Fighting the Forces of Entropy

Broken Glass

The Community Rebuilds fall 2013 semester is nearly one month in and it feels like a lot has been packed into that time. There is no succinct summation of the events that have occurred, but there is a term that seems to rise to the surface when reaching for an explanation. Entropy.

When you consider how fundamental entropy vs. order is to life, it becomes a ready lens through which to view the world. The Universe makes it its mission to dole out entropy, the constant tendency for disorder and moving from higher states of energy to lower states of energy. Life, the ultimate anti-entropy mechanism, is constantly turning nutrients into an ordered system of cells capable of sustaining and repairing itself, laughing in the face of the Universe. With the gift of life comes a myriad of choices of how to spend your time and a lot of your time and action will likely be dedicated to anti-entropy endeavors. Most professional occupations can be boiled down to some root focus of order creation or entropy fighting. Building a home is very visually apparent anti-entropy work. Building an energy efficient straw bale home through the Community Rebuilds (CR) program takes it to the next level.

Post and beam walls go up quickly, raised roofs soon provide much needed shade for the workers. In the end, all the pieces of the home are assembled relatively quickly. This progress is apparent to a passerby and is easily interpreted as order from chaos. But building the home brings out the subtle details and reveals the actual magnitude of the task.

As you interpret the architectural plans to lay out a shear wall, you are aware that someone with a very specialized skill set donated their time and talents to convey the information required to build the home. This happened remotely in another town, but the Community Rebuilds program brought together all the necessary pieces to build affordable sustainable housing. You are also aware that the build instructor spent many evenings improving the plans. An after hours act of anti-entropy inspired by CR.

As you discuss the embodied energy (the total amount of energy it takes to produce a product and get it to the build site) of the building materials, you begin to visualize vast amounts of energy being consumed at a concrete plant to produce Portland cement.  High energy fossil fuel compounds converted to heat, concrete and emissions. Large scale entropy on one hand, rock hard order creation on the other. When you choose to use a natural alternative and make the product for yourself, you feel the energy requirement in your back and arms and there is now real meaning to the term embodied energy.  After this type of work day it is necessary to address the entropy occurring in your body.

When you climb up on the roof, you are proud of the fact that the neighbors across the street own the first Community Rebuilds home built, but you also notice how many more mobile homes there are in the neighborhood that could be replaced.  You can imagine heated and cooled air escaping out of the leaky mobile homes as floating dollar signs. A form of economic entropy that burdens many home owners and contributes to environmental problems.

You realize that an incredible amount of effort goes into building a home and even more is required to do it sustainably and affordably. Then you smile. You know you are part of the war on entropy. You always have been and now you are taking it to the next level.  A well earned three day weekend is in sight and perhaps some entropy will occur. But not to worry, next Tuesday will offer plenty of time to take up arms against entropy again.

In Order we Truss
In Order we Truss

green building, natural building, energy efficiency, community development, affordable housing, sustainability

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