Green Homes

Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

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Homes are getting larger in the USA, but some alternative thinkers are actually downsizing their dream homes and opting for itty bitty dwellings. These “tiny homes” are becoming more attractive due to their small footprints, affordable prices, off-grid capabilities and green appliances.

Why are Tiny Homes Inherently Green?

Tiny homes use fewer materials to construct and cost less to build than the average-sized home. Savings on overall price can be used for higher quality materials, green building alternatives and sustainable resources. A few examples commonly used in tiny homes are: bamboo flooring, solar panels, LED lightbulbs, manufactured composting toilets, high efficiency insulation, etc.

A small interior space requires less energy to heat and cool. Limited storage promotes a minimalistic lifestyle and conscious purchasing. Small refrigerators supports a healthier diet with fresher ingredients.

In the spotlight today, we’d like to feature Anita’s Tiny Home. At only 248 square feet, Anita wanted her house to be as green as possible. She worked with designer Lina Menard and builder Small Home Oregon to incorporate green appliances and systems in her Lilypad Tiny Home.

Lilypad Tiny House on Wheels 

Lilypad Tiny Home’s Green Features

• Rainwater Catchment System
• Soy-based Spray Foam Insulation
• Bamboo Flooring
• Solar Power System
• French Drain for Greywater Disposal
• LED Lighting
Wood Burning Stove and High-Efficiency Electric Heater
• Denatured Alcohol Cook Stove
• Gravity-Fed Fresh Water Tank*
Nature’s Head Composting Toilet*
Vertical Aeroponic Garden*

*More details below

Gravity-Fed Water Tank

By placing a freshwater tank in the loft of her tiny home, Anita is able to use gravity power for her sink water instead of a electric water pump.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

The Nature’s Head compositing toilet is a good choice for small bathrooms, off-grid homes, mobile homes and green homes because of its zero-water use, self-contained compact frame and simple urine diverting system.

By design, the Nature’s Head separates liquid and solid waste, reducing odor and affectively speeding up the composting process. A 12-volt fan aerates the solid waste chamber and a human-powered crank is used for stirring. For more information on this green product, click here.

Aquaponic Indoor / Outdoor Garden

The Tower Garden is a vertical aeroponic growing system. It is great garden option for tiny and eco-friendly homes because of its petite body and efficient reuse of water (the Tower Garden uses only 10% of water involved in traditional gardening). Plants grow faster in the Tower Garden than with traditional gardening, so it’s not only cleaner, more compact and greener, it’s also a very efficient alternative. For more information on this green product, click here.

Take a tour of Anita’s Lilypad Tiny Home here and for more information, visit her website.

Photos by Guillaume Dutilh and Small Home Oregon

In an effort to pursue an alternative nomadic lifestyle, Jenna and her partner, Guillaume, began building a tiny house on wheels. Within the first year of travel, they towed their tiny abode over 20,000 miles around North America and Canada. Read about their travels and follow at Tiny House Giant Journey and follow Tiny House Giant Journey on Instagram.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Livable Space vs. the ‘Box’

The ‘box’ is any rectangular living space, but the box we don’t want is the one that poorly satisfies our human dimensions and activities.  The problem presents itself when living space is compromised over building costs.  These choices boil down to balancing livable space with the building budget, however, creativity in space design is not limited; that’s how architects create nests.

When you are working with house concepts you must include the roof in the equation. The 5-sided (pentagon) house shape we are familiar with: a sloped roof and a box under the roof.   In the figures below, all will shed the weather, yet which shape will most comfortably accommodate our activities with the least material cost?  Note that the ‘bird house’ profile has greater square footage at eye level than at floor level.

Human Dimensions inside a 5-Sided Tiny House

Tiny Home

Tiny Home

Tiny Home Design

Tiny Home 

Inside or Outside Rooms

The purpose of going inside is to get away from outside, and the reverse is true, that you go outside to get away from inside. This might seem silly, but the point to understand how much time you prefer spending inside vs. outside. At a homestead there is a lot of regular outdoor activity, so what the house can offer is a change from being outside!

If you want to feel more connected to the outdoors, consider concepts ranging from a ‘garden room’ which is outside with furniture among the plants, to a ‘glass house’ which is inside, with walls made of windows that creates the appearance of being outside.

One of the most useful and affordable outdoor spaces is a covered porch, often the space in-between the front stairs and the front door, with the second floor forming the roof over the porch.  This is a classic bungalow design, with a porch facing the front yard, sidewalk, and street. It offers outdoor living when the temperature is sufficient and presents a friendly attitude towards neighbors.

A flexible inside/outside design is a wall of ‘French’ doors that open onto an un-covered patio or deck.  This has major challenges in dealing with the egress of insects and pests and can only be used when the outside temperature is comfortable.

Another design for inside/outside is an open-air courtyard surrounded on at least three sides by the building, with windows and doors facing the courtyard. When the occupants rarely go outside then house plants are a way to bring the outside into the home.

The outdoor kitchen is worth considering in warm summer climates. The main purpose is to move the heat and vapors of cooking out of a tiny house. A barbeque on the patio is essentially an outdoor kitchen.

Single or Multiple Rooms and Floors

The purpose of multiple rooms is to separate activities, thus providing privacy and/or isolation of things happening in one room from pervading into other rooms like odors, sounds, and light. For example it is not healthy to have the bathroom adjacent to the kitchen.

Rooms should be dedicated to creating a space that is optimized for certain functions or to offer a change from the other rooms. Often these spaces can be simple extensions of a larger room the way nooks and window seats are known to offer their unique ambiance.

Techniques for one-room homes to make it more livable: Ventilation can eliminate humidity and odors; lighting can alternate the look of a single room for multiple functions by using dimmable lighting and task lighting.

Multiple occupants in a single room bring up other considerations:  generally related persons can share a bedroom; unrelated persons can share a ‘bunk house’.  However, lack of privacy can become an issue over a long period of time.

Multiple floors pay the price of floor space dedicated to the staircase.  The staircase opening is also a pathway for air currents and heat that must be considered.  If the upper floor has sloped walls as in an attic or dormer, you’ll have restricted head clearance, consequently the furnishings that require less height like beds and desks are usually placed along the walls.

Built-Ins and Fold-Outs

Putting some thought into the design of built-ins and fold-outs prevents the problem of believing your kitchen space is large enough and then finding it too tiny after you attach cupboards to the walls and place a table in the middle of the room.

Objects like books, dishes, food supplies, or clothes will decrease the “people volume” of the room.  These items can be accessed with built-ins and fold-outs and can be designed into the “wall volume.”

An important aspect of built-ins and fold-outs is that they will be permanent features and not easily modified, thus their utility or function is fixed and the amount of repetition to operate a pull-out or fold-out plays into the confidence in its value.

Examples of built-ins: shelves, cupboards, drawers, closets, a staircase that allows access to shelves behind the treads.  Note that lights, fans, heaters, video displays and speakers are often and can be built-in.

Examples of pull-outs and fold-outs:  flip-up work surfaces; convertible beds, sofas, and benches; closets that roll around and become a room divider; window coverings.

The Fourteen Basic Requirements of a Livable Home

1. House is solidly built and has no leaks exposed to unfavorable weather nor unwanted pests

2. House creates a sense of security for the occupants and their possessions

3. Materials are pleasant to touch, non-toxic, strong and durable

4. There is a water supply, electric power, hot water, and heating and/or cooling

5. There is a place to securely park the homeowners vehicle

6. There is access to a garden for humans and their pets

7. Kitchen has a refrigerator, stove, sink, and enough counter space, pantry, and cupboards

8. Bathrooms have a toilet, a shower and/or tub, a sink, and cupboards for toiletries and towels

9. Laundry rooms have clothes washing and drying devices

10. Each member of the household has his or her own private place that is comfortable

11. Rooms are generous in space for humans while storage space is compact and efficient

12. Rooms are warm in winter; cool in summer

13. Rooms have a view and natural light from at least two directions

14. Rooms have lighting for nighttime and task work

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



A drought can last a long time.  In some areas a week, a month or more can pass without a single drop of rain.  In California, up to six months or more can pass without a rain storm.  When the storm finally does arrive, it can bring a torrent of water in very little time.  It is these stormy moments that can make or break our landscapes.  By designing our land to have rain catchment by-way-of a series of small earthworks, we can harness the rain and let that valuable moisture stay a bit longer; long enough to be utilized by our cultivated plants.  If you are wanting to drought proof your home to create edible abundance with earthworks, read on.

Rain sheets down driveways, runs down on-ramps and on downslope, eventually to the sea.  As it gains momentum, it picks up particles of topsoil and erodes fertile areas along the way.  Always finding the most efficient route downhill, water knows how to run away from our properties; that is if we don't direct it.  By creating on-contour earthworks, called “swales” we can create temporary repositories which can fill in large storms and slowly percolate into our hill slopes at a rate that fruit trees can drink. 

Slow it, Spread it, Sink It

Once the rain has sheeted into a swale, its velocity is slowed and spreads to fill the trench which is on contour and roughly two feet deep.  On-contour means that the rain will not run away the way a ditch is designed to do.  As the swale fills to capacity, the water can overflow into a connector pipe that runs downhill to the next swale system.  In this way, the water is intentionally worked through the landscape in broad arcing levels.  At each level runoff is slowed down enough to begin to percolate the soil, thus rehydrating dry land.  At twenty degrees slope or less, these swale systems will work effectively to check the sheeting storm water runoff without overloading the slope as small check dams can sometimes do.

Swales and Net and Pan Systems

On steep hills of more than twenty degrees slope, another earthworks approach will be better suited.  Called “Net-and-Pan”  This earthworks system funnels rain and directs it to each fruit tree basin.  Upslope from each hillside fruit tree, we create a diagonal one foot by one foot french drain.  Two of these French Drains direct rain water into the fruit tree basin.  This now widens catchment area to perhaps ten feet that now directs to the trees.  This creates more water harvest to upslope crops, while allowing less to streak downslope and cause erosion.  By staggering these Net-and-Pan systems downslope, all parts of the hill can become catchments and directed into these basins.  *(See Illustration). 

Swales and Net-and-Pan are two Earthworks systems that are simple, human scale strategies to drought-proof our lands.  By catching the water where it will be consumed by crops, we can reduce the cost of transporting water long distances and utilize what does fall in our areas.  These systems will increase our capacity to utilize and irrigate up slope areas and make our homes more in-the-flow with mother nature by checking the flow and guiding water intentionally through the land.  Start now to drought proof your home to create edible abundance.

Watch Joshua in the video below introduce planting a food forest during the Benica Food Forest Event.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Have you inspected your roof yet this year? Your roof is on the front lines of exposure to nature’s harshest elements all year long. Because it’s bound to take a beating, it’s crucial to inspect for missing shingles, weather damage or possible sagging, at least annually.

Luckily, even if you haven’t inspected your roof since last winter, there’s still time before the next round of snow and sleet arrives. After all, though he meant it metaphorically, John F. Kennedy did once say: “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

The last thing you want is to have structural issues with your roof that you can’t address during the bitter cold months. Getting a good look at your roof is less dangerous in the late summer and fall—and should you find missing shingles or need for repairs, an inspection could save you lots of money in the long run. A damaged roof can lead to many burdensome and expensive issues. I learned this the hard way.

Photo by

Two winters ago, my roof fell victim to ice dams that caused thousands of dollars of damage to several areas of our home. Ice dams form when melting snow refreezes and blocks drainage into the gutters. The water has to go somewhere, and it usually finds its way into the home. Had we inspected our roof for structural deficits in the summer or fall, we could have installed proper preventative flashing on the edges and over the  valleys. Instead, the damage went unnoticed and got even worse.

The average home’s roof lasts 20-25 years and can cost up to $12,000. In some cases, installing a brand new roof is actually cheaper than retroactively repairing the water damage caused by not adhering to proper upkeep.

Signs Your Roof May Need Repairs or a Full ReplacementRoof2

• Visible water damage
• Leaking
• Sagging
• Buckling of shingles
• Missing shingles
• Shingles and debris are found in the yard or gutters
• Seeing light through the roof boards

If you have serious signs of damage or your roof is over 20 years old, it is definitely worth considering replacing it entirely. In the end, even worse than the cost of repairing structural damage to your home is the level of stress and grief that comes with it.

Green Roofing Options

If a new roof is in your future, there are several environmentally friendly options to consider. The greatest advantage of a green roof is its durability—the longer your roof lasts, the less waste you’ll create. Here are some of the best materials to choose from:

Metal roofing is eco-friendly because it can often be installed right on top of your old roof, depending on the current roof’s condition. It’s durable and lasts a whopping 30-50 years. Metal reflects sunlight, which is ideal for hot climates and greatly reduces the need for air conditioning. Metal roofing is also largely made from recycled material.
Recycled shingles are made from reused materials such as plastic or rubber. These roofs usually have warranties of up to 50 years. When you choose recycled shingles, you're also helping to keep waste out of landfills!
Solar roof shingles don’t only protect your home from harsh weather—they even help generate energy. In fact, photovoltaic cells could save you 40-60 percent on your electricity bill! Plus, it’s worth checking to see if you qualify for a clean energy tax incentive to offset the cost of installation.

Whether your next inspection reveals that you you need to make spot repairs or replace your entire roof, make sure you consider recycling or reusing your old shingles. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 11 million tons of asphalt shingles enter U.S. landfills each year. Luckily, asphalt scrap recycling is a growing industry—so encourage your friends and family to be a part of the solution!

Learn from my mistakes—inspect your roof while the weather is on your side! Now’s the time to make any necessary repairs or replacements because winter is coming fast!

Sommer Poquette is the Green and Clean Mom who writes for The Home Depot about accessing your roofing and the replacement options available. To find more information on roofing installation and options that Sommer talks about in this article, visit The Home Depot.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


outdoor rugs 1

Earlier this year, I wrote this post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS about how to choose eco-friendly indoor rugs. As I discovered in my research, indoor air pollution is a real issue in modern homes and choosing the “wrong” rug can contribute to that problem. After thoroughly exploring the best options for indoor rugs, I began to think about my outdoor space.

Living in the South, my family and I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors. It being the buggy South, however, this means staying inside a screened-in porch! I started looking for a way brighten up this space and went on a search for an eco-friendly outdoor rug.

At first, I assumed that the same rules as those for indoor flooring would apply, but it turned out that was only partially true. First off, the issue of “off-gassing” isn’t such a concern in an outdoor space. Second, most of those natural fibers that are ideal for indoors don’t work well outdoors, because when combined with persistent moisture they become mildew magnets.

So what are the best options for eco-friendly outdoor rugs? 

The best material for an outdoor rug is synthetic, as these don’t absorb water and therefore won’t grow mold when left outdoors (which can be harmful to your health, as well as spoil the look of your rug).

Synthetic, you say? Isn’t that bad for the environment? Not necessarily. If you research the materials well, you can actually end up with a product that is attractive, eco-friendly and, crucially when it comes to being green, long-lasting. One thing to note: Look for hand woven or hand tufted rugs, both of which are more durable than machine-made and will last longer.

Here are the most popular materials for outdoor rugs, along with their “green” attributes:

Synthetic Blends

This hand-hooked synthetic rug is durable, long-lasting and boasts all-weather durability, so it’s a great choice for a high-traffic patio area. Plus, you can clean it with a hose.

Carpets made from a blend of synthetic fibers, such as Derclon, nylon, olefin (also known as polypropylene), polyester, rayon and acrylic, are a good choice for outdoor rugs. Generally waterproof, stain resistant, durable and easy to clean, responsibly manufactured synthetic rugs gain green credentials because, unlike cotton or wool, synthetic fibers don’t require high volumes of water and grazing land in their manufacturing process. They also have a much smaller carbon footprint than those of natural fibers. On the flip side, they can contain VOCs that off-gas (not a big problem if used outdoors) plus they are largely non-biodegradable (although carpet recycling is becoming much more ubiquitous).

This rug is made with Derclon, a popular synthetic material for outdoor rugs as it closely resembles wool, is durable and resists stains and fading. It also doesn’t shed its fibers like wool rugs can, so it’s a good hypoallergenic choice.


This rug, made from 100-percent polypropylene, is quick drying, non-fading and resists staining and mildewing, making it great for outdoor areas. It can also be cleaned easily with a garden hose.

Polypropylene (also known as olefin) is a very eco-friendly synthetic rug material, as it is made from recycled soda bottles, milk bottles and other plastic packaging. But don’t worry—it doesn’t feel likes it’s made of plastic bottles. It has a natural-fiber appearance, but without the disadvantage of absorbing water, as natural fibers do. Alongside being completely waterproof, polypropylene rugs are also strong and stain-resistant and can be hosed off when they need to be cleaned, meaning this rug is likely to be around a long time—a key factor when shopping for a green rug. Look for 100-percent UV-stabilized polypropylene, so that the rugs won’t fade from sunlight.

Recycled Plastic PET

PET is similar to polypropylene in look, feel and characteristics, but it is made exclusively from recycled soda bottles. Because soda bottles are required to be made with top quality resins by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, there’s less concern about harsh chemicals leeching from your nice new rug.

Plastic Rugs? Really?

Recycled plastic is undoubtedly a green material. Keeping soda bottles and other plastics out of the landfill and putting them to a new use hits all three criteria of the “Three Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle). But is it safe for your family? This Scientific American Article addresses this issue and overall concludes that it is a green choice.  

“Overall, PET carpet … is a pretty green choice. … PET fibers are naturally stain-resistant and do not require the chemical treatments used on most nylon carpets, and they retain color and resist fading from exposure to the sun or harsh cleaning. … Also, old PET carpet can live another day when it is ‘down-cycled’ for use in other applications such as car parts, insulation, and even furniture stuffing.”

So go ahead, green up your outdoor space this summer with a colorful, durable, weather-resistant rug, and tell your spouse that you’re just doing your bit for the planet… I know I will!

Jennifer Tuohy is an environmentally conscious mom who likes to provide advice on how you can be more green with your home décor.  She gives tips from picking a greener area rug to the what product will save you money and energy.  Visit Home Decorators to view a selection of outdoor area rugs like those she talks about in this article. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



As an outdoors lover, you may hate the idea of being cooped up indoors — especially in the summertime. But since you can’t realistically spend all of your time outside, why not work to bring the outdoors into your home? It’s simple enough to mimic the aesthetic of the great outdoors by bringing in little natural details, from seashells and rocks to wood branches and pine cones. Follow these tips to help your interiors feel as welcoming and refreshing as your favorite outdoor destination.


Bring the sound of ocean waves into your living room.

The last time you visited the beach, you spent hours collecting shells, and now they’re just sitting in a plastic bag in your closet. Instead of hiding them away, why not display them? Sea shells, colorful sea glass, and driftwood are all common finds that will add a beachy element to your space while reminding you of your relaxing vacation. Find a vase, recycled bottle, or your favorite vintage glass bowl and artfully arrange your finds for a beautiful coastal addition to your coffee table. If you have plenty of space for other collections, try using apothecary jars or hurricane lamps in varying sizes and heights to display your shells. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can even create candles using shells—this works especially well for smaller shells and fragments.


Create a lantern shadow box for favorite finds.

Traditional shadow boxes are gorgeous to hang on your wall as art, but I love to get a bit more creative with the concept, using a large lantern to display a few favorite natural items. I placed my favorite conch shell, some pinecones and river rocks together inside of this lantern on a side table. I love that the objects can be easily swapped out with new discoveries from my outdoor adventures. This is a great little project for kids, too. They’ll be excited to add and subtract from the collection, and they’ll be thrilled to see when you add something new and unexpected.


Freshen up with fruits and vegetables.

I love keeping fruits and vegetables around the house to encourage healthy eating, but these foods also double as organic decorations! Whether placed in a pretty bowl or scattered casually on a tray, these edible arrangements lend color, texture, and sometimes even fragrance to a space. I like to keep it simple by spreading the fruit out in a random pattern, along with a few clippings of shrubbery from the yard. For a more formal arrangement, consider using sterling silver or crystal bowls to hold the food, and arange it symmetrically down the center of the dining table or along the backside of a buffet table.

Unifying your green outdoor lifestyle with your interiors is easier than you may think. If you’re not sure where to start, simply head outside and you may be surprised at how much inspiration you’ll find.

Ronique Gibson, a LEED AP certified architect and home design expert, writes on sustainability topics for Her eco-friendly decorating ideas are inspired by the wall design options available on the Shutterfly website.

Photo Credit: Stagetecture

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



If you want to have a positive impact on the environment, but are in need of a different home, your first step was likely to either purchase a fixer-upper or to simply renovate the home you already have. Because an existing structure already has many of the materials in place, you will naturally save the environment by remodeling versus building new.

According to Natural Life Magazine, buildings make up about 40 percent of the energy and material used in the world. Because of this, there are many other choices you can make while in the middle of a renovation project that will help you have a positive impact on the environment.

Recycled Products

One way you can positively impact the environment is by using recycled products while renovating. If you are replacing heating and cooling systems, this might mean adding geothermal heating, solar panels or green roofs.

If you are looking to purchase recycled or green products to place in your home, look for labels that state they are either Energy Star compliant or that they are specifically certified as being made from recycled materials.

Paint Disposal

A big part of most renovation projects is choosing new designs and paint colors. However, what do you do with the leftover paint and empty paint cans? It’s important that you not wash these items into your waste disposal where it might leak into local streams or pollute ponds.

In fact, old paint is considered hazardous waste and should be very carefully disposed of. To properly dispose of paint with your trash, you must first turn it into solid waste. You can leave it open in the air to harden or mix in agents such as cat litter to speed up the drying process. You should notify your trash pickup service that you are disposing of solid waste paint.

Reduce Project Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency took on a project to reduce waste in construction and demolition. They found that in 1996, the United States alone created about 136 million tons of debris related to building and remodeling. While that number dropped during the real estate slowdown, it is starting rise again.

You can help combat this trend by choosing a contractor who has the same green lifestyle philosophy that you do. The two of you can then work together to reuse any salvage materials to create other items. For example, if you have leftover pieces of lumber, can that be used to make raised bed gardens in your backyard?

Reuse Materials From Other Building Sites

Another idea is to talk to other homeowners who are either building new or renovating and utilize their leftover items they would normally throw out. For example, if a house down the street replaces an old claw-foot bathtub with a more modern, tiled shower, you can have the bathtub reglazed and it will look almost new.

Not only will you keep that claw-foot tub from further adding to the local landfill, but you’ll also save a fortune over the cost of paying professionals to tile your own bathroom and create a shower for you.

Donate What’s Left

Are there items you simply can’t stand to put back into your remodeled home? Perhaps there is a row of cabinets from the master bathroom that you hate. Instead of throwing them out, consider donating them to an organization such as Habitat for Humanity, or reuse those cabinets in your garage where you don’t mind how they look.

There are many creative ways to not only remodel your home so it uses less energy and is better for the environment, but also to make sure the project itself has the least possible negative impact on the environment.

How do you minimize your environmental impact when working on your home? Tell me in the comments section below!

Image by Life of Pix

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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