California is one of the most eco-conscious states in the country. It's no surprise then that the state's Building Standards Commission approved a housing law that's the first of its kind in the nation. Starting in 2020, it will become mandatory to incorporate solar panels into new build homes.
The law — and an interest in highlighting environmentally sustainable architecture — is the inspiration for an eco-homes tour organized and managed by Baltic Sands Inc., a property development and real estate company, and sponsored by Pacific Sotheby's International Realty and Bang & Olufsen.
The Eco Homes Tour 2019, Californian High Desert Edition, will take place on Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. "We felt that the High Desert is the perfect canvas to showcase how powerful solar can be — no pun intended — when it comes to not only taking control of your energy needs, but subscribing to a more sustainable lifestyle," says Ida Alwin of Baltic Sands. "We also noticed that the concept of off-grid living is still a bit of a daunting concept to a lot of people."
The tour will visit five homes — three in Joshua Tree and two in Pioneertown. "All the homes are solar-powered, so that in itself goes a long way to define them as 'eco,'" notes Alwin. "When you take responsibility for your own power needs, you become more aware of your usage. And so taking measures to ensure the house is insulated properly and appliances are highly efficient becomes a priority. This is the case with all the homes on the tour."
Two of the houses in Joshua Tree were highlighted earlier this year on palmspringslife.com. One, a 980-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin was built in 2018 specifically to be solar powered. The other home in Joshua Tree is also off grid but has more square footage — 1,360 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. "This house is closer in size to the average home, so an interesting case study from that perspective," adds Alwin.
The homes in Pioneertown include an original homestead cabin that's been renovated, along with a container home that has views of Pipes Canyon.
Prior to heading out on the tour, guests can attend a short discussion on sustainability and design hosted by architect George Bennett of Bennett Binns Architects, which will then be followed by a talk on desert communities. Alwin notes that Bennett is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional. "Sustainability is something he is not only knowledgeable about, but also passionate."
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSE CERVANTES
A modern take on the original homestead cabins of the area, this Joshua Tree cabin built in 2018 has an open-plan kitchen, dining, living area, and a large patio with 360-degree views. It’s also walking distance to Joshua Tree National Park.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PACIFIC SOTHEBY'S
Completed in 2019 by Baltic Sands, the Joshua Tree Olive House, "was built with comfort and convenience in mind," says Alwin. "It also has incredible views across the desert."
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALLY WRAY-KIRK
Built in 2019 and located in Pioneertown, Barbary House has two bedrooms and one bathroom in 800 square feet. Alwin notes that constructing a container home is no small undertaking. "This house had a lot of thought put into it efficiency-wise, and there can be some valuable lessons learned from the experience," she adds. "Plans to include a structure around the house to utilize naturally cooling air flow is an interesting concept. That element of the house will be completed in 2020 but can be seen in conceptual drawings that the owner will have on display on the day of the tour."
In addition, there will be a number of other resources included with the tour that the organizers hope will empower people to understand more about sustainable living. It should also arm them with information for their own projects. For example, licensed contractors will be available at a few of the houses to answer practical questions.
"We will also provide attendees with a pack to accompany their maps," says Alwin. "This will be akin to baseball cards, but each card will have a picture of the house and the solar system spec of the house on the back side. So people can take away that info and after seeing the homes understand what their power needs might be, or how they could even bring down their consumption based on what they have seen throughout the day." And for those visitors who want to experience off-grid living firsthand, the Joshua Tree Cabin and Think Tank House are both available to rent on Airbnb.
"Each home is unique in the way the owner has decided to increase the efficiency of the building," she adds. "It's been such a pleasure collaborating with people who not only believe in taking responsibility for their own impact on the planet, but who are also keen to pass on pragmatisms they've learned through the process to help others thinking of taking similar paths."
"Eco Homes Tour 2019, Californian High Desert Edition" will be held Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 (pre-registered) or $30 at the door.
To purchase tickets, visit eventbrite.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MIRIAM SEGER
An original homestead cabin with 800 square feet, Think Tank House has an off-grid system that was installed in 2006 and is still in use today. "That makes this house unique in that it illustrates the longevity of the system and enables us to see the progress that has been made in this area over the years," says Alwin. The property also has private access to park trails and a native garden she calls "stunning."