Local nonprofit general contractor Community Rebuilds already has a reputation in Moab for setting a high standard for planning and building energy efficient homes in an environmentally responsible manner. With its newest projects, though, the organization has further raised the bar, building homes that are regenerative rather than merely passive or sustainable.
Community Rebuilds recently finished the first pair of four new homes at the corner of Mill Creek Drive and Sand Flats Road that meet the Living Building Challenge, a standard with a focus on regenerative building. The two houses, once certification is complete in a year, would be the first in the state to satisfy the standard.
Many homes built by Community Rebuilds already satisfy parts of the Living Building Challenge, according to Rikki Epperson, the executive director for the nonprofit. The challenge outlines seven pillars — referred to as petals in the standard — that buildings must meet. Epperson said the energy standards are among those that Community Rebuilds already satisfies.
Rebuilds constructs houses typically with thick walls with strawbale insulation emblematic of the organization’s construction, solar panels installed on the roof and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, all of which combine with other design choices to make the homes highly energy efficient.
However, energy is only one piece in sustainability, and these homes are designed to be regenerative. The other six standards in the Living Building Challenge regard water usage and catchment, health and wellbeing, materials, location, equity and aesthetics. Within each of those categories, there is a set of yet more specific requirements.
Among the unique features geared toward regeneration, perhaps the most striking is a big, blue box in each house’s shed that turns sewage into compost, providing an alternative to hooking into the city’s public sewer system. Each toilet flush is pumped into the big blue giant, where the material then filters through a set of filters and is broken down until it becomes a fine, compostable material. Ideally, the only required maintenance is a turn of a handle once every few weeks to churn the in-process compost.
Each house also has two tanks for rainwater catchment — one indoor and one outdoor. They are not mere barrels; a small group of people could stand in the tanks when empty. These large water caches feed into each house’s toilet for flushing and their irrigation systems for watering plants. They are meant to hold enough rainwater year-round to provide for each of those purposes even in dry months, without the need to use city water for flushing or plants.
Each house is also equipped with a greywater system; the houses’ sinks and showers are fed by the city water system, but rather than drain into the sewer, the dirtied water goes outside to seep into the garden.
Each kitchen sink’s drain is equipped with an ultraviolet disinfecting system in case residue from red meat, for example, ends up down the drain — residue that would normally attract unwanted pests to the garden or present an environmental hazard — and a series of filters to catch other harmful materials.
All of the systems — greywater, sewer composting, low-flush toilets, sink filtration — have been vetted by the Southeast Utah Health Department to ensure they meet state and local health and safety standards, another key component of satisfying the high standards of the Living Building Challenge.
In a year, after the new homeowners have gone through the motions of watering plants, flushing toilets, taking showers and otherwise living in and using their homes, final checks will be made to ensure all systems are performing to the standards for which they were designed, at which time each house’s certification as a regenerative building can be finalized, if all has gone to plan.