Locust Hill at Raven Rocks
Locust Hill is an approximately 8,000-square-foot environmental building being built on a hill overlooking the ravines at Raven Rocks. Construction was begun in 1975, designed originally for six occupants: Warren Stetzel, Timothy Starbuck, Donald Hartley, Christopher Joyner and Warren’s mother, Mildred, and his brother, David.
Becoming aware of the public interest, we chose to make it large enough so that visitors could come through the building without entirely disrupting our activities. Malcolm Wells, renowned underground architect, did a first design for us in 1972 and then another when we moved to a new location, Locust Hill, in 1975. His patience and genius shone through every time we came up with a problem and he sketched out a solution that was more pleasing than the original detail. His patience to stick with us for decades, as we researched materials and methods while building slowly, was remarkable. He charged us $400 for the first drawings, and after that gave his time and talent to the project. Malcolm and Warren kept up a 30+ year relationship with an average of two letters a week covering all manner of issues as well as building design.
The building will be largely underground with the south face open to the sun. Three levels of windows will soak up the solar input, storing it in the 14” thick concrete walls as well as the floors and ceiling. A thick layer of insulation on the outside of the concrete will prevent the heat from escaping into the earth. While the earth temperature may average 50 degrees F, the earth can conduct away many BTU’s of heat quickly if in direct contact with the concrete.
In addition to the direct solar input, the building benefits from the solar warming of the earth which reaches its peak in October just as the heating season begins. Other solar strategies include a large array of photovoltaic (solar electric) panels on a tall pole that turn to face the sun every morning and follow the sun throughout the day for maximum collection. Not far away, a 10 kW wind machine spins generating more electricity that is sent to a central bank of 90 batteries for Locust Hill.
Included in the building will be two Clivus composting toilets that handle not only toilet waste, but also waste from the kitchen, making safe compost for use around the yard and orchard. Since they don’t use any water these are especially desirable in areas like ours where water shortages are common.
According to Malcolm Wells’ plan, the earth covered building will conserve rain water, put a friendly green growing face to the sky, provide habitat for other creatures on the roof.
After years of working on the building, we were forced to slow and then stop in 2006 when our crew size diminished due to illness and other factors. In 2013 Joel Rockwell and Donald Hartley cleared away the Virginia creeper and poison ivy that had grown over the unfinished walls and reclaimed the construction site that Mother Nature was rapidly taking over. Since then we have worked steadily pouring concrete columns, walls and roofs according to the original plan. There is much more to do, but the progress in very encouraging.
The future use of the building is uncertain, but what is certain is that it will be a handsome, energy efficient, environmentally friendly building, an asset to the property. Perhaps it will be a residence, perhaps a visitors center, or both.
Check us out on our Raven Rocks Facebook page for updates to the work on Locust Hill as well as other happenings around Raven Rocks.
In order to see this project to completion, we have launched a fundraiser through GoFundMe. We invite you to visit the site and contribute according to your ability.