April Fools

Hurricane Tests Resilient Design—and Family Dynamics

A building project brings brothers back together, but a fast-moving storm challenges the project and the family.

April 1, 2024

Welcome to the second installment of BuildingGreen’s Biophilic Design series “Built Against the Howling Wind,” as we follow the Boar brothers’ journey of sustainable homebuilding from design considerations through project completion. We’ll look at the choices and challenges that triplets Kevin, Wilbur, and Hamlet ran into while selecting materials and building methods that reflected their design goals and personal sustainability philosophies.

A flooded river during a major storm. A drum set and construction debris are in the raging water.

Debris from the Boar brothers’ homes—including hay bales, 2x4s, insulation, musical instruments, and “bespoke” beanies—was scattered along rivers and landscapes surrounding their property.

Photo: Adem Yi Junior

Part 1: Sunshine

We pick up with Kevin explaining the origins of the project. “The three of us grew up doing almost everything together. We certainly have had our differences, and as the years went on, we went our separate ways, but when it came time to settle down, we knew we wanted to live near each other. A parcel became available here in the valley, so we decided to snap it up, split the property, and build our dream homes.”

The youngest brother, Wilbur—who had almost graduated from Nature’s Ultimate Technical School in Vermont—was particularly excited about the project. “Oh man, I’ve been, like, looking at building with nature forever. Getting back to our roots, away from our plastic-fantastic high-carbon buildings. Those materials are killing us and the planet!” he exclaimed. Though not a builder by trade, Wilbur decided to construct his house himself with the help of some friends, using only the most natural materials. “I’ve always wanted to build a low-carbon strawbale home. I may not have so-called graduated from NUTS and their capitalist-pig money-driven system but I figured I’d learned enough, and by building with local hay, I’d be saving a lot of work.”

Hamlet chimed in, “And money … don’t forget about saving money! That’s a pretty cool idea!” Hamlet (who goes by “Soul Patch”) had a different building plan. After returning from seven years of college with a B.S. in philosophy, he decided to put his education to good use and promptly went to work framing houses for a local construction company. “I’m pretty good at stick-built construction now, if I do say so myself. And, as we all know, wood is carbon negative. Building a house should be fast and easy. I’ll get this done over the summer, no problemo. Chill project, low carbon…it’s win–win.”

Kevin, who considered himself the eldest, questioned both his brothers’ choices. “They’re family,” he sighed. “So I wish them the best, of course.”

But, Kevin added, “Personally, I’m in the middle of a big project at the firm, so I’m having a professional crew come in to do the work. I want a design that will last centuries and will remind me my Ivy League education and the strength of that foundation, so I’m using brick.”

To which Wilbur replied, barely hiding his bitterness, “Glad you can afford it, mister corporate Wharton MBA.”

Kevin: “I worked my way through Penn, Wilbur. Sorry you had to take time to ‘find yourself,’ but I’m not rehashing this here for the media!”

Part 2: Clouds Build

We caught up with the Boar brothers again partway through construction, where Wilbur was the furthest along on his home. “I am really knocking this out,” he said, proudly. He decided to avoid high-carbon concrete altogether and went with a screw foundation system. “Yeah, the hardest part was that foundation, by far. That was a real grunt,” he said, “but my buddy Larry has been helping a lot. We didn’t exactly follow the instructions, but it’s all good. The floor is mostly pallets salvaged from behind the hardware store. Larry and I used his tractor to nudge it all into place. Then we threw up enough framing to hold up the roof and used some of Larry’s hay bales from last year. Yeah, I know some people use straw to avoid “moisture” issues with hay, but the hay bales were just going to rot anyway. Waste not want not. I think it turned out pretty good. I’m totally nailing this natural building thing. I’m not quite done because Hamlet and I took a month off to backpack part of the Long Trail, but it’s mostly weatherproof, so I’m celebrating by having a massive kegger at the “Pen” this weekend. That’s what I’m calling the house.”

Hamlet’s house construction is close behind his brother’s. “I had someone else pour the concrete slab, so that was easy, and I could get started on the framing right away, Hamlet explained. “Wilbur hassled me about the slab’s carbon footprint, but I used 2x4’s everywhere else, and wood’s good, right? It all cancels out.” He continued, “I’m at a good place construction-wise. The backpacking was awesome, but it was days ago. I could use another break. ­­As I always say, to play is the thing. Right? And to quote Aristotle, ‘We need relaxation because we cannot work continuously.’ … I am totally going to Wilbur’s rager!”

