We were honored to receive an Excellence in Energy Leadership award from SDG&E in recognition of our recent Net Zero strawbale project, the Fallgren Home. As part of the award, they made this short video that promotes the project (as well as SDG&E).
There is plenty wrong with our current energy system and it’s easy to find fault with the utility providers, so it was a nice counterpoint for SDG&E to help promote high-performance natural building. Click on the image to watch the video on YouTube
The idea of living in a high-performance, natural home has been calling to you but you…
… haven’t found build-able land where you want to live.
… can’t cover the cost of buying land and building a house.
… don’t want the hassle and expense of selling and moving.
… can’t afford to live in one house while you build another.
… have concerns about the sustainability of developing land.
So what can you do?
If you own a conventional home but have been dreaming of a beautiful, non-toxic, super-insulated natural home, here’s a strategy we’d like you to consider: make your Guest House Your Best House!
Stay right where you are, have us design and build you an amazing natural guest house in your backyard while you live comfortably in your current home, then move into it! You can then legally rent out the old house for extra income or keep it as a guest space or future caregiver’s quarters.
You may have looked into building a guest house before and were discouraged by the limitations. But many of those regulations (and fees that went with them) were recently revised. The new state-wide Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations that went into effect here in California in 2017 override local ordinances and allow most homeowners to build a detached “granny flat” ADU of up to 1,200 sq feet no matter how small the main house is. ADUs used to be limited to 50% of the size of the main house, so if you had an 800 sq ft house, the largest ADU you could have built was 400 sq ft. Not anymore! As long as you can meet the setbacks and other requirements, you can build an ADU as large as 1,200 sq ft in most jurisdictions. That’s not tiny,* that’s a 2 bedroom house with closets and enough room for a separate kitchen, dining table, and living room.
So if you own a home and like where you live but not what you live in, contact us to explore whether a high-performance natural ADU is right for your situation.
~ Rebecca & Mike, owners, Simple Construct Naturally Healthy Homes
* If you are interested in Tiny Houses, one aspect of this legislation that hasn’t gotten as much attention is the new minimum size allowed. Previous regulations governing the minimum size of rooms meant that the smallest you could legally build a house was between 400-600 sq ft, depending on interpretation. This new legislation drops that to a minimum of 150 sq ft for an ADU. That’s a Tiny House! A legal, rentable Tiny House.
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 torepair 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. At this point, it would be difficult — if not impossible– to find enough bales made this way to build a house, but it is an admirable goal.
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.”
Super-insulation, thoughtful design and careful construction mean that this home stays a comfortable temperature year round in this extreme climate while using little energy. The smaller than the average photovoltaic solar array (4.1 kW) provides almost twice as much electricity as this home uses even though every system in the home is electric (no gas or propane).
“When it was cold this winter, the house stayed at about 70° without any heat. When it got hot this summer, the house stayed at about 74° without air conditioning. It’s a very comfortable house.” – Brian Fallgren, Homeowner
This home is one of only 27 in the world to achieve this certification through the International Living Future Institute, a nonprofit working to build an ecologically-minded, restorative world for all people. Using principles of social and environmental justice, ILFI seeks to counter climate change by pushing for an urban environment free of fossil fuels. ILFI runs the Living Building Challenge, which is the world’s most rigorous green building standard, as well as the Net Zero Energy Building Certification (now Zero Energy), the Living Product Challenge, and the Living Community Challenge.The ILFI NZEB certification draws from the Living Building Challenge and is a highly rigorous and regarded standard in its own right.
After a bit of fiddling, we have most of the energy monitoring equipment working and the data looks good. What this graph shows is 3 days and 3 nights of electricity generation and usage (midnight on Oct 15 to midnight Oct 18).
When it’s dark outside, about 5pm to 7am, the data above the centerline shows the energy being used, drawn from the electrical grid. When the sun is up, about 7am to 5pm, the data below the centerline shows the net generation (the electricity generated minus the electricity used) of the 4.1 kWh PV system during the day.
This quick glimpse shows we are generating more than TWICE the electricity that we draw from the grid and these were unusually cloudy days in Campo! Once we get the rest of the equipment online, we’ll be able to tell which circuits use the most electricity and we’ll post more data then. The ultimate goal is to have all of this data available online in real time.
If you are one of the many who donated to our fundraising campaign, thanks again for your part in making this monitoring possible!
Update: WOW! The homeowners of this project have been so inspired by the response to this campaign that they have decided to match any donation DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR in this last week of fundraising, up to $2,000! That means that the effect of any donation you make between now and Aug 28 will be doubled. I feel like a used car salesman yelling at you from your TV, but this is a REALLY BIG DEAL for this campaign. If we can raise just $1,250 more, all of the out-of-pocket costs of this certification will be covered and we will happily donate our time to build the website, and do the research & documentation knowing that our community believes in what we are doing. Thanks for your support!
Luke Morton, Darcey Donovan, Allen Olston, Jim Furness of Furness Construction Inc., Sarah Matthews, Toni Tasker, David Weir, Deanna Moore, Pete Tasker, Yoshi Makino, Lesley Christiana, Ed Earl of Priority 1 Projects, Michael Hornsby, Richard Fleiss, Jay Flynn, Mary Speare, Bob & Marty Kvaal, Bob Theis, Kerstin Sjoquist, Adam Pascu of 73 Degrees Realty, Teri Nirr, Tom Wanderer, Frank Golbeck, Martin Hammer, Jon Williams, Brook Sarson, Emily Reynolds, Bert Reuss, Donald McSwain, Ian Harrison, the California Straw Building Association, Drew Hubbell, Stevan de la Rosa, Bea Alvarez, Stephen McCabe, and Dadla Ponizil.
We are excited to announce that our current straw bale project, the Fallgren Naturally Healthy Home, is now registered with the Living Building Challenge seeking Net Zero Energy Building certification, which is a rigorous standard that will verify that the project used the land appropriately, considered beauty, and that this home is so energy efficient that it makes as much energy as it uses.
If you are not familiar with the Living Building Challenge, it is a holistic program that evaluates beauty, toxicity, equity, health, as well as energy and water efficiency. Currently, there are only 11 fully certified buildings in the world!
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: (619) 342-6709