base - where the waste will go

The dry composting toilet is under construction!  This toilet will be used during construction and then by the vocational section of the school.  The solid and liquid waste are separated, both being used to nourish the adjacent gardens.  The latrine will be odorless and non-polluting, while producing free organic fertilizer.  Low-cost, and low-maintanance we are excited to put our new toilet to use soon!

Check out this diagram highlighting the dry composting toilet’s main design features. More pics to come . . .

how our latrine will work


building dividing wall

entry stairs



roof from entrance

The West bodega is now also roofed! For a description of the formwork see the Bottles and Cob post below . . . With a team of 20 the thin shell concrete roof was poured in just a few hours. After the concrete has set for a few weeks a layer of cement based finish will be applied, and then a waterproofing material.  The vocational complex envelope is now complete, except for the central bodega, which will be finished in January 2011. Interior finishes are all that’s left before the second two workshops and bodega can be fully occupied.

looking east

A drainage project has also been completed to better deal with the site’s surface water. Surface water from the patio and driveway are now directed into a new drain that then sends the water to a cement-lined canal running just south of the lower retaining wall. This strategy will move excess water away quicker as well as improve the way it leaves our property.

warm toned colors

We’ve been experimenting with different colored bottles at the solar shower. While blue, green and clear glass bottles look great we were eager to bring in some new colors.  By gluing colored plastic films to the bottom of cut bottles we’ve been able to achieve warm colors that are normally hard to come by – red, yellow, orange, peach and purple! We used the shower as the testing ground, and found that with some improvement in gluing technique the plastic film method could definitely work.

Up next, the dry-composting latrine . . .

rafters and purlins

The patio has a roof! After many months of waiting we have finally erected the patio roof in front of Workshop 1 + 2. The patio area will be an extension of the interior workshop space where dirty or large scale work will take place.  Roofing the patio means this area will be functional year round – in bright sun and heavy rain. This roof will also aid the concrete roofs in harvesting rain water

Metal “C” channels, or costaneras, were joined together to form the roof rafters and purlins.  These structural members rest on the bond beam that runs across the facade of the building and columns on the edge of the patio.  All connections were welded.  Corrugated roof panels were then attached with long metal hooks.  A metal canal was attached on the south side to catch rain water and will eventually connect to pvc tubing to send the water to the cistern.

hoisting roof panels

The roof was designed to withstand static and wind loads while also create a pleasant outdoor space for working and socializing. During the day the majority of the patio is in shade, but the roof is high enough that some sun still gets in. Maintaining the workshop’s relationship with the beautiful view was also a design priority.

With 40 or so college volunteers arriving in a few weeks having a large shaded area will be very beneficial.  And as the daytime temperatures continue to increase having more outdoor workspace protected the blistering sun will really help us keep things moving. Not to mention the patio makes an excellent space for corn hole!

el techo

window forms in workshop 3+4

With great weather the past few weeks we’ve been moving along with the finishes and sealing the end wall of Workshop 3+4.  We refined the end wall design and added in more glass bricks to make the space under the arched roof feel more open from the inside of the workshop.  A layer of terra-crete (cement stabilized dirt) was laid on top of the bond beam and then a layer of glass bricks and cob.

Glass bricks from inside

We collected lots of glass bottles from bars and restaurants in Antigua and glass brick production has been full steam ahead.  Having lots of volunteers on hand has been a big help in moving the glass bricks along.  Once the window forms are poured we’ll begin laying the glass bricks, bringing lots of glass and color to the Workshop facade.

Glass bottle skylights

The West Bodega roof is also ready to be poured.  The form work consisted of: metal mesh, woven sacks dipped in watery cement, a mud layer, and a final layer of metal mesh.  The glass bottle skylights get tied directly into the metal mesh.  Materials for the patio roof have been prepped and the roof should be up in a week or so.  Metal channels will be welded together for rafters and purlins, and corrugated panels of dense cardboard attached on top.  The patio roof will allow us to use the patio as an outdoor classroom, extending the interior space of the workshops.

Hauling tires the fun way

A large group of university students from Antigua volunteered for part of the day.  They helped move large tires, fix ruts in the road, make glass bricks and cob the exterior of the workshops.  They brought trash and glass bottles with them as a donation and then put them directly to use.

