The Greenest Modern Home in the World: Tour this one-of-a-kind cob house built in the Victoria area to last centuries


The Greenest Modern Home in the World: Tour this one-of-a-kind cob house built in the Victoria area to last centuries

 Solar panels provide more power than family can use


Posted 02 July 2011, by Pedro Arrais, Times Colonist (PostMedia Network),

Click here for photos

Every day Ann and Gordon Baird prove people need not give up any creature comforts to live in “The Greenest Modern Home in the World.” The Bairds’ Highlands house was awarded the title by the Cascadia Green Building Council last year.

Although the house is constructed essentially of mud, it sometimes feels like a fishbowl.

This year, their fivebedroom house is part of a research project, with sensors embedded throughout the house downloading data every day to measure energy usage. Almost every week, a busload of schoolchildren tours the house. The couple give presentations, media interviews and answer emails from curious people from all over the world.

“We signed on knowing we were going to use the house as an educational tool,” says Ann Baird. “We wanted to create a sustainable lifestyle for ourselves, but also use our experience as a teaching tool to show others how one can live with nature without giving up anything.”

How they achieved that goal is inspiring. There is very little energy consumption, and no electrical consumption at all.

– There is no monthly electrical bill. Instead, their 2kW solar array produces more energy than they can use, meaning they are a net supplier of electricity to B.C. Hydro.

– Potable water is heated by 60 solar evacuated tubes. Some of the water is used for the home’s hydronic in-floor heating.

– A wood gasification stove (85 per cent efficient) supplies heat in the winter.

– The two refrigerators and one freezer are powered by DC power. There are no kitchen appliances.

– Food is stored in a root cellar.

– Clothes are hung out to dry in the mechanical room in the winter.

– There are no cordless phones, laptops or stereos. The Bairds have a small television in their room.

– The bedrooms have a master AC switch to turn off power at night.

The only energy they use is propane for cooking – with plans to switch to bio-gas in the future.

“When we started building the house in the spring of 2007 we set out to reduce our carbon footprint – and we suceeded,” says Baird, who majored in biology and ecology.

“Energy cost was also important, but we wanted something that works with, instead of against, nature. We wanted to build something [in such a way] that the local ecology was improved by us living here.”

They managed to do that with the materials they used to construct the house.

It took 90 yards of sand, 100 bales of straw, 40 yards of pumice, 25 litres of gas for a rototiller and two people working seven weeks to construct the lower wall. Eighty per cent of the wood used was recycled as was most of the plumbing and lighting fixtures.

Lime plaster was chosen for the exterior because it is almost carbon neutral. Iron oxide was used to colour the plaster.

The interior has earthen floors and counters. Natural plasters were used for the walls and natural milk paints used to paint. High flyash concrete was used to reduce its carbon footprint.

Although it is commonly referred to as a cob house, it is essentially a mud house, says Baird.

The house is built to last. Cob has an expected life span of about 500 years.

The house’s longevity fits in with the Bairds’ long-term plans. They built their house with their children and grandchildren in mind. The house currently includes an inlaw suite that houses Ann’s parents. When their time comes, the plan is that Ann and Gord will age in place and move into the in-law suite while their children and expected grandchildren occupy the main structure.

If their children decide not to stay, the Bairds will probably rent out the main house.

“But we need to qualify the renters,” says Baird, 44. “While there is no monthly electrical bill, there are no flush toilets, either.”

As part of the house’s water efficiency there are compostable toilets, no bathtubs and all low-flow fixtures. Nothing goes to waste. Grey water is filtered and re-used for irrigation. Contents from the composting odourless toilets are tested after two years and used in the food garden.

Their frugality results in water usage that is 90 per cent less than a typical British Columbian’s.

While all these measures are noteworthy, Baird says the best part is that construction costs no more than a conventional house.

She estimates it cost them $370,000 to build their 2,150-square-foot, fivebedroom, two-bath and two-kitchen house. That includes an estimated $100,000 for their own labour over 20 months.

Other components include $45,000 for solar electrical equipment and $3,729 for 42 yards of pumice for the structure.

“But the real cost is the one that affects future generations,” says Baird.

“By using local materials, recycled materials and local labour, what we pass on to our children is a zero carbon house.”

To see more of the house or to book tours, visit

Click here for photos


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