Report on Natural Building Conference and AGM 2013 By Frank Tettemer

  • 16 Mar 2013
  • 17 Mar 2013
  • Camp Kawartha, Lakefield, Ontario

The Natural Building Conference and AGM 2013

By Frank Tettemer


The Natural Building Conference and AGM was a full, vibrant weekend in mid-March 2013.  During the week leading up to this event, I was as excited as a kid before Christmas. No, it wasn't just another boring Annual General Meeting, though we did conduct serious business for an hour on Sunday, and receive three new board members to continue to promote and support natural building. Yes, we did have a general discussion and consensus around renaming the Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition, to the more expansive and inclusive name of Ontario Natural Building Coalition.  Mostly, we let down our professional personas and shared information freely, with caring and companionship. It was a fine weekend.

With hundreds of emails, dozens of phone meetings, and many hundreds of hours spent working on getting it done, it was an exhausting and exhilarating experience, working to get things ready, with four others on the board; Ingrid, Jen, Melanie and Tina.  

Over a dozen people arrived Friday evening, checking into cabins at Camp Kawartha. Many of these folks came from south of the border; members of Natural Builders North East.  I think our farthest participant came from Camden, New Jersey, just on a whim and a thought that he might enjoy a weekend among natural builders.


Saturday morning and there were close to 75 people listening to the introductory words from our President, Tina Therrien. We were prepared for a diverse series of presentations.


"Building For A North East Climate" was a presentation co-created via the wonders of the internet Dropbox. The ability to share power point presentations with each other is a new wonder to me. Deva Racusin and myself offered a variety of slides and comments, from details of Super Insulated walls, to natural energy conservation, using unique ways to install freezers and fridges in homes.

"Natural Building Retrofitting Panel" with Mike Jones, David Lanfear, Melinda Zytaruk and Ingrid Cryns was up after lunch, and included four presentations on divergent experiences of retrofitting buildings, with a unique emphasis on natural building methods, including detailing problems, solutions, client challenges and more.  These four people all approached retrofitting from different attitudes, and the resulting presentation was the combination of many brilliant ideas.

Throughout the day everyone had a chance to see close to fifty different prizes on display for our fundraising silent auction/raffle. To play, you could buy an arm's length of tickets for a nominal fee. After looking through the various donated prizes you could place one, two, or more tickets in the container by the items. The more tickets you put on a desired item, the greater your chances to win! Most everyone won something, during the final draw of tickets near the end of Sunday, and the ONBC managed to fundraise about $400 from that event.

Our other fundraising event was also very enjoyable. The Bale Heart Bar sold local micro brewery beer and ales, as well as organic wines, and was licensed to sell between 5:00 PM and 11:00 PM. This made for fun happy hour, pleasant dinner, and enjoyable evening social.

After dinner we enjoyed a two hour slideshow presentation, using the "5x5" format, borrowed from the International Straw Building Conference in Colorado. There were over twenty contributors whose selection of their five favorite slides were shown on screen, while they had five minutes to say what ever they chose about these photos. Each participant received a data CD which contained the entire collection of photos, and had one photo from each contributor on the cover of the CD case, as a thank you for their input. The photos were very enjoyable, with a wide range of perspectives, from straw bale homes, student projects, rammed earth construction, and timber frame details. A surprise contribution was from Mark Piepkorn, who broke the five photo rule delightfully, with over two dozen photos of people and faces from the 2006 International Straw Bale Building Conference, hosted by the OSBBC at Camp Kawartha. Familiar to many of us, these faces were of friends from around the world, including may of us in attendance here this evening.

Later that evening, Tina's band created a warm and inviting atmosphere. The band set up in front of the fireplace, and had folks dancing and giggling, while the Bale Heart Bar sold out most of it's remaining stock to fundraise another $350 from that event.  Sales of extra CD's of the 5x5 slideshow added another $30 in fundraising.

Sunday was a full and fulfilling schedule, with the morning presentation from Maria Klemperer-Johnson, on "Moisture Management Lessons". She was daring enough to document some of the worst building details, and offer these photos, with her experiential wisdom and commentary. In her words:  Most of us are well aware of the do’s and don'ts of moisture management and weatherization, but sometimes we're tempted to take shortcuts, or push the envelope with some untried or poorly thought-out detail.  This presentation on the failures of certain details will give graphic proof of what can go wrong, and how quickly it can happen.  After this presentation, the thought of eliminating an overhang or a kick-out diverter will never cross your mind without a violently visceral response!

After lunch, the excitement just kept on coming. Tim Krahn and James Blackman showed slides of a marvelously unique construction of a major home built in the Muskokas. This home, and a studio building, were built of a double wall rammed earth construction, with a generous amount of insulation built into the process, The formwork was discussed, and photos were shown of the impressively massive amount of material rammed into place to create a tremendously energy efficient home.  This construction technique was low on material costs, but not for the frail of body, as the labour amounted to may tons of earth being pounded into place to create the stunningly beautiful wall sections.

Did I mention the AGM? Both groups, the OSBBC and the NBNE went to separate rooms to carry out their business meeting. What I found most remarkable was how each group's contributions to the whole weekend event worked in a synergistic way to create an event even greater than would have been possible by one or the other organization standing alone. And for this reason, my hopes and dreams are that we can co-create another Natural Building Conference together again next year. 

The date for next year’s AGM for the ONBC has been reserved for Feb. 28 - March 2, 2014, once again at Camp Kawartha. We hope you’ll be able to join us!


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