Green Homes

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

Add to My MSN


Earth Shelter Garage Door

Welcome back to our discussion on underground homes, or earth shelters as they are more commonly called. If you have not read Getting Started with an Underground Home, Part 1, I recommend you do, so that you can better understand the basic steps to getting started in building an underground home.

In Part 1, I talked about land and specific earth shelter styles versus the land that the earth shelters will be built on. In Part 2, I will talk about the costs associated with building a domed earth shelter home.

Test the Soil Before Construction

At the end of Part 1, I mentioned contacting a soil engineer to test the soils where you will build your earth shelter home. This is very important, because the engineers of the multiple earth shelter systems on the market will require this soil report before they can properly design anything for you. The picture below is of a report from a soil boring/testing of the soils for a project we did a few years ago. This is just one page of many, but probably the most easy to understand. Notice that this test was conducted to a depth of fifteen feet, you will also notice that they found water at eight feet and that they mention the soil types that they encountered during their borings. For an earth shelter, a similar test is conducted and the report also helps the engineers to understand the ‘bearing capacity’ of the soil where the earth shelter will be built.

Sample Soil Test

Being that this is Part 2, I would recommend that before you spend money on a soil test, or anything else for that matter, that you connect with someone who has built at least one earth shelter. Whether it’s a home owner or a builder, either person can give you an idea of what to expect during the process. I was once told by a pioneer in earth shelter design and construction, that our job is to try to scare off people before they get too far into the design process. He said this because of the massive amount of time that his company was spending with people who never ended up building an earth shelter…mostly because the cost was too great. I won’t repeat the word he used to describe these people, but what I will say, is that there was never a buffer between people who were interested in earth shelters and his company. It seems to me that no one knows the steps to take before you contact an earth shelter supply company…that is what we are starting to cover here!

Once a person becomes interested in an underground home/earth shelter, it is tough to try to convince them to build anything else, that is, until they see the cost estimates to build that way. This is the part of the process that the earth shelter pioneer guy was referring to. I always asked that guy why he didn’t just give the people an idea of price as soon as he came into contact with them, and he said, “Because most of the time, people aren’t listening or don’t want to listen at that stage.” I would agree with him. I have worked for people who have said, “Cost is not my main concern, I know it will work out, let’s just do it.” Being that the economy has been difficult, it is very hard for a builder to turn down work. HOWEVER (notice the capital letters), verbiage like I wrote above should be a red flag! Never hope that everything will work on a project that has real costs associated with it, especially an earth shelter!

OK, with that said, hopefully you can see that I decided to start being the buffer between earth shelter companies and homeowners. Maybe it is because I wanted to be the sugar coater of reality or maybe it was because I recognized that there was a different way to handle this process. Regardless of how you view my willingness to get involved, I am about to give you square foot prices for building a domed style earth shelter, so that you either move to the next step or decide to wait it out awhile.

I have talked with several people over the years that have said things like, “well, earth shelters do not have roofs, so that is a savings in cost there.” Or, “There is only siding on one side of the earth shelter, so there is a savings there.” I would agree with those statements, but would have to respond with a reminder that there are still costs associated with those covered areas of an earth shelter, you may not have a shingled roof, but you have an insulating layer and a waterproofing layer that is actually more per square foot to install than most shingled roofs that are on the market.

Side note: I wrote a book that compares multiple styles of building (above and below ground) to each other with regards to cost, ease of building, and efficiency. I recommend you read that book to get a true understanding of how an earth shelter compares to other forms of above ground construction. You can get a copy of my book Build Green, Make Green, Save Green by visiting my website,

Square Footage Costs of Building

I know that the suspense is killing you, so I will start to talk about the square footage cost of building a domed style earth shelter.

As with any complex equation or process, there are one or more variables that should be considered. By this I mean, that by putting a square foot price of a domed earth shelter out to the world, I will no doubt get comments or emails from people that would mention that I have no idea what the soil type is where an earth shelter may be built, or the jobsite is so remote that everything will cost double to build. Keep this in mind when you see the price that I have cooked up. Remember that the square footage price considers many variables, but always have a contingency fund when building a project that is outside of the box and expect that prices vary from area to area. Please stop and read that line again…too many things can happen that will zap your funds, so please keep that statement in mind. Also, the number that I give you is an average based on different projects from around the country, so use the figure only to decide if you are ready to move onto the next step.

