“ The mediatior between the head and the hands must be the heart”
- Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

• The primary collaboration(s) on this project were between Econest building company (award winning architect and author Paula Baker Laporte and builder Robert Laporte),local architect David Macaulay, local timber framer and natural builder Joshua Thornton, local builder Randy Martin and of course the owner/builders Ernie and Edith Martin.

• None of this would have been possible without the enlightened, progressive professionalism of our local building inspector Ray Holliday, and sewage inspector Les Mackinnon on behalf of the Municipality of West Grey.

• The Martin House at the Riverstone retreat centre has been constructed using 85% low-processed, local materials (sourced from within 40km) . Of this, another 80% of the materials for this project have come directly from the building site.

• This home, based on techniques of which there are many 1000 year old European specimens, will likely stand for 500 years. Contrasted with the expected 50 year life span of even the most energy efficient homes today, the minimal embodied energy in this home has been reduced by a factor of 10 by virtue of its construction method.

• Even using these laborious “custom from scratch” techniques and by calculating the owners' "sweat equity" at a rate of $20.00/hr, this home comes in at $200/sq.ft. which is very competitive in today’s market!

• Natural building differs from green building in that the materials consume less energy from processing (machinery, glues, factories, etc.), transportation, storage and marketing/showroom (pamphlet printing, sample swatches, renting and heating of a marketing space, etc.).

• Labour intensive conversion of local, natural materials into building materials keeps money in the local economy. By contrast, highly processed materials available at big box stores are fabricated by large corporations in far away lands. Purchasing these materials leads to capital flight from the local community.

• Local materials travel less distance and are often processed by-hand or with very low energy methods. This means that they have less “embodied energy” than highly processed materials.

• Local materials lead to the re-introduction of vernacular architecture, which is architecture that reflects the locale in which it exists. By contrast, many homes built today look the same in Southern California as they do in Northern Ontario.

• The use of local materials encourages the building trades to take a more craft-oriented approach to building as the process is slowed enough to reflect on the purpose of the task at hand.


Durisol brand wood ICF (insulated concrete form) used for frost wall/ stem wall construction, made in Mitchell, Ontario was used for the foundation walls.

• Durisol has up to 78% recycled woodchips mixed with a cementitious binder. Manufactured with a mineral wool insert, these ICF achieve R20 and significantly reduce the use of concrete.

“Cement kilns contribute more to the world's output of carbon dioxide than aircraft and could soon be responsible for 10 per cent of all emissions of the greenhouse gas. New calculations by an industry scientist reveal that cement manufacturers already produce 7 per cent of global CO2 emissions—almost three times previously published estimates—and that CO2 output is increasing faster from cement works than from any other industrial source.” - July 19, 1997 New Scientist

• Durisol is a vapour permeable wall system which requires no vapor diffusion retarder (a.k.a. vapor barrier), and therefore is congruent with the “flow through” exterior wall design of the straw/clay walls.

• All the stone for the stone veneer was sourced from the property, and hand selected by Ernie and Edith Martin, the clients.

• This stone reflects the unique geological pre-history of Grey County and its rich fossil record of ancient sea life.

• The veneer cap is from Owen Sound Ledgerock, which supplies "marble and limestone produced from high density dolomite. Featuring colours and patterns that are visually distinct, these quarried stones are unique to certain regions of Ontario.”

• The foundation is a floating slab –on-grade which, coupled with the Durisol frost wall, significantly reduces the amount of concrete used in the project.

Timber Frame

• Designed By Joshua Thornton , of Thor’s Hammer Timber Framing and also the lead timber framer on the project.

• The frame is predominantly local white ash, milled square by local Mennonite Dan Shetler. All of the natural curves were selected by lead timber framer Joshua Thornton and were sourced from the fencerows of the Riverstone Property.

• The use of these curved timbers is not solely an aesthetic preference. Their use also reflects the tradition in England and Wales, which was historically a response to dwindling timber resources. The same can be said of their use in this project. Otherwise overlooked for their structural value, these pieces would normally only be considered valuable as firewood.

• This timber frame is influenced by two traditions: the Welsh “Cruck” frame and the German “Liegenderstuhl”. This frame synthesizes these two ancient typologies to produce a frame which is both beautiful and functional.

• All timber to timber connections (joinery) are wood to wood connections, mortise and tenon joints, and lap joints fasten with oak pegs.

• The timbers have been planed and oiled with Ontario grown hemp oil supplied by Hempola.

