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Order your zero net energy home from a catalog? Well, kind of ...

Sears, Roebuck & Co. was not a revolutionary home builder, but its mass production of homes through their mail-order Modern Homes catalog was. Now, PulteGroup has its eye on something that could be revolutionary when it comes to building sustainable homes, more specifically net zero energy (ZNE) homes that could eventually come into mass production.

I recently interviewed Brian Jamison, PulteGroup’s National Director of Procurement, about PulteGroup’s zero net energy prototype home in Brentwood, California, in their Botanica by Pulte Homes community set for completion in May 2016. And here’s why you should be excited that a major national home builder is jumping into the eco-friendly homes market.

exterior home

A Net -Zero Home is All That and More

If you were to rank sustainable homes primarily based on their energy efficiency, ZNE homes would rank extremely high. They’re pretty cool. And complicated. In a recent blog about ZNE homes, I explained the complexities of designing these homes — not only do they need to be incredibly energy efficient, but must also be designed to create as much (and hopefully more) energy than it uses, hence establishing a zero net energy use from the grid.

Net-zero homes achieve their energy efficiency by working from the very start with this goal in mind. There are two sides to this equation — the home design must be as energy-efficient as possible so they require less energy, and then it must maximize the use of on-site energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal so they produce enough energy to power the home on their own, achieving a net zero in-take of grid energy.

All "off-grid" homes are net zero, but net zero encompasses a larger category, since zero energy homes are typically attached to the energy grid. There may be times that a net-zero home pulls more energy from the grid than it is producing, although it will make the difference up during periods of lower energy use.

PulteGroup Infographic

Testing the Prototype Net-Zero Energy Home

PulteGroup selected California to build and monitor this home prototype and for very good reasons. According to a comparison completed by Wallethub, California ranks in the top 10 states of the most costly energy bills. And according to Mr. Jamison, California also hosts some of the most eco-conscious consumers. Both of these factors make building the prototype in California a logical location selection, before branching into other regions.

During construction of the prototype home, Pulte has learned a lot about materials and techniques for energy efficiency. For example, “We are learning quite a bit about the methods and products for insulation.

Cathederalizing the attic insulation is a tool in which you place the insulation up near the roof rather than the floor of the attic. Cathedralizing turns the attic space into a partially conditioned space. Your attic is much, much cooler or warmer, which is closer to the indoor living temperatures and the energy efficiency of the duct work in that space increases too since it is not exposed to the extreme temperatures some attics experience.

Also, an airtight home (sealed very tight) creates a need to provide indoor fresh air as well as exhausting the air. This becomes very important to design as a house has to breathe — if a house doesn’t breathe it will struggle.”


Using a high-efficiency solar system will greatly reduce the need for an abundancy of solar panels. The Pulte home prototype is expected to earn all of its energy needs through a high efficiency set of 4‑kilowatt 14 panels system.

Once the house in completely built a family will live in the prototype home for 12 months while the home is monitored for its energy performance and consumption and overall functionality. Some ways in which this monitoring will occur is by including twice as many circuit breakers as a typical home, viewing the energy use at a “myopic level.”


exterior insulation

Mass Distribution of Zero-Energy Homes

As one of the top three home builders in the USA, PulteGroup’s success of this prototype creates the potential for mass distribution of zero energy homes and can have a significant and positive impact for the sustainable home movement.

But this excitement doesn’t come without some hurdles: cost and marketing to the masses.

Zero energy homes are often costlier and more difficult to build than a typical home of equal size given the level of modeling and expertise required upfront to design a custom home as well as the implementation of specific energy producing systems (solar, wind, geothermal, etc…) and building materials to match the climate and regional needs.

Not unlike the Sears Modern Home designs which had the ability to use mass production as a means to lower manufacturing costs and passed on those savings to the homeowners, mass production of zero net energy homes could very well do the same.


