Prototype – Update

NewWood's Panel

It’s been just over six months since my last post. You may have been wondering what has happened. You may even have thought we’d given up or gone away. Not so. We’ve been continuing our research into materials and methods, hoping to get a prototype underway.

The biggest challenge has been the exterior skin of the home. Virtually all of the other components we think we have at least a good starting point. We understand there will be some tweaks and adjustments as we refine the home from the prototype, but the skin has had us kind of spinning our wheels.

To find a product that meets the triple bottom line of environment, equity and economy has been difficult, at best. Wood products can be locally-sourced where we are located (Pacific Northwest), but durability, specifically from humidity and insects, is an issue without chemical treatment. We found one product, a nylon panel made from excess carpet fiber waste. It is very lightweight, appears to be extremely durable, but the cost was prohibitive.

Now, we think we might be on to something. Preston Koerner, from JetsonGreen highlighted a product called NewWood. It’s 50% recycled plastic and 50% recycled wood. And it’s manufactured  just 250 miles from our location. The company is just coming on line. AND, to top it off (this is where it gets really interesting for me), their manufacturing facility is recycling a moth-balled never-brought-on-line nuclear power plant. Now how appropriate is that?

So, we’re checking it out and praying the panels aren’t $100 a sheet…

Focus Group – A Huge Thank You!

A huge thank you to our 15 friends, both old and new, who joined us for our first focus group on our World3Homes design concept. Your input and ideas and perspectives were so incredibly valuable! The two hours you spent with us, discussing our ideas, dreams and concepts were amazing. Your thoughts brought a depth to what we desire for this venture that are beyond words.

I thought about posting a picture of our time together, but thought I’d post a copy of my notes instead. I’m doing this primarily because this gets at the heart of what we talked about and discussed last night. So many ideas and ways we can make these homes even better for the people they are intended to help. We will set to work on the refinements.

From detailed ideas about footing bases on uneven ground to how to make these homes part of a larger idea of helping to rebuild a community, those two hours last night were some of the best conversation we’ve had in a long time. Your individual perspectives from builder, to friend, to program director for these types of projects, have helped us have a more balanced picture of what these homes need to be and provide.

We are considering our next steps in the process. Refining the design is one step. Targeting a prototype is another. The prototype may also be one we use in Mexico Spring Break 2011 when Dan goes down for his annual trek. We are also considering how these homes may be just the first step in an even larger vision of humanitarian aid and truly “loving our neighbor.”

Focus Group and the Design

We have done a little more research on our prototype home and have scheduled a focus group in just a few days. We’ll report back here the results of that time.

We are inviting some key people we know personally and some we know of their work in this area of aid. From construction people to humanitarian workers, we are assembling a group to review this first stage of our design. They are people we trust and value their opinions.

You can see a little better now the form of these homes. In the first picture, you can see the covered cooking porch with the photovoltaic panels. At the right is our rainwater collection tank.

We are still researching construction methods. The SIP panels may prove to be too expensive, so we are looking at alternates. We’ll discuss this with our focus group. We are contacting a local (right here in town) company about the foundation anchoring method and we’ll keep you posted on that, too.

We’re really getting pretty excited about the idea of providing homes for people. And that’s where our focus is: building homes, not just housing.

Prototype Home – Schematic

We have started the design of our first prototype World 3 Home. We are starting to work with some people who have experience with this type of housing and people who will live in it to see what changes or modifications we may need to do. The paneled construction is intended to be Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for the walls and the roof. A single ply membrane roof and a large “barn door” to open the main living area up to the outside.

On the front, as you can see in the first picture, we have a covered porch area to extend the living space as well as create a covered area for cooking. Solar photovoltaic panels are on the porch roof to provide some basic electricity for charging cell phones and maybe some basic lighting for the evenings.

As you can see in the plan view, we have a basic central living space with sleeping spaces at each end. Depending on the arrangement, this home, at 10′ x 28′ (280 square feet), could house a family of four or five people. Each sleeping area has windows on each of two walls for some cross-ventilation. The living space has a window on the back wall and a large, sliding panel door to open it up to the porch.

We are trying to keep these simple. No plumbing, only basic electricity and a simple shape. Yet we are also trying to give them some style and color. We’re also planning on creating these homes in a way that allows relatively easy personalization. That way, each family who receives one can add their own distinctive personality to their place they call “home”.

We also are planning, with the solar, to provide for rainwater collection. That way, depending on the climate where it is built, the family will have access to cleaner water for drinking or cooking. You can see the rainwater tank on the end elevation below, complete with hand pump for filling pots.

We’ll keep you in the loop as this design progresses. This is really just our “first hit” and we’re wanting to see if what we’ve come up with is actually what people would want or need. And we’d appreciate your input, too. Let us know what you think!

