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My first post here was a short description of How to Build a Low-Cost DIY Yurt. I was a bit surprised when the editor told me it had gotten 423,000 views in its first week or so, but there are a lot of reasons why people are interested in yurts. One of them was a man named Bill Coperthwaite. When Peter Forbes came out with his book about Bill, I jumped at the chance to review it, partly because it was an opportunity to express gratitude for Bill's life and work. This is adapted from a long version of the review published on the Hand Print Press website.

A Man Apart, Bill Coperthaite's Radical Experiment in Living,
by Peter Forbes & Helen Whybrow

I met Bill Coperthwaite in 2007. I had recently read his book, A Hand Made Life, and was deeply impressed by his stories and practice, and the way he was trying to live out an answer to questions that, by our denial of them, define our culture:

“Can you have ‘culture’ without violence?”

“Is beauty useful?”

“Are justice, democracy, and peace possible if most all of our technologies require violence?”

Like Gandhi, Bill figured that whatever he could make for himself meant less dependence on an imperial master, but where Gandhi lived with hundreds of others in an ashram in India, Bill lived alone on a couple of hundred acres in Northern Maine, at the end of a mile and a half footpath. For a home, he built himself a stunning, 4-tiered yurt, each layer divided from the next by a ring of clerestory windows. When he wasn't at home building and designing, he travelled the world building for others and seeking out living traditions of craft and design.

Two years after I met him, I organized a workshop where Bill led us in building a beautiful 20' diameter two-tiered yurt for one of my Oregon neighbors. He introduced us to crooked knives and welcomed me into the art of spoon-carving. When the building was done, he spent a day at our home, talking about books and poetry and helping us shuck our dry corn. The conversation continued as I drove him to a conference, and then to the airport.

I would have loved to spend more time with him, but opportunity and timing never coincided. Thanksgiving of 2011, he slid off an icy road, hit a tree and died at the age of 83.

Bill cultivated, largely by hand, a unity of home and life that freed him from participating in most modern consumer insanity. It's a high ideal for many of us, including Peter Forbes, whom I'd met when he came out to photograph our yurt workshop. He'd known Bill for decades, so when he and his wife Helen came out with this book, I was eager to read it.

Of the two authors, Peter in particular was influenced by his relationship with Bill. In meditating on that relationship, he and Helen focus primarily on the experience of building a yurt together on Bill's land, as part of a stewardship arrangement by which Bill was turning over his life's work to a small group of friends, and encouraging them to share his land and vision while he was still alive.

Like any life, Bill's was full of compromise -- but those weren't what he talked about. He spoke of principles, and design -- the right way of doing things. Unlike social theorists who address such challenges with words and ideas, however, Bill addressed it with his hands. How do things fit? And how do our tools, materials, and choices affect that fit?

At one point, Bill decided to make a better landing area for his canoe (his primary mode of transporting materials). This was a design challenge that most would have addressed with dynamite and a civil engineer. There would have been a high price to pay for power and engines to do the work at speed. That work would have been "someone's job," done primarily for payment, and measured in days and dollars. Instead, Bill chose a sledgehammer, and spent one if not several summers slowly chipping away at Maine's granite coastline. He said he would spend 20 minutes hammering, and 20 minutes reading a book. He measured the work in ideas and stories; things seen while resting, and a physical understanding of geology that could make a person feel like a true brother to wind, rain, and time.

Bill inspired Peter's decision to leave a successful career in land conservation, but he and his wife chose a place and path several hundred miles from Bill and his communitarian vision. It's hard to try and participate in a vision held by a reclusive, if brilliant, curmudgeon; harder without sharing in the day to day work. Lacking such daily reinforcement, how do you measure success?

A teacher is like an old tree. He stands or dies by himself. With luck, there will be seeds and sprouts that we can nurture, even transplant. Maybe we graft old wood onto a new tree, and clone some fruit. But when an old tree is gone, it's gone. The shading branches fall; the spring brings no new flowers. The gifts of a living love begin the slow process of turning to compost, while the next generation of seeds seek nourishment from what remains. The vision is that nourishment; it's survival depends on each individual's ability to see it for themselves.

