referred to as the carbon footprint.

For an entertaining yet in-depth discussion of embodied carbon in construction and why it matters, I highly recommend “The New Carbon Architecture” by Bruce King and friends.

* Spoiler alert: buildings made of straw and wood have much lower embodied carbon and can even act as carbon sinks, making them Carbon Positive… or is that Carbon Negative…? I guess it will be a few years before we get these new terms sorted out!

 

 

Why don’t we use conventional stucco on our buildings?

Ever wondered why we don’t use conventional stucco on our buildings? Because modern Portland-based stucco is not vapor-permeable and it traps moisture. Natural plasters, such as clay and lime, are much more permeable.

Typical permeances of various plaster are:
6 mil poly vapor retarder .006” = <1 US perm
Cement-Sand stucco 1.5” = 1 US perm
Cement-Lime-Sand stucco 1.5” = 4-9 US perms
Lime-Sand plaster 2.0” = 9 US perms
Clay plaster 1.5” = 20 US perms!

For more, check out this article about the Stucco-Pocalypse!

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Law about choosing materials with smaller carbon footprints excludes cement

You would hope that one of the materials responsible for the emission of huge amounts of carbon dioxide (Portland cement) would be included in a law about choosing materials with smaller carbon footprints. Nope.

Portland cement, the major binding agent in concrete, is one of the single largest emitters of greenhouse gases. But thanks to lobbying by industry groups, you won’t find concrete in California’s new carbon legislation, the Buy Clean California Act.

Read more here

 

Why are houses in San Diego so unaffordable?

On average in San Diego, it will cost about $500k for an existing house with land or about $200k for land plus $300k for a new house to be built on it: either way it’s a pretty steep climb for many of us.

Wondering why you can’t find an affordable home to buy in San Diego? This article explains many of the forces at play. There aren’t a lot of easy answers. I’m glad they touch on ADUs / Granny Flats as one part of the solution.