Project Update: Turning Four Walls and a Roof into a Home

henry and paul

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

The Great Plains have seen a milder winter thus far, which has been beneficial for many reasons.  For our project, this means that we have been able to move forward on the interior of the Shields’ new Compressed Earth Block (CEB) home. In January, we were able to run all water and electrical lines throughout the home. We are now seeing the house become livable. Now that we do have electricity, we are able to heat the home, allowing us to plaster the interior block walls and completely seal up the house.

The sustainable CEB design provides a unique heat sink where the walls hold heat long after the heating source has stopped running. But heating a home with gas or electricity is not ideal on the reservation, as electric and propane costs can skyrocket in the winter. This is why we are very much hoping to fund a grid-tied Photovoltaic solar panel system to offset some of the homes electrical costs. Please see our microproject to contribute to this solar PV system!

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Over the past month, we have started hanging drywall on the interior walls and ceiling. Soon we can begin insulating the attic with “Rez Paper,” as our partner Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises likes to call it. This particular cellulose insulation is partially made from recycled newspaper from the reservation along with clean cellulose plant material.

As the home progresses this spring, we look forward to showing the people of Pine Ridge and beyond that Compressed Earth Block construction is not only functional but livable. We are putting the finishing touches on the Shields’ house but we need your help to truly give it that finished feel. The Shields family is anxiously waiting to move in so please consider contributing to this important project!

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Help Build a Home for the Shields Family

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Summary

Trees, Water & People (TWP) will help build an earth-friendly home using compressed earth blocks for Paul Shields, his wife and three children. Paul is the son of Oglala Lakota political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, and is carrying forward dreams of a better future. “My dad will be happy I finally have my own home and can pass it on to his grandkids after I’m gone.” With your help, we will work with builders, volunteers, EARTHinBLOCK, and Lakota Solar Enterprises to construct Paul’s new home this summer.

What is the issue, problem, or challenge?

The harsh climate on Pine Ridge Reservation can vary from -40 to 120 degrees. Typical homes are poorly maintained & insulated, with extremely high energy bills. In keeping with his Lakota values of caring for the Earth for future generations, Paul “wants something more sustainable and better for my children and a room of their own for the first time. I want to provide them with a solid home that stays warm in the winter.”

How will this project solve this problem?

Compressed earth block (CEB) construction is a very old and proven approach. The blocks have thick thermal mass that provides an energy efficient structure that keeps cool in summer and warm in winter. Paul learned CEB construction last year while creating an office building for LSE, and now has first-hand experience in soil testing, pressing blocks, and applying natural finishes to the outside that protect it from the elements.

CEB House

Potential Long Term Impact

Paul Shields will finally be a proud homeowner. The value of a well-insulated home for someone living on the Great Plains cannot be underestimated. Like many Native people on reservations, basic infrastructure like running water and electricity is not a given. Building Paul’s home from CEBs will serve as a model for other Native families to consider. TWP will promote this project as a demonstration of how a well-built, low-cost hone can be constructed for families in need.

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Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

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Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by Catapult.org. The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.

Building With Compressed Earth Blocks: Part 1

compressed earth block with solar array
Compressed Earth Block buildings are energy efficient, sustainable and affordable.

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

It always amazes me the way something can come from nothing. This has never been more true than with my first experience constructing a Compressed Earth Block building. Two months ago there was a bare plot of land with a few stakes delineating the crude outline of what was to become a foundation, now there is a completed building with four walls, four windows, a door and a roof. But beyond the basic structure we have incorporated various renewable and sustainable technologies that will help the building maintain a regular temperature despite outside conditions.

making compressed earth blocks
Producing compressed earth blocks creates local jobs.

The compressed earth block home that we will complete this summer is made from compressed earth blocks using a machine generously donated by the company EARTHinBLOCKS. The blocks are made onsite from locally sourced materials. Approximately 90 percent of the mix for the blocks is from the refuse of the local gravel company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We re-purpose waste material by combining it with a small amount of Portland cement and water to create blocks that are then compressed to 2,000 psi. This pressure causes cement to bind with the earthen material and then cures for up to a week. The blocks are four inches high by eight inches thick and then the length of the block can vary based on the amount of material put in to the compressor. The blocks are very dense and as such have high thermal mass. This means that the blocks are slow to change temperature, so in the summer months they stay at the average daily temperature and do not fluctuate, this means a cool building during the heat of the day and a warm structure during the chilly nights.

We have also incorporated a radiant heat floor that is warmed by solar hot water panels requiring no electrical input. This will help the office stay warm during the cold Dakota winters. We have also built a double wall out of the earth blocks that will absorb heat from our wood burning stove and radiate that heat throughout the night.

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Compressed Earth Block Training – June 2014

These blocks require no mortar due to their tongue and grove design. This allows for a group of six to put up four walls with windows and doors in four days. We purchased prefabricated roof trusses that also were able to be installed without any skilled labor in one single afternoon. In seven days we went from a blank slate to a  beautiful building that will serve as a demonstration home for anyone interested in learning more about Compressed Earth Block.

