Integration of a Bed and Breakfast business with all the other Permaculture demonstration systems on site. With this, our goal is to increase public interest in our lodging and consequently, the income generated through it. This involves designing every other system, taking into consideration the beauty of the site and the client’s experience and comfort.
As it can be seen on the base map below, the main building on this 0.5acre lot is a 35’ by 35’ concrete structure. This building was divided before 2013 into 4 apartments to be rented long term but after many bad experiences we decided to join Airbnb on March of 2014 to rent it on a short term basis.
A separate building is my temporary residence which is an 8 x 20 tiny house built years ago by extending an old tool shed.
By October of 2014 the third and last studio was posted on Airbnb. These units are simple and small (around 300sf average each). Each unit is fully equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom and a bed. Two studios are located to the east, under the Ficus tree. As an example of Catch and Store Energy, we control the shape of this tree so it provides shade and creates a wind tunnel that keeps the rooms cool for most of the day. This eliminates the need of an air conditioner. The third studio lies to the north-western side, receiving longer periods of sun exposure on the roof which radiates heat inside for longer hours. An air conditioner is provided with this studio. None of these studios included a tv, books or any particular decoration. As a low-budget traveler myself, I wanted to make available an affordable option for travelers who cannot afford expensive hotels. For this, I decided to offer these units at a low price.
A fourth studio to the south-western side on this same building, is to be prepared for Mrs Ortiz, for her to use as her primary residence once she moves in. Bellow you can see a plan that shows the arrangement of the apartments in the building.
Guest interaction with the site
Through Observation and Interaction with guests, regarding their use of the site, I noticed that there was significant interest in spending time in the yard and on the few Permaculture systems I was already working on. There was particular interest from children who would play all day on the site. Some older clients would climb the Ficus tree and attach hammocks to it. One of our first guests, stated that their three children preferred to stay and play at the site, rather than go to the beach. There were also, repeated comments about the beauty of the site and the Ficus tree. After a while, I started noticing the same pattern of movement around the site from our guests. This movement can be seen on the “Desire Line” diagram below and on the Site Survey page.
Current site elements
As it can be seen below, at this point (2015) most of this yard is just a lawn. There are three big trees (Ficus, Flamboyant and an Ucar) that were planted decades ago and a few small ones planted around 2014. The Ficus tree provides significant shade to the yard and the main building. The Flamboyant lies to the east, near the front fence (See diagram above). There is also one raised bed to the south of the main building. Both, the area with the three big trees (to be designated later as the Food Forest) and the area next to the tiny house on the South-western side (to be designated later as the Zone 1 Garden) are Permaculture designed systems which I was starting to design. This also includes the compost heap to the south, (Compost System Design) which was already a common practice on our site. All these, were being designed simultaneously. The placement and information for each of these designs can be seen on their respective design pages.
Needs and wants related to this system
Based on the client interview, there is a need for additional income from the site for it to cover the mortgage and house expenses. There is also a desire on my part, for it to be a low-maintenance business so Mrs Ortiz does not have much additional work when I’m not in the country. Mrs Ortiz has a low income, full time job.
I reside at the site on the tiny house that can be seen on the diagram above, but I’m deployed to the US frequently for periods longer that 30 days several times a year. During these deployments, Mrs Ortiz manages the site and the rental business. I manage the reservations and communications side of the business from afar but there is a need for the preparation of the rooms before each check-in. This adds to Ms Ortiz’s already busy schedule. Still Mrs Ortiz has stated that she has no trouble preparing the rooms when I’m not in PR.
The location of this site is the main feature of the business. The site is located around 7 minutes away from El Yunque National Forest and from Luquillo Beach and 20 minutes away from Bio-Luminescent Bay.
The site is also very accessible being only a minute away from the expressway. The neighborhood is quiet, safe and private, adding to its attractiveness.
The tourism industry has fluctuated significantly in the past few years due to protests, the media, zika virus, etc. When PR is not on the media for negative reasons, the amount of reservations is higher.
Experience in short-term rentals through AirBnB
A record of positive reviews from past guests.
Lifelong building skills in iron and galvalume structures and average experience in concrete and wood working.
Licensed electrician and certified solar PV panel installer.
Experience in web and graphic design.
The size of the property- Current setting of mainly open spaces allows for plenty of elements to be designed on and for leisure and play.
