Alumni Spotlight: Building my own home

I first discovered the idea of Natural Building on a visit to the Earth-ships in Taos New Mexico 7 years ago. I had moved West to Utah from Massachusetts to rebuild and reinvent my life. After almost a year in the desert, I still didn’t know what was next. Then, I discovered a house that was heated and cooled using the earth and the sun. And it was made of dirt and tires. I was hooked.

I could not believe that in all my modern education that I had never heard of these concepts. I made a point to start learning as much as I could. It was too long before the word permaculture also entered my vocabulary. I took workshops, worked as a laborer for owner builders, lived on a permaculture farm and absorbed all I could about all things sustainability. As my skill set developed and my experience grew I became more committed to creating better ways to live than the current ecological disaster that is modern America.

In the fall of 2011 I returned to Moab, Utah after living on a permaculture farm in California. My intention was to become a nomadic natural builder. I would spend the autumn in Moab, and then move on to Austin Texas for the winter. In mid November I attended a Permaculture class being put on by the fledgling organization of Community Rebuilds. They were 3/4 of the way through the completion of their second home. I had heard of Community Rebuilds, during a previous residency in Moab and I had noted it as a good idea, but something I would necessarily do myself. Although the weekend was devoted to learning about the design system of Permaculture, what I took away was the amazing opportunity of being a student intern.

I had previously worked in Natural building professionally, but I desired the experience of building an entire house from start to finish. I committed to the upcoming semester which would begin in the spring. Along with 7 other interns and 2 very competent and professional instructors, I would build a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom straw-bale home for a wonderful couple who qualified as low income. What attracted me to community rebuilds was that it was a mutually beneficial agreement for everyone involved. I would volunteer my labor for 40 hours a week for 4 months. In return, I would receive a warm place to live, some money for food and an unparalleled education. It remains to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had investigated other natural building internships as well as organic farming, permaculture and other sustainability opportunities. The great majority require that you pay them to work for them. I do not see that as an equitable relationship.

My student internship was an incredible experience. My fellow interns and I learned and worked, and we had a great time doing it. We demolished a trailer on the property of the new homeowners. We formed and poured the foundation. We framed the house, and the roof. We stacked the bales and plastered them with mud. We did everything except the plumbing and the electrical. I worked for 4 months full time, did not get paid in money and I loved it. I am a person who believes in service, and helping out my fellow humans, but that is not why I did the internship. I did it for me. I did it to learn.

Today. I am building my own straw bale home. During my internship I discovered that I was in love with Moab, Utah. I was in love with the place, I was in love with the community. After my internship I worked as a freelance builder. I was able to find work with homeowners building their own straw bale homes. Later I worked as a handyman and as a conventional carpenter. Last fall, my parents offered to loan me the money to buy or build my own home. One year later, after lots of planning, I am well underway. My Dad came out to help me and I have hired two former Community Rebuilds graduates as employees. Together we are building my home. It is a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom straw bale home. It will be passive solar heated and cooled. It will be super insulated. It will be covered in mud.

I have been working non stop for 2 months to beat the weather. Winter is coming and the roof is almost on. Soon I will start stacking bales. This project may be the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am loving it. Today I am building my own home. I would not be doing it if I had not spent 4 months building a house with Community Rebuilds.

Jason Pronovost-Spring 2012 Intern

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