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6/2/2015

Welcome back for Part 4.  If you have not already read the first parts of this story, please do so you can be caught up to speed - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

on top of the dome

The more we got done, the higher we worked in the air.

As each day went by, our army of locals got better at putting the wire mesh and rebar onto the domes of the earth shelter project. We discovered ways to get the burlap over the wide gaps that were on the top of the domes. One of our first major milestones to reach before we could spray the concrete outer shell on the domes was to get the front faces of the underground domes installed. Those faces were to be made of insulated concrete forms (ICFs). I chose this technology because I knew from my experience that the ICF was the only building style that would not only get close to matching the efficiency of being underground, but would also withstand high wind speeds and most types of flying debris.

To reach the point where we could have the ICFs installed, we needed to keep working through blizzards and wind chills that occasionally reached 20 below zero. Not everyone showed up on the bad days because most of the workers got rides to the earth shelter project from other people and those people were not willing to brave the weather to drive them out to the middle of nowhere. There are numerous days where I worked by myself in really bad conditions to keep the project moving forward, but then again, being from out of town, there wasn’t much more to do in a blizzard and I am not much for sitting in my room and twiddling my thumbs.

snowy dome

The weather was cold and snowy most of the time as we worked on the first stages of the project.

It seemed like each person working on the crew was injured in one way or another, I remember one evening, on a day with below zero wind chills and just as we were about to stop for the day, my hand slipped from being so cold and the linesman’s pliers hit me in the upper lip splitting it wide open. I also hit my front tooth, but thankfully nothing happen to the tooth. It was so cold that my lip hardly bled, that is, until I got back to the funeral home turned bunk house that night. From that point forward, whenever I use pliers of any kind, or wrenches, I never put my face directly in front of what I am doing, if I do, I clinch my lips tight to protect myself. No stitches for me, I had to watch how I ate for a while, but eventually it healed up.

We had no idea how many rebar ties that we were using until the sales rep from the local Menards stopped by one day to bring us a fresh shipment. “This puts you over 100,000 ties” the rep said, to which we all were in awe. The reason we had used so many rebar ties, was because there were multiple layers of rebar going horizontally and vertically. The rebar helps the outer concrete shell to be extremely strong. Day by day and tie by tie, we kept pushing forward so that we could get the ICFs installed and get one step closer to spraying the outer concrete shell of the domes.  

front wall icfs

The ICF crew work to complete the front faces of the earth shelter project.

We had the ICF crew come up to start installing the ICFs during the week of Christmas. I had pushed the local crew hard up until that point and after three weeks of working dawn until dark, we were ready for the ICFs to be installed. We still had more rebar to install and tie, but that was in areas away from the ICF walls. As Christmas week progressed, it became obvious that we were not going to hit our mark unless we set up lights and worked basically around the clock. A major winter storm was going to hit on Christmas Eve and the forecasters were calling for a large amount of freezing rain which would eventually be covered with over a foot of snow. Besides the treacherous drive home and ideal conditions for Santa Claus to make his yearly run, we were concerned that the exposed rebar and burlap would be incased in ice and covered in snow for the rest of the winter. If this were the case, there would be no way that we could even dream of spraying the domes with concrete in January. The homeowner started calling every farmer she knew looking for gigantic tarps so that we could cover the domes before the winter storm hit.

tarping 1

We used tarps to keep the snow and ice from packing into the rebar of the earth shelter domes.

It was about 9 o’clock p.m. on December 23rd when I approached the crew leader of the ICF crew at our bunk house and said, “I know that we pushed it hard today, but I think we need to rally the troops, set up some lights, and get back out there about super early”, to which he replied, “ok, let’s do it..” I had worked with this crew on multiple projects and it seems like we were always working in the middle of the night to hit some impossible mark. I might have mentioned that if we didn’t start working in the middle of the night, that we wouldn’t be home until midnight on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t trying to be Scrooge; I was just trying to lead this project the only way I knew how, by being tough and determined.

lights on

Many nights we worked under lights to keep the project racing forward.

