Green Homes

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

Add to My MSN


Living in Michigan, I'm used to the cold. I'm prepared each October when it's time to turn the heat back on. Still, we avoid it for as long as possible, because the cost of heating a home is not cheap. In fact, propane is more than $2.00 a gallon and unless you use alternative methods to heat your home, you'll spend thousands each year to stay warm.

Cost is a primary reason we strive to lower our heating bill and save energy, however possible. One way to do this is through installing the right window treatments. Considering that windows can be responsible for up to 40 percent of heat loss in a home, it's smart to fully consider the ways to cut that percentage and not waste heat that reaches the outdoors.

Before actually choosing window treatments, do an energy audit to access where you have the most air leaking from; this helps to determine which windows will need the most attention. We purchased an energy audit IR thermometer and were able to quickly see the temperature rating and then compare our efforts in winterizing our home. It helped for us to see the difference that keeping blinds closed and adding thermal drapes.

Next, make sure you've caulked and winterized your windows. This is the most important step in avoiding any loss of heat. Make sure you've installed storm windows, inspected for leaks and caulked where necessary.

Now that you've taken these steps, here are some tips and ideas for choosing window treatments specifically for saving energy in your home:

1. Consider adding a clear winterizing film on the interior of your window. This helps to avoid any loss of heat, and you can still see through your window if installed correctly. It's a budget-friendly way to conserve energy without spending money for new windows.

solar shades 

2. If you choose window drapes, consider drapes that are made to block out the sunlight and trap heat indoors. These are often made of a heavy fabric, with an edging or tab that goes beyond the window frame to block air from leaving the side of the window. They're specifically made to insulate your home and protect from heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the hot summer months. You'll find a variety of colors and styles, including thermal drapes, which are often more expensive but well worth the cost to save you money in the long run. They're typically machine-washable for easy cleaning, which is a bonus, too!

3. Consider making your own quilted window drapes. If you're the type of person that likes to take on a project, making your own heavy quilted window coverings is a fun project with huge dividends. Here's another DIY option for making thermal curtains. The bonus to making your own is that you can reuse quilts and fabric that you have at home, or pick out fabric and material that matches your home décor.

wooden blinds 

4. Choose heavy wooden blinds. Heavy wooden blinds are harder to clean but they do a good job (when kept closed) at keeping your heat indoors. When paired with clear winterizing film and/or thermal drapes, you have an even better energy saving option. We like the look of wood blinds and use them in our own home.

5. Consider foam board insulation for the exterior of infrequently used windows. If you have a window that you don't necessarily look out of often, foam board on outside can form a strong protective barrier to keep cold out and heat in.

We do this at our own home, using R-7.5 foam board that is 1-1/2 inches think. The board is not pretty, but when we used our IR thermometer we noticed a 10-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature. It's worth the ugly board on windows we don't look out of often. I don't recommend doing this on the road-facing side of your home, as it certainly doesn't have curb appeal.

New windows aren't cheap, so if you don't have the budget to replace old windows, definitely consider window treatments that will help insulate your home during the winter and summer months. Hopefully these tips will help you choose the right window treatments for your home to save energy and cut costs. Stay warm this winter!

Photos by Sommer Poquette

Sommer Poquette is a popular mom blogger who focuses on green home DIY for The Home Depot. Sommer's energy-saving window treatment tips are designed to help you cut down on energy costs with the current windows you have installed. For a broad selection of window treatments, including those discussed by Sommer, you can 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.



Thank you for coming back for the conclusion of Icicles! In Part 1, I mentioned that I had found the source of the heat that was causing the massive ice buildup on this house in Michigan. I also presented three options to fix this problem. If you have not guessed yet, option three was the best fit for this project.