If you contacted a domed earth shelter company, hopefully you have checked out their website first. The companies that exist have sample plans, different size domes, and different configurations right there on their website. The domed company that we use has dome prices right on their website! Well, you may remove the “!” once you take a closer look at the prices. There is a range of about $15,000 in their pricing — not between different dome sizes, but with regards to the exact same size dome. I recently asked the guy I deal with there, “what is the deal with the huge price swing.” He told me that the price of steel (The actual domed earth shelter structure is arched steel beams) fluctuates by the day and that they have to show the range of price to be sure that they are fair in their pricing. Knowing what I know, I always have to give our clients the high end of that pricing to cover ourselves, too, so immediately you can see that pricing is kind of unsure until you decide to financially commit to your own earth shelter.

When I price any project, above or below ground, I need to know exactly how much of a budget is going to be used on the actual house. That means that I have to determine how much of the budget is for excavation, how much is for the well and septic (if needed), how much of the budget is for the driveway, and the list goes on and on. Once I determine what we have to work with budget wise on the actual house structure, then I work to determine if the project can actually be built for the budget.

I will have already received a list of wants and needs for a house, and with that list, I can determine what square footage the homeowner's wants and/or needs. With that square footage number, I can look on the earth shelter company’s website and find the dome size that will be big enough to house the number of bedrooms and living space that their list tells me they want or need. Below is a rough sketch of an earth shelter configuration that I recently determined would be adequate for a client’s wants/needs.

earth shelter sketch

The big dome on the left will be the house dome with two levels, the connector dome is for mechanicals and other rooms, and then the dome on the right will be a garage with a workshop in it. The house dome is about 3,000 square feet, the connector dome is just below 200 square feet, and the garage is a total of just over 600 square feet.

For this square footage price to work, you have to take the total square footage of the project; in this instance, the house dome, the center connector dome and the garage dome, which equals 3,842 square feet. The square footage cost I am giving you is just for the domed earth shelter systems and is on the high end of their price range, which includes everything you need to get the domes standing and ready to cover (excavation costs, steel, rebar, shotcrete, insulation, water proofing, front icf wall, etc) nothing inside of the house or siding. Does this make sense? Just the ‘shell’, interior framing, siding, finishes, plumbing, etc are not included in this price.

Based off of this sketch above, the cost per square foot of the project for just the earth shelter, excavation and Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) front wall part of this project comes in at about $60 per square foot (no profit is built into that number from a builder standpoint, just labor is figured in). Again, that cost is just for the earth shelter. If I had to put a square foot number on an all ICF above ground house with a basement and main floor that would have a 50 year, high wind rated shingled roof on the roof and basically apples to apples with an earth shelter as far as being at the same level of being closed in, that price would average out to about $40 per square foot (again, counting total square footage of project). Isn’t that interesting?! On a 3,000 total square foot project, that equates to a $60,000 difference. If someone built an earth shelter for the first time, this price difference could be higher because of the learning curve just as if someone had built one or more earth shelter projects in the past, they would know how to build the project for less!

These numbers come from projects that we have built. As I mentioned above, the square foot prices are for structures, and the remaining costs are to finish the house. The earth shelter in the sketch estimated out to be about $575,000 to build (not including the land) which averages out price wise to a middle of the road custom home as far as square footage prices, at least where we would build the project. Not true for areas of the country where new homes build for over $200 per finished square foot. Remember, this pricing information is just a sugar coating of reality, so you have to understand that where you build is just as important as how you build when it comes to pricing. The actual cost of your earth shelter project will vary because of resources and finding the right team members to build your project.

I hope that I have not lost anyone. Here is one more thing to consider. The cost per square foot for an earth shelter will be higher the smaller the project is. As the project grows in square footage, the cost per square foot actually decreases. We see this in above ground custom homes also.

The hardest part in your quest to move to the next stages of building an earth shelter/underground home is to find a company willing to build it. Most builders have no idea where to begin or what to charge — perhaps we can cover that area in future posts. Until then, email me at if you need someone to listen or advise you on what to do next.

Designing an Earth Shelter Home

If I have sugar coated this information enough for you and you are not scared away yet, it will be time to move on to part 3, which is when you start to develop the designs for your earth shelter project.

Below are pictures of a set of floor plans for a domed earth shelter project. The quality of these pictures is poor on purpose, it is so that no one tries to copy them and attempt an earth shelter on their own. Please don’t do this; we want earth shelters, bermed homes, and underground homes to be presented in a positive manner. Making the evening news because your homemade underground home fell down is not positive, but I digress.