The alarm clocks were going off about 1:30 am as everyone was pulling themselves out of bed. It was cold out, so the guys went outside before they got dressed to start up the diesel trucks to let them warm up. I remember hearing one of the trucks struggling to run and it made me think about how much I did not like working in the winter, especially that early in the morning when it was zero degrees out. Regardless, we all had something to eat and headed out to the project to start the day. The generators were running, the lights were on, and we were getting closer to our mark. By the time day light came, the ICF crew leader was already making a call to the concrete company to see what time they could start pouring the ICFs with concrete. On the two sides of the barn, they had installed the ICFs at the full height, which would put the total ICF wall over twenty two feet high. I hoped they knew what they were doing by pouring that much concrete at one time. I kept an eye on the crew leader to make sure he was solid in his decision making ability after being up for so many hours, and I had no reason to believe that he couldn’t pull of that big of a pour.

concrete trucks

Concrete trucks stage as they wait their turn with the concrete pump truck.

The crew I was leading was getting the rebar tied into the ICF walls and getting ready to start draping the massive tarps over the domes. Climbing the domes in the dark was tricky, but we were all in our zone and singing Christmas songs to pass the time. As the sky was thickening up with the dark clouds of the impending winter storm, the first of many concrete trucks arrived to start pouring the ICF walls.

crew with tarps

tarps 

We covered all the tops of the domes up with massive tarps normally used to cover hay.

Stay tuned for part five to see if the crews make it home before the big storm hit the project. The story continues after Christmas as the crew size dwindles and the reality of a harsh winter was starting to set in.

snow removal

Winter started to set in and snow removal became part of the daily routine.

For videos that cover each stage of this project, visit our online videos here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



5/26/2015

Welcome back for Part 3. To get caught up to speed, please read parts 1 and 2 if you have not already.


The process has begun

It was a lonely Friday morning on the earth shelter project, as I was the only one of site. I decided to try to figure out how to install the burlap material and spend the entire weekend perfecting what I learned so that when Monday came, I would know how to train the local army of workers that would be showing up to work on the project. As I was unrolling a large roll of burlap covered wire mesh, I heard a vehicle pulling up in the parking area.

I recognized the vehicle, it was the lead concrete guy who was coming back to pull form boards off of a footing they poured the day before. The concrete guy’s name was Whitey One and he had his adult son with him who was named Whitey Two. People who worked with them called them Whitey because they worked in the sun every day, yet they were pale as if their skin never seen the sun. Whitey One was like most old salts in the concrete business, he was rough around the edges, very proud of what he did, and if he liked you, was actually kind if he wanted to be.  I appreciated that, because I know he recognized my ambitious nature and the ‘deer in the headlights’ look that I had on my face. I asked Whitey One and Whitey Two if they had time to help me figure out how to install the burlap covered wire mesh, they both said ‘Yup” as they spat their chewing tobacco juice on the freshly poured concrete floor. I decided to listen carefully to their conversation to look for any clues that might help me to understand the process better.


Color coded wire mesh schedule

The first part of this process that I was trying to figure out was how to connect the wire mesh, which had burlap attached to it, to the metal frames of the earth shelter domes. The earth shelter company sent what was basically a ‘wire mesh schedule’ which showed where each piece of burlap was supposed to go. I was surprised to hear Whitey One say, “Hey Whitey Two, go out to the truck and get some linesman pliers.” (A clue!) I was taken back that someone’s dad would call them Whitey Two and I was intrigued to find out what their real names were and also what linesman pliers were. Linesman pliers were for working with rebar, the Whiteys were using the pliers to tie pieces of wire around the wire mesh to hold the sheets to the steel earth shelter frame. I felt like a third wheel because I did not have linesman pliers and I was trying my best not to look like a fool as I tried to twist the wire by hand.


Me with my first pair of linesman's pliers on top of one of the domes

That night, I drove into town to stay at the homeowner’s business which used to be a funeral home. They had bedrooms in the upstairs area and it was nice to be in town and close to stores, normally that is not the case when we work out of town. I was reassured that there were no ghosts there and it made sense when the homeowner reiterated that it no one ever died there so there shouldn’t be any ghosts... After I got settled at the funeral home turned store front, I went to the local Menards and bought every pair of linesman pliers that they had. Guess who I saw at Menards that night? The Whiteys! “The chewing tobacco was making its mark on their teeth” I thought, as they both smiled at me and my cart full of linesman pliers.

