Green Homes

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1/28/2015

earth shelter sketch 2

Welcome back for Part 3! I have noticed that I always get a lot of attention when we build or I write about underground homes. What I have found, is that underground homes get attention from more people who are not interested in building them as are. That is a great thing! While we were building the largest underground and off-the-grid farm on the planet, a.k.a. The Earth Shelter Project Michigan, I would put out a weekly online video of the project. (Those videos are still available on my website.) Those videos were viewed all around the world and I would get all sorts of emails from people. The majority of the emails were extremely positive and came from big cities like New York, Seattle, and Chicago! The people emailing me would root us on and encourage us to keeping working so that they could see the next stage of the project. Building any project is a very exciting time and people usually start stopping by to see what’s going on…the Internet has allowed people to ‘stop by’ from all over the world and that is really neat because we can spread awareness of protecting our planet and building smart to a larger audience!

If you have not read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, it would be beneficial for you to do that so that you understand more about what I am talking about in Part 3.

In the past posts, we discussed how to get started with an underground home. We discussed finding the right land and what earth shelter designs work well with different contours on the land. We also discussed what a soil report is and why it is required when it comes to engineering an underground and/or earth shelter structure.

me at prints

Design Process

This is an important and exciting phase of the process; you get to see your ideas come to life on paper! Before the drawing happens, you will discover that there is still so much for a designer or architect to know. They will ask you about your family routines, how many bedrooms you want, room configurations, and other important things that factor into an ideal design. If you have ever dealt with an architect or designer who actually cared about what you wanted, then you can expect the same kind of treatment with the earth shelter company designers.

The square foot price that I posted in the previous post included the design fees of an earth shelter, based on the fees from a domed earth shelter supply company. Most times, an estimate for an earth shelter ‘kit’ (steel structural, rebar, shotcrete, etc) doesn’t include the design fees. This can be another reality check in pricing of an earth shelter/ underground project. The design fees can add an additional $10,000-$20,000 to the cost of your earth shelter project. It can be argued that this same design cost is associated with above ground homes and I would agree with that, except that the process and clientele is different, so the additional cost of designing can sting a little bit to the earth shelter client.

The great thing about using an earth shelter design company to create your designs is that all they do and know are earth shelters, so they will get you dialed in to what you are looking for based on the style earth shelter kits that they sell. The prints from these companies that I have worked off of, or seen, are professionally done and include incredible detail! I remember thinking ‘Wow” when I saw my first set of earth shelter building plans.

The designers at these domed earth shelter companies are also really good at interior layouts because they are used to working with radiuses and the space you have (or don’t have) when you consider that your ceilings are domed. Working with the designers on the phone and over the Internet can be challenging to people who expect immediate responses to their questions and concerns. Because of this, it is important to remember that you have to expect a delay between when you send an email and when you get a response. Getting the companies to call you back within a week used to be a huge problem and I am happy to report that the response time has improved immensely.

Once the designers have figured out exactly what you want, they will give you a price to design and engineer your project. Most companies will not charge you anything until they know what you are looking for. As your plans develop, you will get excited to have your very own underground home. The next hardest part of the process is to find someone to build it for you..you will be told that you can build it yourself, and maybe you can. I have built enough underground homes to know that you have to have the ability to keep methodical through the entire process, even if it means pumping water at 2 am while the rest of your project team are nestled comfortably in their beds. The ending stages of any project can be as challenging as the beginning stages because people get tired, anxious, confused, over confident, and just about anything else and human nature makes us want to quit. I know of several earth shelters/ underground homes that are not finished because the homeowners either ran out of money or motivation to finish the project.

Another Option

Another form of design for earth shelters is when more than one style of earth shelter/underground home is combined to form a ‘hybrid’ underground home. This is a term I coined and use in above and below ground homes with my company Hybrid Homes. I personally design all of our above and below ground homes because most of them include a combination of styles and components that can confuse traditional designers and builders.

