First Month Down

The first month of Community Rebuilds Spring 2016.

What the heck are we doing out here in the desert? We are working to improve the housing situation for members of the Moab low-income community by demolishing two pre-1976 mobile homes and building modest straw-bale houses in their place.   We are soaking up the sun and letting it radiate our bone marrow with the generative life force of our world. We are showing up every day with smiles and high-fives and sick dance moves to show off as soon as the spirit moves us. We are practicing alchemy, transforming the stagnation and apathy of our time into quicksilver hammerstrikes and golden straw running bonds.

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How long will it take? With our 17 volunteer interns, 2 building apprentices, 2 building instructors, and the homeowners themselves we will build two new straw bale homes from foundation to finish plaster in 20 weeks.

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How are we going to do that? Through efficient design and excellent building practices, the effort and support of the community, and the incredible determination and creative energy of the Community Rebuilds team.

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Who are you people?! We are your future. We are devoting our lives to making the world a better place. We are sharing our time and blending our spirits and pouring it all into the rising floodwaters of change and makeover. We are not satisfied with the status quo and so we are working to change it. I am proud and honored to be one of the Community Rebuilds interns. We are beautiful, strong, compassionate, and committed people from all over the United States, and one from Sweden! We all live together, sharing meals, space, living quarters, and our work. We share our daily joys with each other and we work out our difficulties in house meetings.

This is community living in one of its richest forms. We receive a very modest $100 per month stipend, but we are the wealthiest people you know. I’m not talking about being wealthy in cash money. Money is an abstract concept that has distanced us from the true measures of wealth: deep community, profound spiritual connection with the Earth and each other, and resilient health. We are rich in these things. We have shared faith in a better future because we can see it manifesting in front of us. And we eat surprisingly well, thanks in large part to the Moab community and to the spirit of generosity and care that we each have somehow arrived here with from day one.

Where are we? We are in the American Southwest. High Desert. Canyon Country. The arid, red land where the Colorado River is more than the current that runs beneath everything. It is the lifeblood for all us fleshy, water-filled creatures out here. We are in Moab, Utah which is currently in the midst of a housing crisis. (Moab runs on a tourist economy for over half the year, but there is not enough affordable housing for the people who live and work here year round.) We could try and solve this single problem with conventional construction methods and government grants and call it good, but that would not be stacking functions and ultimately it might lead Moab into a typical, dreary and mundane future. If we have the opportunity to affect more positive change with our work – to send ripples throughout the town, the county, the country and the world with the simple houses we build, why not push for as much change as we can? When we stack functions we combine solutions to several problems into one action. One motion. One movement. Stacking functions is not only efficient but often elegant and produces beautiful manifestations of human creativity and problem solving.

One of the ways that Community Rebuilds stacks functions is by helping to solve the housing crisis in Moab while also addressing the larger issue of climate change. The construction industry is a huge contributor to landfill waste and climate change. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates an average of 4.2 pounds of waste is generated for every square foot of new construction in the U.S. For a single waste facility in a typical major U.S. city this can mean 600 to 800 tons of waste per day solely generated from the construction industry.   With Community Rebuilds we reduce construction waste by designing the concrete foundation forms so that they can later be disassembled and used as posts in the walls of the house. We use as little concrete as possible, building adobe floors instead – concrete production and off-gassing being a significant source of greenhouse gasses. We meticulously calculate the amount of lumber, rebar, and other materials needed before purchasing in order to frugally reduce waste. We reuse any worthwhile materials from the trailers that we demolish and we recycle everything that we can. And we always audit our decisions to look for unnecessary amounts of embodied energy in the materials we purchase and the shipping required to get them to us.

I haven’t even mentioned the incredibly efficient passive solar design of the straw-bale homes themselves, or the fact that using straw as insulation in the walls reduces agricultural waste AND reduces CO2 emissions; most straw is burned in the fields, as many farmers can’t find a viable use for it. There are many more aspects of this build and this program that will be addressed in future blog posts. We are just getting started.

The air is warming, the snow and ice are melting, and foundations will be built. What are you building for the next generation?

Marc Bubar- Spring 2016 Intern

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