Not many people know about nail based panels, which are available through our structural insulated panel (SIP) supplier. Nail based panels are designed to be installed on the top of an existing roof deck and are available in a number of thicknesses. Because the house that we were fixing already had good insulation and ventilation, we chose a 5½-inch thick foam nail based panels to stop the heat loss through the existing roof deck.

panel 1

There was quite a difference in costs for the three different scenarios that I had come up with to stop the ice build up on the roof. When we sat down and went over the pricing, the path of least resistance and damage to the existing finishes inside the house was the deciding factor. With a nail based panel, the only labor cost we would have is installing the panels. There would be no need for a massive cleanup effort like there would be if we attacked this issue from the inside of the house. The cost of the nail based panels are about $2.65 per square foot which is more expensive than spray foam but required minimal effort versus what we would have to do to prep the attic area for spray foam. The SIP company wanted $450 to deliver the panels to the jobsite, but The Rev opted to go get the panels with his trailer to cut down on costs on this project. The panels are 4 feet by 8 feet, just like a sheet of plywood.

Remember, that the original goal was to put a metal roof on this house, so the nail based panels gave us a great setup for the new metal roof! It was a no brainer to us; all we had to do was figure out how we were going to do the work four stories above the ground.

The Process, The Fix

I am going to tell you how we fixed this house. This should not be attempted by anyone unless they know what they are doing and have proper fall protection and safety gear. The height of this project was staggering and all necessary safety precautions were taken.

The first step in any project is to make sure everything that you are going to use is staged properly. Moving product around takes time and if you have built up the nerve to work ‘in the clouds’, you want to make sure that you are spending that time working and not digging product out of the snow.

I really wanted to do this fix in the dead of our Michigan winter so that we could see the results immediately, normally, it would be nicer to do roof work during any other time of the year than winter. We started the install of the nail based panels by first cutting the existing drip edge off the roof so that we could have a flush roof edge to flush the nail based panels off of. We left the existing shingles on the roof and any flashing in place because the foam of the panels presses nicely around all the shingles and flashing when we screw the panels down.

When you order the nail based panels, a decent drawing of the exact size of the roof is required so that you end up with the correct amount of panels. They normally do not send out an entire roof layout, just a layout of how a panel should be set. For us, we determined that we would have 3-inch strips left once we laid the panels over the entire roof surface. From experience, we knew that we would put those “rippers” in between full panels and not at the edge of the roof. We need the support of the entire panel for when we put the 2x6 sub-fascia boards into the edges of the nail based panels.

panel 2

We started on the lower edge of the roof with our first panel. Like anything else, we have to make sure that this panel is set properly because the rest of the roof layout depends on it. This also happens to be the toughest panel to set, because you are hanging over the edge of the roof. We take the extra time to make sure that this first panel is true to the roof lines, and once that panel is in place, we screw it down with the long screws and washers that come with the panels.

We foam between each panel and have found through experience that there is no need to offset the panels. There is the exact same amount of ‘exposure’ whether you offset the panels or not. This exposure is basically where the panels come together. The panels go down quickly and we had the entire roof of panels installed in just a few hours.

Once all of the panels are set and securely screwed down to the existing roof, we install the 2-by-6 sub-fascia around the perimeter of the roof by insetting the board into the grooved edges of the nail based panels. We learned to rip about 1/4-inch off of the 2-by-6 so that we do not have to fight with the board while up in the air. The 5-1/4-inch ‘ripped’ boards slide in the slots without a fight and then we staple and nail them in securely.

snow blow

We finished this work on an evening that we got about 3 inches of snow. The first thing we noticed when we came in that next morning is that the panels were evenly covered in snow. The existing roof under the panels never had an even blanket of snow on it; the roof was losing so much heat, that it never gave snow a chance to build up on it. We knew that we had fixed the heat loss problem; now all we had to do was blow the snow off and finish the roof.


We bent our own fascia metal using a thick gauge 12 inch coil stock and a siding breaking. We bent the metal so that there was a 3/4-inch reveal on the bottom and 11-1/4-inch face. Once installed, this fascia not only made the edges of the old and new roof look great, it protected that edge from the elements. With the new, crisp fascia installed, we could then start installing the metal roof and metal roof trims.

metal panel

The metal roof panels were thirty two feet long and getting them up onto the upper roof was a real challenge. Piece by piece, we installed the metal roof panels and metal roof trims until we were done. The last metal roof panel and edge trim required extra help from a local tree service company who were able to reach the top corner of the roof.


We finished the roof just in time for a six inch snow fall. We were all excited to see that there was an even blanket of snow on the new roof and not one icicle! Mission accomplished!


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.


