Building An Ecohouse (Passive) in Franche-Comté

Buiding an eco-house from straw bales in  Héricourt, Franche-Comté, France. Passive energy, using recycled rain water and green materials.

Our friends Thomas and Li are constructing an ecological house of straw bales in Héricourt in the province of Franche-Comté, France. We helped them doing all kinds of construction work without much prior building experience and got hands-on with ecological challenges.

We painted, plastered, varnished, worked on parquet and tiles, cleaned dust and construction waste, cut the grass, weeded the garden, cooked, etc. It was fun to do some physical work for a change, or not really work because we were volunteering. We were especially happy because it was not our house as we are perfectionists. All tiny gaps and unsymmetrical lines here and there in any house would drive us crazy if we had to own it.

What made the house special?

Thomas was motivated by the idea of building something outside the mainstream. He wanted to prove that it is possible to build a house without harming nature. The house is passive which means that it will consume only a minimal amount of external energy. It will use for example sun for heating and rain water for showering and drinking. However, we are still convinced that a tent is more ecological than any house can ever be.

For us it was interesting that Thomas used wood in building like people do in Finland. In France, stone is usually the choice and the art of wood building is still considered high technology although more and more people are becoming aware of its advantages. Still some people are afraid that a wooden house is harder to sell than a stone house.

Some past eco-experiences

Thomas’ project was perhaps the first sound effort we have encountered so far. Although financial interests had blurred and inflated a bit the original goal of eco-friendliness, it was not driven by sales and marketing efforts like most bio, green, eco, and organic things appear to be. Growth can never be sustainable, the whole idea is absurd, unless there is an unlimited amount of resources available in the world.

We have felt most of the time that people are just showing off with eco-products. They want to indicate their support to small businesses claiming to produce eco-friendly products and make sure to buy healthy products for their own good. These people have been young, environmentally conscious, and not too wealthy. This is a bit sad in a way that businesses use blatantly their customers’ naivety to make more money without really caring for the nature.

Building An Ecohouse (Passive) in Franche-Comté

One good example of eco-marketing are energy-saving lamps. They save a little bit of energy and might even last longer, but have you ever thought how much more damaging their production is than that of regular bulbs, and what kind of materials are used for them? In addition, if you throw away the good old bulbs to exchange them to new ones, you certainly cause more ecological damage than do any good. The same applies to new eco-cars. Getting rid of an old, still functional car will pollute much more than driving with a new eco-car could ever reduce pollution even if we forget completely the impact of the manufacturing process itself.

If you consider ecological issues a bit deeper, you end up playing the social game of yes-but. Cars are not ecological at all, but walking is. Yes, that is correct, you might say, but you need a car to be able to go to work. Another example. We can claim that having lights at home is not ecological. You could sleep during the dark time and stay awake when there is sunlight like people do in Cambodia. However, the answer of the modern man is yes, but you need to be productive also when there is no light. You can play this game forever and eventually realize that making money and thinking in an ecological way are opposites to each other. No business can ever be ecological. The only way to be truly eco-friendly is to live without money or otherwise you will be just falling into various marketing traps and cause more damage with your actions.

Green perspectives world wide

In New Zealand we saw how a well-designed recycling scheme can turn to an environmental problem. Everyone was washing all their tin cans, glass jars, and bottles with washing liquid and warm water. They put them to green bags in front our their houses and then a car came to pick up all the green bags. The waste was taken to local recycling centres and put into shelves for a few months so that anyone who was interested in the stuff could have the ones he wanted. After that, the recycling waste was transported with big trucks to harbour and shipped to Australia for processing as New Zealand doesn’t have any facilities of their own. Just think how much energy the whole process consumed and how much additional pollution it caused.

Similar things happen everywhere. It is simply not enough to appear to be eco-friendly and go halfway, but ask what is the total ecological impact. In France yoghurt is sold in small plastic cans and there is no ecological packing (i.e. bigger packages made of carton) available. French eco-freaks still buy the products because they feel there is no choice. However, the choice is not to buy such products because buying them will encourage companies to continue doing so. It shows that buyers are silently accepting the idiocy.

Our conclusion is similar to the one Arto made in his article about eco-travel: if you purchase the cheapest products and try to minimize the amount of money you use, you end up living more ecologically. Even the choice of your living place matters. For example living in Finland is consuming much more energy and spoiling the environment than anywhere closer to the equator with a milder climate. And, on the other hand, if you want comfort, to own things and to think highly of yourself, you will end up living non-ecologically. But in both cases that is your choice and yours alone.

Back to the track

And now back from ecological issues to Franche-Comté. Thomas and Li are building their house in Héricourt, which is a small town located between Belfort and Montbéliard and serves as their suburb. From there we continued to Besançon, a little-known city but certainly worth a visit if you want to dig a bit deeper in French culture than just visiting Paris. The city is attractive with old buildings and a river crossing the city centre, and the people of Besançon are delightfully modest. They are proud of their simple life style compared for example to wealthier, more touristy and more expensive Dijon.

Have a warm midsummer or a mild midwinter!

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