Published by Camilla on 27 Jun 2012 at 06:08 am
“We live in a turf-built house in the temperate rainforest of Patagonia, in a valley which separates the mountains of the Andes from the Pacific Ocean”, says Paul Coleman, winner of Wiser.org’s Earth Day Living Contest. “My wife and I have been at this solidly for 2 years, so showing this recognition for our work is fantastic as it can really help us to further advance what we are doing here in Patagonia.”
Congratulations, Paul, on winning Wiser’s Earth Day Living Contest. Do tell me more yourself and how you came to be living in a turf house in Patagonia?
Paul:A few years ago, my wife and I did a walk through China to help promote the Green Olympics and build awareness for the need to plant trees. At the time, we decided that we wanted to live our life together in a safe and natural place, so we started planning the house that we would want to live in. I thought of many places around the world to create our new life and then in 2006 we went to Oaxaca, Mexico, where we lived for six months, but decided it was not quite the place for us. Then I suddenly thought of Patagonia. I had never been there before, but knew of it’s reputation as a land of magnificent, virtually untouched wilderness,.
When we arrived it was Winter-time. We searched for almost six months over a 1000 kilometres stretch of Patagonian, Chile, looking for a that small piece of land we could call home….finally found what we were looking for, a hillside just outside the Northern Patagonia village of La Junta. We have no road to our land, so everything has to come up to the house on our backs, which is perfect for people of environmental mind, as it encourages the minimum use of everything!
Paul’s winning entry was this caption and photo:
“My wife and I are creating a sustainable lifestyle in Patagonia, Chile. Building an energy, earth-efficient home by hand, materials sourced locally, eating organic vegetables from permaculture garden, spreading the environmental message, through personal experience and hands-on education for volunteers.”
Tell me more about how you built your unique house.
Paul: The house is an earth-bag construction. It’s made up of feed bags that are literally filled with the earth from our feet. We have compacted it inside the bags and have built it up into walls, similar to the way you stack bricks. Between each row of earth-bags there are two rows of barbed wire, which provide tensile strength and ties the houser together. The earth around the house stays dry and gradually builds up warmth from sunlight and body heat.
The solution we have chose in our very wet environment (We live in the midst of a vast temperate rainforest) to keep the interior of the house warm and dry is based on the underground passive heat storage (PAHS) originally proposed by John Hait around1966. This PAHS system is very cheap and basically involves insulating several meters of the ground surrounding the house, but not beneath the house itself. As the earth beneath the insulation dries over the years it also becomes warmer and in the winter this heat stored in the earth, rises into the home which translates into warm feet, more heat and less fire wood consumed.
In the midst of winter the houser is usually 10-12 degrees warmer inside than it is outside. Everyone in the village looks at our house on our hill and thinks “It must be cold and damp in there, but when they visit, the first word out of their mouth is ‘Caliente’ and this way, the view of the village to our unusual house is gradually changing.
The house has been built to fit into the local landscape, with a basic Chilean cabin design and we have surrounded it with turf, to cope with the rain and provide more insulation. There is three windows, a sunroom at the back and one very large window to appreciate the beautiful view.
What were your hopes when you started out on this project?
Paul: I was hoping that what we are doing may be beneficial to people all over the world, but I had never thought we could teach anything to other Patagonians, but I am realizing that more and more people are starting to recognize what we are doing and that they embrace it. I really believe that one’s actions can create a ripple effect.
Hello Konomi (Konomi is Paul’s wife)- did you ever think you would be living in a turf house in Patagonia?
Konomi: Our walk through China together was a very humbling experience for me. We saw the horrendous pollution there and seeing the reality of what is happening on the planet really brought it home to me. The experience also made me appreciate any help I receive from other people and it gave me a connection with the environment. Now I realize that everything I do has an impact on the environment. After 3 years of being with Paul, it wasn’t so surprising to me to move to Patagonia. We were used to using a dry compost toilet and solar heating system when we were living in Mexico and I really enjoyed it as were surrounded by wildlife and living off the grid felt like a fantastic idea.
At first, we didn’t know how to do many things, but through trial and error we have made it happen. Paul’s patience and his imagination made it happen. We had an idea of the design, but encountered many difficulties as many of the materials we wanted we couldn’t get, so we said let’s stop thinking what we can’t do, let’s think about what we can do locally and that’s how the turf house was born. A lot of the time we got exhausted and felt were not going anywhere, but then I look up and see the vast forest and I realized that I’m so lucky to be here and be able to set up this home.How have you decided to give away your donation prize?Paul: We have decided to award the $1,000 donation by WiserEarth to Food & Trees for Africa(FTFA) who will use it to expand the Permaculture Food Garden at the Tshedimoso Home Based Care Center in Soweto. This area has a very high unemployment rate and there are many child-headed households due to the HIV/AIDS related deaths of their parents.Note to readers: We look forward to sharing more about the Food & Trees for Africa and the project that Paul is helping them to support in our next blog.Finally, are there any ways in which the Wiser community can support you in your work?Paul: We always welcome people who come to visit us in Patagonia (we are in the and anyone is welcome to camp at our place, especially those who’d like to help out with our little project. You can find out more at our website Ourlittlething.ning.comAlso, we have been trying to fit some solar panels ourselves, and need some advice on this, so if anyone can help in giving us some advice on fitting them, that would be great.
Other facets of Paul’s life :
- In his earlier life, he worked in the Merchant Navy and private yachts, and later as a Private Chauffeur.
- In 1989 he led the 700 kilometer Amazon Awareness Balsa Raft Expedition down the Rio Aguarico to the Rio Napo, building the rafts with the indigenous people of the rainforest, passing through virgin wilderness.
- Since 1990, has walked over 50,000 km through 39 nations delivering the environmental message and helped to ensure the planting of 11,350,000 trees
- Walked from Canada to Rio from 1990 to 1992 to bring attention to the very 1st Rio Summit
- Helped ensure 1 million trees were planted in Mexico as he walked through the country
- From 1994 to 1995, walked from San Francisco into Sarajevo to shine a light on the need for peace. On Earth Day 1995, he reached Sarajevo, which was under siege and planted a tree for peace, before addressing the Sarajevo General Assembly on the need for Peace…through Ecological Restoration.
- He is Ambassador to the ‘Culture of Peace’ UN designated Peace Messenger Initiative
- He is the President and Co-Founder of the Wonderful World Tree Planting Festival.
- In 2002, he walked through South Africa to promote the Earth Summit.
- He and Konomi have created his own community-based website: Ourlittlething.ning.com where they share pictures of their project and their lives in Patagonia.
You are invited to connect with Paul and also Konomi at Wiser.org. Paul is a member of a number of groups on Wiser including, The Culture of Peace Initiative, Peace is Green, WiserUK and both are members of the WiserChile group.
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