70-year-old woman builds sustainable homes from beach debris


If you’re thinking of building a more sustainable home or cottage, just take a cue from Netonia Yalta, a 70-year-old woman who builds homes from debris that’s washed up on the beaches of Haida Gwaii.

The B.C.-resident has built at least 30 structures—outhouses, gazebos, homes, and walls—made up of just about anything that washes ashore, including cedar, glass, driftwood, and even whale bones.

“There’s an unlimited amount of creativity you could do with the building materials that wash up on the beaches around here,” Yalte told CBC Radio West’s Rebecca Zanbergen. “I have to be more responsible so that the structure is sound, but I love to put any extras that people come up with and stick them in there.”

Photo by Lloyd Alter

Yalte built her first “stackwall” home more than 25 years ago, when she was living in poverty with her three children. With just a power saw, pickup truck, and half a welfare cheque, she had no choice but to build with what was around her.

“Necessity breeds invention,” she said.

It wasn’t easy—it took her 42 trips of collecting wood and 200 trips of collecting sand and sawdust before she could begin. But after a year and a half of work, she was left with a 1,500-square-foot home that cost her next to nothing.

Photo by Lloyd Alter

She still lives in that home on Graham Island, but it’s now surrounded by other small cabins she built as well as a wall that protects them from strong winds. After taking note of Yalte’s masterful home, locals began hiring her to build for them.

“I have a dream about making a village, and I know it’s going to happen, because I’ve already had a vision of it happening, where a whole bunch of people live here with children running free and animals  running free,” she said. “I’m creating that dream.”