If you called a domed earth shelter company, they would design you a domed earth shelter. What I am proposing as another option, for example, is to create a design that combines a flat roof underground home with a domed tunnel or garage. That is just one example; we have also built above ground homes that had underground domed structures and walkways attached to them. Most combinations of building components are possible. Can you imagine the possibilities?! If you have an idea that other people think you are ‘crazy’ for considering, or maybe you just want to get some input on an idea of yours, email me directly and I would be happy to hear what you have going on and give you my ‘two cents’.


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.



1/27/2015

Green Homes 

I am just like you — I promise. I troll the internet and news sites looking for anything about new eco products and technologies. It’s like being a kid all over again; the excitement of seeing that new toy, that new idea, that new whatever. Except that sometimes it’s actually not new at all, but an old way of doing things or a simple concept of generations before — but it’s still exciting! You can actually feel the excitement and the anxiety of our generation making leaps towards ways to conserve energy and water, renew and recycle products, all in an effort to modernize and to help save our planet, its resources and, well, let’s be honest, our humanity. It’s a lot to take on. So, I’m starting with the first step: my home and how I’m going to sell and market it now that it incorporates green building features.

Before I welcome you into my home (which typically comes with a craft cocktail made by my husband for guests), I want to let tell you about myself. I recycle, reuse and reduce, I try and find the most environmentally friendly products to use or make and I try to balance my dreams within my sustainable realities. But I’m not perfect and my budget has limits and sometimes my options are too limited for what I want or need to do while trying to live within a “sustainable lifestyle.” As a result, I’m green, but I’m not perfect. So while I write about sustainable living, focusing on housing, I’m going to be realistic for today’s family. Sustainable homes are easy to accomplish if you have some planning and passion. Seriously. It can be that easy. And the return for your wallet, your health and your home’s resale value can be substantial.

Home Remodel 

Green Homes Sell For More

You may have already known about the benefits to your health and wallet from owning a sustainably built (or remodeled) home, but what about your home’s resale value? Did you consider that as well when you paid for those solar panels or that tankless water heater? A home with sustainable features or systems is a premium house. According to the Berkeley Lab newsletter, “New research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds strong evidence that homes with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems sell for a premium over homes without solar systems…This corresponds to an average home sales price premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new 3,100-watt PV system…”

And in my ten years of real estate, I have never heard anyone say “Oh, no, I can’t stand energy-efficient systems or having a lower water or electric bill. I love paying lots of money for my utilities! And you can forget about products that have zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  I just love inhaling toxic compounds. Find me a house that will eat away at my wallet as quickly as it will my health… let’s go!” A buyer will never, ever, say that.

Staircase 

Instead, working with clients as a licensed Realtor in northern Virginia for 10 years, being both a LEED Green Associate and an EcoBroker, I found especially in the past few years, clients constantly requesting to look at homes that are “sustainable” or have green features. They want homes that are energy-efficient — they want to know what the power bill is like. They want to know not just if the systems are new but that they are eco-friendly, too. They want bathrooms and kitchens to have water-saving appliances and fixtures. This is the “now buyer.” And if you are a seller, what are you offering them that is better, more competitive than your neighbor? How are you going to have that premium house and even more importantly how are you going to market it so that it stands out and that you do get the best offer for your home?

How to Market a Green Home

So far, the marketing of these premium homes, otherwise known as “sustainable homes,” has been limited to few websites with outdated listings that cost the seller or agent an arm and a leg to list. As a Realtor trying to market sustainable homes or find green homes for my clients — it was nearly impossible to find an MLS that had a large database of homes that offered me and my clients exactly what they were looking for. And as a homeowner who had invested a lot of money in a green remodel of my own, I was perplexed as to how I was going to show off all the features of my home in a normal MLS listing. With years of research and development, I created a very innovative way to buy, sell, and market sustainable homes called Viva Green Homes.

I took into account homes that were already nationally certified (such as LEED or Energy Star) where a seller could really show off that certification along with all its sustainable features to prospective buyers.