Earth shelter plan 1

joist plan

Notice the information on the floor plans, the information is very precise so that there is no guessing when it comes time to building your project. The other picture is of the floor joist system and how those joists layout inside of a dome. Getting a plan in place for building the project is the key to success. In part 3, we will discuss the design process and look closer at what it takes to build an Earth Shelter Project. We will use the Earth Shelter Project Michigan as our example. If you are interested in seeing our online video series of the building of this project, please go to my website,, and click on the links to our Earth Shelter Project Michigan videos. If you watch the videos ahead of time, you will know exactly what I am talking about as I write about each step of domed earth shelter construction.

Stay tuned for Part 3. Until then, keep safe and keep dreaming!

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. 


Without a doubt, it’s back to the basics for many of us. In spite of drones, iPhones and smart televisions, many individuals are craving record players, paper-bound books, board games and bicycles.

The same goes for homes. Some environmentalists and green construction and architecture specialists are digging in (literally) to earth-sheltered homes. These homes are new (but really old) types of dwellings that incorporate the natural landscape into their footprints.

Quick and Dirty

Three types of earth-sheltered homes exist for those wishing to tap into their inner caveman. The first involves piling earth up against exterior walls and even the roof of an existing building. In contrast to “earth berming,” builders carve out space underground for a subterranean building, leaving only the roof exposed.

Another approach involves re-purposing and relocating abandoned missile silos, tunnels, mine shafts, and concrete boxes to become underground living spaces. In a “cut and cover” process, a bulldozer or track-hoe digs a trench. A crane lowers boxes into the trench and then it is covered.

According to Underground-Homes, most earth-sheltered homes are set into a slope or a hillside. Since only one wall receives light, the dwelling should be built into the side of the hill facing the equator.

Digging In

Incorporating an earth-sheltered home into a hill usually involves excavating a space several feet larger than the planned perimeter to make room for adequate waterproofing and insulation. Reinforced concrete is the most popular choice for walls and the roof, although other choices exist as well.

Next, the builders apply an extensive waterproofing system. The system involves attaching a heavy-grade waterproof membrane to a layer of liquid asphalt. They follow up this step by spraying on a liquid water sealant to ensure all seams remain closed at all times — after all, it’s difficult to find and fix leaks after they are done building.

Finally, builders look at the outside of the waterproofing and add layers of insulation board or foam. They complete this step before backfilling earth into the remaining space at the exterior of the walls and roof. Based on your preferences as an owner, builders can finish exposed walls and the interior accordingly. Many owners choose to place living spaces on the side of the house facing the equator to provide light and heat. Bathrooms, storage and utility rooms are typically located on the hillside of the shelter.

Light on the Land

There are many “green” reasons to consider an earth shelter as a home. They are a great way to help you:

• Conserve energy. The team at Inspiration Green points out that soil maintains a fairly constant temperature equal to the annual average temperature of the area’s surface air at fifteen feet below the ground. This makes it easy and affordable to cool or heat the space throughout the year.
• Go solar. Many earth-sheltered home builders incorporate passive solar design techniques to lessen the need for extra heating or cooling.
• Avoid doomsday. The structural integrity of earth-sheltered homes makes them safe from hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
• Enjoy peace and quiet. An earth-sheltered home is effective at blocking outside noise, even the sound of people only a few feet away. This makes it a peaceful sanctuary free of outside disturbances.
• Use land efficiently. Since earth-sheltered homes are unobtrusive, they help to preserve the look of the environment around them. It’s possible to start a garden or grow a manicured lawn right on the wall or the roof of your home.

Pack Your Bags

Malcolm Wells, known as the father of the earth-sheltered home, once wrote that, “The act of building, whether it involves giant hydroelectric dams or a single small home, is an act of land-destruction. Buildings destroy land for as long as they stand.”

In response, he proposed properties that every building should emulate:

• Create pure air and water
• Store rainwater
• Produce food
• Create rich soil
• Use and store solar energy
• Create silence
• Consume waste
• Match nature’s pace
• Provide wildlife and human habitat
• Moderate climate and weather
• Be beautiful

So is an earth-sheltered home the right choice for you? If you’re interested in building a greener future, this could be the perfect first step.

Photo by Flickr/Wolfgang Staudt

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.