Other designs- Other designs are being implemented simultaneously on the same site to be used for the diploma and to fulfil other needed or desired functions. These systems could serve as permaculture examples for guests.
Out of the Survey process, we can discern some specific functions related to this design from which our goal was set:
Increase the income generated on site from the rental business. In other words, find a way to make this site more interesting so we can increase the amount of bookings. By this time (2015):
Three units are available for rent with neutral to good reviews from guests.
I have decided to keep the units at an affordable price for low-budget travellers and instead focus on providing a rich experience to increase the amount of bookings and therefore, the income from the lodge.
One design I can use for my Permaculture diploma
One design that is not land based.
Secondary functions (functions that are not directly associated with a particular need, but that can support the system, therefore, solutions to the client’s needs and wants are successfully achieved) are:
Promote Permaculture using a diverse array of designed systems and by involving guests in related activities, i.e., composting which would promote the “Produce no Waste” principle.
This could add to our guests’ experience, making of this, a dynamic site where a lot can be learned.
Make sure that all designs take into consideration the aesthetics of the site.
Following the principle of “Use and Value Diversity” try to expose guests to the widest array of systems possible so there is a lot they can learn and maybe emulate from.
Promote a simpler life of less consumption by showing examples of aesthetically pleasing furniture made with repurposed materials which could serve as an example of the “Produce no waste” principle.
Add to the experience and aesthetics of the site which would help with the promotion of the lodge though pictures but also create a pleasing mood thorough natural materials and colors that match the outside systems, e.g., the Food Forest.
Lower the business maintenance
There is not much labor required for the business to run. It only involves preparing the rooms for the next guest. Lowering the maintenance will only be desirable once I move out. Ms Ortiz stated that she has no problem preparing the rooms when I’m out of the country for work. Still, my personal goal is to leave the least work possible for Ms Ortiz.
Inspire all guests to learn about eco-regenerative practices through Permaculture and Eco-consciousness related literature inside each room. Also provide access to live examples of a variety of systems that they can recreate in their homes. Invite guests to take part in recycling, composting and vermicomposting on our site and make diagrams available that explain other systems: e. g. the Gray Water Harvester and the PV system. Through this effort, I expect to ignite their interest in adopting practices that are eco-regenerative.
Provide an extra income for Mrs Ortiz that can at least cover her essential needs without adding much additional work. Offer an affordable lodge where people does not go only for vacation, but one in which they can have a learning, and hopefully, transformative experience that would inspire them to live responsibly.
Share the products of the site, like food and examples of eco-conscious systems, with our guests. Provide access to literature that explains the potential benefits of living a slow and eco-conscious life. Making our lodge affordable so guest with limited economical resources can benefit. Make certain that the design and placement of each of the other designs is accessible to all guests and that information is easily available in diagrams inside each apartment and on the site’s main website. With this, we hope to inspire others to integrate regenerative practices into their own lives.
Spiral of intervention
To reach our main goal of increasing the earnings from the lodge while maintaining it accessible for low-budget travelers, our focus should be in providing a richer experience for all guests. This would bring positive reviews which would make our lodge more popular on AirBnB searches.
A quick search, shows that there are no Permaculture or “Eco-Conscious” related lodges around the area.
In an effort to “Integrate rather than Segregate” I considered integrating it with other designs that I was working on. These designs are being worked on for my Permaculture diploma, but none had been fully designed or implemented (2015). The placement of each design on the diagram, was based on the Zone and Sector analysis and is explained on their respective webpages. These designs are:
Composting system- Designed to lower the amount of waste generated on site and to eliminate the need for outside soil and fertilizer. It would serve as an example of the “Produce no waste” principle.
Food Forest- A few fruit trees have been planted, mainly to provide food for Mrs Ortiz and me and to share with our guests.
Veggie Garden- One raised bed was prepared and experimentation was ongoing (2015). This system was designed mainly to provide food for Mrs Ortiz and me and to share with our guests.
Gray water harvester- This system was being considered to lower the water bill and the use of chlorinated tap water on our plants.
Other systems were selected as a result of the “Overall Survey”:
Solar PV system and home-made hot water heater- Designed to lower our energy costs and to have an additional source of energy in case of power failures.
Outdoor kitchen (One for the use of all our guests)- Designed to lower the temperature inside the rooms, to show examples of rocket stoves and cob ovens and to ignite interactions between our guests.
