Eco home made of nearby ma­te­ri­als

‘100-mile house’ took 18 months and cost $300,000

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties - JOHN MACKIE

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.”

Van­cou­ver Sun

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.

Van­cou­ver Sun

Con­structed by Terra Firma Builders, this house has ther­mally insulating rammed-earth walls, a pas­sive so­lar de­sign and a heat-re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tor.

Van­cou­ver Sun

An­other house on the Salt Spring Eco-Liv­ing and Home Tour, this one made of hemp bales.

Van­cou­ver Sun

Briony Penn’s Salt­spring Is­land home was built us­ing ma­te­ri­als from within 100 miles.

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