Monday, March 27, 2017

Be the Change You Want to See...

My shock and awe at the train wreck that is the current administration has subsided somewhat. I am transitioning from my outright disdain for nearly every action they are taking, to making plans to stand against nearly every action they are taking, to moving forward with those plans of resistance.

At this point, if you still support the Trump administration, you are either intentionally staying ignorant - because there is plenty of reading out there on what they're doing and why it's bad for humans in general and Americans specifically, or you believe in the things they are doing, which makes you a not so great human being. 

Anyway, because I'm tired of trying to educate the trumpers about why their Furher and his compatriots are dangerous to the planet, I've decided to focus on what I can do personally to change this world for the better. For me, that starts right here at home.

I've been living uncomfortably with the status quo for most of my adult life, because while it hasn't always been perfect or easy, it has never seemed to threaten my future or the future of the planet. The events at Standing Rock, the election of 45 and his consequent actions and policies that roll back environmental protections and speed up the usage and dangers of fossil fuels are just a couple of reasons why we can't just accept the status quo any more. So I've been trying to figure out what I can do in my little corner of the world to change things up a bit.

There were a few other factors leading to this idea as well. My Dad stayed with us for a couple of months as he was battling cancer. We converted our basement into a bedroom for him to stay in since it had a bathroom nearby. We knew he'd get a little weaker with treatment and such, but I didn't realize just how much he'd have to go through. It was pretty brutal, and Dad handled it like a champ. But I soon realized that if we had all been on one level, it would have not ony been easier to care for him, but he could have joined us in the "living space" much more frequently. As it was, there was a long period where he was just too weak to climb the stairs to get up to the living room.

My mother in law also has some mobility issues and stairs can be a bit of a strain. My wife, mother in law, and father have all talked about the idea of having a place where we could combine all of our families so that as the parents aged, my wife and I could care for them instead of them needing to go into a nursing home. (As a medic, I saw some truly terrible things in even the nicest nursing homes, and I know for a fact that Dad doesn't ever want to be put in one)

So, the four of us talked about what we'd all want in a homestead if we all lived together. One level. Away from town, but not so far that Karen's commute would be bad. Separate space for my Mom in law, a deluxe hotel style suite for Dad. A good shop for my business attatched to the house. Two washing machines was a request from Karen. More closet and storge than we have now, but not so much that we don't know what we have or where it is. More living space, but not too much. The list goes on and on and on.

After looking at available homes, it became pretty clear that to achieve any majority of things on the list, we'd have to sell not just all of our collective homes, but our kidney's and other spare body parts as well... or, we'd probably have to build. That started the process of looking at land and different designs for homes.

Now, anybody that knows me at all, knows I don't often go along with expected norms. As I stated before, I'm not a fan of status quo just for the sake of status quo. I looked at construction companies and floor plans and talked with some builders but it seemed like nothing was really coming together. Nobody seemed to get my vision of environmentally sound building practices, or that we really did want just about everything on one level. (The only exception would be kids rooms). We don't have the budget for, nor do we want a McMansion. 

Don't you want a basement? Conventional hookups to the electric grid are so much cheaper and easier than planning on solar. We don't do composting toilets. And on and on... So I started drawing out my own plans. 

I want to incorporate geothermal into a home for heating and cooling. Maybe even for in floor heat. It costs a little more up front, but the long term benefits for both the environment and our pocketbook is staggering. I don't want to spend $25-30,000 on a septic system when I can spend half that on composting toilets and a greywater system that are better for the environment. I want to use wind and solar power for our electricity. Over 75% of our local electricity comes from coal and oil powered plants. I'm tired of feeding into the continued reliance on fossil fuels. I wanted to be able to be hooked up to the grid, but I don't want to be dependent on it. Given the volitile nature of the world these days, I don't really want to be beholden to faceless companies to provide my electricity or anything else for that matter.

One of the parcels of land we were looking at early on had no access to water. The groundwater was polluted and no wells were allowed, and there was no hookup to any water system for dozens of miles. So I started looking into alternative ways to supply water. Delivery was an option, not too expensive. But again, it relied on others to provide our basic needs. Then I came across rainwater collection. It seemed a bit radical, but the more I looked into it, the better it seemed as an option. Even if we built on land where we could have a well, rainwater collection could easily provide more than enough of our water needs.