When choosing new flooring, watch your step. You'll often hear the phrase, “Kitchens and baths sell homes” and that's mostly true. But in my experience as a northern Virginia Realtor, it’s not the whole picture. Yes an ugly, outdated kitchen will be a turn off for many buyers. But so will flooring. When a buyer first walks up to a home, curb appeal is the first thing they see. But flooring is the second. Imagine you open up the door and you look down to watch your step coming into the home. What’s the first thing you see? Is it a beautiful wood floor or neutral colored carpet? Or is it a linoleum from the 1970s? Yikes! Before that buyer has even made it to the kitchen or bathroom, they’ve already started thinking about how much money, time, and effort it will take to replace the flooring that they cannot stand. The color and the type can be a turn off to potential buyers, so choose wisely. And when you are trying to remodel or build a sustainable home, choose even more wisely.

There are really two things to think about when choosing your floor: your home’s location (region) and your sustainable options.

Thinking regionally matters a whole lot. If your home is in the Northeast, a home with tile throughout is not common and will not appeal to the majority of buyers for instance. Instead, the buyers that see your home will be thinking about all the negatives of replacing all or most of the flooring in a home. If you don’t know what’s common in your region, then here’s a pretty quick homework assignment. Go to any one of the major real estate websites. Type in your city or state to see the homes that are currently on the market. Likely the second or third photo in, you will see the types of flooring used throughout the home and once you’ve seen a common theme of flooring choices; tile, carpet, or wood, you get the idea of what’s considered common in your location. But don’t discount the appeal of alternative choices like concrete, cork, or recycled tile. These choices could be close enough to the more common flooring options out there, but a much more sustainable option.

Thinking regionally also matters to the materials sourced. If material you choose is considered sustainable (recycled, reclaimed, easily renewable resource for example), but it is sourced and delivered from another part of the world, then you have to consider the products overall sustainability qualities. Does it have a large carbon foot because of where it was sourced, manufactured and then delivered? Or if it was sourced from another country, at least be sure that it was part of a sustainably managed forest. Does its packaging adhere to the overall sustainability of a product? Getting this detailed can take a lot of time and effort. So some companies are starting to use terms like “cradle to grave” sustainable.

In my home, I chose 2 sustainable flooring products; one I love and one that I am not so fond of. So here’s my review of those. I also want to mention that I have no brand affiliation and there are many companies with similar products.

One of my favorite companies trying to achieve a “cradle to grave” sustainable flooring product is FLOR, which produces carpet tiles. “At FLOR, environmental consciousness is built into every sourcing, design and production decision we make – like manufacturing over 95 percent of our product line in the USA; offering a Return & Recycle Program to turn old FLOR into new products; and, transitioning our entire collection to 100 percent recycled fiber.”

Photo by FLOR

But not only does FlOR promote a cradle to grave product, in place of regular carpet, carpet tiles can drastically reduce the amount of carpet waste that ends up in landfills. And, not to mention, they’ve been a lifesaver in my home. Shortly after buying my home, DC had one of its all-to-common floods. The basement carpet that was installed prior to my purchasing the home — trashed. To the street and into the landfill the large roll of carpet went. Instead of replacing the flooring with traditional carpet again, I choose carpet tiles. A few years later another storm came through and the few carpet tiles that got wet were quickly removed, set outside to dry, and repositioned, as good as new. These carpet tiles have lasted for over a decade with many storms, some water leaks, and lots of muddy footprints and are still in great shape, especially since it was a breeze to replace just a few carpet tiles for new ones. For me, the up-front cost was actually cheaper than replacing what could have been repeated carpet installation because of water or regular wear and tear.

On the other hand, not all sustainable flooring options are a home run. One of the hardest decisions I had to make in my sustainable remodel was the flooring in the living areas of the house. Because the home is located in the northeast, wood flooring was the most obvious choice, although I considered alternatives like cork too. But nonetheless I insisted on a sustainable option and finally found a perfect match with pre-finished walnut engineered wood floors. Engineered wood floors are a regionally common flooring choice (wood), a sustainable product (uses less wood per square foot than traditional hardwood flooring) and aesthetically pleasing for my colonial style home. So, you might think that I would use this product again for my future home… Nope. Even though engineered wood floors were touted as very durable when I went to the showroom to browse the options, they have been the biggest cause of stress in my entire home.