Helen, who met Bill as her husband's mentor, didn't really choose her relationship -- it came as a package deal with the husband. She was admittedly cautious in her approach to a reputedly "difficult" person. Not long after they started building, however, she realized that if the yurt was to have the separate space they'd promised to their young daughter, it would be up to mom. So, with trepidation about whether he'd allow "his" design to be modified, she approached Bill. In response, he drew a picture of how he thought it could fit, and said there was probably enough lumber. Then he left her on her own. So she partnered up with a more experienced builder, and they did it. What she drew from the experience, I think, was not what Bill taught (if anything), but that he had faith in her capacity to learn.

That kind of faith is a fundamental principle by which societies live and grow; it is perhaps the sole nourishment for native human genius. It teaches us what we need to learn in order to do the work we're uniquely suited for. It's not a lesson you can learn in school, where we're divided and ranked against each other, according to false criteria that have little to do with who we are and what we want. In lieu of faith, school offers fear: "don't step out of place, or else..." Or else what? What happens if we step out of a mechanistic, industrialized society? Will we lose our humanity? Our kinship with others? No! We'll lose only mechanized social "function" -- we'll be bad consumers, we won't help "grow the economy" -- but we may gain kinship with wind, rain, and time, and a culture built by beauty instead of violence.

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


When a buyer purchases a home, there are many questions to be asked; financing, neighborhoods, comparably sold properties and so on. But when a buyer decides to buy a green home, it’s wise to ask a few additional questions to make sure that the transaction goes smoothly and that they know exactly what to expect from these premium homes.

larger green home for sale clip art

Does the home have a certification? More and more homes are now getting certified for their sustainability either through a local certification or a national one. These can be very valuable assets to the resale of your home as well. It is proof that your home is green certified. Ask if the home is certified and ask to see the certification to verify the accuracy of the claim.

Is your real estate agent or the listing agent qualified and knowledgeable about green homes? Do they have a green credential?  Green homes have significant attributes and without qualified professionals, you may not be getting all or the proper information about the home. Check to see if your buyer agent or the listing agent has experience and even better a green credential to back up their knowledge of green homes. There are 3 leading credentials that real estate agents can earn: National Association of Realtor’s Green Designation, EcoBroker Designation, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate or the advanced version LEED AP.

ecobroker logo 


 leed green assoc

Does the appraiser have an understanding of green homes? An appraiser who is not up-to-date on green homes may undervalue the home and cause significant problems for the transaction, including a loan denial. Green homes often sell for a premium price due to their advance building techniques and cost saving features. An appraiser who is not familiar with these features or building techniques may price the home similar to other traditionally built homes, which can put a wrench in a buyer obtaining the financing for the home at the contract price. Make sure your agent and lender both understand that the appraiser should have experience with green homes before they proceed.

How old are the systems or eco-features in the home? Believe it or not, some “eco” products, high efficiency systems, or building techniques that were considered very efficient or high tech ten, fifteen or twenty years ago could be less efficient than “normal” products or required local building codes of today. Many companies have increased the efficiency of their products so much so that a home built many years ago with “green features” could be similarly efficient to a newly built home to today’s codes and newer systems and appliances. For example toilets have become so water efficient at 1.28 gpf that a water saving “eco” toilet from a few years back may have the same water efficiency as most “regular” toilets sold today. Of course there are always the exceptions with some products that are more efficient still. Composting toilets, for example, are by far more water saving than anything else out there. Make sure that your soon-to-be eco-home’s products and systems are in fact actually still as “eco” as they once were considered.

Are there any tax incentives? This will apply mainly to newly built homes where the tax credit is applied upon installation of certain energy efficient or alternative energy products. currently has a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit that is accessible to current homeowners or buyers of new homes, where one of the energy efficient products or systems have been installed. The good news, however, is that even if you don’t apply for a tax credit right away, if you install “eco” products and systems once you own the property, there are many options out there for tax credits and rebates. Here are some examples of potential tax incentives and rebates.

Do any of the eco-features need special care or maintenance? Eco homes may have features and systems you are not familiar with that often require different care than regular systems. For example, if there is a rain water collection system you may want to ask, “How do you maintain it and how often should it be cleaned?” With solar panels, knowing the dos and don’ts of cleaning them and whether inspections or other maintenance is required to help uphold their efficiency. Your agent or home inspector can help answer these questions for you or direct you to professionals who can.