Over the weekend, the process started to make sense to me and I was becoming confident that I would be able to lead the crew of local laborers that upcoming Monday. I decided to stop early that Sunday to go back to town and rest up for the next day. I was excited that evening as I turned the light off in my room and drifted off to sleep half thinking about staying in a funeral home and half wondering how the next day was going to go.


The rebar tieing crew and me as the team leader

I got to the jobsite early to get ready for the army of people who would be showing up that day. The homeowner told me that she had selected everyone ahead of time and that all I had to do was find stuff for them to do. I found out quickly that that was not the case. Most of the morning saw guys walking up the third of a mile long driveway who had been dropped off at the road. They had heard there was work, and because Michigan was in a great recession at the time, more people than we needed showed up to get work. I was not happy to turn away people who needed to work, but I needed competent hard working people on the crew or else we were not going to hit our mark. We sifted through the group of workers until we had the crew size that we needed with the right mix of talent. The main goal for this group was to install the burlap covered wire mesh, all of the rebar, close to 3 miles of re-bar tie wire and over 100,000 rebar ties all in an attempt to get ready for the shot-crete outer shell.


Winter was closing in as we raced to finish the wire mesh and rebar installation

I remember hearing the homeowner shouting my name and asking me to come down from the top of one of the domes. When I got down I saw that she was standing with a guy who looked tough and nice at the same time. I immediately said, “We got all the people we need”. I said that because I thought the homeowner wanted me to get her out of that situation. She spoke up and said, “No, I think you should give this guy a shot.” I said, “Excuse us”, and the homeowner and I took a walk. She told me that there was something good about this guy and that we needed to find him something to do. I told her to give him a shovel and to have him start shoveling snow off of the footings. I knew from experience that the only way someone wouldn’t walk off of a job after shoveling all day is if they had a good work ethic and good character. This guy not only stayed all day, but he became my really good friend; his name is Crazy Joe.


We formed a brotherhood building this project by being really tough and laughing a lot

If not for Crazy Joe, we would never have been able to complete the project. Most of the people who came up that driveway that first week were eventually either asked to leave or were ushered to the road because of how they were acting or working on the job. Crazy Joe was a great worker and had a great skill set. It didn’t take long until he and I were working side by side and getting more done than the other groups of workers who were still on site working. We had to work as hard and efficiently as possible to try to hit the mid January warm up that we hoped would happen.

Stayed tuned to Part 4 to see how the project started to take shape and how we dealt with the severe winter weather that continued to hit the project. View the videos of this project on Vimeo.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/20/2015

 exterior photo

The owners of the first LEED Certified home in Alaska spoke with Viva Green Homes to share what it’s like to buy, sell and market an eco friendly home…and would they do it again?

Tony & Valerie Reichstein purchased their Juneau, Alaska home two years ago when a work transfer brought their family to the area. At the time, one of the most important elements in their home search was energy efficiency, knowing that the Alaskan climate would bring about some hefty heating bills if they didn’t pick the right house. Lucky for them not only did they find an energy efficient home, they purchased the first Alaskan LEED certified home and have been impressed with its performance and design ever since.

Learn more about the LEED certification and USGBC.

living room

“We stay warm in the winter and cool on the hot days in the summer…There are no drafty or cold areas. Everyone is comfortable all year long.” The family credits the comfort of their home to the many aspects including the design, construction and efficient systems, a collaboration that is true to LEED certified built homes. “Our heating system is a combination of an electric heat pump that provides both heating and cooling, as well as in-floor radiant heat that is driven off a separate electric water heater. Because the house is so air tight, there is a HRV (heat return ventilation) system that continually pulls air out of the house and replaces it with fresh outside air after passing it through a heat exchanger.”