Straw/Clay Walls
• Walls were constructed by students of a workshop led by Robert Laporte of the Econest building company and Joshua Thornton.

• Studies conducted by Joshua Thornton for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation demonstrate that straw clay has an average R-value of 1.6 per inch (about R20 for a 12” wall with plaster skins).

• Loose straw (not baled and grown on-site) is combined with a loam slurry, which coats the straw in a protective mineralizing coating, which adds longevity to the fiber.

• These walls are designed to be a “flow through” wall assembly. Flow through wall assemblies are very vapour permeable but air tight. This is sometimes referred to by the layperson as “breathable”.

• This approach works in harmony with the wetting and drying of materials, as it allows moisture which does occur within the wall assembly to dry rapidly. This also helps to balance the indoor relative humidity during heating periods, thus benefiting occupant health. Dry indoor climates lead to dry mucous membranes, the body’s first line of defense against virus and bacteria.

Masonry Heater

• The masonry heater at Riverstone was custom designed and built by Alex Chernov.

• The main thing that distinguishes a masonry heater(from any other wood combustion device) is the ability to store a large amount of heat. This means that you can rapidly burn a large charge of wood without overheating your house. The heat is stored in the masonry thermal mass, and then slowly radiates into your house for the next 18 to 24 hours. It is by far the cleanest way to burn cordwood.

• If you burn wood fairly rapidly, it is a clean fuel. If you try to burn it too slowly, the fire will change from flaming to smoldering combustion. The burning process is incomplete and produces tars and atmospheric pollution increases dramatically. This is important if you are planning an energy-efficient house. The average energy demand of your house will be quite low. For most of the time, it may require only 1 to 2 kW of heat. For most conventional woodstoves, this is below their “critical burn rate”, or the point where they start to smolder.

• Masonry heaters fit the bill perfectly. If you need even a very small amount of heat, such as between seasons when you simply want to take off the chill, you simply burn a smaller fuel charge – yet you still burn it quickly. The large surface is never too hot to touch. You have a premium radiant heating system with a comfort level that simply cannot be equaled by convection or forced air systems.

Septic Design
• Extra treatment through constructed wetland utilizing plants for natural decomposition reduces possibility of groundwater contamination.

• Passive tertiary treatment reducing footprint of leach field, which is advantageous for small lots or heavily treed building sites.
Interior/Exterior Trim and Finishes

• The straw/clay walls are plastered with an earthen plaster (marl sourced 50ft from the building)

• Reclaimed maple hardwood floor upstairs. All the maple trim is reclaimed material and was installed by Fred Powell and Lynne Stolzfuts.

• All soffit tongue and groove is red pine from the site.

• The cabinet caracase is fabricated with a no VOC (volatile organic compounds) fibreboard.

• The kitchen counters are ledgerock, as well as the patio floor, which is ledgerock in another form.

• The spa tub is a hypoallergenic air jet system which eliminates mold and mildews, unlike a re-circulated water system, which leaves moisture in lines to cause mold and mildew.

• The walls are painted with a silicate dispersion paint. Silicate dispersion paint is also known as inorganic mineral paint and was developed in Germany in the late 1800s. It is anti-microbial without fungicides, and very vapour permeable. These paints are supplied in Ontario by Harvest Homes.

• The interior doors are white ash.

• All interior partitions are of wattle and daub construction, an ancient method utilizing woven twigs and the covered with earthen plasters. The wattle and daub partitions have a high thermal mass and act as a secondary heat sink for the masonry heater.
Roof Insulation

• The roof is insulated with a spray foam called Icynene. Icynene is 100% water-blown and does not emit harmful gases (such as VOCs).

• Icynene contains no ozone-depleting substances and does not off-gas over time, unlike some conventional insulation that can deteriorate, and lose it’s stated R-value. Icynene maintains its efficiency with no loss of R-value.

• Icynene creates a continuous air barrier in the walls, ceilings and floors, which minimizes the intrusion of outdoor allergens and pollutants.

• As an integrated insulation and air barrier, Icynene effectively minimizes air leakage and accompanying moisture (air leakage accounts for as much as 99% of moisture movement in a structure).

This home will be available to rent by the night, weekend, or week and is set on a scenic beautiful property on the Saugeen River. There are plenty of camping and other accommodations on the property as well.

Contact Ernie & Edith Martin at Riverstone:

Riverstone Retreat Centre
233639 Concession 2
Durham, ON
N0G 1R0