Marketing to the masses will also be essential to convey to new home buyers the environmental benefits and energy savings that can offset higher up-front costs. With the help of companies such as VivaGreenHomes, one of the largest databases of eco-friendly home listings nationwide, hopefully marketing eco homes to the mass consumer will also become mainstream. Fingers crossed.

So from your modern day Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs (a.k.a websites), sit back, pick out your Tesla electric vehicle from their website and select your next eco-friendly home from VivaGreenHomes, featuring zero net energy homes listings among thousands of other eco-friendly homes for sale across the country. If PulteGroup is successful with their next line of ZNEs, you’ll have even more green home options to choose from for your next purchase. Read more about PulteGroup’s zero net energy home project.

Photos by PulteGroup

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 Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


green deck photo

Building a deck is a wonderful way to enjoy your outdoor space. If you are covering a water-thirsty grass lawn with a deck, you are already a step ahead in the green game. However, to keep up that eco-momentum, make sure to choose an environmentally friendly material when building your new deck.

According to energy-efficient experts Direct Energy, “Building with sustainable materials helps the earth because you’re not wasting resources. It also helps your budget because you can reduce long-term maintenance costs. By working with sustainable materials when building, you’re lowering the chance that your family and the earth are exposed to toxic products.”

As with many green choices, the “right” one is not always clear-cut. The most eco-friendly option for you will depend on a lot of factors, including your location, the climate you live in and your budget.

6 Environmental Considerations for Decking

When choosing the best green option for you, keep in mind the following factors. If you can achieve at least four out of the six, you can feel pretty good about your new deck:

1. Local. The further your decking material has to be shipped, the greater the cost to the environment. In many cases, locally produced materials will outweigh most negatives.
2. Manufactured Cleanly.
Choose a material made without the use of any toxic chemicals and that doesn't create any toxic by-products.
3. Sustainable Future.
Make sure the material is harvested responsibly and is not a finite resource.
4. Green Maintenance
. Check that you can maintain the material without the use of toxic chemicals.
5. Longevity.
Pick a material that will last as long as possible. Longevity is a key part of being green. The longer a product lasts, the less impact it has on the environment, no matter how much material or chemical was used in its initial manufacture.
6. Recyclable.
Choose a material that can be easily recycled and/or is made from recycled or reclaimed products.

Read on for a rundown of your decking material options and their green credentials.

Wooden Decking

The traditional option for a deck is wood, and while it’s fast being replaced in popularity by composite decking (see below), it is still a good one, especially if you live in an area with extra hot summers. The plastic in composite decking can mean the material becomes too hot to walk on. 

Wood is long-lasting and the most economical of decking materials. While it requires more regular maintenance, it trumps all other options in terms of longevity because it can be refinished year after year. All wood decking needs to be cleaned and resealed every year or two to maintain its original color and prevent splintering and warping. Some hardwoods, such as redwood and cedar, are naturally resistant to rot and insect damage, so don’t need to be treated with chemicals. Other softwoods, such as the popular southern yellow pine, must be pressure treated with chemicals to imbue them with similar properties.

If you opt for wood, your location will determine your most environmentally-friendly option. While Forestry Stewardship Council certified wood guarantees your product hasn’t been harvested from endangered rainforests, non-FSC certified wood grown locally could be the greener option when the cost to the environment of shipping is factored in. Below is a look at the best options based on your location.

Southwest/Rocky Mountain Region: Redwood, which grows extensively along the West Coast, is the strongest natural decking material available. It is resistant to rot, decay and termites, and the wood naturally fades to grey over time. (If you want to keep the color, you will need to stain it.) This is the best choice for those who live in California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada or Arizona, as it will be harvested in your region, meaning less energy expended in shipping.

Northwest: If you live in Washington, Oregon or Idaho, cedar is a good choice. It has similar properties to redwood, although it is not as strong, it is durable and naturally resistant to rot and insect damage.