The kitchen is one of the largest consumers of energy in the home. If you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint, the room where you cook is a great place to start. Of course you've probably already read all about buying Energy Star appliances and the money and energy savings those offer, but there many other simple ways to save energy in the kitchen.

1. Let There Be LED Light

Switching out your kitchen light bulbs to LED bulbs will save a significant amount of electricity. A standard BR30 LED bulb costs about $1.50 a year to run, versus $7.80 for an incandescent equivalent. When you factor in the longevity of the LED bulb, estimated to last 23 years versus one year for the incandescent, the savings for both you and the planet are clear.

2. Cook Carefully

The top source of wasted energy in a kitchen is from cooking. Avoiding these bad habits will quickly add up to big energy savings:

• Opening and closing heated oven doors too frequently
• Not putting lids on pots while boiling
• Using incorrectly sized pans (cooking with a 6-inch diameter pan on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced)

Additionally, cooking in a convection oven is 25 percent more efficient than a conventional oven because of shorter cooking times, and using a microwave or a toaster oven reduces electricity use for smaller meals. Even though these appliances use more energy than conventional ovens, the shorter cooking time saves energy overall. Energy Star estimates savings of as much as 80 percent when using the microwave instead of the oven.

3. Cool Wisely

Refrigerators and freezers work by sucking the warm air and moisture out of the space and leaving cool air in its place. The less warm air and moisture there is in the space, the less energy used. Keep the door shut as much as possible, the shelves full so that there is less air to cool, and liquid items covered to reduce moisture in the air.

4. Seek out Saver Settings

Most appliances now feature energy saving settings. For example, new dishwashers have an "economy" setting to reduce water and energy use. Also, look for the option to disable the heated dry on your machine. The heated dry setting is responsible for a good portion of energy used by the dishwasher, so consider switching it off and leaving the door open overnight to let the dishes air dry.

6. Unplug

Just as you shouldn't leave a cell phone charger plugged in with no cellphone attached, don't leave small appliances like toasters and coffeemakers plugged in when they're not being used.

7. Check Your Range Hood

Keep your hood clean so it works properly. If it's not ventilating, it's creating a hotter kitchen environment and requiring your HVAC to work harder. Make sure your hood vents to the outside, but turn it off as soon as you're done cooking, because it will be sucking cool air outside in the summer and warm air in the winter, again causing your heating and cooling system to work harder and draw more energy.

8. Find the Best Fossil Fuel

Until replicators are invented, we're stuck with gas and electricity to cook our food (indoors at least). Many chefs espouse the benefits of gas over electricity because of its responsiveness and smaller carbon footprint, however it contributes significant indoor air pollution, and while more energy-efficient than a basic coil-top electric range, electricity actually offers the best energy savings in the form of induction cooktops.

Currently, cooktops are not Energy Star rated, but the Department of Energy has singled out induction cooking as the most energy efficient method. Induction cooking works by transferring energy straight to the metal of the pan through an electromagnetic field, rather than using heat transfer, as gas and electric do. Induction uses 2.8kw to deliver 2.52kw of power, making it 90 percent efficient. Gas uses 3.5kw to generate 1.75kw, a 50 percent efficiency rate (Best Induction Cooktop Guide). The result is almost instantaneous temperature control and a cooktop that remains cool to the touch (only the pot gets hot).

As with most energy saving solutions, the rule of thumb in the kitchen is "act wisely not wastefully," and you'll save plenty. With constant advances in cooking technology, from the microwave to the induction cooktop, there are many tools to help us do that, but it's still down to you to make sure you are using them correctly in order to get the most benefit for the planet.

Jennifer Tuohy writes for Home Depot about energy efficiency and appliances including microwaves and induction cooktops. Jennifer provides advice to homeowners on options available to make their home green. Home Depot's selection of microwave ovens and their line of induction stoves can be found on 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.


The Emergence of Underground Homes

Underground homes, or earth shelters as they are technically called, are gaining in popularity..even more now than they ever have. It used to be that only a certain group of people wanted to live in earth shelters and that has changed.

Many towns around the country have an underground house that is tucked away in a neighborhood or located just outside of the city limits. The majority of these homes have been in place for decades and the homeowners are used to and very willing to let those people (who are brave enough to knock on their door) tour their unique home. Once a person tours an underground home, the tour unlocks something in that person and they start to research what it takes to build an earth shelter home.

