Eco home made of nearby materials
‘100-mile house’ took 18 months and cost $300,000
Everybody’s heard of the 100-mile diet, in which you only eat food that has been grown locally. Briony Penn decided to take the concept one step further, and build a 100 mile house.
“The principle behind the house was to try and search out materials that were from less than 100 miles away,” explains Penn, a writer and environmentalist. “Try and build locally, and build with materials where you know where they’ve come from.”
It took 18 months and $300,000, but Penn’s 100-mile house is now finished — although it’s on Saltspring Island, not in the town of the same name in the B.C. Interior.
She’s so proud of the 1,000-squarefoot structure that she opened it up for the public to see at the recent Salt Spring Eco-Living and Home Tour.
It marked the fourth annual tour, which showcased Saltspring’s “best examples of green building, energy efficiency, water conservation, food production, renewable energy, transportation alternatives and ecological protection.”
There were nine sites on the tour, including an off-the-grid house fashioned from hemp bales.
Another hemp house draws power from a one-of-a-kind wind generator, while a more conventional home has an Australian water catchment system that is so efficient all the water needs are met with rainwater.
The challenge to the 500 people who were expected to take the tour was to take one element from the tour and apply it to their own home.
There was plenty to choose from at Penn’s house, which she laughingly describes as “sort of a West Coast arts and crafts/Japanese-Pacific fusion, with a lot of driftwood.”
Penn designed the home herself, in concert with Saltspring builder Michael Dragland.
“(Almost all) the wood came from the building lot itself, which is a very small footprint,” says Penn.
“The trees were milled 100 metres away — there’s an eco-forestry, or natural forestry business that’s my neighbour, (and) has a sawmill.
“So we did all local milling and it’s all trees that were coming down just for the building site.”
The beaches on the Gulf Islands are overflowing with driftwood, which came in handy.
“All our cedar came from driftwood,” she relates. “Any additional wood, like the windows, was all forest-stewardship certified and was made by local craftsmen. There was a real emphasis on artisanship, just bringing the craft back into home building.” Salvage was also a key component. “We salvaged a sawmill floor for the first floor, and salvaged a church floor for the ground floor,” she says.
“It’s quite funny. You can still see the spikes from the men’s boots on the upper floor and where people kneeled on the bottom floor.”
The oldest part of the building is the roof, which is slate salvaged from Fort Victoria, the Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post that was founded way back in 1843.
It’s actually been salvaged twice — it used to be on Penn’s grandfather’s home in Victoria.
It’s fitting that she found the slate, because Penn lives on land that used to be owned by her grandfather, who lost it during the Great Depression.
Her address is on Bridgman Road, which is named after granddad.
Still, building methods have changed since Monty Bridgman’s era.
In the old days, they used things like lead-based paint. When she built her home, Penn steered clear of environmentally suspect building materials that produce “off-gas” toxins in the air called VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
“There’s not a drop of paint or carpet or toxic anything,” she says.
“People comment about it when they walk in, it just smells and feels so nice. It’s as fresh as walking outside.”
Heat comes from a solar water heater, which heats pipes beneath the floor.
“The walls are thick and have a concrete content, so the house stays the same temperature day in, day out,” she says. “Whether it’s hot or cold (out), it’s pretty much the same temperature.”
Naturally, Penn recycles her waste water into her garden.
“All the black and grey water goes into a sand-filtration field which is right next to the house,” she says.
“That water is (used in) my vegetable garden and creates a wetland. I’ve got frogs everywhere, tree frogs up the yin-yang because they did so well.”
The one drawback about the home is that it isn’t all that big — there is only one bedroom, which means Penn’s two sons sleep in a separate cabin next door. But all in all she’s very pleased with the results.
“It’s outrageous that we put resources out in the scale that we do and the houses aren’t built to last,” she says.
“This house was built to last. It’s beautifully made.”
The colourful living room of Penn’s home showcases some of the wood that was milled from trees gathered from the building lot itself. The home also makes use of driftwood found in the area.
Constructed by Terra Firma Builders, this house has thermally insulating rammed-earth walls, a passive solar design and a heat-recovery ventilator.
Another house on the Salt Spring Eco-Living and Home Tour, this one made of hemp bales.
Briony Penn’s Saltspring Island home was built using materials from within 100 miles.