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Wide copper coil drain pipe affixed to a wall
CategoriesDevelopment

Lofty Energy Saving and Eco Design Goals

A building project is a long series of design choices. Some are prescribed and imposed by regulations but many come down to personal preference and often a little bit of off-the-beaten path exploration.

A key component of a community for tiny houses on wheels, perhaps ironically, is the presence of a structural dwelling on foundation. For Big Calm, this is the completion of a pre-existing, unfinished post-and-beam barn-loft we call the Shangri-loft.

In restoring it, we’ve been mindful to use safe materials (like low VOC paints) and to integrate several generally-available eco-friendly or energy-saving innovations. Here are some of them:

Handful of washed sand

Septic System

Behold the elusive Type 2 septic field special sand blend! We never thought we would be so happy to see sand but after a months-long delay it finally arrived just before winter! We chose to build a Type 2 community septic system because it takes up half the footprint and produces much cleaner effluent, compared with standard (Type 1) systems.

White spray foam insulation in a barn ceiling

Insulation

It may not look like much – just spray foam on a ceiling – but we waited for this spray foam for months. What a relief to finally complete the Shangri-loft’s insulation in the midst of supply chain delays!

The barn ceiling required spray foam, rather than the R50 rock wool batt insulation we used for the rest of the building. Always trying to make the best choice for our community members’ health as well as the health of the environment, we opted for a spray foam with an environmental product declaration demonstrating it has one of the lowest global warming potential impacts of any insulation product. It is low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) and contains 22% recycled plastic and renewable soya oil. Worth the wait. 🙂🌎

Heat pump unit on stand outside

Heat Pump

We’ve built the Shangri-loft to meet the BC Energy Step Code level 4, meaning the Shangri-loft will be 40% more efficient than the EnerGuide Rating System’s reference house. We’ll be heating (and cooling) the Shangri-loft with an Energy Star-rated Bosch heat pump, which can transfer 2-3 times the energy it consumes!

Cide copper coil drain pipe affixed to a wall

Drain Pipe

This shiny coil is a ThermoDrain, an ingenious heat recovery pipe made by Canadian company EcoInnovation. Installed in the mechanical room beneath the Shangri-loft’s bathroom, it uses the heat from wastewater to de-cool the fresh mountain water coming in to the hot water heater. The overall saving is up to 40% on the cost of heating water.

(Also built into this mechanical room is a connection for a Portable Electric 2k or 5k Voltstack battery generator, a backup for power outages.)

A tile of black Marmoleum Click flooring

Flooring

We agonized over what flooring to put in the Shangri-loft. We wanted something durable, easy to clean, and of course, environmentally friendly. Enter Forbo Flooring System’s Marmoleum Click (it’s the new linoleum): made from 97% natural materials, 70% of which are rapidly renewable, and made of 43% of recycled content. It’s also carbon neutral. And it doesn’t look to shabby either! 😉

A tiny wood stove with a big black heat shield above it

Stove Shield

Lastly, some of the simplest things anyone can do is to buy local (as we’re doing with the baseboards and window/door casing) and to re-use materials. Perhaps our sentimental favourite item was to salvage a big steel heat shield from the original homesteader cabin on-site and place it above a cute new TN10 wood stove. Old and new together.

Check out The Bigger Picture on Tiny Homesteads to learn about the positive environmental impact of tiny houses versus regular houses.

Aerial view of a rural field with earthworks
CategoriesDevelopment

Project Update (Year-end 2021)

2021 wasn’t an easy year in which to build a project like Big Calm. Slow bureaucrats, busy contractors, wildfire evacuation (just as crews mobilized), supply chain hold-ups (from septic field sand and insulation to doors and appliances), and, oh yeah, that persistent pandemic thing.

Despite all that, we’ve made good progress on the project. Here are some photos of the work done to date.

Power, water, and tech lines were trenched out to the Shangri-loft (which will eventually serve as the shared community space). This includes stubs for a well and future solar array.

