In 2002, already seeing what peak oil and climate change could bring to his community, Lester Germanio decided he needed to do something. So, given his background as an engineer and architect, he set out to do what he knew how to: on a bit of land just outside downtown Austin, he began building a sustainable homestead with the goal of supporting 8 people from one small bit of land. “All I can do is show solutions,” he told us when we visited. “I come from an architecture background, and this is my solution. Simple and fringe as it looks, this is what I can do.”
Today, Lester’s house has become Food Water Shelter. “It is supposed to be a demonstration urban homestead that would be functional off grid, all this in anticipation of things like peak oil, climate change, and economic challenges, all of which we’re seeing now that weren’t so apparent in 2002.” The land includes living space for 8 people (Lester and his immediate family), as well as an aquaponic growing system meant to provide them with all the fresh fruits, vegetables and fish they can eat, with some left over for sale or barter. Energy will come from solar panels, though passive solar design makes energy consumption lower than it might otherwise be, with no need for air conditioning even in the oppressive Texas summer heat. On the day we visited it was almost 100° in the sun but the uphill segments of the house remained cool thanks to a refreshing breeze.
The house also includes a rain water catchment system that is able to harvest up to 40,000 gallons of water for every 9 inches of rain. Combined with intelligent water use (composting toilets for instance can make a tremendous difference in household water consumption) and 18 inches of rain a year, the house should be self-sufficient in water as well.
“I’m doing this little thing,” Lester said as we sat down to lunch later, “but I think it’s an important component of a bigger system. This could easily be a prototype of an eco-village, of sustainable homesteads, and if you start having a homestead in an eco-village, and it’s one part of a network that support cities, that makes cities sustainable.”
The garden gate says it all. “I tried to symbolize in it the things we have to work with: the sun, the wind, the rain, the soil. Those are the things, if you’re completely sustainable, that’s all you have to work with.”
Construction hasn’t been without its challenges, including the overzealous local mayor who was a little less than enthusiastic about having a self-sufficient homestead in a neighborhood usually reserved for Austin’s ultra-rich, launching a criminal case against Lester for imaginary code violations. After the government spent over $150,000 pursuing the case, it was dismissed by a judge and Lester’s project has continued. The house is expected to be finished by fall 2011.
To find out more about how the experiment is going, visit: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FoodWaterShelter/