Enchanted Homes

Start to finish sustainable building

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Thomas Soule and Mark Brewer are Taos sustainability contractors who strive to make the world a better place – for humans and the planet in general.

“It’s all about education,” Soule said last week.“We do this because we believe in it and we’re passionate about it,” passionate about creating sustainable building solutions that are creative, cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Newly partnered as Sustainable Builders LLC, the pair have both lived off the electric grid for a number of years in Tres Orejas, west of Taos Mesa, and are intimately familiar with the sustainability curve of Northern New Mexico’s high desert demands.

They have both designed and built in and around Taos, as far out as Pot Creek and Dixon, northerly up in Questa, in El Prado, Taos Ski Valley and many other locations.

“I think the biggest trend now,” Brewer said, “is the total envelope, versus just a passive solar” emphasis of some 30-odd years ago, he explained, when sustainability was just starting out.

“People are ‘believers’ nowadays,” Soule said. “It’s just become expected from builders, and now there’s a lot more efficiency from suppliers. You used to have to dig to find specs. Now it’s all right out there on the front page.” “It’s kind of like organic food,” Brewer pointed out. “People just kind of expect it now. People are exposed to [sustainability] a lot more, and in so many ways.”

Both men each have two children who simply took the “green” lifestyle in stride, both agreeing that kids seem to be infinitely adaptable where being “green” is concerned.

“I really like the off-grid lifestyle,” Brewer said candidly, “and I want to stay that way.”

Off-grid in sagebrush covered mesas typically means no well, a 1,700-gallon cistern filled by roof-catchment rain water and sometimes trucked-in water. Trees and gardens supplement rain and snow with gray-water systems, “and being mindful, monitoring and reusing every drop,” Soule said.

“When you’re off the grid, your life becomes a symbiotic relationship that you don’t have otherwise – if it’s cloudy, you have less electricity [generated by solar panels], if it doesn’t rain, less water.”

“You’re teaching children to be aware of this symbiosis,” Brewer said, “with water and sun monitoring; it’s a more sustainable and healthier life practice.”

“It brings your decisions about how you live your life into a much more close relationship,” Soule added. “Any step toward being off the grid, and you really get an awareness of the impact of the environment, and what is really happening outside your home.”

A large part of mitigating these environmental issues involves energy – both energy generation and efficient delivery and management of that energy to the home and homeowners. Super-insulated homes with very tight envelopes are desirable sustainability goals, but more important to Sustainable Builders LLC is what “green means to the customer,” Soule said. “People put different values on different things.”

Some want decreased toxicity, like that associated with the decreased carbon footprint of a “green” industrial process; or a permaculture development; or negative magnetic radiation fields.

“Some things really matter to some people, but some people could care less,” Soule explained. “There’s no one solution for everyone, which is what keeps it so interesting for us. We care more that [they’re] making good, informed decisions.”

“It’s a movement, it really is,” Brewer and Soule agree. “It’s us wanting to contribute to this movement.” In the U.S., with retrofitting alone, they say we can reduce energy use by a whopping 50 percent.

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