All of these designs are to also be used for my Permaculture diploma path, following the “Each element performs many functions” principle.
The Spiral on Intervention below, is used to organize a strategy for this design and set a clear path to follow:
Web of Connections
The following shows a circle with each of the elements that would be connected with this design. Following the Permaculture Principle of Multifunctionality, we seek for elements or systems that perform at least two functions or that have a symbiotic connection to other systems or elements.
This tool helps us visualize the connections between each element, so we understand how well it integrates with others.
Note: Two elements that were not used to avoid redundancy were “Guest” and “Diploma” because they both connect to every single element.
As we can see above, “Guided Tours” has the fewest connections. I contemplated the option of offering guided tours to local organic gardens and permaculture sites.
This option seemed great for adding an extra income but had its potential difficulties.
To decide on this system, I used the following tool called SWOC (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints):
As a result of this process, I decided to discard it, for the moment, and only revisit this option if the eco-lodge business is successful, to a point in which I could leave my primary job and dedicate myself fully to it.
Options for lowering maintenance work
As stated in the Client Interview, I would like to lower the maintenance work as much as possible for Ms Ortiz, even though there is no urgent need for this. Depending on this design’s success, a keeper could be employed part time. This keeper would be in charge of preparing the rooms and maintaining the site. The same thing could be achieved by offering free lodging in exchange for these same tasks. For this, additional rooms could be built and offered to Wwoofers.
Placement of all systems
By the start of this design, the lodge was already built and operating. The placement of the rental units and the tiny house was a constraint I would need to work around. Also, the Ficus tree was already huge and covering the roof to the east.
Since this design integrates with my 9 other designs, their placement is relevant, so it adds to the richness of our guest’s experience. Each of these designs are separate and have their own webpage which explains the reasoning behind their design, placement and the needs and wants they solve. The Overall Functions and Goals section shows the process in which I selected each of these designs based on the Client Interview and the Site Survey.
By taking into consideration our guests’ experience, I tried to make sure that each of these designs are, as accessible and understandable, as possible. On other designs, there was additional emphasis on participation. The Food Forest is being designed, taking into consideration our guests’ exploration and wheel-barrel sized paths are to be considered. Along these paths and near every other systems, signs could explain the how, what and/or why of such system or element.
Applicable Permaculture principles
Catch and Store Energy
Trim our Ficus tree in a way that creates a wind tunnel to cool the house while blocking the sun. Create paths with explicative, system or element related, signs to slow down our guest’s typical exploration paths, making it a richer experience for them.
Obtain a Yield
Enjoy and share the products of the garden and the food forest with our guests. Obtain additional rental bookings due to increased interest in our lodge without increasing our prices.
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use our guest’s feedback and our observation of their interaction with the site, to focus on effective actions that help us reach our goals.
Produce no Waste
Significantly decrease the lodge’s waste by providing guidance on what to place in the recycle bin, compost or the worm bin. Use all boxes and paper trash for mulching. Use reclaimed wood and other materials for the creation of beds, kitchen counters and other elements to be used on each room.
Design from Patterns to Details
Take in consideration the wind and sun patterns to try to keep the lodge as comfortable as possible. Take into consideration the “View Sector”, to make sure that the design looks beautiful and inviting. Also, use the Desire Lines, to adapt my other designs to make it more accessible to guests based on the most common use of the site.
Integrate Rather than Segregate
Provide guests with access to all my designs to enrich their experience. Design the Food Forest in a way that it shades the house and creates a wind tunnel generating savings in electricity and adding comfort. Invite clients to participate in composting and vermicomposting and to use the paths in the food forest for a learning experience.
Make the least change for the greatest possible effect (Mollison)
Make use of what is already there, my other designs, to create interest in our lodge. Start by changing the way I promote the lodge. Create a web-site that pairs with the site and provides details about the project. Change the look of the rooms and make simple furniture with reclaimed materials.
Use and Value Diversity
Integrate a diverse array of designs, from Water Harvesting, to solar water heating to Composting to expose guests to many examples of regenerative systems.
The diagram above shows the placement for:
Garden area with the raised beds near Zone 0 for immediate access.
Compost area- (To be used for manure too) Separated in sections to illustrate the phases and turns of the heap. Uses concrete fence as back wall. Placed near the nursery and where the prevailing winds can take away any odors.