They also found that the home has additional unexpected benefits too. “The house is easy to maintain, cleans up easy after a hard winter. Because of the air handling systems, we don’t have problems with mold or bad indoor air quality that many complain of in this area.”

kitchen

Now that they have listed the home for sale, they are finding that owning a LEED certified home has some resale advantages too. Being LEED Certified “will help our home stand out from others when those buyers are looking for features specific to our home.”

In a market where buyers have many housing options, owning a LEED certified home can be the one thing that makes the buyer choose it over the others. Admittedly, while most people are becoming aware of and have heard of “LEED”, there’s still a learning curve on what a LEED certified home entails and the benefits of owning one.

bedroom

When asked if the Reichstein family would choose a green or energy efficient home all over again their response was very clear…Yes, they would. “We are currently looking for our next home. We will most likely add energy efficient features to it should the one we buy be lacking in those areas.”

Some tips from the homeowners on buying a LEED certified or green home:

1. Don’t get hung up on price. There is a premium to a green home, but you are buying better systems that will pay off both in the short term and long term.

2. Take some time to learn and understand how the systems in your home work. That way you know how to change the set up from one season to the next to maximize the efficiencies built into your home.

Photos courtesy of listing agent, Debbie White, Prudential SE Alaska 

For more tips on buying a green home take a look at the article 6 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Green Home.

Be sure to visit Viva Green Homes to see LEED certified and green homes for sale of all kinds.

Contact Debbie White for listing information.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/18/2015

earth shelter 2

Me as Team Leader of the Largest Underground and Off The Grid Farm on Earth

Welcome back for Part 2! If you have not read part 1, you should, it will help make the following story make sense to you. 

The semi truck was idling on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere two hours from my home the night before Thanksgiving, what was I going to do? Luckily the homeowner had her family help her unload the semi truck full of steel earth shelter dome parts so that the rest of us could enjoy our Thanksgiving dinners.

The plan was set to show up the Friday after Thanksgiving to start to assemble the domes and officially begin the project. Because there was a wait between the time we had gone out to Washington State and when the earth shelter components showed up, there was time to have all of the concrete work done onsite so that there would be no delays. Our plan going into this project was to put the domes up as quickly as possible and to try to have everything ready to spray the concrete coating on the shells of the domes during a warm up in January that the Farmer’s Almanac was predicting.

When we arrived on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we were hoping to find an organized array of domed earth shelter components. What we found were piles of steel and other components randomly placed in a farm field, this was our first challenge. We learned from the builder in Washington State that the earth shelter components arrived at their job site unmarked, so we asked the manufacturer to mark each component and indicate on the building plans where that component goes. The components were marked, but the markings made no sense, as the building prints were not drawn to reflect how the components were labeled.

rolls on ground

Components of the earth shelter system laying in the field.

In a box with the components, we found a three ring binder marked ‘generic owner’s manual’. I opened the binder to see if I could figure out where all the steel components went and that is when I realized that the generic owner’s manual was outdated and did not include the components that were laying all over the farm field.

I knew from experience that I should get there a day before everyone else so that I could get a grasp of what we had laying in the field and how the components should be stage, and I am glad that I did. If someone does this figuring and sorting while the crews and equipment are onsite, then the project is going to be costly because everyone will stand around with equipment idling. Time is money, even in ‘out of the box’ projects. For this reason, I show up before anyone else and sometimes I bring my ‘thinkers’ so that we can figure out a process before we get started building a project. We also look over a site to see what the conditions are before we start up any equipment. Being that this project was in a farm field, we had issues with mud during the entire project.

I took Uncle Rog (if you watched the documentary of this project which aired on PBS entitled Sheltered: Underground and Off The Grid then you know who that is) with me to sort through the earth shelter dome components. As I mentioned, we asked the manufacturer to label the components, which they did, but the labeling made no sense. Uncle Rog and I started to sort the piles and put them in to piles of like sizes and shapes as we waited for a call back from the manufacturer to explain to us what was laying all over the ground.