East Coast: Southern yellow pine is a widely available softwood that is grown predominantly in the southeast. However, softwoods are not naturally resistant to rot or insects in the way hardwoods are, therefore they must be pressure treated (a process of forcing chemical preservatives deep into the wood). You also still need to stain or seal pressure treated wood to protect it from weathering, but it is generally the least expensive option. The toxic, arsenic-based chemical that was used in pressure-treated wood until 2003 has been replaced with copper-based alternatives that are not absorbed by the human body.

An alternative to pine is sustainably harvested ipe. This South American hardwood is dense and heavy, naturally resistant to moisture and bugs and has a fire rating similar to concrete. Be sure to choose FSC certified ipe however, as the irresponsible harvesting of this and other tropical hardwood options, including Cumaru and Tigerwood, is largely responsible for the deforestation of Amazon rainforests. Shipping is a major black mark, however, but that is somewhat offset by the longevity of the wood and the lack of chemicals needed to preserve it.

Another relatively new option in the wood realm is bamboo decking, which has comparable properties to hardwood without the disadvantages of slow growth cycles. However, to be durable enough for decking, bamboo needs to be "strand-woven," which requires the use of toxic adhesives.

Composite and Plastic Alternatives

Composite (wood fiber and plastic) and plastic decking materials have become a very popular choice in recent years due to their ability to emulate the look of wood without the ongoing maintenance issues: they resist stains, cracks and warping, and insects are definitely not interested. Additionally, they can be made with recycled materials. Be a savvy consumer, however, and look for the highest recycled plastic content to ensure a green choice. The biggest ecological downside of composite and plastic decking is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to recycle responsibly, so you need to offset that by using largely recycled product in the first place.

While low-maintenance is the biggest selling point for plastic and composite decking, it does still need to be cleaned. A pressure washer is almost a requirement to ward off mold and stains, which are much harder to remove than in wood. Additionally, composite costs almost twice as much as wood and because it’s not as strong as wood, you may have to spend more money on supports during installation. However, Direct Energy notes that this a worthy trade-off: “While eco-friendly composite decks can be more expensive than wood, they are worth the price simply because you’re lowering the amount of forests being cut down for your backyard play area.”

Non-Wood Composites

Following the success of Trex, the leading wood/plastic composite decking manufacturer, numerous companies have sprung up that use different, eco-friendly materials for decking, including powdered paper sludge, dried rice hulls, and recycled carpet fiber. Nearly all of these require the use of polyethylene or plastic in their manufacture, but if the material is all recycled, then they are a good green option.

Aluminum Decking

If you don't need or want a wood look for your deck, consider powder coated aluminum. Strong, fire, water and insect resistant, and recyclable, aluminum has many benefits. It is also lightweight and requires no maintenance. However, it is a very expensive option, and while it is a natural resource, extraction and manufacture of aluminum is energy-intensive and very negative environmentally. Unless you can find recycled aluminum, your deck will be contributing to a substantial release of greenhouse gases.

Whichever material you choose, the longer your deck lasts, the better it is for you and the environment. One of the key components to ensuring a long, happy life span for your deck is to keep it dry. All of the materials listed above (with the exception of aluminum) will suffer from long-term exposure to water. Limit that exposure as much as possible by ensuring your deck has proper drainage when installed, and consider an awning or cover for your deck area. Keeping the water off as much as possible will result in less maintenance, a longer life and a greener deck, no matter what it's made of.

Jennifer Tuohy is an eco-conscious mom who writes about green DIY projects. Jennifer presents tips for knowing which decking materials are best for the environment. To see a selection of the composite deck options that she talks about in this article, visit The Home Depot. Find her on Google+, and read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


New York Heartwoods owner Megan Offner

New York Heartwoods (NYH) began in 2010, with the help of Dave and Steve Washburn, Hugh Herrera, myself, and a portable sawmill. Our plan to manage and harvest trees ourselves was scratched when we realized how many were falling over, dying and being removed by arborists.