And, of course, I thought about the millions of homes just like mine, with many sustainable products and systems, but not nationally certified. For those homes I wanted them to have a place in the market, too. So with a unique formula, I created a VivaGreen Homes Score, which ranges from 1-5 stars. The VGH Score helps buyers more easily find the level of green home that they are looking for. For instance, a buyer can choose homes across the country that are off-grid with solar and wind power, which will be indicated with a higher VGH score based on the quality and quantity of its green features. Or perhaps a home with Energy Star appliances and a tankless water heater may be just the right amount of green for you and a lower VGH Score is sufficient.

Home Construction 

Remodeling a House with Green Features

If you’re a seller, you may ask yourself, “Why is this type of marketing important to me and my green home?” Well, it’s easy. Remember back when I began to welcome you into my home with that craft cocktail in hand? This is where you come in, take a seat on my comfy sofa in my open-concept living room and kitchen, relax and look around. It’s not a big home, but it’s functional and charming. With frosted glass pocket doors to the office, an original 1930s hallway arch and a sparkling kitchen counter top you think to yourself, This house has character.

Purchased in 2003, my formerly 1930s Cape Cod home was remodeled in 2007 to an attractive, updated-with-period-features, Colonial-style home. Dark hardwood floors, pale blue walls, white trim and white painted brick fireplace, and a French door overlooking a tree-filled backyard and flowers. Cute, right? But how is this house any different than all those other adorable houses on the block? Well, it is. Behind the walls, into the attic, and hidden behind those hard-working systems is a home that has many sustainable features — but you’d never know it just from walking in and having a tour. And distinguishing this home from the rest of the for-sale homes on the MLS would be nearly impossible.

Green Home Done 

So that was just my dilemma and my problem to solve. How was I going market my home with all its sustainable features: engineered hardwood floors, concrete and recycled glass bathroom countertops, quartz countertops in the kitchen, solar attic fan, rain barrel water collection system, radiant heated floors, water-conserving fixtures and toilets and so on? I had the background and the desire and I personally was now the homeowner and future seller of a green-remodeled home. After being enamored with pulling off such a big endeavor of the remodel in just 4 months, reality and my marketing/real estate brain took over and I got to work.

Viva Green Homes’ Online Green Homes Marketplace

On October 15, 2014, Viva Green Homes was born. And again I’m welcoming you to come take a look at what sustainably built, remodeled and retrofitted homes look like and the future of their marketplace. So, if you are a searching for a green home, trying to sell one or just curious, it’s a really cool site, if I say so myself, with lots of new features and improvements always in the work. Add your listing (for free), find a green home (for free), or advertise your sustainable business or profession (for a low fee).

The name Viva means “long live” which of course is the goal of sustainable living — to live long. But I think, also, Viva represents the future of sustainable homes — having a very long life in the real estate marketplace.

My next blog posts will have reviews of some of the sustainable products that I’ve used and their reliability, durability, and over-all sustainability worthiness for those of you who are just getting started with remodeling or building a sustainable home from scratch or if you are thinking of buying one.

Viva Green Homes 

Visit my sustainable MLS website, Viva Green Homes.


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.



1/27/2015

As a reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, you likely already know that keeping an old fridge around is a false economy. As someone who strives toward a sustainable lifestyle, you're probably aware that a fridge more than 10 years old is sucking up way more than its fair share of energy, essentially damaging the planet on a daily basis. It would be hard to have missed the fact that replacing an old fridge with a new Energy Star model can save up to $1,000 in energy costs over its lifetime.

Old

Vs.

New

But that decade-old fridge still works, and you've still got it, don't you? Clearly you need a little more convincing that upgrading is the responsible step to take. Advances in refrigeration technology have not only increased the efficiency of these devices that are essential to modern life, but they will also make your life run more smoothly. If it has been more than 10 years since you looked at a new fridge, here are five things that a new fridge can do that will improve your sustainable footprint (not to mention, make your life a lot easier):

1. Dispense Water

Through-the-door ice and water dispensers are a staple in most modern side-by-side and French door model refrigerators. The benefits are numerous, including freshly filtered cold water on tap that helps promote healthy living, plus eliminates the need to buy bottled water. Newer fridges come with elongated "dispensing centers" so you can fill large reusable water bottles and even pots for cooking with. Some models can even sense the size of the container you are filling automatically, so you can just leave it in the fridge door, press a button and come back when it's full.

