Thoughts on Regenerative Enterprise

What does regenerative mean? It’s a term that we’ve been throwing around a lot in our discussions on the tiny house, and an important goal. Our tiny house, of course, is not just a tiny house; it’s a part of an ideal for the future, a stepping stone on our way to creating a small business and a cooperative of which that business will be a part. A cooperative that we’ve dubbed the Regenerative Living Community Cooperative, the RLCC for short. So what do we mean?

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Getting ready to put flooring in the loft

Sustainability is a broad and oft-used term. It often implies long-term viability, a system that can continue indefinitely and that does no harm. Renewable energy is an example; the sun will keep shining, the wind will keep blowing, the earth will continue to generate heat whether we harness these forces or not, and their use generally does not create pollution, at least not do the degree that fossil fuels do (though there’s a lot to be said about the processes by which these technologies are constructed in the first place). Organic farms, which do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, and who generally cover crop fields between rotations are sustainable because they do very little harm to the environment, and when planned carefully, can continue to produce food indefinitely (as opposed to more conventional methods which eventually turn arable land into desert).

 

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Shingles!

However, as Ethan C. Roland and Gregory Landua point out in Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance, we’ve reached a point of ecosystem degradation that calls for action beyond current understandings of sustainability. Another way of thinking about it is this; to reach a point at which human life can be considered sustainable, we need to do more than ‘do no harm’; we need to actively rebuild the ecosystems upon which all things depend for survival. As they put it, “regenerative systems actively build life, complexity, and diversity. They grow the foundations and the potential of what humans perceive and experience as ‘wealth’” (16). They suggest that regenerative enterprises are an optimum way of achieving this goal due to their ability to function within current economic and legal systems while introducing change from within.

 

They divide capital into eight different forms – financial, material, intellectual, experiential, living, cultural, social, and spiritual – and see our current system as privileging financial capital above all others and therefore seeking to convert all other forms of capital to financial capital. They point out that it is no coincidence that ecosystem health has declined as the amount of financial capital in circulation has continued to rise; the former has been exploited by and converted to the other, as are other forms of capital as we continue to quantify and monetize experiences and services that were previously undertaken by individuals and communities. Regenerative enterprise seeks to reverse these trends, balancing the different forms of capital:

 

Within the framework of Regenerative Enterprise, the questions become ‘what are we cultivating in our interaction with this landscape? How can our connection with the system we are harvesting from grow the integrity, resilience, and long-term viability of these people and this place? In this context, we define cultivation as the addition to and removal of capital from a system in a way that develops and evolves its health, function, and resilience” (17).

 

 

So, is the tiny house ‘regenerative’? That’s maybe not the question we should be asking. In a culture obsessed with individuation, hierarchy, categorization, delineation, we ought to consider the tiny house not as a solitary object, but as a part of larger systems, an organ in a body, an enterprise in a collective, something defined more by its connections than by itself.

 

So, are we there yet? Is the tiny house a part of a regenerative system? In my opinion, not yet, but I think, I hope, sooner rather than later, we’ll get there.

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Paul Glover of the Philadelphia Orchard Project and LOAM embracing the tiny house with love. 

 

What do we need to consider? Everything, really. Our materials, how they move, all of the people involved, the connections between them. In a world of mechanized production and reproduction, the homogeneity of objects obscures their origins, asks that we not consider these origins, only the current need or desire and its transitory fulfillment.

 

 

(On a side note, this is one way of looking at the barrage of consumer products in Joyce’s Ulysses. The crisis of identity faced by the Modernist in a time of transition from a period where daily objects almost always bore the idiosyncratic markers of the hand that made them, to a period of mechanically produced objects, nearly identical to one another, alien and removed from the subject).

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Our tiny house is composed of wood, sugar beet-based spray foam insulation, plastic, compressed bamboo flooring, glass, wire, rubber, stainless steel, plywood, cedar shingles, Boral board composed of coal ash and recycled polymers, cedar siding, and a host of other materials that I’m sure I’m forgetting.

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Bamboo flooring

 

Where did they all come from? The truth is, we’re not completely sure. Our bamboo floor may have come from Home Depot, but we don’t know where it came from before then, how it was harvested, the process by which they were compressed and how much energy was needed to do so, how far these boards traveled before they made it into our hands, how they were transported, how many people were involved in their making and moving.