Asking these 6 questions will help any buyer of a green home become an informed and more confident one. Happy house-hunting!

Kari Klaus CEO and Founder of Viva Green Homes April 2015 

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


green construction

According to the United States EPA Clear Air Act Advisory Committee, construction equipment is one of the leading causes and contributing factors to dangerous pollution. More specifically, this equipment ejects dangerous diesel pollution into the surrounding environment during use.

A single bulldozer engine can emit as much particulate matter as more than 500 cars. This is because diesel exhaust can carry large amounts of carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds and soot. The resulting pollutants are responsible for a long list of health problems like asthma, strokes, lung cancer, heart failure and even premature death.

As such, the EPA created the Clean Construction USA initiative to promote greener construction, which calls for using cleaner forms of diesel and fuel along with tighter pollution controls. It aims to provide construction equipment owners with the means to improve equipment handling, at least when it comes to the environment. This is accomplished through the use of cleaner fuels like low-sulfur diesel, implementing greener technologies, and modifying old parts and equipment with updated tech.

Even after all these changes, both the environment and our health are still at risk. More dangerous emissions and pollutants continue to be pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. It begs the question, what can we do to help, aside from some of the more obvious changes, such as those listed above?

Reduce Equipment Usage Times

While on the job, you may need to get everything done in a timely manner, but there are certain things you can do to cut down on equipment usage. Think of it like this: To conserve water at home, you make sure to turn off the faucet when you're brushing your teeth or while washing dishes. You don't leave the water running consistently during that time – at least we hope not – because it's wasteful.

The same can be said of construction equipment. If your task doesn't actually call for the equipment to be powered on, then shut it down. You don't need to leave it running at all times.

Retrofit and Maintain Equipment

If a piece of equipment is not working properly or is inefficient, then it's time to start repairs. Green operation can be achieved by equipment owners following proper maintenance protocols and by retrofitting machinery with new parts. There are a lot of parts in modern construction equipment that can be replaced or upgraded altogether.

While this might seem costly, neglecting to maintain equipment can be more expensive in ways that you might not immediately see. Equipment breaking down and more severe problems can result in higher maintenance and repair fees. It can also result in equipment malfunctioning for longer periods of time, thus emitting more dangerous pollutants into the air. The latter issue is a problem for everyone, and you'll realize that eventually when your health is failing. Better to take preventative measures and keep your equipment efficient and optimal.

Recycle and Dispose of Waste Properly

Another contributing factor of pollution relates to how we dispose of our waste. For instance, just recycling glass helps reduce air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent. That's not even factoring in harmful waste like certain plastics, metals and alloys, and various chemicals.

While on the job, you'll be dealing with a lot of waste from equipment, from the actual work and from your own habits – like lunch. Learn to recycle and dispose of this waste properly.

Together, we can improve air and environment quality by ensuring we live to greener standards even in places where you wouldn't think it possible, like a construction site.

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. 


This quarter acre suburban property has been under transformation for fifteen years. The site is flat, good soil, great solar access, Northwest Mediterranean Climate. The house is mid '50's. A suburban neighborhood. The intention from the start has been a permaculture make over of house and landscape – home economics - to take care of more needs closer to home.

For this blog, I would like to describe a very productive collaboration with my neighbor who shares the west fence line. This neighborly cooperation story is a segue to a broader look at neighbors working together.

Eight large old growth laurel shrubs bisected 40 feet of property line on the west side of my property.


The laurel hedge before removal. 2010

One day about five years ago, I was walking to the back yard between the hedge and west side of my house and my neighbor called out. He was only ten feet away, but the hedge was so thick, he was unseen. Bill called out, “Jan, what do you think of this hedge. Do you think it should go? ” I said it gets bigger every year, even after pruning it and I have had those kinds of thoughts but didn't know where to begin.

Bill suggested we take it out.

Within 15 minutes we had his old Chevy suburban with chain from the trailer hitch and wrapped around the first shrub, ready to take it out, a bit like a tooth on a string to a door knob.

The laurel hedge is gone. You can see my next door neighbor's house. 2011

We broke a couple chains and were continually amazed at how those shrubs were determined to stay where they were. Nonetheless, out they came over a period of a couple days. Another neighbor with a Bobcat dug out what was left. Bill and I had some manufactured compost brought in and the site looked a lot different.