The only eco-downside to the dispenser is that it breaks the seal between the cold air inside the fridge and the warm air outside, potentially making the fridge work harder. However, the break is minimal compared to what happens when you open and close a fridge door (something you will do less when you can access ice and water from the outside).

2. Keep Food Fresher For Longer

Dual compressors have largely replaced single compressors in refrigerator technology. Designed to keep food fresher for longer than a single, less efficient compressor, dual compressors mean each compartment, fridge and freezer, is operated by an independent refrigeration system, allowing for more precise control of temperature resulting in longer lasting food.

Adjustable humidity drawers mean you can more precisely control how your fresh fruits and vegetables are stored, helping prolong their life and reduce waste. (Remember that high humidity keeps the crisper moister, ideal for storing leafy vegetables; low humidity keeps out moisture for better storage of fruits.)

3. Fit More Food, More Efficiently

Samsung
This Samsung has almost 30 cu.ft. of storage space, capable of storing 30 bags of groceries.

Fridges today hold much more inside, without necessarily increasing the overall footprint of the appliance. How do they do this? Thinner insulation. A fridge born 20 years ago will be thickly insulated with Freon or other similar CFCs, leaving just a little bit of space for storage. Open a modern fridge and the thick bands of plastic around the edges are gone, replaced by super thin insulation panels, freeing up space for more storage.

While it's important to choose the right size for your needs, it doesn't necessarily follow that smaller fridges are more efficient; mini-fridges in particular have less insulation. Also, an overstuffed small fridge uses more energy because it doesn't have room to circulate the cold air, and must work harder to keep everything cool. The sweet spot energy-wise is between 16 and 20 cubic feet, but if you have a need for more space, it's better to get one big fridge than two smaller ones. And today you can find a 29.5 cu. ft. fridge that will store up to 30 bags of groceries.

One of the best features of modern fridges is their interior design. A lot of time and R&D has been spent on figuring out how we use fridges, and consequently they are packed with useful storage spaces, from extra-deep door bins to store gallon-sized items — providing more door storage and freeing up shelf space — to sliding shelves and butter keepers, you'll find convenient ways to store all your food in the most accessible way (meaning food is less likely to be forgotten and wasted).

4. Cut Down on Wasted Energy

LG

This LG Stainless Steel side-by-side fridge incorporates a door-in-door to reduce the loss of cold air when the door is opened.

A fridge consumes about 13 percent of a home's energy, but it's not just the size of a fridge that determines how much energy it uses; the type of model you choose also affects the energy bill. A refrigerator with the freezer on top is the most efficient model, using 10-25 percent less energy than the other styles. But, considering that opening a fridge door accounts for 7 percent of its total energy use in a home, there is a new model that has emerged in the last two years worth considering. The door-in-door and exterior drawer concepts, pioneered by Samsung and LG in 2013, allow you to access drinks, condiments, and other often-used items without opening the main fresh-food compartment. This reduces the amount of cold air lost when the door is opened, therefore reducing the amount of energy it uses.

5. Be a Fridge OR a Freezer

Samsung 2

This Samsung fridge allows you to set the bottom sections to be a fridge or freezer.

Getting into the realm of brand new technology, you can now buy a fridge that can be both a fridge and/or a freezer. How is that different from a regular fridge or freezer? You get to choose which parts are frozen and which are refrigerated, according to your current needs.

In the summer, when you eat more fresh produce, salads and easily perishable items, you can set three of the four compartments to be fridge and one freezer. As you're heading into winter and perhaps want to freeze some of that produce (or all that tomato sauce you whipped up at peak harvest time) you can turn both your bottom compartments into freezers.

Are there any other advantages of modern fridges that you've found you can't live without?

Jennifer Tuohywrites about green-home technologies for Home Depot. Jennifer provides tips to homeowners about energy savings on appliances, including refrigerators. You can view Home Depot's selection of fridges, including energy-saving models referred to by Jennifer, online.


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.