Challenges in Haiti

Haiti was hit by a powerful, magnitude 7.0 devastating earthquake January 12. In the ensuing eight months, only 2% of the rubble has been cleared. There are a lot of reasons why, and we could spend time placing blame, but the fact remains that the people of Haiti need help.

Some of the challenges are how and where to dispose of the debris (some of which contains human remains), sorting through property records to determine who owns a parcel so permission can be granted to clear it, coordination between the government, NGOs and aid workers on getting the work done.

I wish we could propose a simple, effective answer to the problems and challenges facing the people of Haiti; but I can’t. I am, however, hopeful that the November elections in Haiti will bring solid leadership to a country desperately in need of help.

(Photo courtesy PressTV.ir)

A little bit about us – Part 3: Dan’s Story

Dan’s story, while it has many differences to Bill’s, also has many similarities. His story begins over 20 years ago in 1988 with Dan founding  Mission to Mexico, a non-profit organization that began with 14 people building a few homes for needy families in Mexico. M2M has grown now to over 125 people traveling each Spring Break to give back to the families of Mexico. M2M has built  60 homes, 2 churches, and orphanage and a medical clinic. Dan has also traveled to help with disaster relief in Honduras and he and Bill are planning a trip soon to Haiti. World 3 Homes initially sprang out of this sort of service and giving back.

Speaking about M2M, Dan says “it changes our way of thinking about what we have. What we try to share with adults as well as the kids is that turning on a light switch is a luxury, that flushing a toilet is a luxury.”

But perhaps more importantly, is the change that takes place in the families that receive a new, roughly 400 square foot home. Most of the families M2M builds for are living in cardboard boxes and scrap tin — whatever they can scavenge. Eighty percent of the families are headed by a single mother.

Commenting on the encouragement for everyone to go on this type of trip, Dan wants us to know that “it’s life changing for the people who go.”

It truly is.

A little bit about us – Part 2: Bill’s Story

My story related to  giving back really began in February 1995 when myself and my wife, Brenda, and a small team went to Romania to remodel an Orphanage in downtown Bucharest. The orphanage, Orasul Speranti (which means City of Home in Romanian) was the first of several humanitarian arms of the Children’s Relief Network. Probably the best way to describe how that affected me was outside the orphanage, it was like TV where everything was in black and white, then when we stepped into Orasul Speranti’s building, it switched to color.

That trip also helped me realize just how much we in developed countries have. We take for granted the fact that we have shoes and can drink the water here. And so that made an indelible impression on me. Since 1995, I have been back to Romania one more time to help construct a children’s home, to Djibouti to install medical equipment in the only hospital in the country and to Uganda as part of an advance team to lay the ground work for an intensive care addition to the regional hospital in Jinja.

In the ensuing 15 years since that first trip, I’ve personally felt a certain uneasiness in myself looking to do more. Realizing, as I said, just how much we have, there has been something in my gut that has been pressing me to go beyond, to get out of my comfort zone some more and give even more back.

That’s why World 3 Homes is close to my heart and soul.

A little bit about us – Part 1: Career History

In March, 1983, myself, Bill Randall and Dan Hill started an architectural firm, Arbor South in Eugene, Oregon. We both had a passion for energy efficient design and good architecture. And so we started our career together. We achieved early success, with some design awards in the first couple of years of our business, including a national award for a small, energy-efficient cluster subdivision in Eugene.

As our career progressed, we went through the 1980s and into the 1990s and, like many in our culture, kind of got caught up into the excesses of that era. Not that we totally abandoned our desire for energy efficiency or solar tempering, but I have to admit we drifted away from our roots somewhat.

But a couple of things stayed ingrained in our psyches: our passion for truly good, sustainable architecture and our passion to give back out of our plenty. We always wanted to create good architecture. Functional art, if you will, not just some ego statement. And I think over the years, we achieved that goal. And I think we came full circle on that with our recent LEED Platinum home, theSAGE, which achieved all sorts of accolades and press.

Secondly, we never really lost sight of the blessings we have living in this first world country. So our journeys took us not only down the path of good architecture, our journeys took us down a parallel path of also giving back to those in need. Both Dan and myself have held that as a high priority in our lives and I’ll talk about that in my next few posts.

But the past couple of years, we have each felt a growing uneasiness with the status quo. Success is one thing, but significance is something entirely different. The downturn in the economy has given us the time and the opportunity to reevaluate our business and just where we really want to go in these next 28 years.

So we started World 3 Homes. I’ll speak to Dan and my personal histories in the next two posts and a little bit about the origins of World 3 Homes after that. So sit back and hear our story.

sustainable homes for developing countries