Multiple severe storms and several invasive insect epidemics have led to unprecedented challenges to our forests and communities while budgets of municipalities and landowners are stretched with the reoccurring removals of downed or dying trees. Landfills across the country are struggling to keep up with the amount of wood waste that is being generated and at the same time, people need jobs and communities are evolving to become more resilient.

By processing urban wood, we participate in creating solutions: reducing wood disposal expenses, redirecting material from our waste stream, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, fueling the demand for local wood products, and growing an exciting new economy.

Urban Wood in Perspective

According to Stephen M. Bratkovich from the USDA Forest Service,“In the United States, over 200 million cubic yards of urban tree and landscape residue are generated every year. Of this amount, 15 percent is classified as ‘unchipped logs’. To put this figure in perspective, consider that if these logs were sawn into boards, they theoretically would produce 3.8 billion board feet of lumber, or nearly 30 percent of the hardwood lumber produced annually in the United States."

Due to annual weather events like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, along with the arrival of pests, such as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), we have access to more logs than we are equipped to process. Harvesting logs ourselves is labor-intensive and, therefore, in most cases, cost-prohibitive at our scale.

Community relationships are the key to both supply and demand. By working with tree services we can have waste logs delivered for free or, at most, for the cost of gas and the driver’s time. Beyond the tree services that provide logs and clients to buy wood, are landowners, institutions, land trusts, the Department of Transportation, utility companies, municipal land managers and local officials. We have found the latter is an especially fruitful connection as they control what the contracted arborist does with city trees.

As most towns and cities are burdened with increasing costs for citywide services, decreasing revenues, rising landfill costs, and decreasing landfill space, redirecting logs creates waste management solutions and reduces storm clean up expenses, which can generate wood for park benches, picnic tables, fencing, flooring and cabinets for city buildings. The ability to ameliorate local issues while creating valuable lumber may lead to municipal contracts and resources that will support both log supply and the demand for products.

Logs recovered after Hurricane Sandy

Giving Meaning to Urban Wood

Portable band sawmills have a great advantage over large circular sawmills when working with urban trees. Their ability to travel to sites can eliminate logistical challenges and expenses of transporting or disposing of logs.

For example, after Hurricane Sandy landfills were at full capacity so many cities and towns across New York State designated parking lots for the staging of logs. Local sawyers were invited to come mill what they wanted for free, and even still, it took months for many of those piles to diminish.

The possibility of hitting metal, common in urban trees, is too expensive a risk for commercial circular sawmills. Metal can dull blades and slow down band saw production, but since the narrow band blades are inexpensive and easy to sharpen, that value can be recouped with proper marketing of the tree’s story and the wood’s character.

Urban trees generally have lower branches and contain metal or other foreign objects, creating dramatic knots, colors, and grain. These unique characteristics, along with the tree’s history, are desirable to artisans, fabricators, interior designers and architects for the creation of furniture, flooring and other custom products.

Documenting the tree’s story and providing pictures of its transformation into finished products adds value by making it more meaningful to the buyer. Every industry uses wood in some capacity, which leads to a multitude of niche market possibilities. By reaching out to my previous networks to see how I could create solutions to their problems, I was able to build most of my business on personal contacts and word-of-mouth.

Megan Offner sawmilling

The Future of Urban Wood

As my access to urban markets is one of NYH’s strengths, I am increasingly brokering wood for other local sawyers with a similar ethos. I see that in the same way that marketing and distribution hubs are being created to assist the success of small farmers, and local wood being the next “local food”, there is needed support for the growing number of independent sawyers.

The Illinois Urban Wood Utilization team and Urbanwood in Michigan are two wonderful non-profit models of networks that facilitate the wood use chain from arborists, sawyers, woodworkers, distributors to buyers. As our population grows, so does the amount of urban land in the United States.