Traditional building techniques require lots of lumber, nails, roofing materials, etc. and also can lead to lots and lots of waste coming from a construction site. Most of your money when building a home goes to labor. So I decided to look into other forms of shelter where I could do a lot of the work myself. Greener forms of shelter. Turns out there are lots of options for building your own house out there if you're willing to go looking!

Strw bale construction, steel framing, even shipping containers converted into pretty nice homes. I settled on a quonset style house for a few reasons. 

They can be built on a slab foundation, fulfilling our "all on one level with no basements" wishes. It's something that I can build with the help of just a few friends. They are incredibly sturdy, and can handle our Minnesota snow loads, high winds, and other environmental challenges. I also really like the curves over the boxy look of every other building out there. Nature doesn't have many straight lines. Why should our living spaces? There's also the roominess on the inside of a quonset that you won't get unless you vault your ceilings anyway. I don't want to live in a box anymore.

Now, we're still at the beginning of this whole journey. Nothing is set in stone yet, and we're trying to figure out how to do all of this within budget and within reality. But I do like to dream. So let me pour forth some other ideas I've been mulling over as we've been planning out our dream house and see what you all think about 'em.

What if I recruited a few people to help me build this first house as a prototype. What if some of those people were architects and electricians. Plumbers and framers. People that had some experience that I don't have. What if some of them want a home of their own built in a similar fashion. Shipping container style. Or Quonset style. Tiny house style. Whatever. But all as unreliant on the grid as possible, and as reliant as possible on the wind and the sun and the earth and the clouds to help provide their basic needs.

What if we build a community of builders that didn't do it just to make money, but to make homes for people that wanted to divest from fossil fuels and not break the bank doing it. We could involve the people we are building the homes for. Let sweat equity be a part of the equation. What if the construction team lived on site in pop up trailers and the people who we are building the house for were responsible for food as part of their fee. Each building would be like an old fashioned barn raising, where the community gathered had fun and worked hard because we are a community.

If I am the CEO of this company, what if all of the employees make the same wage as me? Because while I would have my areas of expertise and responsibility, I know that my architect does things that I could not. My elecrician, plumber, concrete guy... same thing. We'd all work together, taking the lead on the projects where our expertise lies, and being worker bees when we needed to. Fair and generous working conditions. Because nobody should make money on the efforts of others.

We could build housing in places that housing is desperately needed. On reservations in particular. We can train locals in those places as they work with us, and start new crews in those places. (I'm looking at you, Pine Ridge) 

We can break from the traditional expectations that all houses need to be boxy and wooden and expensive if you want something roomy. Or boxy and tiny and cramped if you have a limited budget. People should have space to live in and not feel crowded. Not have to pay an arm and a leg to heat it in the winter or cool it in the summer. 

What if, as this company grows, we build a house now and then completely free of charge for a family deserving of such a gift. What if we work with green companies like Tesla to get deals on the equipment used in these houses. What if we could transition away from killing the planet one house at a time. Building places to live in, on a planet we can actually live on.

I know there are a crap ton of hurdles and things to learn. I know there will aways be those more motivated by greed and status quo, and that getting people on board with something like this would be an uphill battle. I know there are laws and permits and zoning and other things to consider on a case by case basis that will make this a whole lot of hard work.

But I also know, for a fact, that griping about the way of things on Facebook or other social media does not produce a whole lot of change. I know that there are people out there, like me, that want a better planet for our kids and grandkids. I know, also for a fact, that there are people out there who are much smarter than I am, and much more qualified to do something like this. Like I said, I'm a dreamer. But the good news is this...

I have a friend who is a bona fide architect. She's excited about helping me with the prototype house. She's also brilliant. So if she's interested in doing some of this moving forward, that's a huge step in the right direction.

I also have friends who are electricians and house builders. Concrete workers and engineers. Friends who - I think - would be on board with helping me build in exchange for the "team" building one for them down the road, or for a little extra income apart from their day job.

I also think that I have friends who are just hard workers that  And it would only take five to ten people on a team. Maybe even as few as three. I'll be reaching out to them in the coming days and weeks as well.

So. There's the dream, my friends.Would you be interested in signing on to see where it goes? You don't have to quit your day job. You don't need to contribute money or buy in. Just donate a little of your time. A week. A month. A couple of weekends. Whatever when the time comes to build and learn and create. We become a group of Rogue Builders. Doing things in a different way, because we want a different result. I can't guarantee we'll get rich doing it. But if that's why you want in, it's probably not for you anyway.

I can guarantee that we'd all learn a lot. We'd be working to improve the planet, starting with our own communities and citizens.

Anybody interested?