We live in our home, it’s not a showroom. So what does that mean? That means my small dogs like to run and play with their toys in the home. After gardening or running, I come inside with my shoes to grab a quick drink from the fridge. And if you read my last blog, you’ll know that we enjoy entertaining (my husband makes a very good craft cocktail), which means I have some very nice parties where high-heeled shoes make an appearance. My floors definitely look like they’ve been through it all. Even sliding my bar stool back created scratches in the floor that really stand out. Well how are you supposed to sit in a chair without moving it first? These floors are beautiful, but the stress I’ve had since the first day of owning them and seeing that first scratch across the floor has made me think, “I’ll never use these again.” Engineered floors can be refinished, but only a couple of times since the top wood layer is very thin. And to be fair, I think that engineered floors, depending on the type of wood used, brands and so on, can have varying strengths and durability. So, just do some homework and read reviews before falling in love with this product.

But no matter what flooring you choose, choose wisely and choose sustainably.

The below are additional suggestions to help give you more information and options on sustainable flooring.

Sustainable Wood Flooring:

Reclaimed wood flooring.

Bamboo: This product tends to be sourced in China, which should be considered in its overall sustainability.

EcoTimber can bring positive change to the management of forest ecosystems worldwide by offering wood products from 3rd party independently audited sustainably managed forests and recycled and rapidly renewable bamboo and cork products.


Cork: Comes now in many designs and colors.

Lumber Liquidators: Naturally cushioned, cork floors are produced by peeling away the bark without destroying the tree. Better yet, cork is also a great sound and thermal insulator.

Sustainable Carpet:

Mohawk Flooring: Recycles Bottles into Beautiful Carpet


FLOR carpet tiles: uses recycled and renewable materials in the carpet and has a recycling program for used tiles, and the product itself is uniquely designed to have less waste by allowing homeowners to replace worn or stained tiles individually, instead of replacing a whole room. Carpet tiles are more costly than regular carpet, for sure. But they are inherently longer lasting. Replace one or a few tiles and not the whole room.

Sustainable Tile:

Glass Tile from Fireclay

Bedrock Industries Floor Tiles

Terra Green Ceramics

Sustainable Laminate:

Two Armstrong Commercial Laminate collections – Armstrong Premium and Premium Lustre – contain 14 percent rapidly renewable resources in the form of eucalyptus and contribute to the MR4.0 LEED rating system.

Photo by Armstrong

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.


Suburban Permaculture House And Garden

Transformation work started on this quarter-acre suburban property in 2,000. The site is flat, good soil with good solar access. It's in a suburban neighborhood; the house was built in 1956. The intention from the start was to do a permaculture makeover to take care of more needs closer to home.

For this blog post, I would like to describe my rain water catchment system, an intention from the start and first time ever for me.

Sizing a Rainwater Catchment System

Catch and store rain in the Pacific Northwest? That's right. Its dry here in the summer. We can go two months with, essentially, no rain. The reasons for the system are partly for irrigation, drinking if I need to and “green preparedness..” The plastic for all these tanks is polyethylene and is food grade, made without chlorine.

Useful info: An inch of rain on 1,000 square feet comes out to about 550 gallons. Many suburban homes will have a roof of 2,000 square feet if not more. For a roof of 2,100 square feet, multiply 550 times 2, times 30 inches of rain, for example, and that comes out to 33,000 gallons. You can look at your water bill to gain a sense of reference.

I visited a retail tank store 40 miles away, that sold ag and water tanks. I went to the place in person, looked around and found two used tanks I was not told about on the phone. They are both oblong tanks that would have been mounted on the back of a flat bed truck. They are 1,600 gallons each and I paid very little for them, even delivered. I had to fix a leak on one of them.

Suburban Front Yard Wastewater Catchment 

Note that if you think you will save money with a rainwater system, that is not likely going to happen. If you have city water, like I do, it is priced so cheaply that the “value” of a full 1,600 gallon tank is about $5. So that's a lot of tanks of water to pay off a new tank that can easily cost $500 to a thousand dollars depending on the size. Tank lifespan? With care, a tank will last over 20 years.

