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12/23/2015

 

For most people there is a large, soggy question mark lurking above the idea of mud homes and water. What happens in a flood? Does the mud plaster fall off in a downpour? Will an adobe house suck up the rain, wobble alarmingly and then collapse into a mud slick?

I’m in a reasonable position to comment. People often assume the Turkish Mediterranean to be a dry, barren place. In fact the winters are quite wet. My region sees on average 42 inches of rainfall annually, most of which descends between December and March. That’s respectable flooding potential by any standards. Every year, random portions of the asphalt road through my village disappear in landslides. Concrete walls routinely collapse. Bridges vanish overnight.

So why doesn’t my house melt? To tell the truth, when I was building it nearly every local in the vicinity said it would. Yet my little mud home has defied the doubters. It’s even been known to squat in a small lake without damage. What’s the trick?(Photo 1 The Turkish Mediterranean can be very wet)

There are some ground rules to follow with earthen buildings. Here’s how to prevent your mud home from becoming mud pie.

1. Location

Find the highest, driest spot on your land and build on it. It also pays to spend a season on or near your property before building to observe where the excess rainwater flows.

2. The roof

Your home needs a wide-brimmed hat. Large eaves (at least a metre long) will go a long way to protecting your earth plaster from heavy rain. Make sure you install decent guttering to carry the excess rainwater away. A living roof will also slow down the rate at which rainwater runs off, preventing sudden lakes from collecting about your house.

 

3. Stem wall

If the roof is the hat of your home, then the stem wall is the gum boots. The first half metre or so of your walls should be constructed from a water resistant material. Earthships often use recycled tyres filled with gravel for this purpose. In my area, traditional mud homes are built upon a raised stone base. I used two layers of gravel-filled sacks. Some people pour concrete here, but I don’t recommend it with mud homes. Aside from the environmental impact, Portland cement has a habit of wicking up water. Your home might not disintegrate, but it could suffer from rising damp.

4. Foundations

Just as with the stem wall, the foundations of a mud home need to be constructed from a material that rids itself of water fast. Again concrete isn’t the best solution as it holds water. Digging a rubble trench about half a metre below grade is probably the best method (and the one I used). It creates a type of sieve beneath the house which allows the rain to drain quickly away. Even when my home was encircled by a moat of water, I could put my hand under the floorboards and feel the dirt next to the wall was bone dry.

5. Dig a moat or create a step around your home

Give the rainwater somewhere to go by creating some sort of channel for it. You want to keep the water flowing away from your walls. I made a simple 20-cm step around the base of the house out of rocks and earth. The rainwater runs off the roof and round the house without touching the house.

6. The earthbag technique

Even after the above precautions, most natural builders don’t recommend building cob or adobe homes on a floodplain. If the water level does for some reason breach your stem wall, you are doomed. This is where earthbag building comes into its own. The bags hold the earth in place, wet or dry. If you want to know more about the earthbag technique, please look at www.themudhome.com.

Top photo credit: Martyn Bayley; photo captions: Top: the Turkish Mediterranean can be very wet; bottom: Gravel-filled sacks create a great stem wall.

Atulya K Bingham is an author and sustainable building addict. She lives semi off-grid in Turkey in her beloved earthbag house. Her days are spent growing her own food, experimenting with natural building techniques, and writing. She is author of The Mud website which offers plenty of earthbag building information, a window into Atulya’s off-grid life, sustainable living tips, and much more.

Pick up your free copy of The Mud Earthbag Building PDF

Read about Mud Ball, Atulya’s popular memoir of building her earthbag home.


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.



12/18/2015

wall1

Do you have children? How about pets? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you understand how easy it is for walls to get dirty. Fingerprints, drool, scuffmarks—the list goes on. If you have, or are considering wallpaper for your home, there are a few things you need to know about cleaning your walls safely.

First off, not all wallpaper is the same. Sure, there are different patterns, colors, designs and even textures, but the material is what you need to consider. Not all wallpaper can be cleaned the same way and some wallpaper types are more durable than others.

Types of Wallpaper

Most wallpapers use water-based or chemical solvents. Water-based solvents are usually non-toxic, but most vinyl and acrylic wallpapers use chemical solvents.

For the eco-minded, some wallpaper is made from Forest Stewardship Council-approved material. Some are even made from recycled post-consumer products. The coating is usually water-based or has a light plastic layer to protect it and make it easy to clean.

Bamboo or grass fiber wallpaper is another natural option, but these aren’t always washable, so research the type of wallpaper you have before diving in with soap and water.

The most washable wallpapers are vinyl and chemical-based—perhaps that’s what you’ve chosen or inherited with your home. Their plastic coating makes them easy to wipe down.

