An Eco-Sense House – Natural Building, Natural Living

“The Eco-Sense House is alive! From dream (see episode 103*) to reality. Its curving cob walls embrace Ann and Gord Baird’s three-generation family. A living roof offers summer cooling and filters winter rains stored for garden water. The composting toilet provides rich soil for the veggie gardens, which supply much of the family’s food. This “net zero energy” house uses the sun for electricity, hot water, and warm floors. Tour this small-footprint house, designed as part of the ecosystem surrounding it. Episode 230.”

*Building an Ecologically Sensible Home
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7 thoughts on “An Eco-Sense House – Natural Building, Natural Living”

  1. As far as I’m concerned, this is the exact OPPOSITE direction the natural building movement should be heading in. I’m not all that impressed by people who build slick eco-homes when they have big bucks to throw at the project. Totally uninspiring.

  2. It’s a cob home built “within the building code.” (22min 25sec in the video)

    It cost $148/sqft. (22min 50sec)

    It never ceases to amaze me at how much more expensive it is to build “code approved.”

    An enterprising person should be able to essentially the same home, with the same features, same quality, same amenities, same systems, using a modest amount of ingenuity for $75/sqft or less, if they were building someplace that didn’t have building codes. The price could be significantly lower, if someone was willing to do more than modest efforts at keeping the cost down.

    It’s a great looking home, and I congratulate them, but holy cow, for the amount of DIY work they invested in their home, if they only paid themselves and other volunteers minimum wage, the home price would probably have skyrocketed much higher.

    They made the claim that the house needed to be finished within a year, and I’m certain that drove the cost up. Of course, building permits and codes generally require a very fast construction schedule which drives up the cost because more contracted labor must be used. Their excuse that the home had to be finished within a year so that they could get a roof over the cob is something that can easily be worked around if someone works in stages.

    If they had built in an area with few or no building codes, and built a small core section of the house one year, and then built additions in future years, they could have eliminated many if not most of those extra costs.

    This once again proves the old axiom.

    You can have it Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick any TWO.

    All that said, it’s still an excellent home.

    • That’s what we’ve been saying for years. You did a good job though of filling in the details and making the message compelling.

      Come on guys, cob = blobs of soil and straw. $148/sq. ft? That’s proof positive of how building codes jack up construction costs. Think of all the millions of cob houses in Africa and the Middle East that have been built over the centuries for little or no cash.

      • I feel myself about to go off on a big rant.

        Everyone deserves a fair waring about my pending rant, but good grief, I just can’t imagine any DIY build costing $148/sqft unless there are imported marble floors, gold plated fixtures, and dollar bills in the bathroom used for toilet paper.

        In an effort to avoid just ranting about obvious stuff everyone already knows, I’ll try to vent my exasperated thoughts in a more productive and educational form. I’m sure many people already recognize many details I’m about to offer, but this seems like a good time to review a few cost savings ideas.

        The video showed plastic water harvesting tanks.
        Prices listings on Google Shop for 1000gal water tanks = $569-$800
        They could have built their own ferrocement water tanks for under $100 (see EMAS videos for how to build them.)

        They had several tanks, I forget how many, but using DIY ferrocement instead of plastic could have saved a $2000 at least.

        Once again, building your own ferrocement tanks takes longer. Less instant gratification, but drastically cheaper. You can have it Good and Cheap, but they chose to have it Fast and Expensive. (This probably was in large part to meet building permit deadlines.)

        They talked repeatedly in the video about using salvaged lumber. From the way they talked about it, it appears that they bought their lumber from a salvage store, although they didn’t specifically say that is what they did. I’m guessing on this point, but I think I’m guessing correctly. Again, this speeds up the process. They are paying someone to salvage the material for them, instead of finding an old structure to salvage material from using their own labor, or instead of digging through the local waste stream to salvage materials that others are throwing away.

        My experience tells me that most salvage stores sell typical construction grade lumber for 1/3rd to 1/2 the price of brand new lumber. Clearly this can vary from place to place and the condition of the lumber, but in my humble opinion this is a reasonable estimation to work from.

