Lessons Learned – Part 5 in the Welcome Home Series

Timber Home Living magazine continues coverage of the Olsen family home, a reclaimed timber frame raised in 2014. Beginning the furnishing stage for their retreat home the Olsen’s discovered stopping to listen to the experts surpassed their expectations for style and eco-friendly materials, including reclaimed wood from our sister company Pioneer Millworks. Read more:


Bridges to Community: Building in Nicaragua

The Bridges to Community group along with Nicaraguan families gather in front of one of the new homes in El Mojon.

Fifteen volunteers from the Bridges to Community group along with Nicaraguan families gather in front of one of the new homes in El Mojon.

Our companies have long supported Nicaragua, in small but valuable ways. Starting with a Solar Oven Project a few years back and earlier this year a Clean Water Distribution System, both done in partnership with the Victor-Farmington Rotary. My son Jake and I went to Nicaragua for a week, returning in the wee hours last Sunday. Exhausted, for sure. Glad we went, very glad to be home. Here’s a short report for those interested:

Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, rainy season was in full swing in El Mojon, NI.

Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, rainy season was in full swing in El Mojon, NI.


The trip was organized by Bridges to Community, a NY-based secular NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that focuses on housing and sanitation in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.




Jonathan and Jack joined the mud-boot trend while laying up walls for two homes.

Jonathan and Jake joined the mud-boot trend while laying up walls for two homes.

We went with 15 other volunteers, totaling 8 teens and 9 adults, to a tiny village called El Mojon, in the mountains above Jinotega, NI. Elevation was about 1,200 meters (almost 4,000 feet) and it’s the rainy season in Nicaragua so rubber boots are all the rage. There are no paved roads where we were. We stayed at a small farm (or finca) that has accommodations for groups. One of their crops is coffee, and at harvest time numerous hands are needed to pick the ripe berries. An average adult can pick about 80 liters of berries a day, for which he or she can earn $4.20 USD, plus some square meals and a place to sleep. During the off-season, general farm labor and crop maintenance pays $3/day. The farm we stayed at was third generation, but only about 50 years old. It’s almost non-existent carbon footprint is fascinating. Electricity came from a water wheel fed by rain-collection pools higher on the mountain. The generator could produce either 220 or 110 volts, and was shut off, with the water re-directed, for much of each day.  Most all the food (except rice) was made on site. Crops of lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, beans, corn, and tomatoes are grown. Cows are raised for milk and beef, pigs and pelliwags (a cross between goat and sheep), are grown for meat. Milk is made into cheese and any food left over is sold at the market in Jinotega.

The 9 men slept in bunk beds with 2” mattresses in an 11×14 room. Each day, we were all ferried 30 minutes to the job in the back of 2 pickup trucks. Meals were served at the finca, rice and beans (of course), fresh salad (typically a no-no in the third world), flautas and tortillas, farm cheese, fresh chicken sometimes, and even American-style pancakes on the last day. Each morning I would wake to a rhythmic tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump, thut, thut, thut and repeat, beginning around 5 and going on until after we would leave. I walked into the kitchen to see what it was, finding one of the women hand-making tortillas, as she likely had been for the previous thirty years. Her rhythm was so perfect, one of the guys was convinced it was the water pump.

Buckets of concrete were hand carried up the hill to the build sites.

Buckets of concrete were hand carried up the hill to the build sites.

Our job was to lay up the walls of two new homes for two families. Both foundations had been set already. The house Jake and I worked on was above the road a bit, perhaps 50 meters up a path. We needed to move block to the site, sift the sand to eliminate stones, mix concrete and water, fill buckets, then carry it up the hill to the house. Three skilled masons laid block, set re-bar into the walls (Nicaragua is extraordinarily prone to earthquakes) and applied parging. The water well was 80-meters one way, although the sand pile was a bit down the road, while the 46kg (101lb) bags of concrete were up another rise in the grandmother’s wood hut (in the room where she slept, because it was the only room around that seemed dry enough to store them). The masons were amazing guys who cared for their work, their jobs, and for us, knowing that conditions were neither ideal nor efficient, they were just conditions.

The interior of the homes include dry-laid tile and steel frames. As one mother said: "I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt and lock my doors when we leave."

The interior of the homes include dry-laid tile and steel frames. As one mother said: “I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt and lock my doors when we leave.”