Whatever type you have, there is a way to clean them. Read on!

Cleaning Your Wallpaper Safely

wall2

Know what type of wallpaper you have and be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning it. The last thing you want to do is tear the wallpaper and have to repair it—or in the worst case scenario, replace an entire section. If you’re not sure what material you have, be sure to test a very inconspicuous area.

Regardless of what type of wallpaper you have, it’s some form of paper — which means:

• Do not get it wet
• Do not use anything abrasive to scrub it
• Absolutely do not use bleach

That being said, “damp” is not the same as “wet.”  Here are some tips for safely and greenly cleaning your wallpaper:

1. Dust your wallpaper often, especially if it’s made from fabric or natural fibers like grass or bamboo. Dusting can help remove loose debris. A soft microfiber cloth is all you need, no chemicals required.

2. If you have washable (vinyl) wallpaper, use a fresh, damp (not wet) rag or sponge to spot clean any fingerprints or scuffmarks. You’ll be amazed at what a soft sponge or clean rag can accomplish with just a little bit of water.

3. If your wallpaper is washable and needs more than just a spot clean, mix one gallon of warm water with ¼ cup of eco-friendly dish soap. Make sure your rag or sponge is barely damp and gently wipe the walls. Wipe in the same direction as the seam of your wallpaper, which is most likely horizontal. Dry off the wall immediately.

4.  For vinyl wallpaper, you can use ¼ cup of vinegar and one gallon of warm water to gently wipe your walls, drying them off immediately afterward. This is especially effective for removing odor, like cigarette smoke, that might have been absorbed by the wallpaper.

5. If your wallpaper is older or if you’re not sure what kind of material it or the coating is, consider a dry sponge made of non-toxic natural rubber for gentle spot cleaning.

Experience has taught me that most chemical cleaners are too abrasive for even “washable” wallpaper. Oftentimes, regularly dusting and gently spot cleaning is all that is needed to keep your walls in tip-top shape.

From cleaning wallpaper to doors to floors the green way, Sommer Poquette is the Green and Clean MomSommer writes on her green-clean tips around the house for The Home Depot. To review all of the wallpaper styles that are available at Home Depot, you can visit the company'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.



12/15/2015

 

The holidays are a challenge for the eco-conscious consumer. Gifts that our children want may not be aligned with our tendencies. It is difficult to make eco-friendly choices 100 percent of the time, because of the society we live in.

The rule in our household is that around the holidays, our children donate the toys they no longer play with. We buy our children each one item that they truly want and the rest comes in the form of experiences, art supplies and handmade gifts. They do not complain. They know our eco-code of ethics and they do not question the guidelines we live by. It is fascinating to watch them learn from the examples we show them.

For us, it is all about balance. We don’t want to hide them from mainstream for fear that they will rebel and go in the opposite direction we wish for them. We give them plenty of choices, plenty of room for self-discovery, plenty of time in nature, and plenty of snuggle time watching family movies (that usually have an eco-theme, such as Louie Schwartzberg’s Moving Art Series).

Gift-giving could certainly become more eco-friendly if we approached it differently. Below are some alternatives to buying gifts in big box stores:

Alternatives to Buying Gifts

1. Hugs and gratitude. Expressing gratitude and love is far more valuable than material things.

 

2. Experiences. Present a coupon good for a picnic in the park, a hike, a camping trip, a trip to the museum, or a membership to a museum.

3. Host a gift-making party with your family or friends. Draw names and make a gift for the person’s name you received. Host an evening of painting or crafting at your home or rent out a local art studio for the evening.

4. Make your own gifts from recycled or homegrown materials. Some gift ideas are baked goods, canned goods, herbs and spices, homegrown herbal tea, jams, jellies, meals in a jar, hot cocoa mix, artwork, jewelry, treasure chests, picture frames, ornaments, lip balm, bath salts, soap, etc. Find more DIY gift ideas here

5. Gratitude Circles. Instead of gift giving, talk your friends or family in to having a gratitude circle where your presence is your present. No gifts necessary; bring a potluck dish to share and a good attitude. Each person goes around the circle thanking each other for their friendship and telling each person what they love about them.

6. Gifts from Nature. Give the gift that keeps on giving; give a fruit tree or perennial fruit plant, a houseplant that purifies the air, perennial divisions of your favorite flower, pollinator garden seeds, a bee habitat, mushroom spores to inoculate, heirloom seeds, a garden in a box, a medicinal herb plant, or have your friends go for a hike and gift each other with things from nature (as long as the natural area permits).