That is the point when I get an email from someone around the country that is looking at building an earth shelter/earth berm/underground home. The building styles are not all the same, but they do all fall under the category of 'earth shelter' and should be specific to land style.

It is tough to figure out where to start when it comes to building an earth shelter. One of the very first things to consider before you even start to think about what type of earth shelter to build, is what the land is like that you want to build on. If you have not bought or found a piece of land yet at this stage, you will want to check back on this blog and we will discuss how to find the right piece of property to build an earth shelter on in a later post. Don't go away thou, there will be enough information here to start your search!

I always ask those who email me about building or consulting on earth shelters to send me pictures of their land. This will help me to understand what style of earth shelter that will be most cost effective for their piece of property. We built the largest underground farm on the planet, which included five dome style earth shelters that were all connected together underground, in the middle of an old corn field. The land had a slight contour to it, and was by no means ideal for a dome style earth shelter. A flat roof earth shelter would have been less expensive in this instance because of the amount of earth we had to find to cover the domes up. This is a good point for those wondering what earth shelter would work best on their property. Basically, if you really like a dome styled earth shelter, you will spend less on the project if you build the dome style earth shelter into the side of a slope or large hill. The domes are over 20 feet high, so finding a slope that will allow you to build a structure that tall into it is a great place to start. Your budget needs to be realistic if you chose to build a dome style earth shelter on a flat piece of land.

We are just finishing up a project that is an earth bermed house, with berms just below the soffit on three sides of the house. The south facing side of the house has the windows to make use of the solar gain. I designed the house after I saw the city lot that the homeowners bought to build on. Our quest together started when they asked for my input on selecting land for an earth shelter. Although the original goal was to live underground, they could not find the right piece of land for the style earth shelter they wanted. Their land selection criteria included more than just a slope facing south, they needed to be closer to town and to doctors, etc. When they informed me that they bought a wide lot in the city limits, I wondered how we were going to make an earth shelter work. That is when the idea of a bermed house came into our conversations. The energy performance of an underground home versus a bermed house can be similar if built properly. Another factor is protection from powerful storms and this bermed home is very tough and capable of withstanding any storms they may encounter. (Motivation to build specific styles of earth shelters will be covered in later blog posts as well...stay tuned for that.)

We have barely scratched the surface of what you should do to get started in your quest for an underground home. There is so much more to write about, and I will, so stay tuned! In the mean time, you can always email me at: and visit to view our videos on the building of the large underground farm I spoke of in this blog, The Earth Shelter Project Michigan.

If you already have land and are ready to select an earth shelter, the next step will be to have a soil test done on your land in the areas you wish to build on and at a depth of the footings of your earth shelter. Engineers need this information to properly design the structure that will be your new home..

I get emails from people who have land, that want a specific style of earth shelter, and are wondering what to do next after that. Read Getting Started with an Underground Home, Part 2: Consider Costs to learn more about building an earth shelter!

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.


Transforming this suburban property has been one of the most satisfying and creative adventures in my life. No need to go anywhere. Making big changes was the plan from the beginning, 15 years ago, when I bought this quarter acre property with a modest 1,100 square foot mid fifties suburban house. If I reincarnated as a house and suburban property, this would be it.

The previous blog provides an informative overview about re purposing suburbia - turning a land use liability into a social and economic tool for a greener way of life. Suburbia has much to offer for taking care of more needs closer to home – food, energy, water, culture, creativity. There are already many pioneers on the suburban frontier and future blogs will include profiles describing some of them. Not all suburbia is created equal but just about every property and neighborhood has surprising assets to work with. This blog will describe some of the projects here at my place, more or less in the order they took place. The reader will easily find many photos on my website, that show what these projects actually look like – look under the “On Site Features” tab.

This property, two miles northwest of downtown Eugene, Oregon is flat. Its a rectangle with its long dimension north to south. The house is longer east - west and the back yard is on the south side of the house. The quarter acre has great solar access and the soil is good.

First Major Project

A friend and I turned the one car garage into a living space. This was a simple remodel. The open north end was closed in by an insulated wall with a door. The south end was cut open to install an eight foot slider for solar gain. Surprise to me, cutting through the painted wooden siding, I found immaculate red wood. Fifty years old and beautiful straight grain. Perfect condition. We built a wooden deck elevated several inches above the concrete floor in the garage and laid rigid foam insulation over the concrete. The west wall has several windows, was insulated and the ceiling was insulated.