According to the Journal of Forestry, by 2050 the amount of urbanized areas is projected to increase from 3.1% in 2000 to 8.1%, a total of 392,400 km, which is larger than the state of Montana. With this, the production and sale of urban wood will also grow, and there will be more integration into municipal management systems. For now, innovation is happening on the ground - one mill at a time.

Megan Offner is the co-founder of New York Heartwoods, a woman-owned social enterprise LLC in Warwick, NY in 2010. Her mission is to regenerate forest vitality and local economies by building systems and relationships that maximize the value of “waste” trees.

The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs, and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Since 1982, the team has brought portable, personal sawmills to people all over the world who want the freedom of sawing their own lumber. Find Wood-Mizer on their website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of the team’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Cordwood chicken coops are springing up all over the country. There is growing interest in raising chickens, gathering eggs and protecting ones flock. Cities are passing "chicken ordinances" (many are allowing three chickens per backyard) and folks are reading about how best to feed, house and care for their fine, feathered friends.

Needless to say, there are some interesting examples of cordwood chicken coops. Here are a few of them.

 Cordwood Chicken Coop

One of my new favorite coops is in British Columbia. It was built by Tasha Hall out of Western Red Cedar. Tasha incorporated many comfort features for her feathered friends.

Cordwood Chicken Coop BC

Tom Huber has a serious skill set when it comes to beautification of a coop. 

Huber chicken coop

Tom Huber built this chicken "coop-de-ville" for his laying flock in Michigan. He used cordwood siding to make the place more attractive to the flock and said the new, "look" helped increase the production of eggs.

Huber chicken coop 2

This is Tom Huber's newest chicken coop in Potsdam, New York. He is now a professor at Paul Smith's College and is establishing another gorgeous homestead called Cedar Eden. You can see the "scratching pen" at the rear of the photo.

 william cahill chicken coop

This is William Cahill's thatch work on a cordwood garden shed with attached chicken coop/rabbit hutch. Located in southern Indiana, the climate is ideal for keeping the birds laying year-round. His website is Roof Thatch.

Tasha chicken box

Tasha also provided multi-colored nest boxes for her brood.

If you are interested in a cordwood chicken coop, it would be wise to gather information on how to best build a cordwood shed/coop. Cordwood Construction Best Practices is the latest book on the subject (updated as of 2015) and it will teach you how to build a lasting structure using a best practices approach.

Cordwood Construction Best Practices

Go to and click on the online bookstore link to find this and many other cordwood books in ebook and print format. Good luck with your project. If you have a question, please email me at and if I am not out teaching a cordwood workshop, I will get back to you asap. While at the online bookstore, you may also want to take a peek at Cordwood Shed Plans.

Cordwood shed plans

Nearly four decades ago, Richard Flatau and his wife, Becky, built their mortgage-free cordwood home in northern Wisconsin. Since then, as directors of Cordwood Construction Resources, the couple has written books, conducted workshops, organized Cordwood Conferences and provided earth friendly, best practices consultation for cordwood builders. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



Back in 2011, I found myself carrying a tent and a few gardening tools down to a field in the hills of southern Turkey. At the time, I had no idea about building. I’d never so much as put a shelf up in my life. Eight months later, I was perched on an earthbag wall hammering in wooden anchors for rafters. I had learned what a joist was, and a stem wall.

The experience of building my own home was one of the most transformative I’ve ever had. I now live in that beautiful circle of mud. From being utterly novice, I have become a reasonable sustainable builder.

I mention this because who doesn’t want a beautiful green home? Who wouldn’t love to create their own healthy and sustainable space, a space that inspires them every day? I remember years earlier, a friend showing me Simon Dale’s strawbale hobbit house. I had adored it. It was a dream home. I never imagined I’d be living in one, never mind constructing my own. But the truth is this is something anyone, yes anyone, can do.

So if we all dream of it, why aren’t more of us doing it?

Is Natural Building Difficult?

People think building is difficult. It’s not. And in the hope of encouraging a few more wannabe natural builders, I’ve compiled the following list. Because in my experience, there are far harder things in life than building a house.