7. Service gifts. If you are a carpenter, a nanny, a gardener, a mechanic, a writer, a marketing pro- offer your services to friends and family. Coupon books are a great way to give this gift.

8. Craft fairs. Local craft and artisan fairs are abundant this time of year. Support artisans in your local community.

9. ETSY. Buy handmade gifts from artisans all over the world.

10. Shop locally. local artisan foods, gift certificates to local mom and pop shops or csa subscriptions make excellent gifts.

Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

1. Recycled wrapping paper from last year

2. Recycled gift bags from last year

3. Cloth bags

4. Cloth napkins

5. Use clothing such as scarves or a hat to wrap a gift

6. Seed catalogs

 

7. Old Book Pages (that may have been broken our torn over time)

8. Newspaper

9. Magazines

10. Fabric

11. Recycled envelopes for small gifts

12. Recycled paper (you can decorate with paint or stamps)

Crystal Stevens is the assistant head farmer at La Vista CSA Farm in Godfrey, Ill., where she manages the greenhouse, designs and updates the website, writes for the newsletter and handles communication between shareholders and the farm. She cofounded the Missouri Forest Alliance with her friend and long-time environmental activist, Jim Scheff. Read all of Crystal's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts 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.



12/14/2015

 

While I try to live a sustainable lifestyle, up until recently, I admittedly didn’t think too much about the air I breathed indoors within my home — until my son began to struggle with severe asthma. My wife and I worked tirelessly to research effective remedies and did our best to provide him with each and every recommended treatment at the highest standards of care.

The more I explored, the more I realized I was not alone and began to think more critically about what I could do safeguard the air quality in my home environment. Indoor air quality is a critical problem in interior spaces today, characterized by building occupants (including school children) experiencing headaches, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, and other symptoms that abate once they leave the building. Additionally, poor indoor air quality is connected to a variety of infections, conditions and diseases, including lung cancer and asthma, according to the American Lung Association. Recent data also suggests that over 25 million people, or roughly 8 percent of the population, has asthma.

Indoor air is polluted by volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These gases are emitted into the air from products like pesticides, air fresheners, cleaning products, paint and paint remover, personal care products, appliances, furniture and building products, including carpet and pressed-wood floors, and more. Sometimes VOCs react with other gases, forming other pollutants that are released into the air.

Even when some of these products aren’t being actively used, they still emit VOCs. This can happen when such products are simply stored or are being moved. Commonly released VOCs from these everyday household products are toxic compounds like benzene, toluene and formaldehyde.

Safeguarding Ourselves Against Indoor Air Pollution

The good news about poor indoor air quality is that we can take actions to reduce pollution and make the air we breathe healthier.  There are steps we can take – and they need not demand a major investment of money or time that can make a dramatic difference.

Don’t smoke inside the home. Secondhand smoke from cigarettes and cigars can substantially elevate pollution inside the home. Research shows that cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, exposing those who inhale it to all of the many health risks that smokers face.

Assess radon levels. Radon has been called a quiet killer because this clear, odorless gas heightens the risk of lung cancer — in fact, it is the second-leading cause of it in the United States. As a radioactive gas, radon emanates from the natural process of uranium decay in soil. Cracks in the foundation of homes and other access gaps enable it to seep in. Home radon kits are available for consumer use and sold at various price points. If test results indicate a potential problem, there are steps you can take to remediate and reduce it.

Bring the outdoors inside. Certain houseplants provide natural air-filtration benefits. The NASA Clean Air Study proved that common indoor plants can decrease organic chemicals, or VOCs, from indoor air; these include benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Also, open windows to release indoor toxins.

Eliminate or reduce artificial scents. Synthetic fragrances from air fresheners, household cleaners and detergents release various chemicals into the air. Under the law, the various pollutants, or chemicals, released from products like air fresheners are not required to be listed on product packaging. Stop using, or reduce usage of, carpet cleaners, furniture polishes, air fresheners and hair sprays that release these compounds. Look for natural scents to freshen the air, such as by using natural oils in a diffuser and by cleansing surfaces with lemons and baking soda.

Determine what’s in the air you breathe. Knowing exactly what chemicals and compounds are in your household air no longer has to be a guessing game. New devices can help to cleanse or purify your indoor air, monitor pollution sources and identify precisely which pollutants are contaminating the air your breathe.

Indoor Air Monitors

Living a healthy life requires being informed and applying that knowledge to our betterment. Fortunately, when it comes to indoor air quality, simple DIY steps exist for us all to make a sustainable difference. Indoor air quality monitors allow you to monitor the current levels of indoor air pollutants in your home.