A snowy open trench with conduits

Septic tanks were placed at the Shangri-loft and the Type 2 community septic field was excavated and, with the long awaited delivery of sand, partially activated. This is the biggest component of the whole project.

Aerial view of septic field excavation in field Construction of a rural septic field

Earthworks were also completed on two fully serviced tiny house pads – one by the old homesteader cabin and one by the Shangri-loft. The former is now home to The Pocket Getaway and the latter is reserved for the arrival of our first long-term renter this spring.

Aerial view of mini excavator grading a pad

Much of our focus this fall has been on the Shangri-loft itself; renovating a beautiful, unfinished post-and-bean barn-loft that will be Big Calm‘s centrepiece common area (laundry, bike/ski storage, social space). Work included shoring up its foundation, framing in a bathroom and kitchen upstairs and a laundry room downstairs, and, currently, implementing various electrical and mechanical systems.

Framing inside a barn-loft areaInsulation and drywalling in-progressFramed in mechanical room in barn

We’ve been part of Starlink’s beta rollout since March and have been very pleased with internet connectivity on-site.

The fiery summer stunted some of our permaculture plans – at least those in the garden. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a tasty harvest of potatoes, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes. And we had time to observe – where the water flows, the wind blows, the plants grow, and the animals roam.

So what’s next? In 2022, we plan to grade the access road, extend earthworks out to the community pad sites, install the well, and finish the remaining phases of the septic system. We are working on investment financing to accelerate the buildout to meet the very high level of renter interest.

We’re optimistic for the new year and are looking forward to the community starting to take shape. Be sure to sign up to our newsletter and follow us online for continued updates.

A blue tiny house sits in a peaceful verdant meadow
CategoriesDevelopment,  Lifestyle,  Tiny Homes

The Bigger Picture on Tiny Homesteads

When we first contemplated building a tiny home community in the Slocan Valley, we thought a lot about how it would impact, and ideally, benefit both the land and the larger community.

Environmental Impact

Earlier this year, I was working on a project to support the region’s licensed cannabis producers, and had the honour and privilege to participate in cultural sensitivity training by members of the Sinixt First Nation, on whose land we work and reside. I learned of Whuplak’n, a Sinixt law that guides us to take care of the land, water, air and all living things. If we take care of the land, it takes care of us: all decisions should be informed through this process of what is in the best interest of all living things. 

Big Calm is aligned with this law. We want to take care of the land so it takes care of us.

Minimal Development, Modest Community

We purchased the property we call Big Calm because it was already ideal for a pocket neighbourhood, with no clearing or major earthworks required. The only development work needed involves smoothing the driveway, drilling a groundwater well, servicing each (gravel) tiny home pad, and installing a septic system. Despite the significant cost, we opted for a Type 2 septic system, which has half the footprint of a Type 1 system and generates much cleaner effluent. In this case, as in many others, eco-minded choices come at a higher cost, but to us, it’s worth it. 

The community will be situated on roughly three of our 30+ acres. Guidelines for RV park developments recommend 10 units per acre, which translates to 30 units for our community space. We decided on only 10. Water is our most precious resource, and after consulting with a civil engineer, we determined that 10 tiny homes is both conservative as well as sustainable. Of course, the other benefit of having only 10 pads is that we can truly offer tiny homesteads, with plenty of space and privacy, with the comfort of a community not too far away.

Tiny Home Living

It’s intuitive that tiny homes take up a smaller footprint than conventional homes and generally use less electricity and water, of which the average Canadian uses 330 litres per day. Tiny house dweller and blogger Joshua Engberg determined that his daily water use was just over 66 litres, about 20% of the average Canadian’s use. In terms of electricity, the average Canadian uses 13,891 kWh per year, while a tiny home uses only 1,515 kWh per year, or about 11% the national per capita average. Based on these statistics, 10 tiny homes would use roughly the same amount of water as two conventional homes and about the same amount of electricity as one conventional home.