trucks and mud

Third day of setting steel

As a contractor/team leader of an ‘out of the box’ project, I have to give a lot of thought to who our core group of workers will be. As part of taking this job, I agreed to lead a group of local people, or as the homeowner called them, “anyone I can find who has construction experience and will work for cheap.” I know what you are thinking, but save that thought. The first wave of workers that I selected to work on the earth shelter were from my core group of talent that I call upon when I need a small but extremely talented crew. I didn’t have to beg Dale ‘The excavator’ at all to come up on Thanksgiving weekend to help us install the steel system of the earth shelter. I asked the homeowner to not bring anyone in to help at this stage because we needed to focus on what we were doing and the crew I selected did not need to be baby sat. I think of my small and effective crews as the special forces of green building because of the degree of difficulty and the amount of work such a small three person team can accomplish.

crane

We needed a crane to set the 72-foot-long barn top beam.

It was a good call to have Dale, who was an experienced equipment operator, on site because of the amount of steel that we had to set to put up the domes and all of the mud that we had to work in. By using equipment to lift each piece of steel and moving it through the mud, we did not tire ourselves out (other than the manual force required sometimes to get pieces to fit together) and the risk of injury greatly decreases. Once we hit a rhythm, the mislabeled components didn’t seem like such a mystery and piece by piece we started to create the ‘bones’ of the structure. It looked like we were building rib cages out in that field and that gave us the idea to start calling the big arched steel pieces of the earth shelter ‘whale bones’.

whale bones

Almost done setting the steel, looking like rib caged in the field.

It seems the norm to have a homeowner on site giving us advice on how to install components that they have no idea on how to install. They do this because they care and want to make sure they are comfortable with the people they hired. I mean nothing bad by mentioning this and I feel that everyone needs to understand what a crew leader has to process while leading a job. A homeowner getting involved with the process can be challenging and happens on most of the ‘out of the box’ jobs that we build. The homeowners see us struggling and want to help so badly, but what they don’t understand is that we are trying to find the rhythm and coax the solution out of the situation. On this project, we strived to have the homeowner say, “Wow, you get more done when I am not here.” It may seem mean, but as a team leader, there is nothing more frustrating and costly then having someone, even the homeowner, inadvertently prying our team apart. I get hired to lead a project and that means that I have the responsibility to keep everyone focused and heading towards our goal, even the person paying for the job. It is much like a mountain guide, they have the ultimate responsibility of getting their clients to the top of the mountain even if they have to make decisions that the client doesn’t agree with at the time.

Once the homeowner understood that we were comfortable with what we were doing and that we were purposely struggling to understand what we were up against, we started to make huge strides. We put up the entire steel structure of the earth shelter complex in just over 50 hours. We started installing steel on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and didn’t take a day off until the steel was up. Even then, I stayed on site to learn the next steps of the process while the first crew left and went on to their next adventure. I had to learn the next steps of the process so that I would know how and what to train the rag tag army of locals who would be showing up on Monday.

snowy

The snow started to fall as we moved through the next stages of the project.

Stay tuned for Part 3 and ride along on the adventure of a lifetime, building the largest underground and off-the-grid farm on the planet! If you would like more information on actual assembly of the earth shelter components, you can watch the videos of the construction of this underground and off the grid farm.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more javascript:void(0);about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



5/14/2015

roofing

Green building isn’t a trend; it’s here to stay. Now, more than ever, homeowners are looking for ways to make their homes – and how they live inside them – greener. What started as simple recycling has grown into energy efficient appliances, new building techniques and materials that once would have seemed like props for science fiction movies.

When considering how to make your home greener, while also saving money and the environment, you may have missed out on one potential area of improvement: your roof.

Keep reading to learn more about why roofs are an excellent option for going green, questions to ask contractors and options for lessening the environmental impact of your home.

Why Start with the Roof?

Think about it. Roofs are the largest unused space of your home. While they serve an important function – protecting your home and its contents – they’re typically not areas that many people focus on for aesthetics or functionality. They’re largely just “there.” This makes them a blank canvas, a great starting point for improving your home’s green factor.

Green roofs, like those mentioned below, can help insulate your home, protecting against heat and cold in a way that standard shingles can’t. Additionally, over the lifetime of the roof, it can save the average homeowner about $200,000. Some options even give back to the environment and species living within it.