One such device that can help you to monitor your indoor air quality is foobot. This device fits within the arena of the Internet of things (IoT) as a smart device. It leverages predictive artificial intelligence to optimize indoor air flow through chemical and physical pollution control, and temperature and humidity indicators.

Sensors continuously monitor pollution sources, that data is transmitted to a dedicated, secure server, and end users can then review findings and suggested corrective actions via a mobile application. Click here for more information on foobot.

Photo of indoor plants by MorgueFile/benhur; Photo of Foobot courtesy AirBoxLab

Jacques Touillon is a serial entrepreneur. Environmental issues have always been his playground. He is the Founder and CEO of AirBoxLab, which recently introduced its Foobot air quality device to the U.S. market.


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.



12/10/2015

 

Just picture it: You’re sitting at home and you feel a cool breeze — only it’s winter time and you realize your home is poorly insulated. Home insulation is no longer an opportunity to increase your home’s energy efficiency; it’s imperative. If you are like most of the homeowners who are concerned about the escalating heating and cooling costs, insulating your home is the best way to go.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, approximately 48 percent of the energy is used toward either heating or cooling a home. However, with the proper insulation, you can save anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent on heating and cooling, while upgrading the comfort and quality of your living space. Here are a few steps you can take to insulate your home properly and reap the cost-saving benefits year-round:

Educate Yourself about the Importance of Home Insulation

Insulating your home is one of the most effective strategies for anyone interested in conserving energy, becoming more environmentally conscious, and saving some money. As Emmy Nelson, CEO of Home Management Service, shares, homeowners are spending too much on their energy bills.

While there’s little you can do to control your HVAC system, a well-insulated home will put a stop to excessive heat transfer, which means that it would prevent heat from entering the house in summer, and escaping in winter. To do that, Nelson recommends homeowners to pay particular attention to the attic, the ceiling, the basement, and other areas that is most susceptible to air leakage.

Identify Leakage Points in Your Home

While inspecting your home, one thing you need to determine is the R-values in different parts of your home. According to EnergyStar, the “R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value the better the thermal performance of the insulation.”

You can figure that out personally by getting advice from your state energy office and utility. However, homeowners can also hire a professional energy auditor to use special equipment to identify air leaks, areas lacking insulation, and malfunctioning equipment.

Perform a Quick DIY Seal Up

Air leakage takes a big toll on your wallet. For a quick DIY, The U.S. Department of Energy recommends homeowners to caulk and weatherstrip leaky doors and windows, while using “foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places.” Meanwhile, single-pane windows can be covered with storm windows, or better yet, be replaced with the more efficient, double-pane, low-emissivity windows.

According to the Do It Yourself website, “insulation should be installed in any barrier (wall or ceiling) the stands between cold air and warmer air or unheated spaces and hated spaces.” If possible, homeowners can also pour loose fill between ceiling joist and fit foam boards in between new construction wall studs.

Plan Your Budget for a Thorough Insulation

Homeowners who are thinking about getting professional help or pursue a more advanced DIY insulation project carefully plan their budget and develop a tentative timeline for the project. When it comes to insulating big areas in your home, the attic is the best place to start.

According to HouseLogic, “adding insulation there is quick, easy, and cost-effective … In the Northeast, for example, upgrading attic insulation from R-11 to R-49 would cost around $1,500 if you hire a pro — half as much if you do it yourself — and, depending on the type of heat you have, save about $600.” After you’ve got that covered, you should insulate your basement or floor to save yourself as much as 30% in energy loss.

Home insulation is an efficient way to save more money and live more comfortably. For a more comprehensive home insulation plan, check out Energy.gov’s Where to Insulate a Home. You’ll find a list of places you need to insulate as well as tips and recommendations for getting the job done.

Photo by gmcgill/Fotolia

Paul Kazlov is a metal roofing expert and has grown Global Home Improvement to be the Mid-Atlantic's largest installer of residential metal roofing, saving the everyday homeowner money on energy costs. He has installed more than 1,000 metal roofs and more than 2 million square feet of standing seam, metal slate, and metal tile, helping the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York area. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulKazlov, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts 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.



12/9/2015

Gifting is more enjoyable when you know that the gifts you are giving were made with the environment in mind and are a lot of fun. Plus, the recipients will be totally in love. Viva Green Homes released its annual eco-friendly gifts list this year with everyone in mind: men, women, children and pets. From tote and travel bags, to jewelry, books, and crafts, there really is something for everyone.

To check out the full list of all 12 gift ideas, click here.