        There is no detailed quantitative information given about how much construction lumber they used. However, given the descriptions they offered about the style of construction (they said framed the second story walls with used 2×10’s at 26min 20sec of the video), and limited viewing of how they structured the roof, I think it would be a very conservative estimate that they easily used several thousand dollars of lumber at salvage prices. A persistent and patient person can acquire nearly all of that material for free, but nothing comes completely free. It will once again take more time. Time that the building inspectors won’t let happen because their permits will expire before they collect the materials. Around the 42min mark of the video they show the shed roof over the woodgas boiler. It appears that entire shed was framed out of brand new 2×10’s. Also, I suspect that the roof of the structure was entirely built from NEW LUMBER because building code will not allow salvaged lumber to be used for that purpose unless it has been re-inspected by an approved lumber grading inspector. Getting a lumber inspector to come and inspect your salvaged lumber will cost just as much if not more than purchasing new. Once again, building codes drive up the cost and provide NO ADDED VALUE. No improved safety. No improved quality. Only increased costs.

        They talked about their bamboo floors, and those floors looked very nice. They also appeared to be brand new. There are many DIY salvage type wood floors that are possible that could provide a similar appearance, but it will take someone time to find them, and they needed to finish in a year.

        I couldn’t see what type of foundation was used to support the structure, but I bet it was poured concrete. They probably could have saved $5000 by using gravel filled earthbags and/or urbanite. (I’m just guessing, but I bet I’m not far off.) Gravel filled earthbags might even have been faster to install than poured concrete, but they would have had to spend extra money to get an Engineer’s stamp on the plans approved before any building inspector would allow them. I’m sure the local concrete supplier loves that the building codes drive up the price of a home while providing no worthwhile benefit to the homeowner.

        I could go on and on and on and vent my frustration at the building construction SCAM that screws so many people out of their hard earned money. These are facts that most who read the blog already know.

        Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse about the costs, but $148/sqft just about made me soil my pants. It doesn’t have to cost that much. Not even close.

        Okay… deep breaths…

        I feel a little better now that I’ve done some venting.

        Once again… I repeat… They built a very nice house and I congratulate them. They seem very happy with it. Good for them. My comments are not intended to find fault with the family that built the house, but to find fault with the building code system that at least doubles, and often triples or quadruples the cost of a home while providing no worthwhile improvements to the structure.

        I think I’ll go take my dog for a walk and calm myself down. I know that my dog won’t try to cheat anyone like the building codes do.

        • I kept repeating to myself $148 sq. ft., $148 sq. ft. while trying to grasp how much money this house cost. Then I looked down at our tile floor (1′ square tiles). I started to imagine the floor expanding in all directions at $148/tile and in my mind’s eye I saw a big pile of green not-redeemable-for-real-value non-federal Federal Reserve notes. That’s when I realized this thing cost a big pile of buckolas.

          The recycled wood, etc. could have been gathered and the ferrocement tanks built in advance to cut costs and still meet the one year deadline.

          Now I realize the recycled wood house we’re building at $10/sq. ft. is a real bargain. (Stay tuned.)

          • I guess there is another way to think about this.

            Let’s assume someone can build that house for $48/sqft, and I am confident that is very doable. It would take effort and time, but with appropriate scavenging and preparation that shouldn’t be overly difficult to accomplish.

            Wouldn’t it be awesome to line up a group of clients willing to pay $148/sqft for houses that cost $48/sqft to build? 200% profit sound rather like robbery.

            A builder would only need to construct 10,000 sqft of houses to become a Millionaire.

            That would be 5 very typical over sized 4 or 5 bedroom McMansions of 2000sqft.
            Or it could be 10 1000sqft (smaller than the current average) homes.

            Of course, that assumes one person is building all by himself, which would not be advisable. However, it illustrates the point.

            A whole bunch of us could get rich if we could line up enough clients willing to pay that rate to live in low or no building code areas.

          • On the flip side I want to compliment this family for going to great lengths to build such a stunning home. Certain features are well worth mentioning:
            – wood burning gasification boiler that’s fueled with scrap wood
            – 10% energy usage of typical household
            – sustainable systems: roofwater collection, hydronic floor heating, solar water heater, DC LED lighting
            – 80% recycled wood
            – 500% increase in speed of making cob walls (first they used a rototiller and then a bobcat mixing bucket)
            – extremely beautiful cabinets and furnishings

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