1/19/2015

When we remodeled our "forever" home, I insisted on stainless steel appliances. We were moving from an old farmhouse with ancient appliances that were white and run down. I wanted fresh, clean and modern. I watched all the home shows on television, so I knew that stainless was the way to go…or so I thought. Not one person warned me about cleaning them. Nobody told me that I'd clean them and somebody would open the fridge and BAM... fingerprints galore.

Oh, what a nightmare my first year was in my new kitchen. Yes, it was beautiful. I had every appliance I had ever dreamed of. Double ovens, a large stainless farm sink…the list goes on. It wasn't that I didn't love my new kitchen, it's just that I dreaded ever using it, because then I had to clean it. My poor husband was afraid to open the fridge, turn on the sink or go into the kitchen because I'd huff and puff and then go clean and polish those darn stainless steel appliances.

Natural Sink Cleaner Lemon 

Fast forward 10 years: I've adjusted. I've lightened up. Two kids later, this mom doesn't have time to fret over a fingerprint. The kitchen has to function; we need to eat. I gave up the idea that my kitchen will look like those in the magazines. Those are staged. Nobody cooks in those kitchens! This means, I have lots of fingerprints now and don't jump up to catch one smudge. I deal with it.

I do, however, still clean and polish and desire a nice looking kitchen. I just don't do it daily. I also don't use all those terrible chemical filled products that I was tricked into buying 10 years ago when I was desperate to keep my brand new dream kitchen magazine worthy. Nope, I'm cheap. I'm sensible.

What do I use? How do I clean without the name brand products that promise to make life easy and clean your stainless steel products? Let me tell you my secret.

Stainless Steel Sink

A citrus fruit of your choice, such as a lemon, lime or orange (whatever you have in your fridge) will work. Having gin and tonics? Clean your sink—you have a lime! The two go hand-in-hand.

The only other thing you need is baking soda. Yes, just two ingredients! Now what? Well, as you're sipping your gin and tonic, cut your lemon, lime or orange in half. Sprinkle baking soda into your sink.

Using your half-cut citrus fruit, scrub your sink and squeeze the fruit at the same time. Beware—if you have a cut on your hand it will sting, so you might consider plastic gloves.

After you've scrubbed your sink well with the citrus fruit and baking soda, rinse well with hot water.

Sprinkle the garbage disposal with baking soda, add a cup of ice and your used citrus fruit and turn the garbage disposal on with hot running water. Bam—your garbage disposal is clean and smells good too!

Dry your sink and it will be clean and shiny. Just don't let anyone else use it... ever!

Stainless Steel Fridge

Naturally Cleaning Stainless Steel

Using hot, soapy water, I clean the fridge to get the grime, dirt and fingerprints off. Unfortunately, the soap and water will leave streaks, and you want the stainless steel to shine and be pretty (at least for five minutes). So what's the solution?

After you've cleaned the grime off the fridge, wipe it dry.

Stainless Steel Cleaning

Dab a tiny (and I mean tiny) amount of olive oil onto your rag. A little goes a long way, so do not be generous with the oil.

Rub the rag over the appliance to polish it. Make sure you don't miss any spots. I like to start from the top and work my way to the bottom. You'll see that it is shiny and looks all pretty.

After you've polished your appliance with your rag that has olive oil on it, use another clean rag and rub the appliance again, removing any access oil. You don't want to leave your fridge oily—just shiny and polished.

Ta-dah! Your appliances are clean! Cut up another lime to enjoy, and don't let anyone use your kitchen (until, of course, they're starving and it's time to cook dinner!).

Photos by Sommer Poquette

Sommer Poquette is a green blogger and a mother of two who writes about her DIY cleaning tips for Home Depot. You can view all of Home Depot's stainless steel appliances, including refrigerators, at the Home Depot 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.



1/16/2015

 

Trailersteading

Travel trailers and mobile homes help many homesteaders-to-be like Miles Flansburg move to the land more quickly.

How do you fit all of your possessions into a small domicile if you're used to spreading out across the dozen rooms of a McMansion? While it's easy to advise tiny-house dwellers to "just cut down on the amount of stuff you own," it's actually a bit trickier for an American used to sprawling across a large house to enjoy life in a trailer or tiny house. Here are some tips for making small spaces work for you:

Remember economies of scale
. It's easier for two people to live in 300 square feet than for one person to live in 150 square feet because you can double up the bathroom, kitchen, and other communal spaces.