And, that doesn’t take into account the electricity- and water-saving measures we, and future tiny homesteaders, plan to employ. Not surprisingly, the majority of individuals interested in living at Big Calm also plan to install solar panels on their tiny homes, which will complement the large solar array we plan to install in the mid-term. Even though tiny homes have a small water catchment area, prospective tiny homesteaders still want to harvest as much water as they can. We’ve also heard from folks planning to have compost toilets in their tiny home, which can save more than 25,000 litres of water per person per year!

Maria Saxton, a doctor of environmental design and planning, conducted a study to measure how downsizing to a tiny home influences downstream environmental impacts. She found that the average ecological footprint required to support a tiny home dweller for one year was about 9.5 acres, compared with 17.3 acres for an individual living in a conventional home, a decrease of 45%. She adds that the impacts are even further-reaching:

“On average, every major component of downsizers’ lifestyles, including food, transportation, and consumption of goods and services, was positively influenced.

 

As a whole, I found that after downsizing, people were more likely to eat less energy-intensive food products and adopt more environmentally conscious eating habits, such as eating more locally and growing more of their own food. Participants traveled less by car, motorcycle, bus, train, and airplane, and drove more fuel-efficient cars than they did before downsizing.

 

They also purchased substantially fewer items, recycled more plastic and paper, and generated less trash. In sum, I found that downsizing was an important step toward reducing ecological footprints and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors.”

Permaculture-Guided

Climate change is an overwhelming issue for everybody. What I love about permaculture is that it is a way for individuals to do their part to care for the earth. Permaculture doesn’t aim to be merely sustainable, it aims to be regenerative. It builds soil, captures carbon, promotes biodiversity and produces food in a way that isn’t destructive. 

We have grand permaculture-related plans for Big Calm. We envision pollinator gardens, a food forest and a greenhouse to extend the growing season. Permaculture is a means by which we can give back to the land, become more self reliant and create community bonds. We are thrilled that everyone we’ve spoken to can’t wait to get their hands dirty!

Community Impact

When we first conceived the concept of Big Calm, we wanted to ensure that it would have a positive impact on the larger community. Affordable housing in this part of BC is a complex issue that will require institutional support and substantial funding to address, and is not an affordable undertaking by us regular folks, unfortunately. 

In an article on the investment needed for dedicated affordable housing Marc Lee, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says:

“A housing commitment to build 11,400 units a year for a decade translates into an annual public investment of about $3 billion ($250,000 per unit construction and related cost), assuming public land owned by local governments or the provincial government is contributed.”

Despite not having the substantial capital required to take on the issue of affordable housing, Big Calm can still have a positive impact. In an article in The Tyee, Guy Dauncey, author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, posed eight solutions to Canada’s housing crisis. One of them was the development of new villages. He says:

“Many younger people want more than an affordable home. They also want to live sustainably with a strong sense of community. They want to build a sharing economy, with a lighter footprint on the Earth. They want to build their own eco-villages and tiny home villages.

 

An eco-village places more emphasis on sociable, pedestrian-friendly designs, habitat protection and solar energy and passive homes than a conventional development. We should train people how to become their own developers, forming eco-village development co-operatives, raising the money needed and navigating the complex world of zoning and development approval.”

My only gripe with this is that it’s not just younger people, it’s people of all ages, including families, independents, and a large proportion of individuals who are retired or planning to retire soon and want to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Because Big Calm is attracting remote workers–who will bring their jobs with them–to new residential units, we will not exacerbate the issue of lack of affordable housing. We believe we can have a positive economic impact on the community: we hope our modest project–which is being developed by local contractors; tradespeople; and civil, structural and geotechnical engineers–will potentially relieve some pressure on the middle-market. Not to mention that the Big Calm community will volunteer at local events and support businesses by shopping locally.

