So far, only one home in the world is close to meeting the Challenge, set by the International Living Future Institute in the Pacific Northwest. The Ann Arbor couple hopes the home they’re building on fifteen acres in Lodi Township will be the second.
“Burh Becc at Beacon Springs” is also aiming for LEED Platinum certification, but the Challenge’s requirements are tougher: its twenty imperatives include on-site generation equivalent to the home’s annual energy use; a natural, closed-loop water supply; and using non-toxic, locally sourced building materials.
“The idea behind LBC,” architect Michael Klement explains, “is not simply to reduce the harm that building does to the environment. Rather, it’s to make nature better.” The home will share the property with a thirteen-acre farm planted in native species that will be raised without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation.
Beacon Springs owners Tom and Marti Burbeck appear, at first, to be unlikely candidates for this kind of enterprise. Tom, sixty-three, is part-owner of Advantage Computing Systems, which provides software to publishers worldwide. Marti, a former teacher, handles communications for Westminster Presbyterian Church. The couple’s first thought was to retire to North Carolina.
Married thirty-five years, with two grown sons, they decided instead to stay closer to Ann Arbor and family. They discussed remodeling their Scio Township home with Klement, then decided to build on their recently acquired Lodi Township land. Klement planted the idea of a home and farm radically integrated into the land and the community.
“Tom was fertile soil,” says Klement, whose firm, Architectural Resource, will soon celebrate its twenty-fifth year in Ann Arbor. “Coming of age in the Sixties, changing his part of the world was in his DNA–he was looking for a way to do it. I introduced him to what I see as an intelligent way to build. The seeds were already there.”
Growing up in southern California, Tom was part of the surfer culture and once had hopes of founding a commune. He also had a “spiritual awakening” and began a lifelong study of Christian theology. (As a U-C Berkeley undergrad, he would sometimes conceal the Bible he was reading inside the covers of a magazine.) He got a degree in psychology, added an MSW at the University of Hawaii, and arrived in Ann Arbor as a PhD student in sociology.
Marti, a native of upstate New York, also came here for school, earning a bachelor’s and teaching certificate in physical education. They met through the Word of God, a local Christian community, and married in 1981. Marti taught briefly at Huron High and Clague Middle School, then became a full-time mom to their sons. For the last three years, she’s managed much of the behind-the-scenes planning for Beacon Springs. She and Tom have enlisted a team of eighteen consultants to do everything from vetting building materials (all the wood, for instance, will be from certified sustainable sources, or reused) to designing a system to capture and purify rainwater. They broke ground in May and hope to move in next spring.
Klement dates his own commitment to green building and sustainability back to a conversation with his uncle about how he and his wife were drawing all of the nutrients that they needed from their organic farm and were in turn returning their nutrient “waste” to the garden. This “lit a fire” that’s burned ever since. At times he struggles with his emotions when describing the harm we are doing to our natural environment. “The simple reality is that we have finite resources. We have to make these changes if we have any sense of legacy–for our grandchildren and beyond.”
The Burbecks’ consultants include permaculture farmer Mark Shepard, who grows chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, apples, asparagus, and other perennial fruits and nuts on his Wisconsin farm and raises cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. The Burbecks, too, plan to farm native species with permaculture methods, restoring soil worn out from a century of monoculture farming. The Burbecks plan to do the work themselves, with help from groups that share their goal of farming for the benefit of those with limited access to fresh food and others who want to eat locally grown vegetables, fruits, nuts, and honey.
“Tom and Marti see our planet and our lives on it as God’s greatest gifts to all of us,” Klement says. “Building sustainably and living sustainably are simply natural responses of appreciation.” Architectural Resource will host tours of the project on November 21 and 22; see beaconsprings.org for details.