Sunday, October 24, 2010

Towards a Living Building

I had a great opportunity yesterday to visit an interesting project in Portland that is seeking to meet the Living Building Challenge. It's known as the Commons, and it's being designed, built, and financed by the Moon Brothers. These guys are truly pioneers and heroes showing how we can build and live more in harmony with nature.

Exterior step detail
The Commons view from the street
The Commons view from the rear garden

Dustin Moon, the tireless builder and contractor of the home, showed us around. He and his brother,  Garrett, have designed and are financing and building the 2600 square foot home which will house them and their families including occasionally their parents. They've also established a good size shop on site which is covered by a food garden. At this point, they have the foundation, cistern, walls, roof, most windows, stairs, and some mechanical systems in place. They been at it for two years and they're hoping to finish by next summer.
The "expensive box" composting bin for "blackwater" waste

So what is a living building? According to Cascadia Green Building Council, the initiators of the Living Building Challenge, a living building must generate all needed energy on-site, draw all its needed water from the site, and processes all its water and waste on the site. This is an extremely tall order and something that's very exciting in the movement to have our built environment be more harmonious with the natural environment.

The Commons has come a long way since I saw last year on the Portland's Build It Green home tour. At that point they had the foundation, cistern, and shop in place, but had only the beginnings of walls started.

Although the Living Building Challenge has been underway for several years, last month was the first time that any had successfully been completed and certified in the Challenge.

The home incorporates a modern design with steel stud framing and several layers of polyiso foam on the exterior for insulation. They managed to deconstruct and reuse or giveaway most of the very old rundown building that was on the site previously. And they have been able to incorporate many recycled materials in the construction of the new house, including the reused sheet metal which gives the exterior a very distinctive look. They also are incorporating some ingenious and attractive metal features.

I look forward to watching their progress continue and wish them the best of luck in meeting the Living Building Challenge.

For more details and to track their progress, check out their blog and website here at The Commons. I also want to send a shout out to Amber Turner and Green PDX for arranging this and many other great tours locally.


  1. I had the pleasure of meeting Dustin at this year's Portland Build it Green Tour and was very impressed with what this Living Building Challenge concept is all about. Our company has been involved in the Green movement for decades and we are one of the sponsor's of Earth Advantage but were not familiar with the Living Building Challenge. We are learning more about this program and are excited to have had the opportunity to install a Retractable Hose Central Vacuum System in this home. We know they will appreciate the Indoor Air Quality benefits of this system.

    We wish Garrin and Dustin the best of luck in their endeavor to promote this Green concept to others in the City of Portland and across the nation.

    Gary Phillips
    Gary's Vacuflo Inc
    Portland, Oregon

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