The week we bought our farm in 2010, the home we had designed and spent 6 years building burned down in a wildfire that destroyed 170 houses in the mountains west of Boulder. In the weeks that followed, we were greatly surprised to find out that all the devastated houses in that fire were considered toxic waste and required special handling and disposal in buried plastic boxes. Apparently most houses, even "green" ones, contain asbestos and other toxins hidden in ubiquitous building materials.
Reusing our reclaimed materials was possible only after a lengthy testing process to prove to the government that our previous home had no asbestos and was not toxic. After we learned about the toxicity in building materials, we wanted to see how far we could take the idea of compostable architecture in our farm renovation while deeply considering the question: What is green architecture?
We built new structures utilizing stone and steel artifacts from our last home along with wood, mud, straw and wool all obtained locally. We hired David Laskey to harvest burnt trees with his draft horses from the fire mitigation projects around our old homestead and haul them to our new site. We borrowed David’s sawmill and started making beams, siding, and flooring and anything else we might need. We hired a contractor and his crew to turn the wood pile into post and beam frames for the houses, in addition to installing roofs, plumbing, and electrical. They also built the door and window bucks and stacked straw bales for our exterior walls.
At this point we took over and learned the joys and pains of building our own dreams. We mudded the exterior walls of the farm houses with a thick layer of cob (straw, clay, and water) to hold them together. Then we started to build the interior walls out of the same mud mix we had used on the exterior bales. This would have worked well had it not been for the mold... so we learned to add 10% lime to the cob. Lime makes it less sticky, but much stronger and the higher PH retards mold growth.
Rather than buying wood cabinetry, we hired Rick Maddux to make shelves from the wood we milled on the farm. We had plenty of dead walnut and cottonwood which became our shelving. We mudded everything together rather than having him make more expensive wooden fittings. We learned to oil the wood first so it didn’t get stained by the mud. We finished the interior mud walls with lime wash and a locally mixed, chemical-free Tung oil. Our final exterior plaster coat we made out of road base mixed with lime and wool, finished with a yellow lime wash.
We avoided materials from the global supply chain as often as possible as part of our effort to help lower our footprint while improving the quality of available jobs. Whenever feasible, we provide jobs directly to entrepreneurs and artists rather than to under paid factory workers in far away places (with profits going to global corporations). We find that many so called "green" products are simply green washing for people who want to feel good about themselves without really changing anything.