A living laboratory for a sustainable human future.

Natural building profile: Pokeberry

(Talk by Chris Farmer to a visitors’ tour, describing the upstairs of the new building at Village Terraces)

Chris Farmer and Brian Love are the two main builders of Pokeberry Hill, a two story dwelling built using ecological principles.

Farmer started by noting that many innovative building techniques are used at Earthaven, including a house at Bella Via using cob, adobe brick, and plaster, and the  Medicine Wheel house that uses lots of recycled materials – plywood from pallets, metal beams from railroads, and recycled flooring.

Stud framing

“Brian and I are fans of stud framing. We used 2×6 low-quality poplar felled here at Earthaven for the framing. Studs are the basis of the cheapest, easiest walls and are especially efficient for a complex building with plumbing, electrics, closets, and cabinets. This is a complex building, but the studs went up in a week.”

Q. What about using recycled plastic for framing?

Farmer: Recycled plastic beats treated lumber, and it’s certainly rot resistant. But we have lots of timber at Earthaven. Here, we air dry the wood then treat it with Boracare, which is low toxicity, to make the wood resistant to termites, powder post beetle, and other boring insects.


For insulation, we spray cellulose (paper) into the walls – the thermal index of the ceilings is around R23 –to R25, and the walls, R50. The walls are finished with earthern plaster – clay and lime. We used natural finishes – plant waxes and oils.

We put in concrete countertops. We don’t like Portland because it takes so much energy to make it, but we wanted this second story room to have lots of mass to store heat from the sun.

The building design maximizes passive solar heat. The south facing windows get no direct sun in the summer due to the overhang. But in winter the sun is lower and floods through the windows. The heat from the sun is absorbed by the floor (a floating concrete slab) and the countertop.

On the north, there is wood flooring, and on the south, cement. Underneath the floor, there is the potential for radiant heat. Also, insulated pipes bring hot water to heat the floor. In the winter, on sunny days, it’s warm enough to warrant cracking the windows.

Q What about noise?

The building is not as noise proof as we hoped. We’ve been running band saws which does disturb the folks downstairs. Ah well, the music lovers will have to curb their taste for loud.

Q What are your power sources?

Earthaven is entirely off the grid, relying on a small hydro-electric plant and solar panels for current while maximizing passive solar for heat. Pokeberry shares solar panels with the Village Terraces building. Most appliances run on 24V DC, including the lights, the refrigerator, and ventilation. There is a huge battery back up, storing the power. There are also AC outlets, powered by DC current run through an inverter, but the inverter is susceptible to lightning.

Q. Would you build elsewhere?

We prefer to build in and around Earthaven, but if there is work further away, we can go there. We have a box truck with solar panels (name of truck) and a storage battery. There is also a 200 amp fire truck battery. The truck runs on bio diesel.

Our goal is to improve our cash flow to the point that we can retire to farming and raise turkeys, sheep, and vegetables. This year we are growing a lot of squash and melon, and raising Icelandic sheep and turkeys.

Q. How many rooms are there?

There is the big open room, including a kitchen alcove, that runs practically all the way across the southern exposure, a bedroom, two small offices, and a bathroom. It’s basically a 1,000 sq foot, three bedroom house.


Building on ecological principles, everything takes longer. And it is all hand done – all the wood panels are joined as is the carpentry. The building itself costs $125 per square foot. About half of cost is labor.

The downstairs tenant comments, “It’s beautiful, and it is so quiet here.” The notetaker responds, “At least when the band saws are off and the building is done.”

Chris Farmer is a full member at Earthaven, a builder, and a farmer at Gateway farm.

boracare, Brian Love, Chris Farmer, Gateway Farm, passive solar, pokeberry, solar panels, Village Terraces

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get an inside look at THREE Earthaven Ecovillage homes.

Sign up for the newsletter and get an exclusive video tour.

* indicates required

Upcoming Events

Virtual Earthaven Tour

June 27, 2-4 pm, Recording available now

There’s nothing like experiencing ecovillage life first hand, but taking a virtual tour of Earthaven is a close second! 

The tour highlights ways in which Earthaven is striving to be a holistic, sustainable culture. The introductory overview tour examines the concept of sustainability at Earthaven through social, ecological, and economic lenses. Not only will you get a glimpse of what has worked through time, but also hear about what has been challenging. And you will have a chance to ask questions!

Compassion Camp

July 13-16

Our annual event focused on Nonviolent Communication, featuring classes and experiential learning. An experience designed to foster compassion and connection in our hearts, communities and world, and to spread the seeds of justice and love.

Earthaven Ecovillage Experience Week

July 30 – August 5, 2023

Join the homesteads, farms, and businesses of Earthaven Ecovillage for a hands-on, skill-building immersion in sustainable and climate-resilient community life. A residential service learning immersion in our unique community laboratory.

Boys with chickens

Eco-Explorers Adventure Camp

July 31 - August 4, 2023

This day camp is designed to develop ecological literacy, gain practical life skills, and build meaningful friendships, and is also open to commuters.

Commute or bring your 6-12 year-old kids to Eco-Explorers Adventure Camp for an age-appropriate ecovillage experience while you participate in Earthaven Ecovillage Experience Week.