Universidad Rafael Landívar

The trash bottles filled the gaps between the tires before throwing the cob, and the glass bottles were cut and made into glass bricks for the end wall.  // Don’t forget to  VOTE for LWH in the World Challenge 2010, voting is open until midnight Nov 12!

The full World Challenge video:

In the past few weeks we’ve finished the cob on the inside of Workshops 3+4 and intalled temporary doors. Workshop 2 is now ready for inhabitants, cleaned out and wired with electricity. We’ ve been collecting glass bottles like crazy, and we have the glass brick factory under way. We’ve also been experimenting with foil and different colored plastic in the end of the bottles to increase brightness and color. 


smooth cob finishtemp doors for security

latest bodega

temporary doors

cutting bottles

And just like that, dry season, is upon us. Wet, cloudy, moist weather has given way to sunny, hot and dry weather. This is great for moving the construction forward so we’re energized here at the school.  Recently we’ve completed the retaining wall buttress which puts us one step closer to building the Earthbag classrooms.


Buttress ready to support the retaining wall.


Cobbing and electrical wiring is almost complete in Workshops 3 +4, and once finished the walls and floor will be prepped and ready for finishes.  Up next we’ll be diving back into glass bricks and filling in the facade under the arch @ Workshops 3+4.  We’re looking forward to transitioning to working on the retaining wall and getting ready for classrooms in 2011.  And, the dry-composting latrine is also yet to come.

With all this sun and school winding down for a 2 month break we’ve had the opportunity to do some fun projects with the community students.  Last week 20 students from our partner school spent the morning painting tire “flowers”. One way to teach kids about the alternative uses for waste materials is to repurpose trash as art.


such natural painters!


The sidewall of the tire is a byproduct of the cut tires we use in the school walls where a full tire wont fit.  So we decided to turn these tire leftovers into a sculptural tire garden with the help of the Técnico Maya students.  With lots of volunteers and our own artist-in-residence on hand this experimental project exceeded all our expectations.  After a creative morning of painting all the students flew their homemade kites and explored the site of their new school-to-be.


tire art at the entrance


And last but not least, the solar shower is up and running.  The shower area is inviting and relaxing, the water is hot, and we are a little cleaner!


shower time



Cast you’re vote for Long Way Home today!

If you’ve had one of those moments when you’re sitting around and wishing you could be a part of something and really taking action to make a difference, this is your opportunity.  Instead of just longing to feel connected take a minute to check out Long Way Home’s page on the World Challenge site, watch our 30-second spot and then click on VOTE NOW.

Its an easy, but important way, to affect some real positive change. And you can spread the wealth by passing it on!

A vote for LWH is a vote for  sustainable community development, alternative construction, re-valuing waste and youth empowerment!


solar shower walls

The solar shower is underway!  Rain water from our tank is heated in black plastic tubing and attached to a standard shower head.  The trash bottle and bamboo walls are complete and the earthen walls and floor are almost done. Pretty soon we’ll be bathing with hot water – yay!

And a small garden has been planted as well, with cilantro, rose mary, thai basil, onions and kale on the way.  This garden will eventually be expanded and together with the tree nursery be a vital part of the school – students will learn how to grow food and trees, the veggies will provide snacks and lunches, and the excess harvest will be sold at market to keep admissions fees low.


Work has also been done on the upper retaining wall, which is an important step in transitioning into the primary school classrooms phase. The rammed-earth retaining wall will terrace our steeply sloped site, dividing the vocational and primary school rooms.  Once the wall is complete we’ll be able to call the bulldozer back in and excavate the upper level. This site work should be done by the beginning of 2011, allowing us to dive into the Earthbag classrooms.

We’ve been continuing to work on the finishes of the Vocational Workshops.  The patio was dug down to the sub-floor level and cobbing is underway in Workshop 3 +4.  Still to come is the West Bodega roof, the Central Bodega, and more glass bricks on the facade.

retaining wal

digging patio – This informative slideshow, by Elizabeth Rose, documents the building process to date.

Stay tuned for glass bottle bricks, stucco finish and paint.

More info and local press here:

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