Questions to Ask Potential Contractors

Because going from a standard roof to a greener option is a large undertaking, you’ll likely work with a contractor to accomplish it. Here are a few questions to ask to get started:

• How experienced are you in installing green roofs?
• Do you have photos of completed projects, and may I contact those homeowners?
• How long will this project take from start to completion?
• How should I prepare for how it will impact my daily routine?
• Do I need to pull any permits?
• What – if any – industrial machinery will be used, and how long will it stay on my property?
• How firm is the estimate – or quote – for my project?

Being prepared is the best way to ensure you’re satisfied with your final product.

Green Roof Variations

A “green roof” can mean different things to different people. Sometimes green roofs are actually green; otherwise, they just have a lower environmental impact than traditional roofing options.

Green Roofing Materials

If you prefer the look and feel of standard shingles, or, are limited by local zoning or HOA community guidelines, you may be limited as far as making your roof green. This doesn’t mean you don’t have options. Ways to decrease your home’s environmental footprint include:

Recycled rubber roofing shingles. These are made of recycled materials, offer similar lifetimes as asphalt shingles and are more cost effective.
Thermal shingles. These reduce the sun’s heating impact on homes to save on cooling costs during the summer.
Steel shingles. Steel is one of the most recycled products in the world, and it holds up well under the elements, making it a reasonable alternative material.

Solar Paneled Roofing

Solar paneling has grown in popularity over the past few years. Chances are, you’ve seen a few solar roofs during your daily travels. Designs have changed to make solar paneling sleeker in appearance.

The benefits of solar paneled – or photovoltaic – roofing include:

Financial savings. Energy costs change on a daily basis. Because solar paneling derives energy from the sun, its cost doesn’t change.
Saving the Earth. The sun is a renewable resource – oil and other forms of heat are not. This means that by using the sun’s energy to heat your home and to run other processes, you’re saving non-renewable resources. Because solar roofing can utilize battery units, there’s a back up in place should the power go out.

Living Green Roofs

Some people prefer – and are able – to go all the way, creating green roofs that are actually green – filled with plants, foliage and gardens of all types.

While flat roofs are best for this type of endeavor, and the look is less than traditional, the environmental impact could be massive if the trend catches on. By turning roofs into actual gardens, living species can find new homes and food sources, essential elements – like oxygen – are released back into the atmosphere and homes can be just as insulated as they are with standard shingles.

The cost of installing green roofs along with maintenance may be more than standard roofing, but the benefits to the environment, along with the fun of having a green roof, may be worth it in the long run.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/12/2015

earth shelter with sun tunnels

I remember the first email that I received from the homeowner; it had the word ‘earth shelter’ in it. At that point in my career, I had lead my company in building a number of LEED for Homes Platinum homes and other extremely energy efficient homes, but I had never heard of the term earth shelter and we had built all of our houses above ground.

I was intrigued once I started to search the Internet for information on earth shelters, apparently I had worked on earth shelters before, but not fully underground structures like what this homeowner wanted to build. My reputation was for taking on projects that other builders would not be comfortable taking and I had been burned on a few projects along the way, which ended up costing us a lot of time and money. I started to think about how taking on a project that I knew nothing about could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, so I turned the earth shelter project down…five times.

After I turned the project down three of the five times, the homeowner sent me a package of information that included a full set of plans for her project. She said it was a large project and when I looked over the thick roll of building plans, I could see that the project was going to be a challenge like none I had ever taken on before. I turned the project down two more times until one night I woke up and started thinking about how great it would be to learn how to build underground.

All of our conversations were by email at that point in the process. Anyone that knows me or works with me knows that we do most of our communicating by email because it is more efficient that way then trying to talk on the telephone. You can imagine the homeowner’s delight when I called her the morning after my sleepless night to tell her that I wanted to build her project, the largest underground and off-the-grid farm on the planet.

moo

Inside of the 72-foot-long underground barn with the resident milking cow.