Things People Regularly Do that are More Stressful than Building a Green Home

Working a job you hate for a year. Struggling through the daily grind day after day is soul destroying. It saps your life force and demoralizes you. Building a house energizes and empowers you. If you’ve worked in the system for decades then what can I say? Building should be a breeze.

Buying a house the traditional way. Mortgages, lawyers, bank officials, signing your name against hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and then having to work half a lifetime to pay off that debt. This is way more stressful than a few months messing about in mud.

Hiring contractors to build your house for you. Unless you are very lucky, dealing with workmen and contractors is like teeth extraction. When you build your own home, the power is yours. You dictate the work schedule, you control the budget, and you do it properly.

Writing a book. Writing a book will demand a lot more courage, perseverance and time than building a house. Take it from me, I’ve done both.

Having children. I can’t personally attest to this one, as I don’t have children. But from the outside it definitely looks a lot more challenging than building a house.

Getting divorced. Ouch! Divorce is the collapse of a dream, building a home is the creation of one.

Reasons People Hesitate to Attempt Building a Natural Home

1. They don’t know where to start.

2. They are daunted by the jargon.

3. They are afraid to make a structural error and have the house collapse on them.

4. Economic reasons.

I’ve suffered most of these doubts, but they are all easily overcome, even by complete beginners.

Lack of knowledge or skills is going to be the least of your worries. I learned you can always find information online, and skills are easily acquired. Construction isn’t rocket science. Really. What you need to focus on is strengthening your determination, self-belief and cultivating a resilience to naysayers.

As for the economic considerations; building your own home is incredibly inexpensive compared to hiring a contractor to do it. My house cost $5,000 and that price includes labour, a carpenter for windows and doors, and wood for the roof and floor. It’s a small home (not tiny) but ample for my needs.

So if you’re dreaming of natural building, but don’t know where to start…

Tips for Beginner Natural Builders

1. Join a natural building workshop and get your hands dirty. Feel how much fun it is to build.

2. Join an online natural building forum (there are oodles of them nowadays).

3. Try building small structures (such as a dog kennel, outside toilet or a shed) first.

4. Take general advice (i.e. that of your neighbours, colleagues and great uncle Frank) with a large pinch of salt. Even professionals can err. The mainstream construction industry does things very differently from the green building world. I was told by architects that it was impossible to have foundations without concrete, and I’ve had qualified engineers write to me to say they’d never seen the earthbag technique before. Green builders are bucking the system not bending to it.

5. Hire help in the beginning, observe and learn from your labourers, then slowly wean yourself off them.

Atulya K Bingham is an author and sustainable building addict. She lives semi off-grid in Turkey in her beloved earthbag house. Until April 30th, you can download her ebook Mud Mountain, The Secret Diary of an Accidental Off-Gridder for free! You can also find a free earthbag building PDF and other natural building tips from her website. Read all of Atulya's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


DIY Chimney Chase Cover Before 

Above: Before chimney chase cover installation

Chimney Chase Cover Installation After

Above: After chimney chase cover installation

Installing a chimney chase cover is a common project among do-it-yourself homeowners. Many homes were built with galvanized chase covers which rust after a few years – causing leaks and rust stains. Homes that were built with a masonry chimney eventually end up with a cracked and weathered mortar crown, also causing leaks and damage to the home.

Below, we will explain in full detail how to install a chimney chase cover. After reading, you will see how simple the installation is and know the basics for how to install your own.

1. First, remove the rain cap that is attached to either the chimney pipe or the chase cover. Typically, rain caps are installed with screws or a twist lock system. After the chimney cap is removed, the next step is to remove the screws or nails that are holding the rusty chase cover onto the chase. With the nails removed, gently lift the chase cover off.

2. Using a high temperature caulk, apply a bead around the top edge of the chimney chase. This will give the new chimney chase cover added protection.