Find places to be alone. I don't think I could have survived in our small house (123 square feet per person) as a teenager if I hadn't enjoyed an outdoor retreat where I spent all of my time between school and supper. It's good for everyone to have private spaces, even if they're tiny, outdoors, or down at the local coffee shop.

Chairs on casters

Maggie Turner puts all of her furniture on casters to make each piece do double duty in a small space. 

Make every inch count. People who live in small spaces often find ingenious ways to arrange one area so it performs multiple functions. Is your dining table also counter space for meal preparation and a spot for kids to labor over their homework? Does a bathtub in the living room double as a padded bench for company? Can you store seldom-used kitchen appliances on shelves near the ceiling or on hooks attached to the wall? You'll probably need to build many of these double-duty pieces of house-scaping yourself, but that's half the fun.

Take advantage of community buildings. One of our blog readers wrote in to tell me that the trend toward small homes in Japan is mitigated by neighborhood meeting houses, which are used for community gatherings and can also be rented out by individuals. This option is sometimes available in the United States as well; for example, we recently discovered that we have an inexpensive community space nearby where we can can put up our guests or host our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though you typically have to pay for these options, the one-time cost is generally cheaper than the ongoing expense of living in a larger home.

Get creative about storage. Many of the things we fill our houses with are just waiting to be used once or twice a year. An unheated, unfinished shed can take a lot of pressure off your inside space—just make sure you don't store anything there that shouldn't be frozen and do keep cloth and food in sealed containers to prevent incursions by mice, ants, and other pests. If you don't have the cash to build a shed and also don't have nosy neighbors, you can follow my mother's lead and store winter clothes in junked cars along your driveway. (Yes, I do come from a long line of permaculture rednecks—reduce, reuse, recycle!)

Playing on the porch

Sitting under a tin roof during a thunderstorm is one of the simple joys of life.

Enjoy the outdoors. In The Tiny Book of Tiny Houses, Lester Walker reports that historically small houses often moved the toilet, bathing, and kitchen facilities outside. Other parts of the house that can bulge into the outdoors include dining and relaxing. We added porches onto our trailer in the summer of 2012, one of which was an 8-foot-by-16-foot roofed space which (including materials and hired labor) cost $950 and was worth every penny. Not only do porches (and gazebos, summer kitchens, etc.) take the pressure off small indoor spaces, they also give you a great opportunity to watch butterflies during lunch and to enjoy the antics of your chickens during dinner. If you need a less permanent space, the big-box stores often sell shade canopies for $100 or less.

Your surroundings make all the difference. If you have the opportunity to buy a homestead, you'll have to make a choice—more land or a larger dwelling. While our trailer would seem excessively cramped if it were located in a trailer park, when surrounded by 58 acres of paradise, it instead feels like a castle. I highly recommend that you do whatever it takes to make your surroundings top notch so that a tiny house is a place you only want to retreat to during cold winter nights and drizzly days.

These tips are excerpted from the revised and expanded version of Trailersteading, which is now available in ebook form and which will be in bookstores in fall 2015. Follow along as thirteen experienced trailersteaders show how a mobile home provides all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost!


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.


1/13/2015

This is the third blog describing the 15-year transformation of our quarter-acre suburban property.

The previous blogs describe the site in more detail, along with reasons for making these changes, both practical and political. Another blog describes turning the garage into a living space, grass to garden and creating a food hedge along a fence line.

Please check out my website, Suburban Permaculture, where each project has a page with more explanation along with many photos documenting the changes. The website also has galleries of sites in the neighborhood, front yard gardens and notable permaculture and land use sites in the Northwest and beyond.

My place is in Eugene, Oregon. The property is flat. Good soil. The house has excellent solar access.

There was also a driveway that needed to go.

Loading Chunks Of Driveway.
Loading concrete. I kept some, my friend took some.