Siting and Roofing for Rainwater Catchment

Once delivered, mine had to be moved to their locations, close to downspouts in places that had less value for other uses. When empty, these tanks could be pushed by two people on wooden planks, like rails. When full, one tank weighs 13,300 lbs.

The front yard tank required the gutters to be reversed so they flowed towards the tank. I had to direct the water over a window, join up with another down spout and then into the tank. All the acqueduct material is off the shelf, simple vinyl downspouts. The back yard tank was a bit more complicated with a 90-degree turn, under a window and around a corner to the man hole. It was a thrill the first time it rained and I was there to see the trickle come into the tank.

Rainwater Catchment Gutter Network 

Catchment surface: I started out with a regular asphalt shingle roof. A PhD chemist friend told me once that if a shingle roof is a few years old, there is little danger of contamination from the shingles. The shingles do catch a lot of dirt and some bird pooh. Water from these tanks is for irrigation purposes only and not direct ingestion.

Later, I re-roofed my house using galvalume standing seam metal. Very nice. Many sources strongly recommend galvalume. Its an alloy finish, it is not paint. The alloy is zinc and aluminum applied in an industrial process. The Texas Rain Water Handbook recommends galvalume if you want to drink the water. Of course, you still need to sanitize the water.

I installed another tank in about 2008. The new tank is 3,000 gallons, that's eight feet in diameter and eight high, up to where side becomes top. That tank was bought new on line and catches water from the roof of a detached structure behind the main house which also has a galvalume roof. This tank, in combo with a Berkey ceramic gravity filter makes water great for off the grid drinking.

Suburban Rainwater Catchment System 

Using and Filtering Rainwater

To distribute the water, I run a hose from the tank to a 50-gallon barrel out in the garden. My garden area is not so much, so it's simple to dip a watering can in the barrel and water. Its good to make a circular dike around plants, if possible, to contain the water where you want it. Soaker hoses that don't need much pressure can work, too. Even the large tank produces only a 2- or 3-foot water “push” out from the end of a hose. I have my tanks up on blocks, about a foot off the ground.

Benefits from the tanks are numerous. It's really educational in the summer to actually see the level of the tank go down as its used for irrigation. It's a much more tangible way to understand what it takes to maintain a garden. That means it should create a new level of respect and care for resources used.

My total storage of close to 6,500 gallons will take care of my garden over a summer that is on the dry side. With our winters, the smaller tanks can fill up 5 or 6 times. The large tank maybe twice. In a crisis, is there water for both plants and people? That depends what time of year.

The only pre-filter of water entering the tank is a window screen. I have cleaned out the tanks after ten years and found the accumulated muck filled about one fifth of a 5 gallon bucket. No problem with bugs.

Rainwater Catchment Filtration System 

Home Economics on the Suburban Frontier

Catching rainfall is part of “home economics,” taking care of more needs closer to home. Home economics is part of a larger ideal of replacing some of the money economy with a home economy. When friends and neighbors are doing this and people work together, the scale can increase so more needs can be taken care of closer to home. There are a couple dozen others nearby also into life on the suburban frontier.

Of course, important to home economics and resilient living is to reduce other needs as well – food, energy, water and more as you can. Some people call it "downsizing" or "voluntary simplicity." If enough people quit buying products that were not healthy for people and planet, those products might go away along with the companies that make them.

Catching rainwater is great fun. It connects a person directly to the real world. It makes for a more resilient home, along with home production of food, energy and whatever else can help replace the mainstream economy.

Rainwater Catchment System Tank 

You can see many photos of my rain water system and other projects at my place near Eugene, Oregon, plus, galleries of nearby properties and permaculture sites elsewhere in the Northwest and beyond. Go to Suburban Permaculture for more 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. 


green building

These days, sometimes businesses toss around the word “green” to be hip or fit in, hoping that by relaying the color to you, you’ll somehow be swooned into believing their company and products are the most environmentally conscious ever assembled.

The truth of the matter is that while many people use the word “green” to describe their products, it’s worth doing a little bit of research to determine just how much merit that adjective has when applied to their particular projects.

