Tony and Susan Doig stand in the garden on their property in Qualicum Bay, where they, with the help of volunteers, are building an Earthship home, and a large garden where the community will be invited to grow and learn. — Adam Kveton Photo

Tony and Susan Doig stand in the garden on their property in Qualicum Bay, where they, with the help of volunteers, are building an Earthship home, and a large garden where the community will be invited to grow and learn. — Adam Kveton Photo

Reduce, re-use, re-tirement for Qualicum Bay couple

Pair hard at work building earthship-inspired home with used tires, bottles, more

After a lifetime’s worth of employment, deciding on just what your retirement will look like is a big decision.

It was for Tony and Susan Doig.

Do you move to Vancouver Island or the Okanagan? Closer or farther away from family? Will you choose to live in a rural area, or stick near a city?

These are all important decisions, and the Doigs made their choices like anyone else. But they asked themselves a few more questions and ended up with a retirement plan few can match. They’re not only building their own home, they’re building an earthship — an off-grid home that harnesses passive and active solar energy and is constructed out of used materials in a project that invites volunteers from all over the world to take part in constructing the Doighouse. They believe it will be the first earthship home on Vancouver Island.

The NEWS visited the Doigs on their slightly less than 10-acre piece of land in Qualicum Bay, where they and a handful of volunteers have been working all summer to build a garden and the tire walls of what will be the Doigs’ home, as well as a learning space and community garden. What brought the couple to go ahead with this ambitious project?

For Susan, the seed was planted in her late teens when her dad showed her an article of actor Dennis Weaver’s earthship home. Though much of her career was in unrelated areas, she spent the last 11 years working in sustainability at Capilano University.

Tony, who worked as a supply chain manager, knew he wanted to do something outside the norm, but wasn’t sure what.

“After a career and raising family and playing between the lines and really working within the bounds of societal norms, you get stale. And there’s way more to life than the norm,” he said.

But generally, the decision to adjust their lives to try and create as little waste as possible came from “a dissatisfaction with the way that the world is unfolding, and I don’t think we’re unique in that,” he said. “This was a way that we could put our actions where our thoughts were.”

Though Susan was up for the earthship idea from an earlier point, it took a trip down to Taos, New Mexico for teaching at the Earthship Biotecture to convince Tony.

There, he learned the basic design principles of earthships: building with natural and repurposed materials, thermal/solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity, water harvesting, contained sewage treatment, and food production.

In the construction, tires are used as a rammed-earth brick, carefully pounded, layered and measured to build a wall. On the north side of the wall is an earth berm that rises to the height of the roof. Critically, large windows facing south allow for sun to heat up the interior, including the walls which, as the air in the house cools, releases heat, eliminating the need for electric or gas heating.

Solar panels or wind turbines can be used to generate what electricity is needed for lighting and other needs, while collected rainwater is used multiple times: first for bathing, dishes and laundry, then to water plants placed inside the southern-facing windows. That water is then used for toilet flushing, then finally out to a septic tank.

Tony spent six weeks learning about earthship construction and how it’s done.

“When I first showed him the earthships, they were really early and very round and hippy-dippy looking, and I don’t think Tony was that fussed by them,” said Susan, but within a couple of days that changed.

“Day two he phoned me, or day three ‘Oh my God, we’re doing this.’”

All of the conservation aspects just made a lot of sense, said Tony.

“Once you immerse yourself in it and all the various aspects, things like solar, collecting solar and collecting rain… all the little pieces that come together, anybody can do it, and then it’s a leap of faith is, ‘Is this what I want?’ Well it didn’t take long.”

The Doigs bought their piece of land on Christmas Eve, 2013. They built a road to the property in 2014, dealing with seven different governing bodies.

They’ve since cut down the trees on a little more than half their property, and are milling them themselves to use in their construction, and to trade. They traded three cords of wood for their old pickup, said Susan.

They’ve levelled the land where the house will be built, using the dirt for the berm, to fill tires and for a large garden where they’re experimenting with various methods of growing. Part of the garden will be available to the community to plant food.

This summer they began building the actual house, inviting volunteers from around the world to take part and learn about this type of construction.

They’ve had about eight to 10 people a day at the site to take part, ranging in age from seven to 66.

The opportunity to invite people interested in earthships to take part, learn and build was another thing that attracted the Doigs to this plan. They said that, while being off-the-grid can be associated with being outside of society, they’re aiming at quite the opposite.

“People’s retirement, they seem to go in one of two ways: either their world gets smaller and smaller and smaller, or they get bigger,” said Susan. “And so in order for it to get bigger, it is a conscious choice to increase your contact with people and ideas. And it is a decision to expand your own personal horizons to include new ideas.”

The project has been a way to meet people, both locally and from far away, learn about their ideas and experiences, and for the Doigs to share their own.

“You’re essentially inviting the world in,” said Tony.

Part of that includes working with the Regional District of Nanaimo to make sure they could get a permit.

Though the process was involved, Susan and Tony said that the RDN has been great to work with, and that there has been great interest in their build.

“We could create our environment for ourselves and include the community, and they’re not mutually exclusive at all,” said Tony. “And by doing so, we get to learn a ton. I mean you wouldn’t believe how much we’ve learned in four years about ourselves, about people, about nature, about this sort of independent living.”

And there’s more learning yet to do. The Doigs estimate it will be two or three more years before they move into their Doighouse.

But there’s no rush, they said. They’re enjoying the process, and re-tirement.

For more info on the Doighouse, or to learn how to volunteer, go to thedoighouse.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
RCMP act quickly in response to report of gun-toting man in Parksville

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

(Google maps photo)
COVID-19: Case confirmed at École Oceanside Elementary School in Parksville

Dates of exposure were Thursday, Feb. 25 and Friday, Feb. 26

Donna Hales next to one of her paintings of Sooke. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville artist Donna Hales still displaying her work at age 94

Current exhibit at the McMillan Arts Centre through April 1

Thrifty Foods at 280 Island Highway East in Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Thrifty Foods store in Parksville briefly closes after small fire

Minimal damage and no injuries reported; store expected to re-open after 5 p.m.

(Philip Wolf photo)
WOLF: What’s in a name (2.0)? Parksville offers interesting list of dog monikers

List includes Rembrandt, Swayze, Zorro, Fabio, Fonzie and Yoda

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Most Read