As for Kevin’s house, he summed up his progress thusly, “I’ve been at the office a lot recently, but I’ve been checking in on my house progress now and again. The crews have been efficient, the roof and walls are up, the floor is in, and the inspector was out on Wednesday. I started moving in on Thursday, right on schedule. And the brick looks even better than I expected … sturdy, dependable. I like it.” Asked if he would be going to Wilbur’s party, he retorted, “No. Attending their little soirée is not on my agenda. I do not feel like dealing with Hamlet’s insane, drunken soliloquies or Wilbur rambling on about brick’s carbon footprint. I have some interior details to address before the trades finish up on Monday. Plus, someone has to clean up the property. I mean look at their lots! All that hay and wood everywhere. It’s a pigsty over there.”

A white pickup loaded hay bales, with two dogs standing on top of them.

Larry and his two dogs, Porkchop and Cletis the Wonderdog, delivered much of the hay used for Wilbur’s attempted strawbale home.

Photo: Jeffrey Beall. License: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Part 3: The Storm

The weekend did not go as intended for the Boar brothers, however, as the weather turned wild, and the wind and rain from Hurricane Lobo swept down the Winooski River valley. Despite the dire forecast, Wilbur went ahead with the party. “We had already reserved the keg and the band, so, hey, why not? I trimmed my beard, put my hair in a bun … I was ready to party. I thought, what’s a little storm?”

 But Lobo turned out to be more threatening than expected. “The band was 15 minutes into a cover of the String Cheese Incident’s ‘100 Year Flood’ when all hell broke loose,” Wilbur said.

“Actually, it was the foundation,” Hamlet clarified. Your screws came loose.”

Kevin mumbled under his breath, “Yeah, a long time ago.”

Wilbur pressed on, “Well, all I know is the winds came through, and the water came down the hill, and there was hay flying everywhere!”

The band salvaged their equipment, Larry grabbed the keg, and the entire party rushed over to Hamlet’s just before the pile of pallets and what was left of the hay slid down the hill into the river.

“Dude! That was so righteous!” Wilbur exclaimed as he toweled off on Hamlet’s unfinished cement floor. “Except for the ‘losing the house’ thing, but, hey, I can rebuild. No biggie. At least we didn’t lose the keg!” The band plugged in their amps, and the party picked up where it had left off. But 20 minutes later, Lobo crashed the party again.

“The guitarist was really blowing the roof off the place,” said Hamlet, “when, ironically, Lobo actually blew the roof off the place.”

With its brick walls and mineral wool insulation, Kevin’s home was quiet and tranquil. The rain battered against his triple pane windows, but he had capped his chimney, so Lobo could not get down. He barely noticed the storm—or the chaos next door. Kevin had just settled into his Barcalounger and was listening to his Pandora Smooth Jazz channel while sipping a cup of chamomile tea when he heard a pounding on the door.

“I opened the door, and there was Hamlet, breathing hard, with his cheesy soul patch illuminated by my new porch sconce,” Kevin said. “I let him in, of course, but then came Wilbur, and then the band, and then the guests stumbled in after. The entire lot of them, with their hemp clothes, leather kilts, and dripping wet beards … and Larry. Geesh, Larry, with his overalls, lugging a keg and two bags of pork rinds. It was like the Seven Dwarfs gone horribly wrong.”

But Wilbur thanked Kevin profusely, “Yeah, thanks dude. We were, like, totally huffing and puffing getting over here after Lobo blew our houses down. We barely escaped by the hair on our chinny chin chins.”

The party was grateful too, and they all celebrated by raging well into the night, despite Kevin’s initial protests and the loss of the band’s amplifiers. Eventually, Kevin put on his noise-cancelling headphones and retired to bed with his now-tepid tea and The Economist, blissfully ignoring the two-hour acoustic Phish cover jam that had just begun, and trying not to think about the mess of crushed pork rinds, spilled beer, and passed-out guests that would inevitably greet him in the morning.

The Aftermath

Reflecting back on their building choices—and the party—Hamlet conceded, “Well, that could have gone better.”

But Wilbur was undaunted. “What are you talking about, dude? That party was awesome!”

Kevin clarified, “I believe Hamlet is talking about the destruction of your homes and the decisions that led to that.”

Wilbur responded, “Oh yeah! Well next time, I’m definitely building with cob.” He added, with a gleam coming into his eye, “Or maybe an Earthship, or Hempcrete! Yeah, definitely Hempcrete.”

While the brothers were talking, Kevin was contemplating cleanup as he surveyed the devastation that was their community lot—the haybales stuck in the shrubs, the 2x4s lodged in the lower tree branches.

“Don’t be so down, man,” said Wilbur. “The hay and wood will return to nature and the soil. It’s like the circle of life, dude. Cradle-to-cradle carbon.”

Kevin just sighed. “Damn hippies.”


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