The Terra Berma Project – Sustainable Off Grid Living

The south-facing wall of the house, with the wind turbine shown in the background

Along the tip of the Kingston Peninsula, the Terra Berma Project is a sustainable living project that demonstrates off-grid living doesn’t need mean compromising comfort. Constructed over 5 years using primarily using recycled tires and cob (a natural building material made from subsoil, water, some kind of fibrous organic material), the home was built out from the side of a hill using rammed earth techniques. The combination of building materials and lack of exposed walls means that the house is very well insulated. Ceiling insulation comes from a green roof, on the top of the split-story. The hill faces south and the opposite wall takes full advantage of this with large, thick windows that the sun can shine through to provide heat. Other heating requirements are met with a masonry heater, located in the centre of the home.

The home’s green roof, with a view of the solar panels

Above the windows are six 200W solar panels (1kW total capacity) that provide part of the home’s electricity needs. Due to the cloudy winter, the owners say that the panels haven’t been very effective. They insist that multiple forms of electricity generation are necessary. Behind the home towards the top of the hill, a 2.4kW Jacobs wind turbine has been providing the owners with power, in lieu of solar. They say the turbine has been so effective at electricity generation they haven’t had to draw from their battery bank this winter. When their batteries are full, excess energy is re-directed to the hot-water tank.

The home has a composting toilet, in order to conserve water use, along with a grey-water recycling system built into the house. This system and the masonry heater are the key features the house was designed around. Given the unique characteristics of the house, they had to consult with many building and design specialists outside of the province to determine the best processes. Local engineers and specialists primarily acted out these recommendations, and the owners take pride in the fact that they were able to bring new green building skillsets into New Brunswick.

The owners sit in their den, next to the masonry heater

Despite the seemingly dramatic lifestyle changes that come from living in such a home, the owners say that the transition to the new home was smooth. “The house was designed to be mindful. We didn’t have to give up a lot, and the things we did give up we didn’t really need”. If they had to redesign the house, they say the only change to make would maybe be building it smaller.

The Terra Berma Project is open to questions and inquiries, and can be reached on their Facebook page. They are hoping to have monthly visitations and tours of their property, to show what living sustainably truly entails.