Trees Water & People is working to promote this type of construction to Tribes across the Great Plains who are struggling to find ways to build affordable and sustainable homes for their members. This construction has an upfront cost of less than $20,000 but the energy savings alone will offset the cost of the building within 15 years. Stay tuned as we continue this important work: sustainable building + renewable energy for a greener future on tribal lands.

We owe a special thank you to EARTHinBLOCK’s founders Elsie Walker and Susan England for their support and their time in completing this project.

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Join Us! Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge: June 19-22

straw bale home

Please join us for a weekend of volunteering at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, headquarters of TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program! On this trip, we will be finishing the construction of one of our straw bale homes, which will be used as a demonstration site for sustainable building, and getting our hands dirt in Solar Warrior Farm. This will be a great opportunity for learning and making new friends. We hope you can join us!

RCREC May 2014 Uma muddingWhere: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
When: Thursday, June 19 – Sunday, June 22
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, lots of fun, and all kinds of weather. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult companions.
Why: To finish mudding our straw bale demonstration home and to put a new roof on this structure.

Volunteers are invited to arrive any time on Thursday, June 19. We will host full work days on Friday and Saturday and a half day on Sunday. Projects will end by 1:00 pm on Sunday, and volunteers are welcome to head home any time on Sunday, June 22.

Food:

  • TWP will provide volunteers with meals and snacks during the trip.
  • Food purchased by TWP will be simple and tasty, but feel free to bring any other food/snacks you desire. We will send out a meal plan as the date comes near. 
  • TWP cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
  • Volunteers will help in preparing all meals and with cleaning up afterwards.

Transportation:

  • All volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and related costs getting to Pine Ridge.
  • We will be happy to coordinate carpools where possible.
  • Our facility is located down a short dirt road. Many sedans have traveled it without any problems.

Lodging:

  • Camping: Volunteers who would like to camp on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy property must bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag and pad, etc.). Weather is unpredictable, so only those comfortable in the outdoors should camp.
  • Sacred Earth Lodge (SEL): Volunteers are welcome to stay in our new dormitory and training facility for a suggested donation of $15. The Lodge includes dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, bathrooms, a full kitchen, and social area. No shoes allowed inside SEL. Please bring flip-flops to wear inside!

Sacred Earth Lodge

To volunteer, please email the following information to John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org:

  1. Name of all people in your volunteer party
  2. Email addresses for all people in your volunteer party
  3. Your cell phone number
  4. Which days you have available to travel to and work in Pine Ridge
  5. Where you will be coming from and returning to (e.g. many people will be coming from Fort Collins, CO)
  6. Whether you will be camping or require a bunk in our loft (first come, first served!)
  7. Do you need a ride?
  8. Can you offer a ride – if so, to how many people?
  9. Any other questions you may have.

Once we have confirmed your spot, we will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you with additional details.

Notes from the Field: Always plant extra for the animals!

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

(L to R: Jamie Folsom, Caroline Cuny, Henry Red Cloud, and Ivan Looking Horse)
Sharing knowledge about gardening with Lakota elders. (L to R: Jamie Folsom, Caroline Cuny, Henry Red Cloud, and Ivan Looking Horse)

Sometimes the best lessons come in very short stories, especially in the middle of a very busy work day.

The busy work day was during my recent trip to Pine Ridge with a group of volunteers – mixing mud, plastering, gathering clay and hauling it back to the worksite – all to repair one of the demonstration straw bale houses at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.  We were very lucky to have Henry take a break from his work to spend a few minutes sharing his ideas and advice over some fresh tea.

Talking about the Solar Warrior Farm project, he said they always plant more than they need. He described watching the rabbits, horses, deer and other animals munching away in the garden with a certain fondness and joy. Not the most typical attitude toward animals in the garden (think Farmer McGregor and poor Peter Rabbit).

RCREC May 2014 Haley mudding
Hailey, a Lakota teenager, works on mudding the straw bale home at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

But then he said, “It’s OK for them to eat food that’s right there in their house. That’s still their house even if it’s part my house, too. I know if I went in my house and saw free food, I’d eat it, you know? So, I always plant extra food for the animals!”

solar warrior farm

Thank you Henry for sharing what you do and what you have with others around you, and helping remind me of how we can do this every day in our homes, our relationships and our work.  Yakoke!

Upcoming Training: Building with Compressed Earth Block

compressed earth block training

Students from tribes throughout the country can join Lakota Solar Enterprises, EARTHinBLOCKS, and Trees, Water & People for a hands-on training in making and building with compressed earth blocks. Compressed earth blocks are a sustainable construction material that uses high pressure to create bricks from soil, clay, and a tiny amount of cement.

Key components of this training include mixing ratios, the use of a compressed earth block machine to make bricks, and designing and constructing a naturally well-insulated and efficient earth block building.

When: May 18-24, 2014

Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge, South Dakota

Applications due May 6, 2014!

For more information and to apply please visit www.solarwarriors.org

Trees, Water & People Tribal Renewable Energy Program logo