Here are a couple of our favorites:

crafting for kids
Crafting kids and their parents will delight in this fun book. Find Recycled Crafting for Kids book here.

firefighter wallet

This wallet isn't just cool, it's hot. Find the firefighter recycled wallet here.

dog collar

This doggie collar will be a hit for owners and their pets. It does more than exude eco-friendly qualities made from recycled rubber. This dog collar also has a bottle opener on it for the owners who enjoy a bottled beverage. Just make sure to reuse or recycle that bottle afterward. Find this dog collar here.

Kari Klaus is a Northern Virginia Realtor and founder and CEO of Viva Green Homes. In addition to working on establishing Viva Green Homes as the most popular sustainable homes site, she also is volunteering and working with local animal rescue groups in Mexico. Read all of Kari's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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.





12/1/2015

 

Four years ago, I was camped upon a hill in Turkey watching the canvas of my tent buckle ominously. The wind howled, and rain started to drip onto my forehead. I’d been living in the tent for six months, but winter had suddenly arrived. I needed a house. Fast.

Considering the urgency, I was picky. I wanted something beautiful, round and environmentally friendly. The technique I chose was earthbag. I didn’t regret that choice at the time of building. Four earthquakes later, I still don’t.

It might have been more by luck than judgment, but earthbag building has proven itself perfect for my experience level, my climate, the topographical features of my land and my aesthetic taste. It’s easy to master for first time builders, and fairly invincible in terms of strength.

Earthbag was initially designed for settlements on the Moon and Mars, and was first applied in the construction of emergency shelters for refugees in the Persian Gulf. I am indebted to Nader Khalili, the Iranian who pioneered the technique, because my little earthbag home has liberated me from a mortgage.

The technique has numerous other benefits, some of which I have learned as time goes by. So here’s my list of why you might want to think about an earthbag home.

 

1. Earthquake resistance. Earthbag is the most indestructible sustainable building technique in existence. Earthbag buildings are so tough they have been known to damage the earthquake-testing equipment and show no sign of structural weakness. This is why the method is now being pioneered in Nepal in the wake of the earthquake disasters this spring. Turkey is also a seismic country. I’ve sat through four quakes of over 5.0 and not even seen a crack in the plaster. By contrast, my neighbour’s concrete wall built by professionals suffered a gaping hole after a quake two years ago.

2. Simplicity. The technique itself is so straightforward, even I mastered it (I hadn’t so much as put a shelf up six months prior to commencing the build). There’s not much more to it than filling up sacks with wet mud, laying them end to end and squashing them flat. Rings of barbed wire are run between the layers to prevent them from slipping away from each other.

3. Energy efficiency. Earthbag homes boast excellent thermal mass. They are particularly suited to hot dry, Mediterranean or temperate climates, as the thick mud walls regulate the temperature. An earthbag house stores both heat and cool. There’s no need for an air conditioner in summer, and in winter – if you place your windows strategically to absorb the maximum sunlight – your house is cozy and warm long after the sun goes down. On the coldest days of the year, I burn my wood stove for about three hours each evening.

4. Perfect for unconventional designs, circular or oval-shaped buildings, domes or arches. You can create all manner of interesting shapes with earthbag. Curvy or round walls are both strong and easy to construct. Earthbag is also famed for its domes and arches. It’s a beautifully flexible building method.

5. Bullet and shrapnel proof. An earthbag house normally has walls about 40-60 cm thick, which is a boon if you’re expecting a firearm attack, or happen to live in a war zone. Unless someone’s popping round with a warhead, you can feel pretty unassailable.

6. Soundproof. Silence is golden. The thickness of earthbag walls means you could effectively use your home as a recording studio without utilizing a single egg box.

7. Fireproof. Electrical wiring faults are no threat to an earth wall. An earthbag home acts as one enormous earthing device, and obviously mud doesn’t burn.

8. Flood proof. One of the major advantages of earthbag building over cob is its endurance in severe floods. The bags hold the structure in place and prevent the mud walls from washing away, no matter how much water is gushing by. My house has sat through major flash flooding with no damage whatsoever.

9. Inexpensive to build. The only expense with earthbag building is the sacks and the barbed wire. My home cost me about $5000, but most of that money was spent on labour, the floorboards and the roof.

10. Beauty. When people first saw my home without its mud plaster finish, they thought it looked like a bomb shelter. I’m happy to say, that is no longer the prevailing opinion.

Atulya K. Bingham is an author and sustainable building addict. She lives semi off-grid in Turkey in her beloved earthbag house. Her days are spent growing her own food, experimenting with natural building techniques, and writing. She is author of The Mud Website which offers plenty of earthbag building information, a window into Atulya’s off-grid life, sustainable living tips, and much more. Pick up your free copy of The Mud Earthbag Building PDF. Read about Mud Ball, Atulya’s popular memoir of building her earthbag home.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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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