We didn't leave it that way. I took out another 25 feet of ornamental hedge on my side of the property line. With a couple work parties, my side was clear of cut down shrugs. Bill offered to buy the wood if I built the new fence and replaced the old. The collaboration was a good one.

clean up
A work party removes the cut up hedge.

Removing the hedge was a big project. The trunks were eight inches in diameter. Bill even cut up the larger pieces for firewood. Between us, we had the tools to take out the laurel for a great collaboration. We both benefited. It would not have happened without cooperation.

Over the past five years, my side has become a food tunnel. Two by sixes, about eight feet off the ground run from the fence posts, every eight feet to the fascia of the house. I then ran wire through the 2 by 6s, lengthwise. The 2 by 6s and wire became supports and guidance for shaping the shrubs and trees planted along my side of the property line. I now have a food tunnel. Even the mulberry is woven into a flat canopy, fixing last year's new branches to the wires.

Food tunnel. It's really nice!  2014

I don't want tall plants along the fence line so the wires and 2 by 6s provide the form to train the – grapes, black berries and mulberry tree. It looks great, its all edible and shades the sunny west side of my house from the west sun. Bill's newly available space was narrower than mine. He planted several plum trees and has shaped those to be two dimensional along his side of the fence.

Neighbors working together can open up a great deal of new turf on the suburban frontier. People have different skills, different tools, different capacities that can compliment what others have to offer so everyone benefits.

My neighbor to the east and I shared the expense of taking out several un wanted small trees and shrubs along our property line. He also rebuilt the fence along the east side, we shared the cost of materials.

There are several other neighborly collaborations nearby. One permaculture property attracted a like minded second family to buy the property next door. Their shared fence is down and there is a lot of interaction between families. A third like minded friend bought a property along the second's fence line. That shared fence is down. The third property owner uses part of the second's for a small plant nursery.

A block away. Neighbors team up to host out of town visitors for a site tour and dinner. The visitors had never seen this kind of suburbia before. They were attending the Neighborhoods USA Conference hosted by Eugene. May, 2014

Another friend of the first property bought an acre lot several years ago, 3 blocks down the street. This purchase was a planned collaboration from the beginning. The one acre was badly neglected. Blackberries occupied most of the back half acre back yard.

By this time, we had developed a neighborhood mutual assistance network of people interested in permaculture so we had cohesion for work parties. It took several years, but the black berries have been removed and are now replaced by a beautiful garden that sees a lot of collaborative attention.

That underused, under appreciated half acre back yard has become a favorite place for neighborhood events like potlucks and workshops. Several structures have been built on the property and there is a start of an eco village.

A few blocks away. Eco Bike tour visits where the blackberry tangle has been replaced by beautiful garden and new structures. 2014

Its great to transform a single property. There are more assets to work with with than most people realize, until they take a closer look.

But its even better when neighbors begin to make common cause. Life becomes much more interesting when new opportunities present themselves for even more creativity, community building and taking care of more needs closer to home. There is a whole new realm beyond do it yourself. Do it with friends and neighbors.

Future blogs will go deeper into the realm of community building and touch on topics such as block planning, allies and assets, civic culture, front yard gardens and place making, green culture and economics.

If you have a good story about transforming your property and neighborhood, please tell me about it. Maybe we can use it in a blog.

You can see more photos of the laurel hedge project, scenes from the neighborhood and many other related photo galleries on my website, Suburban Permaculture.

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



I became obsessed with eco-friendly floor coverings when planning the nursery for my first child. The idea of putting anything in the room that might "off-gas" (release) chemicals or in any way impair the development of my soon-to-be bundle of joy was terrifying to me. (If you've been a new parent you'll understand the somewhat irrational terror I'm describing).

However, it turns out my fear wasn't so irrational. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air pollution indoors can be worse than outdoors, even in the largest and most industrialized cities. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, and those who are indoors for long periods of time are at higher risk. A baby's immune, hormonal and nervous systems are still developing, meaning environmental pollutants affect them more than they do adults. Consider that babies spend 16 to 18 hours a day in the nursery, and the importance of optimizing the air quality in your home becomes clear.