“More people are now wanting to relocate to the valley, recognizing it for the gem that it is.” 
– Slocan Valley Economic Development coordinator (Valley Voice, October 8, 2020)

We are thrilled with the calibre and diversity of individuals interested in Big Calm, as well as their desire to contribute not just to the Big Calm community, but to the larger community as well. We’ve heard from individuals who want to share their knowledge of / expertise in laughter yoga, leadership, mindfulness, movement, art, group building, positive therapy, meditation/guided visualization, permaculture, gardening, photography/videography, presentation development, detoxing, raw vegan cuisine, mental wellness, and close community living. We’ve had the pleasure to meet a semi-retired midwife, financial analyst, insurance underwriter, soil scientist, leadership coach and yoga instructor, among others. A desire to live sustainably, care for the land and be part of a supportive community is the common thread that unites them.  

Do you have any other ideas that would help us positively impact the environment, the community and the larger Slocan Valley Community? Please share them with us at hello@bigcalm.ca.

Photo by Arwin Basdew on Unsplash

Black and white photo of a couple in a field of flowers
CategoriesDevelopment

Big Calm in the Valley Voice

One of the things that drew us to the Slocan Valley was the local spirit and “real world” news conveyed every two weeks in the Valley Voice newspaper. It was a welcome reprieve from the 24/7 US political coverage and the social media doom-scrolling predominant in the rest of our media exposure. Each issue, every two weeks, was/is a treat.

And now Big Calm is featured in it! You can find us in the July 1, 2021 issue on page 6 in an article by John Boivin titled, “New developments see future in tiny homes, communal living”.

A Slocan Valley couple is hoping their new housing development will attract high-tech workers and others looking for a simpler life.

 

And their project is only one of several that are looking to launch a new generation of alternative community living in the region.

 

“The tiny homes will be spaced out along this ridge here,” says Steve Hardy, pointing across a field of white and yellow sub-alpine flowers. “We want to give each unit lots of space.”

 

Hardy and his partner Abby gave the Valley Voice a tour of their 37-acre property recently. They purchased the acreage between Slocan City and Winlaw two years ago, after getting disillusioned with life in Calgary.

 

“We were making regular trips to the Kootenays and Okanagan, seeing what each place had to offer, the culture of each area, and we kept coming back to the Slocan Valley,” says Steve Hardy. “We liked the charm, the locals we met, the beauty of the area. And then we found a piece of property that we thought would be a great pocket neighbourhood for people who could work remotely and would like to do so in a nice place.”

 

The pandemic just reinforced their determination to try to find a new way of life. And they figured others shared their vision.

 

There wasn’t much on the property: an old cabin that has to be torn down, a second that needs major overhaul*, and some fencing. But there is an organic garden, spring water, spectacular views, and a cool breeze not felt on the valley bottom on a hot day. Out of a somewhat unremarkable piece of property on the east slope of the Slocan Valley, however, they hope to create something special.

 

They call it ‘Big Calm,’ a “permaculture-guided tiny homestead community for remote digital workers,” in the heart of the Kootenays.

 

“It’s a fairly modest community, within the natural landscape of the property,” says Hardy. “The majority would be long-term renters, and a couple would be guest stays.”

 

The Big Calm Tiny Homesteads website outlines the project’s scope. “ We envision an ecologically sustainable, self-reliant tiny home community guided by the ‘Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share’ ethics of permaculture; and strengthened by collaboration, mutual support and the diversity and skills of its members,” it says. “Hands-on work is a feature, not a bug.”

 

There’s no shortage of hands-on work to do. Before the first community member arrives, the concrete pads for 10 tiny homes have to be poured**, and utilities like water and electricity hooked up. The septic system is going to be top-of-the-line when it’s installed, but the last part of that project’s been delayed by red tape and supply problems.

 

It’s a complicated bit of development for two admitted amateurs, who are managing the building project while trying to attract residents and investors in a timely manner. But Hardy says it’s going well.