In three days the walls were up on both homes (6-meter x 5-meter floor space). The 300 sf new home will be divided into 4 rooms: a kids’ bedroom, a parent bedroom, a sitting area, and the kitchen. There are 2 doors and 2 windows in each house. The “Tiny House” movement here in the states has precedent, for sure. We then took a break while the masons welded a steel frame and panel onto the top of the walls (for the low slung gable roof), and dry-laid the tile onto the dirt-and rubble floor we had prepared. The final day on site included the presentation ceremony from us to the recipients. Our work there had saved construction time roughly 20 days, but more importantly, the group raised the money to pay for the masons and materials. Of the many things said, the mother’s words hit hardest: “I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt, and lock my doors when we leave”.

Our group ranged from the most conservative Texan to the most liberal Oregonian (guess), and we can all bring our opinions and knowledge to the reasons why these families needed our help, but none of us questioned the value of being there that moment, that day. As always, friendships were born, and yup, that redneck Texan is sure-‘nuff heading to Portland for a good visit and wine tour.

Thanks a million to my co-workers, who as always, totally had my back while gone. And to Maxine, who, as always, remains my home beacon of warmth and sanity.

As you likely know, “us is lucky”. (Thanks, you-know-who-you are) -Jonathan

Out on a Limb

Home & Design featured one of our East Coast timber frame homes in a recent edition of their magazine. Architect Mark Kohler ‘went out on a limb’ and purchased five acres of land in Woodbridge, Virginia after visiting a client’s job site in 2001. The Kohlers envisioned a rustic retreat crafted from natural wood, stone, and glass. When Mark’s drawings were near completion, he reached out to us to supply Douglas fir timber framing and reclaimed antique heart-pine flooring (from Pioneer Millworks) for the house. Mark stated,”You associate timber framing with vacation homes in Colorado. It adds to the character and warmth.”

Read Home Design’s take on the project below.

Out on a Limb - Page 1



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In The News: Decon ‘16 Conference, Raleigh, NC

The Building Materials RegI_86481_Decon16-logo-bannerEageleuse Association (BMRA) has announced that (our very own) Jonathan Orpin of New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks will be featured as the keynote speaker for the Decon ’16 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Orpin will launch the conference on February 29th with a forward-thinking address titled “Everything is Possible. Stories of de-constructible buildings, recycled wood, and companies that can thrive doing so.”

Decon ’16 is the premier international conference on building deconstruction, materials reuse, and C&D recycling and this forward-looking address will seed the future of a world without waste. “Jonathan’s experience and remarkable portfolio of projects will be an inspiration as the conference opens, and sets the bar high for all of us in the circular economy of materials,” shared Anne Nicklin, Executive Director of the BMRA.

After three years, the biennial conference of the Building Materials Reuse Association will return, serving as an international gathering of practitioners using both knowledge and experience to create a world without waste. The conference will be hosted by Habitat for Humanity of Wake County and NC State University February 29th through March 4th, 2016.

Jonathan bio image“I am equal parts thrilled and anxious to be speaking at Decon ’16, as this group has led the way for a long time in this exceptional field. Let’s keep turning up the dial, from understanding the story and source of our materials, to using them for really great and beautiful projects, to creating sustainable business models and partnerships to get the good work done,” shared Orpin.

As you may know, Orpin, in addition to being President of New Energy Works Timberframers is the President of Pioneer Millworks, which over its 25 years in business, has recycled more than 25 million board feet of wood. Combined, our companies employ 130 community members, have shops in NY and OR, and we work hard to use the Triple Bottom Line of People, Profit and Planet as our guiding business principle. Orpin is also past President of the Timber Framers Guild, which supports the craft, science, and business of timber framing. As an organization, the Guild seeks to perpetuate and strengthen the robust craft of timber framing, communicating information about building methods, events, people, and the timber frame building community.

More than forty speakers Barn Demo 2from around the world will present case studies, emergent research, and inspire the diversion of construction and demolition waste towards productive markets during Decon ‘16. Live presentations and exclusive training opportunities will be offered, including a workshop on handling salvaged wood for woodworking and furniture making. Local tours of deconstruction sites, reuse stores, and local high performance buildings will also be available for attendees.

More information about Decon ’16 can be found at http://www.bmra.org.

The Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) works to create a vibrant building materials economy as part of a world without waste. For more than twenty years, they have done this through elevating the issue to the public, moving the market for reused materials, and inspiring and supporting the industry.