Spurred by a desire to leave as light a footprint as possible on God’s creation, a Manitoba couple has designed and built a completely off-grid home.
During the first week of April this spring, Will and Bev Eert moved into their new house some 40 km southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man.—and two km past the last hydro pole.
They haven’t looked back since.
“It’s delightful, absolutely delightful,” says Bev. “There are a few small things I would change, but overall, it’s a huge success. It’s performing beyond my expectations.”
The house, four years in the making, combines a raft of environmentally friendly concepts—solar panels, earth sheltering, heat-retaining construction materials, triple-paned windows and more—into a single energy self-sufficient dwelling. Will, a retired power engineer, and Bev, a retired architectural designer, poured their combined expertise and passion into the project, Bev says.
“We took everything we had learned in our careers and put it into this house,” she says. “There’s really nothing unusual about any of it—the unusual thing is it’s all in one design.”
The Eerts are Anglicans, and Bev says the house is an important expression of their beliefs.
“This is faith-based,” Bev says. “I believe that we need to take responsibility for caring for God’s creation. The Earth is not ours to plunder—it’s not ours at all…I can’t bear to destroy what God has made, and I feel that that’s what we’re doing. In our drive toward more and more convenience and comfort we are essentially destroying God’s creation.”
The origins of the house go back to several years ago, when the Eerts, recently retired and living near Nanaimo, B.C., realized they both wanted to build an energy self-sufficient home. They spent two years looking for a suitable location before choosing the site, a south-facing hillside that overlooks Manitoba’s Assiniboine Valley.
Once they had designed it, the Eerts built the home almost completely by themselves. They hired outside help only to finish the concrete floor and drywall—one reason why the process took them four years, Bev says.
They also tried to leave as light a carbon footprint as possible when they were building the house. They put up the solar panel first, she says, so that any power tools they used didn’t require outside electricity.
The home defies stereotypes some people might have about low-carbon footprint homes, she says, in its livability.
“People think that the home is going to look weird—and sometimes it does—and you’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’re going to have to make serious sacrifices, but my goal was that none of that was going to happen,” she says. “We’re not suffering in any way.”
Solar panels power the house’s lights, electric range, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, washing machine and other appliances. It also heats the house via a system of floor-warming pipes. A fireplace and a large stone chimney in the centre of the house, with their combined mass, radiate heat while also providing a “romantic” touch, Bev says—though the couple, she adds, prefer not to use it often and are planning to enlarge the solar array so that they won’t have to burn any more wood for heat.
The house works not only by tapping renewable energy, but by saving energy as well. Bev says the Eerts designed the lighting system of the house, for example, very carefully. An array of mostly south-facing windows, besides helping heat the house, eliminates the need for artificial light during the day; at night, the Eerts use “task lighting”—electric bulbs illuminate only the areas where light is actually needed; there are no overhead lights, for example.
The heavy materials used in the house’s construction—the floor is made of concrete slab overlaid with ceramic tile—retain heat in the winter and stay cool in the summer. This May, when outside temperatures reached a startlingly high 39 C, the interior temperature of the house never got higher than 26 degrees, she says.
The Eerts also hope to be self-sufficient in food, Bev says, with a garden, moveable greenhouse and newly planted orchard.
Bev is the diocese of Brandon’s representative for the Creation Matters Working Group, an ecological justice initiative of the Anglican Church of Canada. At a diocesan function soon after the election of Bishop William Cliff last fall, she ran into Cliff and asked him if he’d like to bless the house. Cliff says he enthusiastically agreed.
On Earth Day, April 22, a couple of weeks after the Eerts had moved in, Cliff, together with two local parish priests, the Rev. Robert-Charles Bengry and the Rev. Sean-Patrick Beahen, blessed the new home. Parishioners of St. Paul’s and friends of the Eerts joined in the celebration, then enjoyed a vegetarian meal made from produce the Eerts had grown themselves.
During the ceremony, Cliff read the creation account from the book of Genesis, and, in a short homily, drew his listeners’ attention to the concept of dominion in the passage.
“We redefined the word, but God defined the word first and it’s important to remember that,” he said.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Cliff said he meant that we ought to understand God in Genesis as telling Adam and Eve not simply to dominate the Earth as a mere possession, “but to steward, and to care and to pass on, very much like we have received this land for this time, and we have to pass it on in as good or better shape than we found it.
“And that doesn’t necessarily mean the myth of progress, where we plow it under and pave it, but actually may mean tending it and giving nature assistance in healing when we’ve gotten in the way.”
He and others who were present at the blessing, Cliff said, were impressed both by the building and its builders.
“It’s as if this house is resting gently on the Earth—it’s not taking more than it gives,” he said.
“There’s a real spirit of innovation with these two, because they’re looking at ways they can improve on what they’ve already received, so that others can follow—and that’s really an example of what the gospel’s about, right?”