 

“Most of the development will take shape next year, and we’re currently putting out an investment raise – dividend-producing shares so that we can accelerate the build actually. Our business plan was perhaps too conservative. The interest is certainly there to fill the spots as we can build them.”

 

The Hardys hope to welcome their first tenant in the fall. That person has already purchased a tiny home for placement on the property.

 

It won’t be cheap to be a resident of Big Calm. At $1,500 a month for pad fees*** – which includes utilities – the Hardys are working to attract upscale, higher-income knowledge workers like themselves. Steve ran a software company and now consults high-tech start-ups, while Abby is a communications specialist for biotech companies.

 

They plan to build Big Calm to allow residents to live the Slocan lifestyle, while still earning a good living.

 

“This has been one of the best parts of the process for us, the people who have been reaching out to us because they are interested,” he says. “It’s from all across the country and the US.

 

“We have geochemists, social innovators, arts fundraisers… all across the board. But they all have a similar appreciation of wanting to make a smaller footprint in a nice natural location and still be able to effectively do their jobs.”

 

The Hardys have been surprised by the potential for communities like this to help grow the local economy.

 

“There’s actually quite a pent-up demand for it. Our sense is it’s an enormous economic development opportunity for the valley… it’s people with a commitment to the local area, who bring a net income from outside because they already have their jobs from elsewhere.”

 

Alternative options growing

The pandemic has created a wave of people moving out of the cities to places like the Slocan Valley. But that’s driven up house and land prices significantly, and only the well-financed can afford to buy or build these days.

 

That’s what’s made places like Big Calm Tiny Homesteads attractive to some. Offering a small space for a tiny home or RV, sharing the cost of services and supporting each other in a community has become an appealing idea.

 

Similar projects are starting or being contemplated along the valley, aimed at a more local audience.

 

“Off-the-grid site rental available in exchange for work trade outside of Slocan City,” a post advertised on Facebook recently read. “… We are asking for 30 hours a month in exchange for the site.”

 

With 150 acres on Perry’s Ridge, the developer plans to create a 15- to 20-unit permaculture community on part of the property.

 

While the Hardys across the valley work with contractors and hope to attract higher-income residents, this developer is pulling his project up by its bootstraps, offering space for people with chainsaw and other skills to build the community themselves.

 

“Skills with building, energy systems and all trades are desirable at this phase,” the post says. “Long-term, the community will require skills with permaculture, agroforestry, livestock management, medicine making, fibre arts, practical crafts, communication, facilitation, etc.”

 

The post makes no bones about what’s involved.

 

“We are looking for hardy folks to help us pioneer this effort. Experience roughing it is required,” it notes.

 

The post says they hope to have six sites ready for occupancy with tiny homes or RVs by this winter. Eventually a community centre will be built on site, with a kitchen, bathing and laundry facilities. The dream is to run the community as a co-op.

 

The carrot is building a community with others who share the same values.

 

“We are a group of people passionate about eco-villages, healing nature, and the arts. Looking for other passionate and inspired folks who are open-hearted and openminded,” the post says.

 

The developer declined to be interviewed by the Valley Voice at this time, saying after the original post he was inundated with inquiries. Other projects are popping up along the Valley and elsewhere in the West Kootenay. In Winlaw, the Raven’s Perch offers a single vacation unit at this time, but has plans to “build more space on the property to live and work.”

 

The pitch the Winlaw property makes has a familiar ring: “We’re creating an environment that encourages those who visit to reconnect with nature – the forest, lakes, rivers and mountains,” their website says. “We encourage visitors to disconnect from the outer world reality so that they might reconnect with their own nature.”

 

History repeats

A century ago, cheap land and a desire to live communally brought thousands of Doukhobors to the region; counterculture hippies and draft dodgers 50 years later established communes across the valley (there’s even an old one neighbouring the Hardys’ property).

 

The drivers may be different today – concerns about climate change, the cost of housing, and technology enabling remote work – but the attraction is the same: a desire to live in peace, in beauty, and in support of each other.