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Neighbor kids checking out the loft

For our tiny house to be regenerative (in the sense of being a part of a regenerative system), the harvest, production, and transportation of the material that make it up need to be regenerative as well. Ideally, the group harvesting the wood and making it into boards would be local, would harvest their wood regeneratively, would consider the happiness and fulfillment of its workers, and even more ideally would be a part of our cooperative. Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia (cited by Roland and Landua), for example, harvest a certain percentage (based on growth) of their forest every year, selecting particular trees throughout the whole so as to promote the continued growth and vitality of the forest. Number crunching reveals that this method not only bolsters the life of the ecosystem (the basis for all enterprise), but that greater returns are realized over the long term than clear-cutting (since 1840, over 7.5 million board feet have been harvested with 2 million board feet remaining the forest, whereas manager James Drescher estimates that at most 5.5 million board feet would have been harvested if the forest has been clear cut, with the quality of the regrown forest falling with each consecutive harvest) (Roland & Landua, 21). Buy purchasing wood from a company such as this, we would be investing financial capital into a system that nourishes the ecosystem as well as the local economy and the relationships within that economy. The environmental benefits are then, in a sense, embodied in the tiny house, just as the potentially environmentally degrading processes by which many of our materials came to us are currently (unfortunately) embodied in our house.

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Jerry, looking super fly

 

What of other forms of capital? The intellectual, the social, the cultural, the spiritual? Already our enterprise has brought people together, sharing ideas and expertise (Mike with his business know-how, my parents and architecture, my brother and construction); the many people who have lent a hand, whether by simply holding things in place or painting (like me. Though I’ll have you know, I learned how to nail in flooring yesterday, and I don’t think I’m half bad…), or who come with construction skills (Jerry, who has also kindly lent us his nail gun, Jim, who is more than kindly letting us use his backyard and workshop tools). Most everyone who has come to help has signed their name on the wall, and I like the thought of all those names, all those days and works of hands, embodied in this tiny house and not so tiny dream.

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Jim looking boldly to the future, thinking big thoughts

 

Spiritual capital, in a sense, is the most qualitative and undefined of the eight forms of capital. Roland and Landua cite a feeling of connection to and greater awareness of the whole. I’d agree. In its most basic, definitional sense, the spiritual is that which is not material: the connections between things, the connections between people, the beautiful interconnectedness of everything in existence.

 

Marx is a stated materialist, but I always felt a sense of spirituality, especially in reading his early essays. The curse of capitalism is the sense of alienation it engenders – from one’s labor, from oneself, from one’s neighbors and fellows, from nature, from one’s species-being (an amalgamation of biology and circumstance, nature and social context, the way a person should be internally derived rather than externally imposed). And the opposite of this alienation, it follows, would be connection, oneness with labor, self, nature, other, being.

 

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Claudia, architecture visionary, who learned how to wire the house and then did it. 

 

And so, in considering the tiny house’s regenerative-ness, there are also future considerations of how the completed house will function once established in its new context. Our dream is for it to be with other tiny houses, in community, on land near Philadelphia, with a main house for communal space; inputs and outputs that feed one another – food grown on the property, for example, animal husbandry, apiary, a wood mill, other land-based and interlocking enterprises. Solar energy harvested for use in the house, gray water cycled through constructed wetlands to nourish the farm, humanure to build the soil, proximity to reduce or eliminate transport emissions, proximity to strengthen community, mutual support to enable enterprises to grow and thrive, to nurture emotional needs, to continue the cross-pollination of ideas and creative solutions.

 

We’re not there yet. But I do think that we’re on our way.

 

 

 

 

Quotes from Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance (2013) Version 1.0 eBook Format. Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua

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A Tiny House Update

On Halloween, I worked my last farm market at Willow Haven Farm, said my farewells, and headed home. I’ll be with my family in Swarthmore for the next two months trying to figure out my next life step and, of course, working on the tiny house.

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My home for the last seven months – the “Shed” where we hosted our Saturday markets, washed veggies, and where my room was. IMG_5485

I’m going to miss milking this cow every morning…

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Also, all the fresh veggies. Good stuff.

We’ve come a long way! Though there’s still plenty to do. The clapboard siding is up (we’re using cedar) as well as the base and trim (we’re using Boral board – a composite of recycled polymers and coal ash that’s super water resistant), and we’re slowly nailing the cedar shingles (generously donated by a neighbor) to the front and back wall of the house. On the inside, my intrepid brother has laid down the flooring, and we’ve got a good start on the wiring. Once we’ve got the five circuits threaded through along the walls, an electrician friend will come and connect them all for us.

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(the wider boards at the bottom are the Boral board, and the narrower ones are the cedar).

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Siding on the side, primer-coated cedar shingles on the ends.

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Sebastian threading wire through holes he drilled.

