Imagine building a home in your backyard that is designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a garden flower.
The Liges are a young family who are building a 400 square foot home in their back yard– a home that is informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates its own energy with renewable resources, that captures and treats water on site and that is lovingly crafted for a family member with a developmental disability. In a landscape of sprawling development, strict city policies, and a compromising view of sustainability, one young family and a determined community seek diversity and sustainability in their family, home, workplace, neighbourhood and town. Combining documentary footage with time lapse photography and interviews, The Ethel Lane House follows the building of this remarkable home from the first stake in the garden to the last guest at the housewarming party.
The Lige’s backyard is a sizeable one, with vegetable and flower gardens and a tree towering over their young daughter’s playhouse. It is one of many houses on a typical Okanagan street with paved sidewalks, tidy lawns, stucco, wood, and air conditioners. Deren Sentesy, the general contractor of the project, points out the four stakes indicating the area where the Lige family’s assisted-living house will be built. This house is unlike any other house in the valley. It is to follow the guidelines of the Living Building Challenge, comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. The house is for Jordan, the brother of Nathan Lige, who has a developmental disability. It is lovingly designed to allow for his own personal expression and to provide an independent lifestyle while still being close to his family for support.
Rather than being celebrated for the diversity they bring to their communities, people with developmental disabilities are often marginalized. They live in group homes, institutions, or at home with their parents. Aging parents worry for the future of their loved ones and over the years support funding is diminishing along with their lifestyle options. The construction landscape is a similarly uncompromising one. Strict city policies dictate guidelines for water quality and don’t take into account on-site grey water systems. Most construction equipment and supplies are supported unsustainably, with alternative resources such as solar panels and composting toilets rare or expensive.
The Ethel Lane House challenges these realities. It provides a bold new perspective in sustainable living and celebrates all aspects of diversity in our communities- both built and biological. It asks simple questions. What if the care of our loved ones returns to our homes in a more sustainable way and what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?