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features of riverstone

“ The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart”

-Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

this was our first project and in many ways laid the foundation for how we continue to collaborate with owner/builders and our community to create homes which reflect the land and people from which the come.

  • The Econest at the Riverstone retreat centre has been constructed using 85% low processed local (sourced

from within 40k) materials. Of this –another 80% of the materials for this project have come directly from the

building site.

  • This home- based on techniques of which there are many 1000 year old European specimens, will likely stand

for 500 years. Contrasted with the expected 50 year life span of even the most energy efficient homes today -and the

embodied energy in this home could see a reduction by a factor of 10 by virtue of its construction


  •  this materially inexpensive labour intensive building approach allows for

  • Natural building differs from green building in that the materials consume less marketing (pamphlet printing,

sample swatches etc.), processing (glues,factories,etc.), transportation, storage and showroom(lights, heat etc.)


  • Labour intensive conversion of local, natural materials into building materials keeps money in the local

economy. By contrast, highly processed materials available at big box hardware stores are fabricated by large

corporations in far off lands. Purchasing these materials leads to capital flight from the local community.

  •  Local materials travel less distance and are often processed by hand or very low energy methods. This means

that they have less “embodied energy” than highly processed materials.

  •  Local materials lead to the re-introduction of vernacular architecture, which is…architecture that reflects the

locale in which it exists. By contrast, many homes built today look the same in southern California as they do in

northern Ontario.

  •  The use of local materials encourages the building trades to take a more craft oriented approach to building as

the process is slowed enough to reflect on the purpose of the task at hand.


  • Durisol has up to 78% recycled woodchips mixed with a cementitious binder. Manufactured with a mineral wool

insert, these ICF achieve R 20 and significantly reduce the use of concrete.

“Cement kilns contribute more to the world's output of carbon dioxide than aircraft and could soon be

responsible for 10 per cent of all emissions of the greenhouse gas. New calculations by an industry scientist

reveal that cement manufacturers already produce 7 per cent of global CO2 emissions—almost three times

previously published estimates—and that CO2 output is increasing faster from cement works than from any

other industrial source.”-July 19, 1997 New Scientist

  • Durisol is a vapour permeable wall system which requires no vapor diffusion retarder (a.k.a. vapor barrier), and

therefore is congruent with the “flow through” exterior wall design of the straw clay walls.

  • All the stone for the stone veneer was sourced from the property, and hand selected by Ernie and Edith Martin,

the Clients.       


  • This stone reflects the unique geological pre-history of Grey county, with its rich fossil record of ancient sea life                            

  • The veneer cap is from Owen Sound Ledgerock, which supplies “marble and limestone produced from high

density dolomite. Featuring colours and patterns that are visually distinct. These quarried stones are unique to

certain regions of Ontario.”

  • The foundation is a floating slab –on-grade which, coupled with the Durisol frost wall significantly reduces the

amount of concrete used in the project.


  • Timber Frame designed By Joshua Thornton

  • Predominantly local white ash- the square timbers were milled by local Mennonite Dan Shetler. All of the

natural curves were selected by lead timber framer Joshua Thornton and were sourced from the fencerows of

the Riverstone Property.

  • The use of these curved timbers is not solely an aesthetic preference. Their use also reflects the tradition in

England, and Wales, which was historically a response to dwindling timber resources. The same can be said of

their use in this project.

  • Otherwise overlooked for their structural value, these pieces would normally only be considered valuable as


  • This timber frame is influenced by two traditions; the Welsh “Cruck” frame typology, and the German,

“Liegenderstuhl”. This frame synthesizes these two ancient typologies to produce a frame which is both

beautiful and functional.

  •  All timber to timber connections (joinery) are wood to wood connections, mortise and tenon joints, and lap

joints fasten with oak pegs.

  • The timbers have been planed and oiled with Ontario grown hemp oil supplied by Hempola.

Straw Clay Walls

  • Walls were constructed by students of a workshop led by Robert Laporte of the Econest building company and

Joshua Thornton.,,

  • Studies conducted by Joshua Thornton for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation demonstrate that

straw clay has an average R-value of 1.6 per inch (about R-20 for a 12” wall with plaster skins

  •  Loose (not baled) straw(grow on site) is combined with a loam slurry, which coats the straw in a protective

mineralizing coating, which adds longevity to the fiber.

  • These walls are designed to be a “flow through” wall assembly. Flow through wall assemblies are very vapour

permeable but air tight. This is sometimes referred to by the layperson as “breathable”.

  •  This approach works in harmony with the wetting and drying of materials, as it allows moisture which does

occur within the wall assembly to dry rapidly.

  • This approach also helps to balance the indoor relative humidity during heating periods. This benefits occupant

health. Dry indoor climates lead to dry mucous membranes, the body’s first line of defense against virus and


Masonry Heater

  • Masonry heaters store heat. Energy from a short hot fire is stored in the thermal mass and can provide heat all

day long.

  •  The masonry heater at Riverstone was custom designed and built by Alex Chernov.,                    The primary feature which distinguishes a masonry heater(from any other wood combustion device) is the ability to

store a large amount of heat. This means that you can rapidly burn a large charge of wood without overheating

your house. The heat is stored in the masonry thermal mass, and then slowly radiates into your house for the

next 18 to 24 hours. It is by far the cleanest way to burn cordwood.

  •  If you burn wood fairly rapidly, it is a clean fuel. If you try to burn it too slowly, the fire will change from flaming

to smoldering combustion. The burning process is incomplete and produces tars. Atmospheric pollution

increases dramatically. This is important if you are planning an energy-efficient house. The average energy

demand of your house will be quite low. For most of the time, it may require only 1 to 2 kW of heat. For most

conventional woodstoves, this is below their “critical burn rate”, or the point where they start to smolder.

  •  Masonry heaters fill the bill perfectly. If you need even a very small amount of heat, such as between seasons

when you simply want to take off the chill, you simply burn a smaller fuel charge–yet you still burn it quickly.

The large surface is never too hot to touch. You have a premium radiant heating system with a comfort level

that simply cannot be equaled by convection or forced air systems.

Septic Design

  •  Passive tertiary treatment reducing footprint of leach field, which is advantageous for small lots or heavily treed

building sites.

  • Extra treatment through constructed wetland utilizing plants for natural decomposition reduces possibility of

groundwater contamination

Interior/Exterior Trim and Finishes

  • The straw/clay walls are plastered with an earthen plaster (marl sourced 50’ from the building)

  •  Reclaimed maple hardwood floor upstairs

  •  All soffit tongue and groove is red pine from the site

  •  All the maple trim is reclaimed material, The cabinet caracase is fabricated with a no voc (volatile organic compounds) fibreboard

  • The kitchen counters are ledgerock, as well as the patio floor, which is ledgerock in another form,

  • The spa tub is a hypoallergenic air jet system which eliminates mold and mildews, unlike a re-circulated water

system, which leaves moisture in lines to cause mold and mildews.

  •  The walls are painted with a silicate dispersion paint. Silicate Dispersion Paint is also known as Inorganic Mineral

Paint. It was developed in Germany in the late 1800s. It is anti-microbial without fungicides, and very vapour

permeable., Supplied in Ontario by

  • The interior doors are white ash.

  •  All interior partitions are of wattle and daub construction, an ancient method utilizing woven twigs and the

covered with earthen plasters.

  • The wattle and daub partitions have a high thermal mass and act as a secondary heat sink to the masonry


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