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That blue thing on the right will be a future outlet for the kitchen. IMG_7165

To the left of the door is the electrical panel.

There’s some other wonderful news; the neighbor who generously donated cedar shingles to our project is none other than Michael Petrie of Handmade Gardens, and he wants to borrow our tiny house for his exhibit at the 2016 Flower Show. So, if you’re around in March and want to come get out of the cold, come and see us! We’ll definitely be done by then 🙂

Until next time!

– Lucia

Dreams on the Road

Last Sunday was my one day off for the week, but I was up early with everyone else, stumbling out the door with a yawn. The day had finally come – the premier voyage of the tiny house, a grand test of its seaworthiness. The sea, in this case, of course, being the road.

It’s a very strange feeling, seeing something in reality that had so long been an ongoing dream and conversation. We turned a corner, and there it was in all its tiny glory. Or not so tiny glory; at 13’4”, the tiny house was much taller than I had been expecting, the 130 square feet inside surprisingly roomy.

But really, that feeling is such a strange one; like the dream had somehow had more reality. But there it was in front of us, made manifest through hours of conversations, designing, and building. And farther back, by the magazine article that my father excitedly showed us years ago on the tiny house movement, the rising environmental consciousness (and crisis) all around us, Mike McGrory of Feed the ‘Burbs whose can-do energy tipped the tiny house from where it tottered on the edge of dreams into this thing of wood and sugar beet insulation. Reality has such a great array of textures: the excitement that made me want to bound over and hug the house, my stomach wondering about breakfast, the anxiety at all the work that still needs to be done, the joy at all the work that still needs to be done, and that wonderful, fall chill in the air.

I’m happy to report that the tiny house survived its road trip, turning heads on the highway, and barely scraping under bridges, branches, and signs. Driving down Park Avenue, finally arrived in Swarthmore, middle schooler Charlie Shankweiler called out, “hey Mr. Mayor! There’s a house on that trailer!”

Indeed there is.

Many thanks to everyone who has been involved and who continues to be involved in this project!

Here’s to dreams becoming reality!

-Lucia

PS. In case you don’t believe us, my brother put together a video of the voyage. Enjoy!

The Tiny House is Green!

Though not for long. That green stuff is the water-proof sheathing, which will also seal our house up nice and tight to keep heat from escaping.

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(My aunt jokes that I should be locked in the house for the first few weeks just to make sure that it is without a doubt livable. I keep telling her that not being in your house all day long is a part of the charm. If I send out an SOS, you’ll know why…)

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Once the Tiny House is fully water-proof, we’ll be taking it on the road for its first voyage!

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We’ll be taking it to Swarthmore, where Jim Ericson has graciously (or foolishly) agreed to host the house in his driveway.

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Once in Swarthmore, we’ll be finishing the interior. We’ll put out a call for volunteer workdays once we have the dates, and hopefully we’ll see you there!

peace,

Lucia

Framing and Sheathing – A Note from the Architects

One of the main architectural challenges in the Tiny House is to make the most of every inch we have and to do it in the most sustainable way possible. We are on a budget.

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This is where we get into one of the grayest areas of green construction: insulation. In many ways, this is one of our most difficult decisions. Three years ago, when we were doing a renovation to meet PassiveHaus standards, spray foam seemed like the most obvious choice; we would use a soy-based foam for much of the insulation to create the sealed envelope necessary to meet the stringent requirements.

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Since then, we have explored different insulation types, including hybrid foam and dense-packed cellulose, as well as sheep’s wool (from a Pennsylvania sheep farm). The insulation question contains far too many variables for us to list, but prime are environmental considerations (materials as well as off-gassing), R-value, and cost. For our tiny house we have decided to use a spray-applied polyurethane (SPF) insulation that uses recycled material (mostly water bottles), renewable content (in this case, sugar beets) and meets LEED standards for low-emitting materials.

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One of our reasons for using the foam was the smaller than usual framing member sizes. We will fill the 3½’’ cavity in the floor and the 5½’’ cavity in the roof with the foam. The walls will get a 2’’ layer against the sheathing, which will give us the seal that we want while allowing us space to run wires and pipes where we need them. We can then add insulation before we seal the walls.

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We are utilizing Advanced Framing Techniques with the goal of minimizing the amount of wood framing that is in the wall, allowing for more insulation and a better air-seal. This type of framing requires careful attention by framers (thanks Ray!) as the studs are 24’’ on center (16’’ is typical) and the rafters have to align with the studs. We use a single plate at the top of the wall (double is typical) and minimize or eliminate jack studs (the double studs that hold up the lintels) wherever we can.