So what exactly is green building? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, green building is the process which encapsulates creating structures in an environmentally friendly and efficient way. The process starts when the plans for the building come into being, and it doesn’t end until the building is deconstructed however many years in the future. Simply put, green building involves doing all that is within our power to cause as little damage to the environment as possible while producing buildings that perform at the highest levels.

In the building world, if you really want to understand how green a project is, you’ll need to become familiarized with LEED certification. Generally speaking, LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is a set of standards that when passed prove that a building was constructed remarkably green-friendly. From homes to facilities to public buildings, LEED is a versatile standard in the sense that it can be applied to virtually all construction projects.

For example, a building might be declared LEED-certified if it:

• Was built with recycled materials
• Caused little-to-none environmental damage during construction
• Is considerably energy-conscious
• Minimizes greenhouse gas emissions
• Conserves water admirably
• Remains clean over time

Digging deeper, let’s take a look at some of the more specifics involved in green construction.

What are the Greenest Building Supplies?

Many people assume that using timber to build houses, office buildings and other structures must be environmentally friendly because you’re using wood that’s been harvested from the earth. Well, that might be true, but you can’t forget where the wood originated, how much energy was spent shipping it to your location and whether or not trees were felled in an eco-friendly way.

Some say concrete is one of the greenest building materials – even if it might be one of the uglier ones. Concrete is made of small stones – also from the earth – which are bound together by cement. As a result, this material will stand the test of time. But the costs of shipping heavy concrete can be quite prohibitive, too.

The Conclusion?

Well, there’s no such thing as “the greenest building material” because all materials have a negative impact on the environment in one way or another. As such, all projects lend themselves to different “green” materials, depending on the circumstances.

If you’re building next to a quarry, for example, you might want to use concrete because you’ve got a whole stockpile of stones right nearby. If you’re building next to a forest that’s regularly mined for timber in a sustainable way, maybe wood is the material that works best.

Because all projects are different, they have different requirements to become green buildings. The key to sustainability is to bring a green mindset to all construction projects. That way, you’re able to reduce your impact on the environment as much as possible, while building useful, eco-friendly structures.

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.


Samsung fridge This 25 cu. ft. Samsung fridge meets the new Energy Star criteria that went into effect in Sep. 2014, and has enough room to fit 25 bags of groceries.

As of September 2014, all refrigerators and freezers were required to meet new federal minimum energy-efficiency standards. Additionally, to gain the coveted Energy Star label, an appliance has to be at least 10 percent more efficient than the new standards. This change, first announced in April 2013, saw manufacturers scurrying to remake their machines to comply. What this means for us as eco-conscious consumers is that the Energy Star rated fridges and freezers you see in the stores today are the most energy efficient models ever made.

"Ten percent may not seem like a big number," Ann Bailey of Energy Star says, "but when you look at what that means across all of the sales, when all refrigerators have met those requirements, the difference amounts to the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road-and $890 million in energy savings."

The updated requirements not only raise the bar for energy efficiency in refrigeration, but they also introduce, for the first time, the idea that putting Wi-Fi into a fridge could help with energy savings. The new Energy Star rating has optional guidelines for manufacturers to include "connected" features.

We already have "smart" thermostats that monitor the energy use of our HVAC system-the largest consumer of household energy-so it's a logical step to find a way to similarly empower the second largest household energy consumer: the fridge. However, the idea of fridges being connected to the Internet has heretofore primarily been the subject of ridicule, following the unfortunate fridge that sent out spam emails.

The question, "Why do we need our fridges to talk to the outside world?" is a valid one, but the answer is not just about being able to tweet while taking out the turkey-it's about being able to monitor and consequently adapt the appliance's energy use.

Connecting a refrigerator is not a requirement of the Energy Star program, however. Should a fridge be connected, the EPA recommends that the "appliance be required to enable communication in response to consumer-authorized energy related commands." These include:

• Being capable of receiving and responding to remote commands
• Provide energy consumption reporting
• Provide Demand Response status (normal operation, delay appliance load, temporary appliance load reduction) to energy management systems
• Send messages relevant to consumption of energy (such as door left open, product lost power, reminder to clean coils, or a report when consumption is outside the normal range)
• The capability to delay the defrost cycle to align with summer and winter peak demand periods

"These features would offer consumers more ways to reduce the energy consumption of their refrigerators and freezers, help lower their utility bills, and better protect the environment and the climate," says the EPA.