There are tens of millions of driveways in suburbia. My house had one that could accommodate six cars. I wanted to put the space to better use. No question, taking out the driveway has been one of the most satisfying projects in my life. Cars take up too much space and this was a small push back.

First time for both of us, a friend and I rented a gas powered cement saw. Good move. Bashing a driveway with a ten pound sledge is not recommended. The cement saw is like a lawn edger but a lot bigger. It has a diamond blade, takes two people to unload it and you hook up a hose for constant water to cool the blade and to keep the dust down. Wear ear protection because its loud. A dust mask is a good idea, too.

Intuitively, we scored the driveway a half inch deep in a grid so each rectangle was about a foot and a half long and a foot wide. Important, you don't need to cut deep. Cutting all the way through would take forever and wear out multiple expensive blades. For us, the blade rents separately from the machine and it cost just as much.

Other tools needed - a two or three inch wide cement chisel to place into the score. The chisel is whacked with a ten pound sledge. You may need to whack it a few times – caution, don't strain yourself. You do not have to hit it hard. Several modest whacks is better than one big one. It may take a few whacks but the concrete will break.

sidewalk
Same view as photo above, ten years later. Note shed and walnut tree.

The cracks will mostly follow the score but some corners will break off. After, say eight or ten blocks have cracked, and making sure the block you are working on is cracked on all sides, use a five foot iron pry bar with a fulcrum to lift the exposed edge of the cut. Go slowly, again, don't strain, work the block upward with the pry bar. Some blocks will lift and widen more easily than others. You just have to see what happens. And its really great to daylight that soil!

Then you put the pry bar wedge end into the crack, force down a bit and then as the bar is moved back, and forth, the crack will widen and the point will move more deeply into the crack. The goal is to loosen the block, force it up and work it away from the surrounding concrete. Eventually, the block will move free from the surrounding pieces and you will be able to simply pull it out, pick it up and move away for its new mission. A wheel barrow is recommended. Repeat previous actions. You will develop your own technique. Its actually a lot of fun. You could make this into a work party.

Could be the concrete was poured on gravel and the underside looks attractive, like something bought at the garden store.

I reused the concrete as borders for two water features. Planted with ferns and other natives. Its all grown up now, check the website photos, a driveway never looked so good. Some of the blocks are used as the floor of my covered outdoor work space. My friend took half of the chunks and made a permeable patio.

With the driveway gone, I built a storage shed and planted an English walnut. Over the top of the shed, I constructed a trellis 2 to 3 feet over the roof. A grape vine planted at one corner of the shed now covers the trellis over the roof. This past fall, I picked enough grapes to make four gallons of grape juice, which I freeze. The walnut tree is now large enough to climb in and has just stated to produce a useful amount of nuts. Food and aesthetics where there used to be a concrete slab.

vines
From the street. Sidewalk is remains of the six car driveway. Note grapes above the shed.

Reclaiming automobile space for better use is an important task on the suburban frontier. When you learn how, you can help remove other driveways and parking lots. I never had any complaints from neighbors or the city. Taking out a driveway is highly recommended.

You can see photos of the concrete removal before and now on my website.  Also many other images of suburban permaculture.

Upcoming blogs will touch on water features, rain water catchment, sun room, neighborhood collaborations and much more.

If you, friends, or groups you know are interested in webinars about transforming a suburban property and greening the neighborhood, please contact me via my website, Suburban Permaculture.


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.



1/12/2015

A compost toilet can be as easy as pooping in a bucket, but a bucket system means another weekly chore emptying and managing smelly buckets. When I moved into my cabin in the woods 20 years ago, I started out with a bucket that I just emptied direct into a hole-in-the-ground, but after I got comfortably moved in, I started thinking about a pooper even mom would be happy using.

Mexican friends (also permaculture teachers: see Proyecto San Isidro), recommended building my toilet over a divided concrete vault, and separating liquids from solids. The separator was just a funnel placed low at the front of the seat, where it would catch and divert urine from any (seated) male or female.

harvest time 

We pee more than we poop. In a compost pile, every unit of high-nitrogen pee needs 40 times as much high-carbon (woody/fibrous) material to keep the little compost bugs happy and making sweet-smelling compost. So keeping pee out of a system reduces stink and volume.

