By Robbin D’elene
Amber Westerman has lived in the Driftless Area since 1988 and is building a net-zero home at 770 Westmor St. in Spring Green. What she does in her professional life at Amber Westerman Building Design makes perfect sense when one considers the course of her entire life to date. It is a fascinating story.
As a child Amber says she was just “an ordinary girl who grew up in an ordinary family and lived in an ordinary suburb.” However, her interests were much less ordinary. Spending time in a nearby woods became much more appealing than hanging out in a mall shopping for the “right” clothes. Instead, she connected with nature, she planted a garden in her parent’s back yard and spent glorious time in the Pennsylvania mountains visiting her grandparents’ cabin.
As an early teen connecting with Earth Day, she wrote an article on pollution for her high school newspaper. That was a turning point, and in that key moment she discovered the ecology movement and was intrigued. She also became aware of the Whole Earth Catalog, Mother Earth News and Diet for a Small Planet and decided that stewardship of the earth was important. “It seemed socially urgent and important that we were despoiling our planet,” she says.
Amber’s young adulthood included living in an intentional community in Missouri. The back-to-the-land movement was engaging and life was simple. Time and opportunities were available to learn carpentry and gardening and how to heat with wood.
Later, she and her boyfriend moved to Madison because they had heard it was a progressive-minded city. Her interest in carpentry and alternative building techniques continued. That interest led her to volunteer for several Habitat for Humanity builds and then on to a Madison Area Technical College course in architectural drafting. The two-year course took her five years to complete because by then she was married and a mother.
After a short stint in Madison working in several architectural offices, she moved with her family to Dodgeville where she worked at Schmidt Engineering and then Singer Lumber.
Being in this fast-paced atmosphere, designing and drafting hundreds of projects added up to a lot of experience. She worked with contractors estimating and selling building supplies. Seven years later she opened her own office in Dodgeville and continued designing custom homes.
She also purchased a parcel of land in Iowa County just across the river from Spring Green and built a small off-the-grid cabin in the woods. The experience brought her back in touch with her childhood love of being in the woods. “Living outside for seven months of the year, making do with few possessions, and having more time to just listen and be in the moment is a lot more fun than stressing about household chores and being distracted by media. It brings me a sense of calm and freedom and, when you think about it, that’s the ultimate luxury.”
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR
A few tidbits about Amber Westerman:
• She lives off grid and rustic for more than half the year
• Kayaks the Wisconsin River
• Is a grandmother of two adorable children
IF YOU GO
What: Poem Homes Open House: Tour Spring Green’s first net-zero home under construction and meet contractor Amber Westerman.
When: 12-5 p.m. April 20
Where: 770 North Westmor St., Spring Green
For more information: See poemhomes.org
And this brings the story full circle, because what Amber is focused on now is a culmination of all aspects of her life’s experience and learning. One word sums it up: Poem Homes. These are modest homes for modern living. They embody economy of form and material. They integrate into nature with minimal impact and offer easy accessibility to outdoor spaces.
In Amber’s words, “These homes, like a poem, are very thoughtfully designed. A poem gets to the essence of an idea. Every word, every phrase is meaningful.” So, too, are the Poem Homes. Everything about them has been carefully considered to create spaces that are energy efficient and built with minimal waste and toxic materials.
These super-insulated homes are constructed with quality in mind. Passive solar design features and PV panels insure that they are cozy warm in winter and cool in summer. The mechanical systems are fossil-fuel free and the building materials have been selected for their low environmental impact.
Advertised as environmentally responsible, net-zero homes, they are carbon neutral, which means that they don’t consume more energy than the home’s systems produce over the course of a year.
A Poem Home is ideal for someone who is downsizing and wishes to simplify their life, or equally for someone who is concerned about the environment and wants to make a difference through their choices.
Amber would like this first prototype home to be the first of many. As a newly qualified building contractor, she dreams of building a Poem Home neighborhood within the Village of Spring Green.
Amber invites everyone to come by 770 Westmor St. to visit her and see the progress being made on her model home. For more information, visit her websites — www.poemhomes.org and www.amberwesterman.com — or call her at (608) 935-9020
Robbin D’elene is a freelance writer and author of the children’s story “My Little Duckling.” She lives at Crag Moor Farm north of Spring Green in the Bear Creek Township, where she is co-founder of a developing permaculture/organic agricultural project and learning center. To suggest people Robbin may feature in future stories, contact her at (608) 588-3666 (home) or (541) 951-4011 (cell).\