Vermicompost heap- located at the southern fence near the compost area for easy access, but placed in a shaded spot.
Food Forest- reasoning for the tree placement can be seen on the “Paths” diagram below
Gray water system- Placed near the drain pipe behind the tiny-house to avoid overworking the water-pump.
Outdoor kitchen- Placed in a roofed area behind the main building and near the apartments for our guest’s convenience. Location at the western side assures all odors are carried away from the buildings by the prevailing winds.
The diagram below shows the paths and leisure areas to be saved and which will influence my other designs, mainly, the Food Forest. These paths were decided based on the Desire Lines diagram to follow the “Design from patterns to details” principle. These paths take into consideration the max growth to be allowed for each tree. The food forest are have wide areas for leisure, play and for family reunions, as requested by Ms Ortiz. This area is partially shaded by the Ficus tree eliminating the need for a roofed structure. It is also blocked from the street by the eastern trees adding privacy.
As guests walk through the paths, they encounter wooden signs that explain each system and/or element. This information would include: name, species and general information of each tree, details about the planted cover-crops or companion plants, system information with a simple how-to, how the system lowers pollution, etc.
A few signs have been installed to designate each parking. The rest of the informational signs are to be similar and should be installed by the end of 2019.
To promote the site, a website is to be created, ficustemple.com, which makes available all the information on my diploma path integrating all the designs to make it as interesting as possible. A name was given to each apartment: Bright Temple, Yuke (White Earth- Taino Language) Temple and Yarari (Fine Place- Taino Language) Temple.
Inside each room, reading material that focuses on Permaculture, organic gardening, veganism, animal rights, etc. will be made available. To add to the mood of the project, decoration of each room will include “Victory Garden” style posters and diagrams related to the designs on site.
Also, home-made furniture is to be added using reclaimed materials. These elements are to be the kitchen counters, bunk beds, and windows which need to be replaced but I have not due to their cost.
The beds were the first items built. I used old wood that had been stored for decades, old sheet metal and metal tubes for the base.
Wood scorching for protection
Repurposed elements used
In 2018 a kitchen was built with scrap construction wood for one of the apartments and another was designed and sent to a cabinet maker.
In 2019, new furniture and potted plants were placed on the outside for our guests’ use. Due to my limited time, I decided to purchase this items instead of building it myself. I also improved the access and look of the compost and vermiculture heaps.
Using the principle of “Make the least change for the greatest possible effect”, I decided to start by using what was already there, e.g., the Ficus tree, my other designs and three comfortable rooms.
2014: March 02- Finished preparing the 1st of 3 apartments to be rented short-term. Joined AirBnB.
2014: Sept 11 – 2nd apartment added to AirBnB.
2014: Oct 28- Finished the third apartment and named it Bright Temple. Chose names for each room.
2015: Changed the promotion of the lodge on AirBnB from regular vacation rooms to an Eco-Lodge in development.
2015: July - Built 1st wooden bed using a torch to seal the wood for apartment #3 (Yuke Temple)
2015: Sept- Started photoshoot of site to collect material for the website and AirBnB profile.
2015: Oct 24- Second wooden bunk added to apartment #2 (Yarari Temple). Positive feedback inspired me to add more DIY furniture.
2015: Nov 25- Completed the first draft of Ficus Temple’s Website and Facebook page.
2016: March 12- Completed the initial implementation of the “Zone 1 Garden”. (Integrated system)
2016: March 16- Completed the initial implementation of the vermiculture system. (Integrated system)
2016: Started promoting our site on Facebook and through our website.
2016: March- Started preparing the first three signs using reclaimed wood. Used to designate the parking areas.
2016: April- Added the following books to the apartment: Eating Animals, Barefoot Architect, The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture, Permaculture for Beginners, Permaculture in a Nutshell and Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.
2016: May 2- Ordered gardening related posters to be added to the apartments.
2016: July 7- Tree planting phase completed at the Food Forest. (Integrated system)
2016: July 15- Completed and activated the Grey Water Harvester. (Integrated system)
April- 2017- Built kitchen counter with reclaimed materials
June 2018- Added outdoor furniture and potted plants
October 2018- Started installing outdoor kitchen
October 2018- Improved access to Compost bin, Vermiculture bin and Gray water harvester
December 2018- A friend stayed in one of my vacant rooms for a few months in exchange for maintenance work. Helping me decide to establish an agreement in the future with WWoofers
Book Shelves: $100
Graphic and Web Design: Designed by me.