3. Pre-tap holes in all four sides of the new chase cover. This will make it easier to screw into the chimney chase. If you prefer, you can do this step while you're on the ground before you bring the chase cover onto the roof.

4. Next, place the new stainless steel chimney cover onto the chase. Push all sides down firmly so that the cover makes contact with the caulk. After the cover is in place, put screws in all four sides to secure the cover to the chimney.

5. Add the rain cap, and you've successfully installed a stainless steel chase cover that will never rust!

We've included a before photo of a rusted chase cover that needs replacing and an after photo of a stainless steel chase cover that will never rust. Watch our DIY chase cover installation video as well to supplement this step by step info.

Photos and video by Rockford Chimney Supply

Jaquelin White is a Web marketer near Ann Arbor, Michigan. From helping local businesses increase their web presence to working for Rockford Chimney Supply serving the U.S. and Canada, Jaquelin loves the always-changing ways of the web, because there is always something new to learn and try. Find her on LinkedIn.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



Spring comes around in March and Earth Day follows in April, and while some of us are spring cleaning, others are looking at ways to save energy and helping to protect the environment. According to the Department of Energy, many Americans are leaching up to 30% of their heated or cooled air through leaks, cracks or poor insulation.

While you can hire a professional to perform a complete home energy audit, homeowners can conquer this important task themselves by following some simple guidelines, especially when it comes to checking and/or adding additional attic insulation if necessary.

With the advent of multiple consumer-friendly home improvement stores and “big box” chains, this job is easier than ever. It also comes complete with plenty of affordable supplies that were once available only to contractors and building professionals.

Knowing whether or not your attic is properly insulated is one of many ways to save money on power and reduce utility bills, in addition to lowering thermostats and shutting off items when not in use. So here are some tips on how to check your home’s insulation that can help to curb these rising energy costs.

Install the Right-Sized Insulation

If you have an older home, chances are the insulation installed at that time was less that what is recommended today. Levels and depths of insulation are also varied according to your location, with those in colder climates requiring more and warmer areas needing less.

While a rating of R25 was once considered the “norm” in the industry, levels as high as R60 are recommended for much colder environments like Minnesota or Michigan. EnergyStar has a convenient chart you can use as a reference for both your geographic location and the various areas of your home that require protection.

Barrier Bummers

There’s more to appropriate attic insulation than the traditional pink rolls, blown or foam types of coverage. When you’re checking the insulation, look underneath for a vapor barrier, which could be tar paper, plastic sheeting or Kraft paper attached to styrofoam batting.

This barrier helps to reduce moisture that can decrease the effectiveness of the insulation. It also helps to discourage unnecessary structural damage from mold and mildew. If this barrier isn’t present or is in poor condition, consider applying any of these choices. Another, easier option may be applying vapor-barrier paint to interior ceilings.

Batten Down the Hatches

The opening to an attic can sometimes be the culprit as a source of unnecessary leakage and seepage. The hatch, doorway or any other type of opening, should also be insulated, close tightly and have adequate weather stripping installed.

Look for other possible locations for potential leaks such as pipes, vents, ductwork, chimneys or other shared spaces.

Wall Insulation and Home Energy Auditing

Checking wall insulation is a whole different ball game and is often a task best left to professionals and can become costly very quickly. But while you’re looking for air leaks and insufficiencies upstairs, don’t forget about the rest of your home. You don’t have to tear down walls to check for adequate insulation there, but take some time to look for other sources of leaks around your home.

Check doorways, windows and the garage for other possible sources of escaping energy. A little bit of inexpensive caulking and weather stripping can go a long way towards reducing energy bills and conserving resources. Read “Home Energy Audits: Measure Your Energy costs and Add Up the Savings” from the December 2011 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for more information.

This MOTHER EARTH NEWS guest post was provided by Uma Campbell, a green-loving yoga instructor and freelance writer. She currently lives in Southern California where she enjoys writing about natural living, health, and home design. Find Uma on her blog and Twitter.

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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