I was mulling things over when another permaculture acquaintance, a brilliant guy named Tom Watson (developer of the low-water Watson Wick septic system), affirmed that compost worms would be just as happy eating my poop as my kitchen scraps.

Letting the worms deal with my waste sounded good. The Mexican design specified an above-ground concrete vault with steps up to the seat, but I was building in an existing building, so I had to keep it low. I dug down, pouring a 2-chamber concrete box, topped with cedar 2-by-6s. I hinged one board to make a seat (for comfort's sake, it needed to be 7-1/2 inches wide). I covered the bottom of the working chamber with a drainage layer of coarse woody stuff (sticks, big wood chips, etc.). Then I added a funnel below the front of the seat, a pipe to a 5-gallon bucket outside, and some worms. Done! (here are some pictures of a vermicomposting toilet)

The urine does require emptying, depending on the size of your storage vessel. We use the homesteader's handy 5-gallon bucket. The pee makes a terrific, high-nitrogen garden amendment, which we empty as needed. In spring, my wife takes it for greens and the compost pile; I have to compete to feed my garlic! It's also great for "activating" your . We find that it's not necessary to dilute it, though that does make it go further.

It took me more than a year to fill up the first chamber. About the time I switched to the 2d chamber, I had married a lovely lass who celebrated with me when I opened the chamber to investigate what the worms had done. It was ALL perfect: sweet, black, rich, light compost.

My farmer wife, being a bit more cautious, typically runs it through a regular compost pile before putting it on the garden, but those are decisions every person gets to make for him/herself. (Some research suggests that human pathogens won't survive passing through a worm's guts, but I can't confirm or deny it. If you know more, please comment, and provide a citation!)

Now there are four of us, it only takes about 9 months to fill a chamber, but that's still plenty of time for the worms to convert all that poop into beautiful compost.

The final, but perhaps most important touch has been to make the pooper into an altar to what is a daily miracle of fertility. Our (framed) instructions feature this, from the Upanishads (it has also become a grace we often use at table):

O wonderful! O wonderful! O wonderful!
I am food! I am food! I am food!
I eat food! I eat food! I eat food!
My name never dies, never dies, never dies!
I was born first in the first of the worlds, earlier than the gods, in the belly of what has no death!
Whoever gives me away has helped me the most!
I, who am food, eat the eater of food!
I have overcome this world!
He who knows this shines like the sun.
Such are the laws of the mystery!

Mom never did give up her attachment to pooping in a porcelain bowl of drinking water, but she did visit us happily and often! And when we used her gift to buy our own acre, the first thing we did was to install a new pooper!

References:

Worms: not just any worms will do.You want compost worms, variously called "red wrigglers," "redworms," or Eisenia fetida. They are a bit like sourdough starter: anyone w/a vermiculture system can easily get you started. Or you can buy 'em. The queen of vermicomposting (and author of Worms Eat My Garbage) is Mary Appelhof.

Temperature: According to a quick web search worms like warmth, about 40-75 degrees F. Our pooper sits inside one of our (cob) outbuildings, and descends about 16" or so inches below grade, which helps stabilize temps, winter and summer. Adapt your own design accordingly to keep your worms happy.

• Pee as fertilizer: Steven Edholm, Liguid Gold, by Carol Steinfeld. Scientific American
Watson Wick low-flow septic system
Poop In a Bucket, the best poop song ever, by our Texas friend Frank Meyer.
A Work of Art: stories (mine!), all about restoring art to it's rightful place as the verb responsible for ALL labor. Free pdf here. Soon to be on Kindle.
• Joe Jenkin's Humanure Handbook: a sh--y bible (remember, "bible" is just Latin for "book")
• And if you're tired of thinking of yourself as just a consumer, and the earth just as resources (convertible only to cash and trash), here's a book to help you rethink economics (and everything else): The Gift, by Lewis Hyde (I love his original subtitle: "Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property" - no worry, no porn! Just a fundamental understanding that all property is really just - wait - yes...compost!)
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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