Reclaiming automobile space made this a three bedroom house so I could rent both the other two bedrooms. Since then, the remodel has been paid back many times. Now I live in a passive solar detached structure I built behind the main house so the garage remodel is now rented which will eventually pay for the detached structure. More on the newer passive solar structure in a future blog but safe to say, a house can be a very useful working asset for making income.

garage remodel

Another early project was trading grass for garden. Grass is one of the most iconic symbols of suburbia. Some say the suburban landscape of grass and scattered trees is a sub conscious re creation of the primeval savanna of our distant ancestors. Regardless, the millions of of acres taken up by suburban grass can produce an enormous amount of food.

There are a variety of ways to get rid of the grass. Scalp it with a machine, dig it up. I laid out large pieces of cardboard and covered it with eight inches [the more the better] of compost and leaves from October to March. Over that time, the leaves mostly broke down, the cardboard rotted and the grass and weeds underneath became a dead slimy black mass. Perfect. Caution, roto tilling the grass not recommended. I did dig out the dead sod. It was really thick even when dead. I identified best places for garden paths and left them alone. No need to dig them up. The dead sod was composted and the remains were later added to the garden. I had a garden my first spring in residence while other part of the former lawn became water features and planted to raspberries and blueberries.

sheet mulch

Notes From The Suburban Frontier

One image I came upon was a graphic comparison of the surface area of Atlanta, Georgia and Barcelona, Spain. Both cities are about equal in population. What absolutely shocked me was the difference in area the two cities occupy. Atlanta, with its design for automobiles takes up almost 30 times as much space as Barcelona - for the same population. For public transportation, Atlanta is a challenge because of the low population density. For urban agriculture, there is enormous opportunity. The graphic can be found within a blog on my website that explains more about highways, dispersed land use and transportation.

Fence Lines Are Readily Available in Suburbia

They are a great place for long and narrow use. Nearly all my fence lines have been put into food production. Some of these design features were planted early on, others were added over the years. One fifty foot section of fence line is bamboo. At this moment, I will limit the blog to describing early work. Along the east side in the back yard, I planted a fig, four apples and two pears. Other than the fig, the apples and pears are semi dwarf. I wanted to manage the shape and size of the trees so I constructed a wire and wood frame parallel and partly supported by the fence. It looks something like a power line.

This built structure is in the shape of a loosely manicured hedge. The trees have been pruned and branches tied to the wire to create a food hedge. There is no space between trees. Branches from the neighboring trees mingle and overlap within the hedge form. Note: there is need to prune and shape the hedge every year. This is a great use of a fence line. Future blogs will describe other approaches to elevated and edible landscaping.


Again, photos of all these projects with more detailed description are on my website. Future blogs will touch on taking out a driveway, water features, front yard gardens, rain water catchment and solar features. Social aspects of the suburban frontier will also be described. Please comment, share what you know. Ask questions. Check out my 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.


Energy Efficient Cooking

While cooking is not among the top five of your home's 'energy-hungry routines,' if it's something you do every day then there are many small steps, and a few big ones you can take to decrease its impact on your energy use. Your method of cooking is the root of how much energy you use, so to help you cook wisely, here is a rundown of some of the best options for sautéing sustainably:

Cook with Electricity

Whenever you read about options for energy efficient cooking, the question of gas versus electricity always comes up. The difference in energy use is actually pretty negligible, especially now that induction cooking is bringing electricity up to par with the speed of gas. This shift really does put electricity in front in the "green" stakes for the following reasons:

• Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and while most electricity comes from coal-burning power plants, you can source sustainable electricity via solar panels.
• Gas introduces air pollution in the form of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide into your home.
• Cooking with gas produces a lot of ambient heat, often requiring the use of air conditioners, a huge energy user.

The best option for cooking with electricity is definitely induction, which is 84-percent efficient, compared to the 40-percent efficiency of gas. A ceramic glass cooktop, which uses halogen elements as a heat source, is a close second as both options deliver heat almost instantaneously, cutting back on wasted energy.

Choose Convection over Conventional

Convection ovens are more energy efficient than conventional ovens because the heated air is continuously circulated, so you can reduce cooking temperatures and times. It's estimated that a convection oven uses about 20 percent less energy than its conventional counterparts. Throw in a self-cleaning model, which has significantly more insulation, and you have a pretty efficient cooking machine—just don't use the self-cleaning feature too often.