I am historically the kind of person who goes ‘all in’ on an idea and/or project and this earth shelter project was no different. I had to slow myself down and really try to get a grasp of what I had gotten myself into. The big project had five underground domes with connector tunnels and multiple entrances; it would be like building a small city. As part of my accepting to build this challenging project, I had asked to see a project under construction so that I could understand how the domed building system worked. A few days later, I was told to pack a carry-on bag and that we were heading to Washington State, which just happened to by one of my favorite states!

washington state

Me on site of a domed earth-shelter project in Washington State

There was an earth shelter project that was under construction in Washington State and we had the opportunity to visit the job site and to see how all of the components of the domed earth shelter system were joined together. I was amazed when I first saw the domes with the burlap and rebar tied together. I instantly became very excited and could not wait to start the project in Michigan.

While on site in Washington State, I was able to talk in length with the builder of that project. He was great to talk to and told us all the things that we should avoid doing, which is information that I would rather have then an overload of information on everything that is great about a system. The biggest issue with underground homes, from what I researched, was water leaks in the structure after the domes are buried. I took notes on what that builder told me about his measures to water proof the Washington State domes and added those notes to my thick binder of notes that I had taken while researching earth shelter structures in general.

After a few days of meeting with the homeowner in Washington State, who remains a friend to my family to this day, our project team headed back to Michigan to continue the planning stage of this massive underground project that we were about to build.

excavated

The Michigan site was excavated and prepped for the concrete work months before the earth-shelter kit arrived.

A few months passed between the time that we went out to Washington State and when the earth shelter ‘dome kit’ arrived on site. During that time, we finished the above ground projects that we had been building and I informed all of our other homeowners that I was going to take a two year sabbatical from building above ground homes so that I could focus on leading the building team on this underground project in Northern Michigan. All of those jobs, fourteen in all, went to other builders, which helped to ‘spread the wealth’ during an extremely slow time in the building industry in Michigan. I had basically given up everything that I had worked hard for the past 10 years so that I could go ‘all in’ on this earth shelter project.

Can you imagine the surprise as a few months passed and our work started to ‘dry up’? I kept emailing and calling the homeowner trying to get an exact date when we could start her project and the only response is that she would call the earth shelter company and try to get them to tell us an exact delivery date of the dome earth shelter system. As Thanksgiving was approaching, I started to wonder if I had just sunk my own ship because we only had a few weeks of work left and there was nothing in our books to build because I had told all of our customers that I was not able to build their houses. I remember finally committing to going to a Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s house and as I was packing my bag the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving to drive to my mom’s house, my phone rang and it was the homeowner of the earth shelter project. “Are you ready?” she said, “The semi-truck is parked out in the road ready to unload.”

frame

A look ahead at the next part of the series, this framework will become the largest underground and off-the-grid farm on the planet.

Stay tuned for the next part of this multi-part story. You can follow along with the online videos of this project located in the Earth Shelter Project Michigan Album.


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5/11/2015

The poetry of the land is built on words that describe what we see and feel outside, in the matrix of our origins.

The editors of dictionaries are, according to the article below, voting to put the words up for extinction -- perhaps so that we lose the names of the things we love prior to losing the things themselves? Clearly, this is symptomatic of our times and challenges, but still, the article makes the case for cultivating our ability to speak beautifully, in gratitude for the gifts of life:

"A basic literacy of landscape is falling away up and down the ages. And what is lost along with this literacy is something precious: a kind of word magic, the power that certain terms possess to enchant our relations with nature and place. As the writer Henry Porter observed, the Oxford University Press deletions [from their "junior dictionary"] removed the “euphonious vocabulary of the natural world—words which do not simply label an object or action but in some mysterious and beautiful way become part of it.”

Consider ammil, a Devon term meaning “the sparkle of morning sunlight through hoar-frost,” a beautifully exact word for a fugitive phenomenon I have several times seen but never before been able to name. Shetlandic has a word, pirr, meaning “a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water”; and another, klett, for “a low-lying earth-fast rock on the seashore.” On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight. Smeuse is a Sussex dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”; now that I know the word smeuse, I will notice these signs of creaturely movement more often."

Read more here. (Those interested in birds please note there are some wonderful bird references included...)

Blessings...

— Kiko












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