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Barrier #1

Barrier #2

Barrier #3

BARRIER #3: Lack of A Plan

Barrier number three is the lack of a plan.

This is where it all comes back down to design, because design is the creation of a plan. Permaculture is a design approach to arrive at solutions that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

To design a system that is resilient and sustainable, the design must include redundancy and be efficient, productive, appropriate, and interconnected. In this excerpt, from our new book, Essential Rainwater Harvesting (New Society Publishers, 2018), we provide an example of how to apply these five simple criteria in the design of an off-grid homestead.

Excerpt From Essential Rainwater Harvesting (New Society Publishers, 2018)

Excerpt From Essential Rainwater Harvesting (New Society Publishers, 2018)

Resilient Systems & Properties

Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage an imbalanced world. – Andrew Zolli

A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. The components that make up your rainwater supply are a system. The elements that are put together to provide for your shelter, water, waste and food needs can be thought of as a system: e.g. our homes are systems. Our neighbourhoods and our cities are also systems. Everywhere you look, systems are nested within systems and it’s really just a question of where you draw the boundary.

Resilience is the capacity for a system to adapt (and we would argue to continue to thrive) in the face of change or disruption.

It’s an excellent complement to sustainability, and arguably you can’t have resilience without sustainability. However, we like to present and think about systems in terms of their resilience. Fundamentally, for many of our clients and students, their absolute primary motivation for taking action is to increase their personal resilience.

To expand on these resiliency criteria, in the table below we present design choices and examples for each criterion of a resilient property and contrast these against design choices for most conventional modern-day homes (i.e., a fragile property).


Focus is on maximizing efficiency.

  • Reduction and resource efficiency is the first priority.
  • Designs are enduring, repairable, solid state and low tech where possible.

Unlimited resource mentality.

  • No consideration of quantity of resources used.
  • Energy and fossil fuel used to make up for design shortcomings.
  • Design is low quality; elements within the system are disposable, planned obsolescence.

The home and occupants collect resources & produce abundantly.

  • Home and/or occupants are producers of some or all of their energy, water and food needs.
  • Ecological services and products recognized, valued and encouraged.

The home and occupants are merely consumers. 

  • Constant external inputs required for all needs including energy, water and food.
  • No consideration of ecological yields.

Energy and water appropriate for end use.*

  • Energy density appropriate to end-use.
  • Water quality appropriate to end-use.
  • Gravity used where possible.

Energy and water not always appropriate for end use.*

  • No consideration of energy density or appropriate water quality.
  • Fossil fuel used to make up for design shortcomings.

Design is cyclical and very connected.

  • Waste is recycled to resource.
  • Everything is used multiple times.
  • Every element has multiple functions and is supported by other elements.
  • Feedback influences occupants’ behaviour and beneficial course correction.

Design is linear and unconnected.

  • Waste is sent away.
  • Single-use mentality.
  • Designed obsolescence.
  • Requires constant external inputs.
  • Lack of integration.
  • No feedback & occupants unaware of the consequences of their actions.

Redundancy is key

  • Heat, power, water and food have back up / alternative plans in place.
  • Storage in place for energy, water and food.
  • Long-term thinking.

No redundancy

  • Critical systems have no back-up.
  • Complete dependence on constant, ongoing external inputs.
  • Short-term thinking.

*Think of how inappropriate it is to cut butter with a chainsaw. The same idea applies to heating your home with natural gas, or using drinking quality water to flush a toilet. These are poor matches of energy density and water quality to end-use.

The property illustrated in the Figure shown below is an example of a resilient property located in a cold-climate. Note that you can apply the same resiliency characteristics to each individual sub-system for water, energy and food.

The Water Systems

  • Efficient: All fixtures high efficiency/low volume, water re-use used to reduce irrigation and toilet flushing volumes. Gutters and roof designed to prevent rainwater losses. Water-wise landscaping.
  • Productive: All water captured (building and landscape) and stored for use. Water employed to grow abundant biology.
  • Appropriate: Highest quality filter located at drinking water tap. Greywater used for toilet flushing and irrigation. Rain used for irrigation.
  • Interconnected: Wastewater is a resource and nutrients from wastewater are used to grow plants and soil both in the greenhouse and in the landscape. Monitoring in place for water usage, rain forecasts and storage volumes.
  • Includes Redundancy: Water storage designed for appropriate low rainfall conditions. Back-up plan in place.

The Energy Systems

    • Efficient: High insulation walls and windows and careful design of the building envelope. Energy efficient lighting and appliances.
    • Productive: House orientated to capture passive solar energy. Careful design and selection of glazing. Attached greenhouse provides supplemental heating. Solar photovoltaics for electricity and solar thermal for hot water.
    • Appropriate: Passive solar gain as primary heating source, biomass as back-up heating, photovoltaic electricity used for high energy density needs, solar thermal used for domestic hot water and ancillary space heat. Irrigation is provided passively (using gravity vs being pumped).
    • Interconnected: Heat recovery ventilator use to pre-heat intake air. Warm stale air from the house cycled to the greenhouse. Excess heat energy from the greywater captured in greenhouse. Monitoring systems in place for energy production and storage.