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We are splurging on sheathing; instead of the usual OSB (Oriented Strand Board), we have specified Zip R sheathing panels. The Zip panels come factory sealed with a water/air barrier that eliminates the need for house wrap or tar paper. Their tape system ensures a water-tight and air-tight envelope. Our Zip R panels also come with ½ rigid insulation laminated to the inside of the sheathing which gives us a greater R value and, most importantly, eliminates thermal bridging through the wall by creating a complete layer that thermally separates the two faces of the wall. We felt that, given the reduced energy needed to heat/cool the space, that this was well worth the inch of space that it will take from the inside of the house.

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If you have any technical questions, please ask in comments, and we’ll get back to you soon!

– Tim Kearney

Dream Big, Build Tiny

Originally published in the Swarthmorean, August 14, and written by the wonderful Lauren McKinney. Check out her awesome new blog, the Crum Creek Review

Do you think you could you live in a house that is only 196 square feet of space? Swarthmore native Lucia Cueto Kearney thinks she can. A farming apprentice at Willow Haven Farm in New Tripoli, PA, Lucia will live in a house that size on the farm property.

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(Picture courtesy of Jeff Pond, CuetoKEARNEY design)

Who has designed this little miracle? Her parents, Claudia Cueto and Tim Kearney, of the Swarthmore architecture firm Cueto Kearney design (referred to as CKd). This house will serve as a prototype for future houses CKd may build. In fact, the family has been fascinated with the tiny house movement, which has come into its own in the last five to ten years. Just a few days ago, the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs boasted 40,000 attendees. Many people find that a tiny house meets their housing needs sustainably and affordably, forcing them to downsize their possessions, and freeing up their time and finances. This grass-roots movement gained an especially strong following after the economic downturn of 2008.

The Cueto Kearney family’s investment in the tiny house springs from their interest in community, simplicity, and living close to the earth. Lucia lived in permaculture communities in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the experience changed her life. She passed the permaculture bug on to her mother, who is now getting her Permaculture Design Certificate from Susquehanna Permaculture [along with the writer]. Claudia tries to bring permaculture design to the project, such as by making the roof bigger to catch more rainwater. As for Tim, he has taught a cohousing studio at Drexel for years. Someday Tim and Claudia want to buy land and build a community of tiny houses there. Cohousing projects are notorious for falling through, because of the huge investment required, and Tim thinks if the houses are tiny it might be easier to carry out.

Meanwhile, Lucia’s house is being built in a utility garage in Perkasie. So far a trailer has been purchased, and the base has been constructed. Framing began this week. The walls will be beadboard and plywood, and CKd is looking for windows and a sink at ReStore, as they plan to use as many reclaimed materials as possible. Mike Matotek of Open Sky here in town has helped them figure out their power needs. There will be a propane tank for cooking and a 42-gallon water tank outside the house. Claudia and Tim are making sure the energy system is redundant, which means there will be multiple ways to get power, including solar. At the same time, they are keeping the cost of building and materials at $10,000.

Lucia’s preferences are important too; she would like a desk, and a bench for storage, for example. She will sleep above the kitchen in a loft. And everyone always wants to know about the toilet. To put it simply, it will be a bucket with a toilet seat. You add sawdust and charcoal, and take the contents out to the compost. Lucia has a great entry in her blog about the house, Tiny Dreams, called “The Poetry of Poop.”

You’re asking “Wait, how is everything going to fit? I want to see this thing!” The completed house will be on exhibit at the Swarthmore Farmers Market when. In the meantime, CKd is looking for a place to finish the house once the envelope is completed. They are looking for a driveway with a power source. If you can help, contact them at 610-544-1722 or info@cuetokearney.com. And keep up with Lucia’s blog!

We’ve Started Construction!

After much preparation, building has finally begun! Like any project (I am learning more and more, post-college), the projected (desired, dreamed for) timeline and the actual timeline rarely add up. So it’s time to do a little dance of joy, because we are now in the process of framing.

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Here we see the beginnings of the floor-framing resting on sheet aluminum flashing. This will protect the bottom of the tiny house while it’s on the road, and wherever it gets parked.

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Photos are courtesy of Ray Morrison, the carpenter who is helping us with the framing and the envelope.

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The tiny house is currently being built in Tad Cox’s garage. Tad is the owner of CTC Construction, and is helping us with project management and implementation. When we mentioned the project back in March, Tad jumped right on board.

That’s what we’ve got so far!

More pictures to follow, and we’ll keep people updated for possible volunteer days!

peace,

Lucia