Wood for beds and signs: Repurposed
Outside furniture and plants: $500
Design framework used: Sadimet
Maintenance of the rental business is straightforward. These rooms are self-check-in and all payment and screening related tasks are done by AirBnB automatically. I’ll be permanently in charge of answering questions from guests, guest reviews, website updates, etc., because this can be done from anywhere.
On the site, I will be primarily in charge of all business-related tasks like clean-up and room preparation. Mrs Ortiz will only take over if I’m out on a deployment.
These tasks involve:
Communications with guests including acceptance or rejection of the booking request. Done through the AirBnB web page, answering questions, providing recommendations, etc.
Rooms preparation- Clean-up, preparing the beds and supplies like toilet paper, clean towels and soap.
Clean-up of the common areas outside.
Mowing and trimming of trees.
Updating and maintaining the website and Facebook page.
Maintenance of the other integrated systems is explained in their respective pages.
While the lodging is easy to maintain, I prefer to leave the least work possible for Mrs Ortiz. Considering that I plan to move out of the country and that, if the business is successful, there would be an increase in labor, I could build two micro lodges on the open area of the food forest. These would intended to be offered in exchange for maintenance work.
This process would involve:
Building two small units that would hold a deck with a full-size bed, desk and mini-kitchen. Their occupants would use the outdoor shower, kitchen and bathroom.
Register with WWOOF-USA to offer these rooms.
Training- I would travel to the site to offer training to the new Wwoofers on the required tasks needed to maintain the site and business.
Educational signs would also serve Wwoofers in the How/Why of each task.
What went well:
The main principles that guided this design were “Make the least change for the greatest possible effect” and “Observe and Interact”. I adapted our already existing business based on our guests’ interaction with the site and their feedback. From the start of my implementation, I noticed that most guests were excited to learn about the project and Permaculture and spent a lot of time outside, walking and exploring the site. Also, twice I learned that children had told their parents that they preferred to stay on the site instead of going to the beach or the rainforest. The type of guest that books our site changed along with the mood given to the rooms through this design, attracting more eco-conscious guests that have philosophies in common with mine.
A few guests have asked if they could participate on the tasks on site and some simply started working without asking. This gave me the idea of possibly adding micro-huts to the design knowing that there would be interest in such exchange from Wwoofers.
Maintenance labor is naturally low and the possibility of inviting Wwoofers would lower it even more after I move out, helping me reach my goal of leaving a business to Mrs Ortiz that is very low-maintenance. I had a glimpse of such an agreement when a friend stayed for a few months in one of the vacant apartments in exchange for maintenance work. For around 5 months we had cero maintenance or room preparation labor.
Through this design, I increased my experience in wood working and had the opportunity to learn and practice Shou Sugi Ban (Wood Scorching) and natural wood treatments (Natural oils).
This design has helped me diversify my portfolio and has provided me with a design that is not land-based that I can use for my diploma.
Even though not all elements on this design have been implemented, interest in our lodge and the amount of bookings have increased. I had to close one apartment for maintenance and was deployed for work leaving me with only 2 rooms available. Still, these two rooms provided enough income to pay most of the bills. This inspires me to continue with my efforts knowing that this lodge could be a successful business once fully implemented as an Eco-Lodge.
What I would have done differently:
Would have applied the recommendations learned in Bill Mollison’s book for houses in the tropics. It recommends for the kitchen and the shower to be outside. Doing this from the start would had saved me from additional expenses on kitchen appliances and extra fans. The Outdoor kitchen design would address part of these issues.
Would have kept a record of expenses and would have taken many more photos of its progress. Would had also tried to obtain additional information on the clients’ experience beyond the normal AirBnB review.
Even though this system is functional, it has not been fully implemented. Changes related to this design were made to integrated designs like tree placement on the food forest. This change helped make space for walking paths that would improve our guests’ learning experience.
Tweaks to this design also involve comfort inside each room and address humidity and temperature. For this, one separate design was added to deal these issues: Outdoor kitchen designs which will have other functions as well.
After hurricane Maria destroyed our Ficus tree eliminating the shade provided and the wind tunnel to the residence, several large trees were added to the food forest to increase the cover of the canopy. Also, I will increase the size of most windows to increase cross ventilation.