I have to admit that I have a new addiction: building ecological houses.
When I settled in Tulum three and a half years ago, I decided to buy some land and build a house. As many things are more fun to do with friends, I started inviting friends down to visit in hopes of luring them into a building project. One of the first to visit, Harry immediately saw the potential. After much searching, we settled on a piece of land in a new area being developed a bit south of Tulum town and got busy. The result of this collaboration is the Ximbaltik House. I have been living in this house since (okay, a little bit before) it was finished in May 2008 and have enjoyed the experience immensely. Harry visits often and likes it so much he hardly ventures off the property when he is here….
When we began talking to builders, we met Pepe Blanco from Ile Permacultura. As we were going over our very rough “design” scrawled on graph paper, Pepe posed a question: “What kind of toilets do you want? Water toilets, or composting toilets?” We had not even thought that there were options. Toilets. Thus began a scurry of research on composting toilets, Harry checking the technology out in the U.S., me sticking my head in composting toilets in Tulum and Puerto Morelos and asking lots of questions. We were thrilled with the ideas that :
1.) we would not have to use fresh water (one of our most valuable and most threatened natural resources) to transport our shit to a limited-capacity storage tank that
2.) could leak through the porous limestone and contaminate the underground river system, including our own well, and
3.) would at some point need to be pumped out and dumped…. Where do they dump the stuff they pump out of septic tanks? We also loved that
4.) we could throw toilet paper into the toilet instead of putting it in a bin in the bathroom and sending it off the landfill. We could also
5.) put all of our organic waste from the kitchen into the same system and
6.) produce our own compost for the garden.
And thus we enthusiastically entered ourselves into the cycle of nature. We also integrated rainwater collection and storage and natural grey water filtration and irrigation, made some design adjustments to capture the wind for great cross-ventilation, and up went our house.
The area where we built the house is about 3 blocks from the nearest transformer for the electrical grid. While the promise of expanding service to this neighborhood has been supposedly on the horizon since before we started building, we wanted to be energy independent and planned on being off-grid from the beginning. Generating all of our own energy from the sun has been a rewarding experience and sent me off on a course of study (both informal and formal) that resulted in the establishment of a renewable energy business here in Tulum to help others share the power of the sun and become energy independent.
I couldn’t stop there. I had to do it again. Even better this time. This blog will follow the process of building another ecological house near Tulum. Working with Pepe again, we will be trying some new things, experimenting like crazy and keeping all of the great aspects of ecological design and construction that work so well.