Home Builder

by Stewart Prest, submitted 2009

Work ethic has never been Ben Macklin’s problem. Growing up on a farm in southern Alberta, and later completing a Bachelor’s degree at Augustana, work has always been simply a part of life. Now that he’s running his own business however, hard work has taken on a whole new meaning. As Ben puts it, “6 a.m. comes early when you don’t get to bed ‘til 1.”

In the last year, Ben started his own eco-friendly construction firm, Earthscape Homes, based in Victoria, British Columbia. Specializing in a variety of natural building techniques and traditional carpentry, the company helps clients to build homes using locally available natural materials, including clay, straw, and timber. It’s a small operation, but one that has amassed a growing list of clients without advertising. “So far it’s been all word-of-mouth,” Ben says, “but even so, we’re already having trouble keeping up with the demand.”

While his current business might seem worlds away from his time as a fine arts major at Augustana, Ben sees a real connection between his previous studies and current enterprise. “My studies at Augustana didn’t teach me how to build houses. It did, however, teach me to think critically and creatively, skills I’ve applied to the home-building process. I learned to ask questions about what I was doing, and why.

“Because of that experience, I look at the construction industry a little differently than I would have otherwise. I realized that home-building as it’s currently done simply isn’t sustainable. I know guys who have been in construction for 20 years, who know that the way we build our houses – the use of land and materials – simply can’t continue forever, but they keep going to work every day because it’s all that they know. That wasn’t a choice I was comfortable with; I wanted to find out what the alternatives were.”

In his new enterprise, Ben’s working to implement some of the alternatives he found. “Take insulation. Nowadays virtually every house is insulated with fibreglass, a product with a significant carbon footprint. In earlier times however, buildings were insulated with straw, which is essentially a waste product. Farmers often just burn it. However, a building insulated with straw will have a higher R-value than one done with fibreglass; in other words, the straw provides better insulation. You also reduce the building’s carbon footprint, the amount of wood used in construction, and the level of toxicity in the building materials.

“It’s not just a technical enterprise, either. I think of each house as work of art. On every build, we try to make sure that the land, the materials, and the homeowner’s vision all come together in a way that is structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and environmentally sustainable. In that sense the creative process is no different than the one we employed when staging dramatic productions at Augustana, which brought together disparate elements to create a unique and harmonious whole.”

Using insights like these, Ben’s building his venture with a combination of critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and hard work. It’s proving to be a sound business plan.