Energy Star connected fridges

This EPA diagram shows how a connected refrigerator/freezer system could communicate with energy management programs, including your utility company.

There are no connected fridges on the market right now, but GE launches their new connected fridge in the spring of 2015 and others are sure to follow suit shortly thereafter. Currently, GE is touting the ability of its fridge to send you alerts and reminders, such as when it's time for a replacement filter or if the door has been left opened, but features such as those described above won't be far behind.

In the meantime, if you are shopping for a new, non-smart Energy Star fridge today, make sure you look for the new Energy Guide labels that reflect the updated ratings. You'll know the difference by the writing; if it's yellow writing, it's new; black writing, it's old. The new guidelines use different calculations, so you can't compare an old Energy Guide label with a new one.

Old label

New Energy Guide Label

On the left is the old Energy Star label with black writing. On the right is the new Energy Star label, which you will find on all models that qualify for the newer, better 2014 Energy Star rating. It is distinguishable by its yellow writing.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about green appliance topics for Home Depot. Jennifer's energy-saving refrigerator tips are focused on providing homeowners with the latest up-to-date news in this fast-changing field. You can view many energy-saving models of refrigerators, including types referenced by Jennifer, online at 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.


People travel to The Farm Community in Summertown, Tennessee because it has one of the largest concentrations of "green" construction and energy efficient homes and commercial buildings you will find anywhere. One of the most innovative and ambitious examples of green construction on The Farm in recent years is an “earth shelter.” It was originally built to house as office space for one of the community’s members, and is now serving as a place for women coming to The Farm to have their baby delivered by one of the community's midwives.

The back and sides of the structure are submerged into the side of a hill, using the thermal mass of the earth to insulate and regulate temperatures inside the building.

These three walls are built from cinder blocks filled with concrete and rebar (more mass) that have been properly treated to eliminate moisture from passing through to the inside. The block interior walls are surfaced with smooth river rock, both beautiful in appearance and adding to the thermal mass.

The south face of the building is made primarily of glass. Light entering the building in winter months strikes the cement slab and Vermont slate floor, along with block exterior and interior walls, warming the thermal mass of the entire structure.

In addition, a split design in the roof provides a row of small windows (also facing south) to help bring in ambient light.

The end result: Very little external heating or cooling is necessary to maintain an even temperature inside the building. Even without added heat, the temperature inside changes very little over night in winter months. On the coldest days when skies are overcast and there is no sunshine, a small wood stove adds supplemental heat, which again is absorbed by the building’s thermal mass.However in summer months, heat absorbed and reflected off the cement patio across the south front causes the building to take on too much heat.

To combat this, a pergola has been built across the front to support a vine which in summer months provides shade. Air conditioning supplements the cooling in order to make work conditions more comfortable.

Reflecting on what might have been done differently to improve the energy efficiency or “green” aspects of the building, one option would have been to choose a different color for the roof. The roof is sheathed with a dark brown enamel coated tin which has a 40 year warranty and never needs painting. The color green was chosen to allow the building to better blend in with the environment, important since the structure is located only a short distance below the owner’s home. However a white or lighter color would have reflected rather than absorbed heat and could have helped keep the building cooler during Tennessee’s long, hot summers.

There’s one other aspect of sustainability around this site that is worth mentioning. Directly adjacent to the home is a fenced garden. Periodically throughout the day, time can be spent in the garden, planting, weeding, and harvesting, all following the permaculture model that sees home, work and food production as an integrated system. All in all it is a powerful example of the sustainable lifestyle.

Read about other green buildings at The Farm Community in an earlier blog for Mother Earth News about my home, a recycled log cabin. Or better yet, come see these and many other great examples of green construction during one of my Farm Experience Weekends, held every year March, through October. I guarantee it will open your eyes to the potential of possibility!

Douglas Stevenson is a long term member of The Farm Community, one of the largest and oldest ecovillages in the world. He is the author of The Farm Then and Now, a Model for Sustainable Living sold in MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Notable New Books. He is also the host of GreenLife Retreats, including The Farm Experience Weekend and workshops on organic gardening, sustainability, and living the green life!

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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.