ION Ecobuilding – Turning a House into a Home

ion ecobuilding
Workers and volunteers celebrate after finishing the Light Straw/Clay work party at ION Ecobuilding's Ecovillage. Photo credit: Joseph Becker


By Todd B. Gruel

fastsignsJoseph Becker, the owner of ION Ecobuilding, is not your average idealist. He may be bearded and beanie-clad, but his goodwill extends further than the armchair in his bedroom. The work that Joseph has done through ION Ecobuilding helps confirm that the most effective dreamers are those committed to changing the world with both their hands and their words.

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Joseph watched urban sprawl consume his neighborhood. Feeling compelled to find a different way of interacting with the environment, he went on to study sociology at the University of Chicago where he focused on sustainable development and ecological communities. Although his studies were rewarding, he soon tired of the divide between academic knowledge and applied experience.

ion ecobuilding
ION Ecobuilding finishes a work session on a private residence using traditional lime stucco. Photo credit: Dan Kelly

Joseph eventually moved to Olympia where he started ION Ecobuilding: a business specializing in building ecological structures. His goal was, and still is, to educate the community about alternative methods and materials available for enhancing our local environment. Much like the natural foods movement, the ecological building movement seeks healthier alternatives for managing our resources. The materials that ION Ecobuilding uses are more tangible, less toxic, and easier to use than what is standard in the building industry. Furthermore, their earth-based methods (like cob, adobe, and natural plaster and paint recipes) are time-tested and built to last hundreds of years. A healthy home, ultimately, uses materials and methods that are the least harmful to both the homeowner and the environment.

ION Ecobuilding’s materials truly resonate with the history of our planet. And that’s where it all starts: where ground meets sky, with the mud. This timeless recipe of earth and water can assume different forms and names, such as plaster, stucco, and concrete. The process of making it, and of working with it, is about as basic as building gets (and perhaps as simple as it should be).

Before the building process became commodified we all built our homes together using materials at-hand. The materials that ION Ecobuilding uses are either sourced onsite or somewhere nearby in the local community. The idea of natural building is to find the best way to use available resources while minimizing the impact that the process has on the environment.

ion ecobuilding
ION Ecobuilding helped install “Insulated Earth” (using light straw and clay) at the Port Townsend Ecovillage. Photo credit: Shannon Pritchard

Whereas the normal general contractor relationship inadvertantly creates a distance between client and company through a bid-based business model, Joseph prefers to advocate for his clients from the beginning of every project. His goal is to support his clients by helping them make the most informed decisions possible. The collaborative nature of the company inspires a sense of stewardship in its participants.

Good stewards, in the scope of sustainable development, recognize the integrative nature of life and assume responsibility for their place in the scheme of things. ION Ecobuilding, unlike the average building company, encourages its clients to take an active part in the planning and management of their own projects. It’s not unusual for clients to work alongside friends, family, or even community guests. Many of ION Ecobuilding’s projects are opened to the entire community: from kids to seniors; from those interested in chatting theory to those just interested in smearing mud.

On May 16 and May 23, ION Ecobuilding will be collaborating with members of the Sacred Fire Community, a local group which provides places where people can gather around fires to share stories. The Sacred Fire Community believes that fire has the effect of re-connecting us to our deeper selves, drawing us together as we gather around a flickering flame. They’ll work to finish building a firehouse which will serve as a site for community events and fire ceremonies. The oiling of the polls occurs on May 16, and then the raising of the polls follows on May 23.

ion ecobuilding
This project is the inspiration for the Fire House gazebo that ION Ecobuilding is working on for a couple from The Sacred Fire Community. Photo credit: Sharon Brown

For those who are still a little cynical like myself, it can be far too easy to dismiss the intentions of an entire movement as a faddish idealism more readily associated with our youth culture. It can be far too easy to generalize based upon catch-phrases and clothing. Yet there’s much more to these dreamers than just tie-dye T-shirts, scruffy faces, and well-worn Birkenstocks.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure if I entirely understand the full scope of sustainability, or the metaphysical-sounding term “embodied energy.” Fortunately intellectualization isn’t required though, because ION Ecobuilding is all about creating stories that sustain us: stories that we create by building our own homes with the help of basic materials and the support of the community.

As ION Ecobuilding reminds us, home-building can still be a community affair. At the end of the day, Joseph Becker’s ION Ecobuilding offers more than just a way of saving material resources. His projects help radiate love by grounding people to the earth and to their community. Joseph is committed to promoting a life-affirming way to interact not only with the environment, but with each other, and even ourselves. We don’t have to go far to find what we need. As ION Ecobuilding reminds us, you don’t have to be barefoot, bearded, and bongo-bewitched to be a dreamer. So join Joseph, your neighbors, and the mud, on May 16 and May 23. Bring a friend, a drum, or just yourself. It all begins with a story.

To learn more visit the ION Ecobuilding website.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email