 

But just like past immigrants, the newcomers bring the promise of both change and growth.

 

“The type of people being attracted to the pitch we have would be great additions to the community; they share the values that are already here,” says Steve Hardy, who notes jurisdictions like Nova Scotia have whole campaigns devoted to attracting those kind of workers.

 

“I don’t’ think it’s fully set in how amazing this opportunity can be and how strong a contributor these folks would be, and how much they want to be kind of outside of the fray.”

 

Despite modern trappings, some things don’t change.

A few corrections/clarifications to the original reporting:
*Not an overhaul but rather simply the completion of a previously unfinished structure.
**The pads will be permeable gravel, not concrete.
***Please see our FAQ for more current and detailed pricing info.

Photo: John Boivin

Woman in an unplanted garden at springtime
CategoriesDevelopment

Power to the Permies!

Permie-paralysis – it’s deep and it’s real. It’s the state of having acquired from your permaculture design course (PDC) so much useful information, with so many applications and possibilities, that you are completely overwhelmed.

I felt that way for a long time after finishing my PDC (with Verge Permaculture) until, recently, I decided on a plan. It’s not the grand permaculture garden plan I envisaged, but it’s a plan.

What was the grand permaculture garden plan I had in mind, you ask? Well, I’d convert our entire 56 by 32 foot vegetable garden into a food forest containing all seven plant layers, from ground cover to canopy. 

The problem is, I don’t feel as though I have had enough time to observe the garden and surrounding areas. We moved to BC in September and haven’t experienced a spring yet at Big Calm. How am I supposed to confidently plant a permaculture garden/food forest?

And, despite my plans to have complete permaculture garden design ready-to-go for spring, life got in the way. We’ve simply been too busy developing Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to also plan a permaculture garden.

And so arose the revised, more reasonable plan: plant only annuals this year, saving any permanent decisions until next year, when I have observed the garden through the growing season and have had time to think about what I want to include in my permaculture garden/food forest. 

But, that doesn’t mean I can’t still incorporate permaculture design. This year will be an experiment with annual cover crops (crimson clover) and pest control species (alyssum) grown among vegetables. I highly recommend the West Coast Seeds catalog, which has all of the information one needs to decide on which cultivars to choose.

This approach does take some pressure off, because in this case, I think it’s the right one. Plus, it will give me time to work on other things for Big Calm, like (warning: shameless plug) these awesome permaculture-inspired Big Calm t-shirts available to purchase.  

Blue t-shirt that says Save the Swales on a clothes hanger Blue t-shirt that says Chop and Drop It Like It's Hot on a clothes hanger Blue t-shirt that says But First Compost on a clothes hanger

Power to the permies!

White t-shirt that says Power to the Permies on a clothes hanger

excavator and crew placing septic tanks next to a barn-loft
CategoriesDevelopment

Groundwork Underway

“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” – T.S. Eliot

While most are eager for 2020 to end, we are instead focused on new starts. Big Calm is beginning to take shape. We’ve been busy this fall working with engineers, contractors, and investors on various planning, permitting, and prep, and we’re pleased to announce that groundwork is now underway.

Phase 1 Groundwork: The septic tanks are in, and power and water are now being pulled out to the charming post-and-beam barn-loft – the Shangri-loft – that will eventually become a shared space at the centre of the community.

Our goal is to roll out 10 fully-serviced pads for Tiny Houses on Wheels over the next three years, with the first three coming available for lease later in 2021. Each homestead will share 30 natural acres, several great amenities, and the seeds of a permaculture-minded, remote-work-enabled, Kootenay-based community.

More details to come early in the new year. In the meantime, we’ve compiled this Big Directory of Tiny House Builders and these relaxing Youtube teaser videos to hold you over.

Season’s Greetings

With gratitude, we’d like to thank all of our wonderful collaborators, cheerleaders, and future neighbours. On the flipside of this challenging winter will be a revitalizing spring. Stay safe and happy holidays! A&S