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Like a flower

Brady Heights home aspires to rigorous sustainability certification

Contractor Daryl Nieto, homeowner Nathan Pickard and architect Molly Jones

Greg Bollinger

In Brady Heights, there’s a hole in the ground. With any luck, it’ll soon be the most sustainable house in Oklahoma.

Nathan and Kristin Pickard call it “The Joinery,” this not-yet-built single-family home on North Denver Avenue. It’s a competitor in the global Living Building Challenge, a strenuous, long-term sustainability initiative that provides a framework for self-sustainable buildings. Not only must these buildings meet several criterion around environmentally-friendly building methods, materials, and design; they must also produce more energy than they use.

The hole is The Joinery’s basement—or, at least, it will be soon.

“We’re open to it taking a long time if it has to,” Nathan said. “I think our hope is to have the outside of the building done by the end of June … [but] it might be more like the end of the year.”

Wood for the basement? It has to be Forest Stewardship Council certified. Where could they find that? Somewhere in Minnesota.

Energy for the house? It has to be renewable: solar and wind (or in some cases, hydropower and geothermal). No combustion. Easy, right? Not exactly. Senate Bill 1456 allows customers who use solar to be charged extra for putting excess energy back into the grid.

“You would think in a state like Oklahoma that supposedly hates regulations, that it’d be easy to just do whatever you want,” Nathan said. “But it’s not easy to do the right thing.”

If the Pickards succeed and complete the Living Building Challenge, they’ll be the first in Oklahoma to do so, and one of fewer than two dozen on Earth.

“They need people to put that fight up,” Kristin said. “They’re saying, if you’re going to be certified, you’re going to have to jump through all these hoops so that people can follow you and do it more easily after you. Someone has to do that.”

The Pickards seem at ease being the first in Oklahoma to attempt this experiment, even while raising three kids (one a newborn), managing the Tisdale Food Forest along the L.L. Tisdale Parkway and a 20-acre garden at Emerson Elementary, Kristin’s job as a physician assistant, and Nathan’s data analytics firm.

“We don’t watch much TV,” Kristin said.

Part of the couple’s drive comes from their commitment to community. In addition to serving as a single-family home, The Joinery will act as a catch-all community space for the neighborhood. The Pickards envision yoga classes in the morning, a remote working space during the day, and a teaching kitchen in the evening. Maybe even movie nights. (The Pickards will live in a mother-in-law suite on the north side.)

Another part might be nostalgia for the past: Nathan was born in Oregon, and spoke of his grandmother, “a ‘grow-everything-in-our-backyard’ kind of person. She had a full vegetable garden, but also she had raspberry bushes that were just incredible. We would go back and just eat raspberries for forever.”

Sadly, he said, raspberries don’t grow well in Oklahoma. Either way, he’s trying to create more projects in Tulsa that work as well as that backyard garden he remembers.

When asked how realistic it is that a building can self-sustain and produce more energy than it uses, the Pickards were optimistic. “We’ll find out,” Nathan said.

The toilet will flush to a “biodigester” in the basement, which will compost the waste. Energy banks will hold the solar electricity. Water use will have to be kept low: no long showers. No PVC pipes, only metal.

“No one’s called us crazy to our faces,” Kristin said. “Most people seem really supportive.”

And, she says, people don’t need to embark on the Living Building Challenge to embrace sustainability.

“There are obviously thousands of ways you can change your lifestyle, from riding your bike or walking, to driving less, to eating local food—which requires less diesel fuel to transport.”

Nathan, by his own admission, is a little more extreme. His vision is of a home that has a positive impact on the environment—something that leaves our planet better off than if it didn’t exist. Like a flower, he said, time will tell if the soil conditions are right.

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