    Includes Redundancy: Grid-tied power for back-up electricity. Heating provided by three sources: passive solar, active solar and biomass.

The Food Systems

  • Efficient: Local food and seasonal food prioritized. Food grown onsite is harvested, preserved and stored for later use when in periods of abundance.
  • Productive: Perennial forest gardening, annual vegetable production and four season production in the attached greenhouse. Micro-livestock systems (such as chickens) for eggs and meat. Biodiverse and abundant biology grown not only for the occupants but to support surrounding ecosystems.
  • Appropriate: Food that supplies the occupants is grown with appropriate energy (human-scale vs large manufacturing-scale) and appropriate water (local and captured water vs imported water). Gardens designed for passive irrigation instead of pumped irrigation.
  • Interconnected: Food scraps, plant and other wastes cycled to create compost, soil and/or to feed micro-livestock.
  • Includes Redundancy: Not purely reliant on industrialized food system. Occupants grow some of their own food and support the local food economy as much as possible.
Caption: Figure 1.1: An example of resilient property located in a cold climate.

If your motivation is resilience, you’ll want to keep these criteria in mind as you are designing your rainwater harvesting system, but also particularly as you consider your rainwater harvesting system in the context of full-property water security and overall property design.

Now don’t be intimidated by the scale at which we applied the criteria of resilience, as you might not be ready to jump into designing fully off-grid homesteads. However, the beauty of using these criteria in design is that they are universal and can be applied at any scale.

You can apply redundancy, efficiency, productiveness, appropriateness and interconnectedness to the design of a school garden, to the design of a food forest, or to the design of a backyard composting system.

What we’ve found, over and over again, is that when folks regain hope, gain knowledge and learn how to plan / design, they find more meaning and happiness in their life as well.

And so I’ll reiterate that humans are not inherently destructive. Simply start designing your sustainable future and meaningful life so that you and your community will thrive.


It’s time to start designing. Here are some suggestions:

  • Read Part V, and Part VI of the Permaculture Foundations E-Book.
  • Take one system in your life right now, preferably something simple: for instance, maybe your front yard. Look at this system through the lens of redundancy, efficiency, appropriateness and interconnectedness. Are there simple actions you can take, or things you can change, elements you can add or elements you can remove that result in an improvement of these characteristics? Let me know what changes you make and the results that you get!
a group of three people harvesting in a community garden


How many times have you read good advice and not followed through? The truth is, the more complicated the challenge, the more we put it off.

If you want somebody to guide you through the process of creating a sustainable future and meaningful life, take action today.

You can go to bed tonight knowing you took the first serious step towards becoming empowered. Don’t wake up tomorrow with the same fear, disillusionment, and dispair. Here is one way we can tackle the problem and solve it.

  • Our live Permaculture Design Course (Register HERE).

The Founders of Verge mixed the scientific thinking they developed while attaining Engineering degrees, knowledge they gained through hands on work with global leaders of education in sustainable living and combined it with decades of experience in Canada’s challenging climate. Along with partnering with experts in every facet of sustainable living they have created the most effective, dynamic, life enhancing learning experience imaginable. I am grateful beyond words. – J.M.

Empower yourself with the tools, knowledge & support to positively transform your land, your life and your livelihood.


Stop dealing with the symptoms and know that the root cause is lack of hopelack of knowledge and lack of planning.  Let’s change that.

With Verge’s help and support, you can become a sustainability ninja. Don’t wait – let us help you today!


p.s. Learn more about our book, Essential Rainwater Harvesting (New Society Publishers, 2018).

Keep an eye on your inbox, and in the next email I’m going to give you some tips to dissolve the second barrier – lack of knowledge (but’s it’s not just any knowledge, it’s a specific type of knowledge).

Past Students Say…

  • These two weeks of permaculture have been the most useful and constructive education I have experienced. The practical skills, hopeful perspective and focus on solutions feel empowering.  

    Sara Renner, Canmore, AB
    Sara Renner, Canmore, AB Owner of Paintbox Lodge and Olympic Medalist
  • I went from armchair activist to on the ground change maker in two weeks. [Verge's] course gave me the tools and resources to restore hope in a backwards world.

    Jordan Saunders
    Jordan Saunders Tree Folk
  • I think if I could use one word to describe what Verge's PDC gave me, it would be "hope". Completely life changing.

    Chrissy Begus & Sarah Haney
    Chrissy Begus & Sarah Haney Puzzle Permaculture
  • I can’t remember the last time I felt so inspired! So many things brought together that I knew but didn’t.

    Evonne Smulders
    Evonne Smulders

Are you ready to take action now? Empower yourself with the tools, knowledge & support to positively transform your land, your life and your livelihood in our live Permaculture Design Course.


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