Smaller Can Be Better

Using microwaves and toaster ovens, which are basically miniature regular ovens, can reduce energy use by as much as 80 percent. These are great options for reheating and cooking small portions. While microwaves and toaster ovens do use a lot of energy when working, because they slice cooking times to smithereens they are definitely the energy-efficient option when you can opt for one over firing up the oven. Slow cooking with crockpots is a great way to cook energy-efficiently. Once the crockpot is brought to temperature, its insulation can keep it hot for up to 6 hours while drawing only minimal additional energy. On the other end of the spectrum, pressure cookers cook faster courtesy of steam pressure and a sealed pot, meaning you can cook your beans in less than half the time you would in a standard pot.

Full Steam Ahead

Whether electric powered or stove top, a two- or three-tier steamer is a highly efficient, incredibly healthy method of cooking, as you are cooking two or three dishes for the "price" of one and eliminating the need for oils and fats in the cooking process while retaining all the nutrients.

Once you have your eco-friendly cooking equipment, make sure you get the most out of it by following these five guidelines, sourced from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy:

• Match the cooking method to the meal: use a toaster oven for one slice of pizza and the whole oven for the whole pizza.
• Match the pan size to the element; a small pan on a big burner will waste energy.
• Buy flat-bottomed, good quality cookware. Warped pan bottoms loose energy because they do not have good contact with the element.
• Choose high-conductivity materials, such as copper-bottom pans on the stove and glass or ceramic in the oven, for faster cooking times.
• Reduce cooking times by defrosting food in the fridge (which has the bonus of helping your fridge use less energy), putting dishes in the oven while it's preheating, and turning the oven off a few minutes before the time is up.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about green-home technologies for Home Depot. Jennifer provides tips to homeowners on how they can cut back on energy usage for large appliances, including gas and induction ranges. To view Home Depot's selection of induction ranges, including styles discussed by Jennifer, check 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.


White Birch Bed Frame 

Hi, my name is Adam D. Bearup, a.k.a. The Hybrid Home Guy. I have been a ‘green’ builder for most of my life and I live in Michigan, which, as a whole, has never really been a hotbed for green construction — until recently.

Like other pioneers, I did not have the luxury of working from a pool of money or savings; I had to figure everything else out as I went. I wasn’t the builder with the brand new truck because I would have to spend what money I was making on fixing things on the cutting edge houses that we built or on specialty tools. I always thought, “Well, if the people don’t like me because of the truck I drive, then I don’t want to work for them anyway.” 

There was incredible resistance to the way I was building houses. This resistance was from suppliers, other builders, and even the local home builders association. I smile now when I see one of those builders drive by and they have a green leaf in their logo on the side of their brand new truck.

I am not the only pioneer in green building; there are others who had an impact throughout history. Those pioneers from the 1970s who help us to get jobs now should at least be rewarded with a hand shake and a “thank you.” Most of our clients have always said, “I saw this type of building in the seventies, and it has taken all these years until we could afford to have a house of our own like that.” 

Pioneering Green Building

I heard this one day, “Oh, you are on the bleeding edge of technology,” and that term has always stuck. I have learned that most people are on the ride for the money and not for the science, or the learning, or even the recognition, and that has got to be the reason that I had to pay for most of our subcontractors who would never come back to fix their mistakes. One of the memorable moments on “the bleeding edge” occurred when we learned that you could not acid-stain concrete that had fly ash in it. Fly ash is what is left over after coal is burned in a power plant. The finish peeled off of the concrete floor shortly after the homeowners moved into the house and the concrete subcontractor said, “Oh, who has to pay for that?”  This was a major problem that took several of my house payments to pay for. I got to know my mortgage company really well during that period of time as we learned our way across the bleeding edge. 

It can hurt a pioneer who was on the bleeding edge to see others making money doing what they did for free, but that is not why pioneers do what they do. Those on the bleeding edge of anything understand that there needs to be change and those pioneers are willing to do what it takes to help bring about that change. There is a certain excitement when others start to follow your lead, we see that in everyday life and in what is now called green building.

I am happy to see the change happening, I am happy to see products in the big box stores that we used to have to beg, borrow, and steal to get! Can you imagine what Lewis and Clark would say now if they knew that an Interstate existed which can take a person across the country? I bet they would say what us other pioneers say, “Wow, that would have been nice.”

Photo by Homeowner, The Earth Shelter Project Michigan 

Check out Adam’s green building videos on

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.