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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.

white neon sign that says Do Something Great
CategoriesLifestyle

The Space Between

Surrounded by boxes of what we’re taking to B.C., it doesn’t feel like we’re really “living” in Calgary anymore. There’s still a month until we move, and it’s as though we’re somewhere in between.

It’s given us a lot of time to think about what we want to do with Big Calm. The first objective is to finish the Shangri-loft, so we can move in. I want our plans for both Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to be guided by the principles and ethics of permaculture, so we are thinking about ways to efficiently capture and store energy (solar panels, solar thermal, batteries, electric generators, etc.) while ensuring there are redundancies in place. 

Here in Calgary, we are in a condo building with 47 units, but we hardly know anyone – I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to a neighbour if we needed anything. We’re surrounded by people, but there is no community. We decided that we want to build one at Big Calm, and have established our vision: 

To create an ecologically sustainable, self-reliant tiny home community, guided by the ethics of permaculture, and strengthened by collaboration, mutual support and the diversity and skills of its members.

We will call the Shangri-loft home while we establish the first phase of Big Calm, after which the Shangri-loft will serve as a shared community space. We plan to incorporate other elements, including other community gathering spaces, food garden beds, a greenhouse and eventually, a food forest. 

There is a lot to consider, and we want to be thoughtful in approach. We can’t wait to share more (per Geoff Lawton: 100 hours of thinking for 1 hour of work). 

Have ideas for us? Drop us a line!

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

a jumble of clutter household items
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

All the Things That We Can’t Leave Behind 

So. Much. Stuff.

We closed on our property, which we have named Big Calm, at the end of June. It has a lovely, but old, cabin on it, in addition to a beautifully-built post-and-beam barn. Our plan is to develop and live in the loft above it, which we have named the Shangri-loft. It comes in at about 500 square feet of functional space, half the size of our condo in Calgary. 

We have to downsize. A lot. Not only do I have way more shoes and clothes than I need, I’m ashamed to admit that some haven’t even been worn. I have two giant canvasses, that have been sitting there for five years, blank, waiting for me to be inspired to create something beautiful. CDs and DVDs. I found dried corsages from my high school graduation. I’m sentimental, but this is ridiculous.

I guess one amasses a lot of stuff, especially having not moved much. That said, my husband has moved more than a dozen times and has more stuff than I do (Ed. Not true!). 

There’s a saying that “the stuff you own, ends up owning you.” So true. It just becomes a burden, especially when you have to get rid of it. And more importantly, most of it could be very useful for those who are less fortunate (not the corsages of course). 

We didn’t employ the “only keep what brings you joy” approach, but rather “does this have a function?” approach. It turns out that we have several things that serve the same function, and many things that don’t serve any. Looking at it through a permaculture lens, the ultimate goal is to ensure all elements perform multiple functions. We did our best to donate the rest.

Not only has “the great purge” been liberating, but it’s also the first step to living a simpler life, collecting more experiences than stuff, and acquiring memories, rather than things.

Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash