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When it comes to choosing a countertop for your kitchen remodel, there are so many attractive options that making a decision can be difficult. One way to narrow it down is to factor eco-friendliness into the equation.

Not sure where to start? Let’s break down some of the best eco-friendly countertop options available on the market today, ranging from ultra-luxurious to basic and budget-friendly. Once you decide which material you love for kitchen countertops, you can use this handy cost calculator to help you stay on budget.

The Lavish Look: Recycled Marble Kitchen Countertops ($$$$)

Marble is timeless, undeniably beautiful, and it will make your kitchen stand out from the crowd. Yes, it scratches and stains more easily than some other materials, but with proper care, its beauty can be maintained for years. It’s also naturally cool and it doesn’t conduct heat, so if you like to bake, this is the natural choice for you. But marble isn’t cheap—it starts at about $60/foot and can easily be 4-5 times that, depending on marble style and location.

Recycled marble countertops (often called “engineered” or “cultured” marble) are made from natural stone that has been crushed and reformed into a slab with heat and resin, making a product from excess marble dust and scraps that’s just as beautiful as pure marble. Recycled marble can cost much less than new marble when purchased in precut sizes and slabs, but can be comparable in cost if poured into a custom mold for your unique counters.

ECO Cosentino

Worry-Free and Durable: ECO by Cosentino ($$$)

If your style leans toward the upscale end of the spectrum but you don’t want to deal with scratched and stained countertops, consider a non-porous kitchen countertop like ECO by Cosentino, made from 75 percent recycled content (mirror, glass, porcelain, earthenware, and vitrified ash) and 25 percent corn resin. It’s extremely scratch resistant. According to Cosentino’s website, 94 percent of the water used in the manufacturing is re-used. It’s eco-friendly and relatively affordable, costing about $100/foot.

Bamboo counter

Go Natural Bamboo ($$)

Bamboo is often one of the first materials that come to mind when people think of eco-friendly alternatives for anything from flooring to countertops. Bamboo counters are beautiful and practical, thanks to their durability and affordability. It’s also a great choice if you just want to update or add a kitchen island, to keep costs low while also giving the potential for a complete transformation in your kitchen’s look (and mix-and-matching cabinet and island materials is a growing trend).

If you choose bamboo, you’ll have to decide on sealed or unsealed. With unsealed, be sure to factor in a non-toxic sealant to protect your investment. Also, be sure to choose a brand that sustainably harvests their bamboo.

On average, for bamboo you’re looking at around $50/foot. Finally, bamboo is formaldehyde-free and naturally resists bacteria, but its primary drawback is that it does stain easily.

The Economical (and Ecological) Champ: Marmoleum ($)

Marmoleum, a countertop material that’s often used in flooring, boasts a very low environmental footprint. The material is a USDA-certified bio-based product composed of wood fibers, rosin (produced by heating the resin of pine trees) and natural oils. And it’s extremely cheap compared to other eco-friendly options, costing as low as $4 a square foot!  A small kitchen can be done for under $1,000 if you do it yourself. Plus, it’s a nice, smooth surface that comes in hundreds of color options.

Tips for Choosing an Eco-Friendly Kitchen Countertop

• Ask friends and family about their kitchen countertops. What do they love or hate about them?
• If you’re considering a DIY option, stop and think—do you have the time or the talent? We can all Pin and dream, but can we take those ideas and make them reality? DIY may be cheaper, but be smart and hire someone if you’re not 100% confident in your ability to install it correctly.
• Research what the countertop is truly made of. For example, if you choose a concrete kitchen countertop, do you know how much energy it takes to make concrete and how to seal the concrete without using toxic sealants? Is there a more eco-friendly concrete mix available? (There is! Here’s a primer).
• Don’t always believe what you read. If a product says “eco-friendly,” do some digging and learn about the company’s sustainability policy. Ask the salesperson how the product is sourced and what makes the material a better choice. Is it green certified? Look for certifications from groups like LEED, the Forest Stewardship Council and GREENGUARD.

Whatever eco-friendly countertop option you choose, you’re sure to love the look of your new kitchen, and you can feel proud knowing you factored sustainability into your decision-making process.

Sommer Poquette keeps sustainability and eco-friendliness top of mind when planning out her DIY projects. For The Home Depot and her blog, Sommer provides great tips on the eco-friendly materials you can use for your kitchen remodel.  To see a wide variety of countertop options to fit your needs, visit Home Depot's website.  

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. 


Welcome back to part 6.

I didn’t stay long in my room that evening after the meeting, I decided to head down to the local brewery to think things through. In the meeting that night, I was told that I had to lay off my three employees that I had on the job. Besides losing the employees that I spent tens of thousands of dollars training over the past few years, the biggest issue with losing the ability to charge for the employees is that each employee is charged out at a rate that covers the business overhead in addition to their wage. The overhead would include liability insurance and other necessary payments to make the business run. I had to get rid of my employees and essentially close my business to stay on the job.


Winter was closing in on the earth shelter project.

I was offered the chance to stay on the job for a reduced wage from what the original agreement was. I was also told that I could select a few people from the army of locals that I had been working with to help me continue forward with building the earth shelter. I didn’t like the ultimatums, especially since I was the only one on the project that knew how everything worked. I tried to clear my mind of the worry and money that night and focus on if I wanted to continue working on the project or not. The hardest part in a situation like this is to continue working for and being around someone once you see their true colors.

By the morning I had determined that I should stay and finish as much of the project as possible and that this project would most likely be the last project that I would ever build because I had all but lost my passion for building. When I gave the homeowner my answer, I was going to ask how long I had until I had to get rid of everybody and also tell her that we would not be able to pour the outer shell of the domes until it was warm enough in spring. I would present her with the idea that we abandon our efforts to get the domes ready for the concrete shell and move inside the domes and start framing all of the walls and floors. Essentially building the inside before the outside, which is opposite of how the process was supposed to work.

“I trust you,” was the homeowner’s response when I told her about the game plan change and my decision to stay. “That is an odd response”, I thought as I remembered how she lost all of my trust the night before. I decided to take the project one day at a time and still have a long term game plan in my mind. I hoped it would all work out and at the very least it gave me some sort of wage until I could find another job after winter. The next hardest part was to tell my employees that they were out of a job and for me knowing that my competitors would hire them knowing that I had personally trained them. I figured that I was committing career suicide for myself by continuing on with this project, but I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and had no other place to go in the short term.

The people that I chose to stay on the project were not only well rounded people construction wise but were also the ones that I had the greatest time with at work. I hoped that the added fun at work would help to dilute the actual situation so that I could find a reason to go to the jobsite every day. For my crew, I picked Crazy Joe, The Howard City Madman, and Uncle Rog I also worked a deal to get my employees to stay on the job until they got other jobs. The homeowner added two ‘spies’ to her list to work part time with us, we didn’t realize that they were spies until a few months further past that point. Under the new terms, my employees lasted as long as they could financially until they ultimately left the project. While we had them thou, we made good use of them as we finished up the outside of the domes and setup inside the domes and started framing.

tarp hut

A heating hut for melting the ice off of the floors.

ice in barn

(Chunks of ice as they came off of the floor in the heating huts)

The biggest issue we faced in changing direction on this project was that our foot traffic had caused there to be over a foot of compacted snow and ice on all of the interior concrete floors. We would have to first get that snow and ice off of the floor before we could start framing any walls. This process took some serious effort and a lot of heat. We built small huts out of tarps and heated those areas until we could get the snow and ice out with shovels and scrapers. This process took a few weeks and during that time, we kept the heat running 24 hours a day and moved the little ‘heating huts’ throughout the complex while we started building interior walls where we could.

interior framing

Interior framing began before the outer shell of the earth shelter domes were poured. Notice how you can see through the burlap to the outside!

We had to go back out to the area where the earth shelter dome parts were and undercover the pallets that were left over to find the self tapping screws that were used to secure the treated wood to the floor support beams that were bolted to the inside of the earth shelter dome steel. Once we found what we needed, we put a few of the guys on the grueling duty of fastening the treated lumber to the top of the steel support beams. Meanwhile, I took the rest of the crew and started to layout and build the main floor interior walls so that we could install the floor joists and really start making that big gymnasium-esque structure look like a house. I remember how much the homeowner rejoiced when she saw her walls going up, she would try to rally us by saying how great of a job we were doing and most of us kept our mouths closed until after she left. Regardless of how we felt about the homeowner, we felt that we had a job to do and we were having a great time laughing and building this place. Most of the time, I had a bad feeling about the project because of what had happened, but I kept that to myself so the others would think that I was happy.

framing 2

(Me leading the framing crew after deciding to stay on the project on a day by day basis)

I really enjoyed seeing each stage of the framing come together on the inside of the earth shelter domes. It was really a neat experience as we built curves into our walls and got to work with everything but straight lines. We weren’t done framing the inside walls of the first dome and already, I found myself thinking how cool the actual project was. I thought that it might be worth the experience to continue to stay on the project and that became my mantra.

Stay tune for Part 7 as the story continues to develop and the crew starts to get creative using mostly reused and recycled materials.

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. 



Who doesn’t love area rugs? They are the perfect accessory to brighten up any room, patio or deck. A new rug is an instant makeover for any space.

In my search for a colorful, stain-proof, child-proof rug for our playroom, I researched outdoor rugs, which (despite the name) can be used indoors, and promise more stain and water-proofing than your traditional indoor rug. Since the purpose of this rug will be for a playroom, a key search term was “budget,” and I came across the idea of turning a tablecloth into an outdoor rug, offering the added benefit of repurposing one of the many tablecloths that I have stored in my kitchen.

A tablecloth-turned-rug is the perfect, inexpensive solution for areas that see lots of dirt, high traffic or for hardwood or concrete floors in need of some sprucing up.

Here’s how I turned a tablecloth into a durable, colorful waterproof rug:



A 52” x 70” cotton tablecloth (not pre-coated) $9

A 56” x 86” rug pad ($20)

Double sided carpet tape ($5)

Satin finish, water-based polyurethane ($48, you’ll get at least 5 “rugs” out of one can)

Foam Floor Applicator ($13, refills $4)

Plastic drop cloth $2

The polyurethane boosts the tablecloth’s durability, as stains just sit on the surface and can be easily taken outside and hosed off.

Step 1

Spread your drop cloth down and lay out your tablecloth. I did this outdoors, but a garage would be a better option, due to less breeze and potential debris sticking in your varnish.


Step 2

Pour a small amount of polyurethane onto the cloth and use the spreader to move it evenly around. It’s best to do this in sections, depending on the size of your rug, to make sure you don’t miss a spot. Let it dry for about 10 minutes and then lift the rug off the drop cloth and re-position, so it doesn’t get stuck to the floor.  Allow it to dry for 30 minutes (or follow directions on the can) before applying another coat. Repeat this process for three coats.


Step 3

Remove the tablecloth from the drop cloth and lay it out flat on a protected surface to allow it to fully dry, preferably overnight. If you are planning on using your new rug outdoors, you’ll want to flip it over once dry and give the underside a poly coating too.

Step 4

Once dry, lay your rug pad over the tablecloth and cut it to fit, about an inch shorter all around than the tablecloth.


Step 5

Bring the tablecloth to the room where you plan on using it in. Lay it upside down and measure out your double-sided tape. Attach it to the bottom of the tablecloth in a widespread pattern and then carefully remove the top layer of tape.


Step 6

Starting from the bottom, methodically push down the rug pad onto the double-sided tape, making sure it is taught and well-secured. This process helps give the resulting rug more shape and definition than the original tablecloth had.


Step 7

Turn your tablecloth over and admire your brand new waterproof rug, suitable for indoor or outdoor use! When it gets dirty, just give it a mop or take it outside and hose it down.


All in, this new 5 ft. by 7 ft. rug cost $48, factoring in that I will be able to use some of my supplies to create more fun, colorful rugs for my home. I already have my eye on the perfect pattern for my screened in porch.

Jennifer Tuohy lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and writes about her upcycling projects for The Home Depot. To view a broad selection of traditional area rugs, you can visit Home Depot's Home Decorators website. 

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. 


Welcome back for Part 5! If you are new to this series, please start with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 so that you get caught up to speed..Here we go!

People would say that I am “in the zone” on days like that Christmas Eve. There was machinery running and people scurrying around like as if you put a chocolate bar on an ant hill on a hot day. I really do love the excitement of acting out a plan and figuring out the undetermined details as we go. The best part of a day like that for me is when the equipment is shut off, everyone is gone, and the peacefulness of the surroundings begins to filter back in. Before I leave a site, I like to soak in our accomplishments and imagine what the next stage of the project would bring.

west side tarp

That Christmas Eve day was a very productive day; we hit our mark and got the domes covered up the best that we could to get ready for the big storm that was heading right for the job site. We had more ICFs to install and pour after the Christmas holiday and the ICF crew covered all the exposed walls with tarps and straw so they could pick up where they left off when they came back. The crews left the jobsite by 4pm that day and as I was loading up my truck, the sky started to darken as the storm approached. I had a two hour drive west (on a good day), which meant that I would be driving directly into the storm. I hoped that everyone would make it home safe, as most of the out of town crew members were driving west and into the storm also.

tall wall

The drive home took longer than I had hoped, as I had to drive through each stage of the storm. The freezing rain was first, followed be ice pellets bouncing off of my windshield, and for the last hour of my three hour long drive, I felt like I was flying a space ship in the movie Star Wars as the thick snow was colliding with my headlights. It was nice to get home on Christmas Eve, not just because I was excited to get to my Mom’s house for the festivities, but because I had only been home for a total of two nights since we started the project back on Thanksgiving weekend. Being home felt good.

It snowed all night long and I was wondering how the earth shelter project was fairing. I knew the domes were standing strong in the winds and I mostly worried about the massive amount of snow that we were getting. As I finally went to sleep that night, I had a feeling that the course of the earth shelter project was going to change.

stuck in the field

Tail lights were the first thing I saw as I approached the earth shelter project driveway the Monday morning after the long holiday weekend. I hadn’t considered that the long drive back into the project site would be impassible. As I drove over the rise in the road, I noticed that there were vehicles stuck in the opening of the driveway. I wondered why the homeowner had not had the driveway cleared over the long holiday weekend. We spent several hours trying to get everyone dug out of the snow and back into the project. I hiked back into the project site to get the tractor started so we could clear the snow from the drive and get everyone back into the project. After the one half mile long walk through deep snow, I discovered that the keys for the tractor were not with the tractor. I had left messages for the homeowner to call me back, and finally my phone rang as I was staring at the huge snow drifts that had blown against and over the earth shelter domes.

“How’s it going out there”, the homeowner asked. “Not very good,” I replied, “We have spent the last couple of hours trying to get into the driveway.” The conversation went on and on about finding someone to clear the snow. I thought at the time that she must have been out of town or else she would have used the long holiday weekend to clear the driveway out. As it stood, we had lost several hours of time that we were not getting paid for. I mention this part of the story because this is part of a project that always seems to bite us. Even though the deal was for the driveway to always be cleared, it didn’t get done and we were losing valuable time and money waiting for snow plows to arrive.

blowing snow

That first Monday back after the long Christmas weekend found us moving snow, not just out of the driveway but off of the earth shelter domes. I knew that we had to stop thinking that we could spray the domes with concrete that winter and I started to get worried that I may have to stop working and that my business would collapse because I had went ‘all in’ on this project and was assured that we would be getting paid and have solid work throughout that winter. I bet it’s hard to be the captain of a ship who knows his ship is sinking because I had a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that the heroics that we were showing on the project to this point was going to come back to bite us.

moving snow

That night, and every Monday night during the project, I met with the homeowner to discuss the project and where it was heading and what we could do to improve upon the past week’s work. I was ready for this meeting, because I was going to let her know how I felt about the lost time removing snow and then transition into telling her that we were not going to be able to pour the concrete shell on the domes no matter how much she felt inside of her that we could. As I knocked on her office door, I saw her look up and she had the same look on her face that I had. Now that feeling in my stomach was really growing intense. “Sit down”, she said, “We need to talk.”

I adjusted my game plan and held off on what I was going to talk about until I heard what she was going to say. As she looked up, she said “We are in trouble financially with this project”. I started to move closer to the desk and wanted to cut her off to remind her that I turned the project down three of the five times because she was ridiculously off base with her budget numbers. For me to take the project, she assured me that she had the amount of money that I thought it would cost her to build the project. Before I could get those words out, she said, “I appreciate how hard you have been working, things are looking really nice.” That is code for saying, thank you for getting my project through the toughest stages, but you’re fired. As I listened to her talk, all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. I had fell for the biggest setup of my life; I risked everything to sign on to the earth shelter project and she knew it and it seemed like she was using that against me.

My heart sank because I cared more about my dad and our employees losing their jobs than my financial ruin. I listened to her options and as I got up out of the chair and left her office, she spoke up, “I will look for your answer tomorrow morning by 9 am”. I looked at her, shut her door with a commanding thud and walked through the old funeral home common area and up the long, steep, creaking stairs to my room.

Stayed tuned to part 6 of this story to see what decision I gave the homeowner and to see if we left the project or stayed.


The documentary of this project titled Sheltered: Underground and Off-The-Grid covers this entire project and is available at Here is the link.

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.


Welcome back for Part 4.  If you have not already read the first parts of this story, please do so you can be caught up to speed - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

on top of the dome

The more we got done, the higher we worked in the air.

As each day went by, our army of locals got better at putting the wire mesh and rebar onto the domes of the earth shelter project. We discovered ways to get the burlap over the wide gaps that were on the top of the domes. One of our first major milestones to reach before we could spray the concrete outer shell on the domes was to get the front faces of the underground domes installed. Those faces were to be made of insulated concrete forms (ICFs). I chose this technology because I knew from my experience that the ICF was the only building style that would not only get close to matching the efficiency of being underground, but would also withstand high wind speeds and most types of flying debris.

To reach the point where we could have the ICFs installed, we needed to keep working through blizzards and wind chills that occasionally reached 20 below zero. Not everyone showed up on the bad days because most of the workers got rides to the earth shelter project from other people and those people were not willing to brave the weather to drive them out to the middle of nowhere. There are numerous days where I worked by myself in really bad conditions to keep the project moving forward, but then again, being from out of town, there wasn’t much more to do in a blizzard and I am not much for sitting in my room and twiddling my thumbs.

snowy dome

The weather was cold and snowy most of the time as we worked on the first stages of the project.

It seemed like each person working on the crew was injured in one way or another, I remember one evening, on a day with below zero wind chills and just as we were about to stop for the day, my hand slipped from being so cold and the linesman’s pliers hit me in the upper lip splitting it wide open. I also hit my front tooth, but thankfully nothing happen to the tooth. It was so cold that my lip hardly bled, that is, until I got back to the funeral home turned bunk house that night. From that point forward, whenever I use pliers of any kind, or wrenches, I never put my face directly in front of what I am doing, if I do, I clinch my lips tight to protect myself. No stitches for me, I had to watch how I ate for a while, but eventually it healed up.

We had no idea how many rebar ties that we were using until the sales rep from the local Menards stopped by one day to bring us a fresh shipment. “This puts you over 100,000 ties” the rep said, to which we all were in awe. The reason we had used so many rebar ties, was because there were multiple layers of rebar going horizontally and vertically. The rebar helps the outer concrete shell to be extremely strong. Day by day and tie by tie, we kept pushing forward so that we could get the ICFs installed and get one step closer to spraying the outer concrete shell of the domes.  

front wall icfs

The ICF crew work to complete the front faces of the earth shelter project.

We had the ICF crew come up to start installing the ICFs during the week of Christmas. I had pushed the local crew hard up until that point and after three weeks of working dawn until dark, we were ready for the ICFs to be installed. We still had more rebar to install and tie, but that was in areas away from the ICF walls. As Christmas week progressed, it became obvious that we were not going to hit our mark unless we set up lights and worked basically around the clock. A major winter storm was going to hit on Christmas Eve and the forecasters were calling for a large amount of freezing rain which would eventually be covered with over a foot of snow. Besides the treacherous drive home and ideal conditions for Santa Claus to make his yearly run, we were concerned that the exposed rebar and burlap would be incased in ice and covered in snow for the rest of the winter. If this were the case, there would be no way that we could even dream of spraying the domes with concrete in January. The homeowner started calling every farmer she knew looking for gigantic tarps so that we could cover the domes before the winter storm hit.

tarping 1

We used tarps to keep the snow and ice from packing into the rebar of the earth shelter domes.

It was about 9 o’clock p.m. on December 23rd when I approached the crew leader of the ICF crew at our bunk house and said, “I know that we pushed it hard today, but I think we need to rally the troops, set up some lights, and get back out there about super early”, to which he replied, “ok, let’s do it..” I had worked with this crew on multiple projects and it seems like we were always working in the middle of the night to hit some impossible mark. I might have mentioned that if we didn’t start working in the middle of the night, that we wouldn’t be home until midnight on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t trying to be Scrooge; I was just trying to lead this project the only way I knew how, by being tough and determined.

lights on

Many nights we worked under lights to keep the project racing forward.

The alarm clocks were going off about 1:30 am as everyone was pulling themselves out of bed. It was cold out, so the guys went outside before they got dressed to start up the diesel trucks to let them warm up. I remember hearing one of the trucks struggling to run and it made me think about how much I did not like working in the winter, especially that early in the morning when it was zero degrees out. Regardless, we all had something to eat and headed out to the project to start the day. The generators were running, the lights were on, and we were getting closer to our mark. By the time day light came, the ICF crew leader was already making a call to the concrete company to see what time they could start pouring the ICFs with concrete. On the two sides of the barn, they had installed the ICFs at the full height, which would put the total ICF wall over twenty two feet high. I hoped they knew what they were doing by pouring that much concrete at one time. I kept an eye on the crew leader to make sure he was solid in his decision making ability after being up for so many hours, and I had no reason to believe that he couldn’t pull of that big of a pour.

concrete trucks

Concrete trucks stage as they wait their turn with the concrete pump truck.

The crew I was leading was getting the rebar tied into the ICF walls and getting ready to start draping the massive tarps over the domes. Climbing the domes in the dark was tricky, but we were all in our zone and singing Christmas songs to pass the time. As the sky was thickening up with the dark clouds of the impending winter storm, the first of many concrete trucks arrived to start pouring the ICF walls.

crew with tarps


We covered all the tops of the domes up with massive tarps normally used to cover hay.

Click here for Part 5 to see if the crews make it home before the big storm hit the project. The story continues after Christmas as the crew size dwindles and the reality of a harsh winter was starting to set in.

snow removal

Winter started to set in and snow removal became part of the daily routine.

For videos that cover each stage of this project, visit our online videos here.

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. 


Welcome back for Part 3. To get caught up to speed, please read parts 1 and 2 if you have not already.

The process has begun

It was a lonely Friday morning on the earth shelter project, as I was the only one of site. I decided to try to figure out how to install the burlap material and spend the entire weekend perfecting what I learned so that when Monday came, I would know how to train the local army of workers that would be showing up to work on the project. As I was unrolling a large roll of burlap covered wire mesh, I heard a vehicle pulling up in the parking area.

I recognized the vehicle, it was the lead concrete guy who was coming back to pull form boards off of a footing they poured the day before. The concrete guy’s name was Whitey One and he had his adult son with him who was named Whitey Two. People who worked with them called them Whitey because they worked in the sun every day, yet they were pale as if their skin never seen the sun. Whitey One was like most old salts in the concrete business, he was rough around the edges, very proud of what he did, and if he liked you, was actually kind if he wanted to be.  I appreciated that, because I know he recognized my ambitious nature and the ‘deer in the headlights’ look that I had on my face. I asked Whitey One and Whitey Two if they had time to help me figure out how to install the burlap covered wire mesh, they both said ‘Yup” as they spat their chewing tobacco juice on the freshly poured concrete floor. I decided to listen carefully to their conversation to look for any clues that might help me to understand the process better.

Color coded wire mesh schedule

The first part of this process that I was trying to figure out was how to connect the wire mesh, which had burlap attached to it, to the metal frames of the earth shelter domes. The earth shelter company sent what was basically a ‘wire mesh schedule’ which showed where each piece of burlap was supposed to go. I was surprised to hear Whitey One say, “Hey Whitey Two, go out to the truck and get some linesman pliers.” (A clue!) I was taken back that someone’s dad would call them Whitey Two and I was intrigued to find out what their real names were and also what linesman pliers were. Linesman pliers were for working with rebar, the Whiteys were using the pliers to tie pieces of wire around the wire mesh to hold the sheets to the steel earth shelter frame. I felt like a third wheel because I did not have linesman pliers and I was trying my best not to look like a fool as I tried to twist the wire by hand.

Me with my first pair of linesman's pliers on top of one of the domes

That night, I drove into town to stay at the homeowner’s business which used to be a funeral home. They had bedrooms in the upstairs area and it was nice to be in town and close to stores, normally that is not the case when we work out of town. I was reassured that there were no ghosts there and it made sense when the homeowner reiterated that it no one ever died there so there shouldn’t be any ghosts... After I got settled at the funeral home turned store front, I went to the local Menards and bought every pair of linesman pliers that they had. Guess who I saw at Menards that night? The Whiteys! “The chewing tobacco was making its mark on their teeth” I thought, as they both smiled at me and my cart full of linesman pliers.

Over the weekend, the process started to make sense to me and I was becoming confident that I would be able to lead the crew of local laborers that upcoming Monday. I decided to stop early that Sunday to go back to town and rest up for the next day. I was excited that evening as I turned the light off in my room and drifted off to sleep half thinking about staying in a funeral home and half wondering how the next day was going to go.

The rebar tieing crew and me as the team leader

I got to the jobsite early to get ready for the army of people who would be showing up that day. The homeowner told me that she had selected everyone ahead of time and that all I had to do was find stuff for them to do. I found out quickly that that was not the case. Most of the morning saw guys walking up the third of a mile long driveway who had been dropped off at the road. They had heard there was work, and because Michigan was in a great recession at the time, more people than we needed showed up to get work. I was not happy to turn away people who needed to work, but I needed competent hard working people on the crew or else we were not going to hit our mark. We sifted through the group of workers until we had the crew size that we needed with the right mix of talent. The main goal for this group was to install the burlap covered wire mesh, all of the rebar, close to 3 miles of re-bar tie wire and over 100,000 rebar ties all in an attempt to get ready for the shot-crete outer shell.

Winter was closing in as we raced to finish the wire mesh and rebar installation

I remember hearing the homeowner shouting my name and asking me to come down from the top of one of the domes. When I got down I saw that she was standing with a guy who looked tough and nice at the same time. I immediately said, “We got all the people we need”. I said that because I thought the homeowner wanted me to get her out of that situation. She spoke up and said, “No, I think you should give this guy a shot.” I said, “Excuse us”, and the homeowner and I took a walk. She told me that there was something good about this guy and that we needed to find him something to do. I told her to give him a shovel and to have him start shoveling snow off of the footings. I knew from experience that the only way someone wouldn’t walk off of a job after shoveling all day is if they had a good work ethic and good character. This guy not only stayed all day, but he became my really good friend; his name is Crazy Joe.

We formed a brotherhood building this project by being really tough and laughing a lot

If not for Crazy Joe, we would never have been able to complete the project. Most of the people who came up that driveway that first week were eventually either asked to leave or were ushered to the road because of how they were acting or working on the job. Crazy Joe was a great worker and had a great skill set. It didn’t take long until he and I were working side by side and getting more done than the other groups of workers who were still on site working. We had to work as hard and efficiently as possible to try to hit the mid January warm up that we hoped would happen.

Click here for Part 4 to see how the project started to take shape and how we dealt with the severe winter weather that continued to hit the project. View the videos of this project on Vimeo.

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.


 exterior photo

The owners of the first LEED Certified home in Alaska spoke with Viva Green Homes to share what it’s like to buy, sell and market an eco friendly home…and would they do it again?

Tony & Valerie Reichstein purchased their Juneau, Alaska home two years ago when a work transfer brought their family to the area. At the time, one of the most important elements in their home search was energy efficiency, knowing that the Alaskan climate would bring about some hefty heating bills if they didn’t pick the right house. Lucky for them not only did they find an energy efficient home, they purchased the first Alaskan LEED certified home and have been impressed with its performance and design ever since.

Learn more about the LEED certification and USGBC.

living room

“We stay warm in the winter and cool on the hot days in the summer…There are no drafty or cold areas. Everyone is comfortable all year long.” The family credits the comfort of their home to the many aspects including the design, construction and efficient systems, a collaboration that is true to LEED certified built homes. “Our heating system is a combination of an electric heat pump that provides both heating and cooling, as well as in-floor radiant heat that is driven off a separate electric water heater. Because the house is so air tight, there is a HRV (heat return ventilation) system that continually pulls air out of the house and replaces it with fresh outside air after passing it through a heat exchanger.”

They also found that the home has additional unexpected benefits too. “The house is easy to maintain, cleans up easy after a hard winter. Because of the air handling systems, we don’t have problems with mold or bad indoor air quality that many complain of in this area.”


Now that they have listed the home for sale, they are finding that owning a LEED certified home has some resale advantages too. Being LEED Certified “will help our home stand out from others when those buyers are looking for features specific to our home.”

In a market where buyers have many housing options, owning a LEED certified home can be the one thing that makes the buyer choose it over the others. Admittedly, while most people are becoming aware of and have heard of “LEED”, there’s still a learning curve on what a LEED certified home entails and the benefits of owning one.


When asked if the Reichstein family would choose a green or energy efficient home all over again their response was very clear…Yes, they would. “We are currently looking for our next home. We will most likely add energy efficient features to it should the one we buy be lacking in those areas.”

Some tips from the homeowners on buying a LEED certified or green home:

1. Don’t get hung up on price. There is a premium to a green home, but you are buying better systems that will pay off both in the short term and long term.

2. Take some time to learn and understand how the systems in your home work. That way you know how to change the set up from one season to the next to maximize the efficiencies built into your home.

Photos courtesy of listing agent, Debbie White, Prudential SE Alaska 

For more tips on buying a green home take a look at the article 6 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Green Home.

Be sure to visit Viva Green Homes to see LEED certified and green homes for sale of all kinds.

Contact Debbie White for listing information.

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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