Many factors contribute to temporary indoor air pollution, from burning a gas stove to smoking tobacco. But what you might not realize is that your furniture and furnishings also contribute to indoor air quality. These items can off-gas, and some do so continuously. Selecting floor-coverings such as rugs and carpets that are not treated with chemicals or made from materials that will off-gas is the best way to mitigate this. Generally, area rugs and carpet tiles are preferable to wall-to-wall carpet.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for rugs that will help you achieve clean air inside your home:

1. Steer Clear of Synthetic
Traditionally, carpets and rugs have been made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers that off-gas volatile organic compounds. VOCs include a variety of chemicals known to be responsible for the short- and long-term adverse health effects associated with poor indoor air quality.

2. Choose Natural Materials
Instead of synthetic, opt for carpets and rugs made entirely from natural materials that won't off-gas. Most natural materials are biodegradable and recyclable, meaning they won't end up in the landfill. Wool and organic cotton (non-organic cotton is treated with pesticides, and these chemicals could still linger on the materials in your home) are obvious choices, but don't discount plant-based natural fibers such jute, sisal, bamboo and sea grass. Here's a list of the most common natural materials rugs are made from:

Made from the fleece of sheep and other animals, wool is the ultimate sustainable fiber, as it is renewable and abundant. 
Pros: Strong; can be dyed any color; naturally stain-resistant; flame-retardant 
Cons: Expensive; difficult to clean

Jute (burlap) 
Made from the stalk of jute, a rain-fed plant found in India and Bangladesh, it is fast growing, renewable and requires minimal fertilizer and pesticides. 
Pros: Unlike most plant-based fibers, jute is very soft; it is also very durable 
Cons: Can only be spot cleaned; may 'shed' slightly; easily damaged by sunlight and liquid

A jute rug

Made from the Agave Sisalana plant, native to Mexico, Sisal is hardy, fast growing, long living and renewable. 
Pros: Flame-retardant; durable; very strong and absorbent 
Cons: Scratchy and coarse; water can stain it; spot clean only; prone to fading in direct sunlight; one of the most expensive natural fibers

A sisal rug

Sea Grass 
Made from a flowering plant grown in saltwater marshes. 
Pros: Water-resistant; durable; easy to clean; smooth finish; easily renewable resource; less-expensive than Sisal and Jute 
Cons: Can't easily be dyed, so limited color choices; may start to fray and shed; quite hard (more floor-like than rug-like); not very absorbent

 sea grass
A Sea Grass Rug

Made from the outer husks of coconuts. 
Pros: Very durable; wiry and mildew-resistant; easily renewable resource 
Cons: Very coarse; really only suitable for a doormat/entryway rug

3. Look for hidden VOC's
Once you've chosen your natural rug, check whether the material has been treated with chemicals or pesticides during its lifespan, and if it uses glue, check if it's chemical free.

4. Be Wise about Backing
While the rug may be natural, the backing or rug mat isn't always. Natural latex is preferable to foam rubber, synthetic latex or plastic, all of which can off-gas chemicals.

For help with all of these decisions, look for the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus certification and check their website for further information.

Other Green Factors 
Consider source, energy and lifespan when shopping for an eco-friendly rug.

Clearly, natural products have both health and environmental benefits, but being "green" isn't just about choosing the product with the highest "green" score. More and more it is about sustainability. It is important to weigh all the factors to make the best choice for the environment. For example, when you factor in energy use in the production and shipping of a product, buying a secondhand synthetic rug from a thrift store in your neighborhood is actually more eco-friendly than shipping a 100 percent jute rug from Africa. With any purchase, consider carefully the source, energy use and lifespan, and you will be helping the planet in your own small way:

Source: Does the material come from a sustainable, renewable source? Or is it made from a rapidly diminishing natural resource like oil?

Energy: Consider the energy used to produce and deliver a product. The less energy, the less strain on the planet's resources. Production of nylon carpet requires a huge expenditure of energy, largely because nylon is manufactured with petroleum-based products.

Life Span: Consider how long a product will last you. If you are looking for an entryway rug where there will be heavy traffic, it may be better, environmentally speaking, to buy one synthetic rug that will last 20 years, as opposed to buying ten organic cotton rugs over the same time period.

As with many things in life, being green is all about balance—finding what works best for you and your family, and determining what will have the smallest impact on the planet and the best impact on your family's health. Hopefully these tips will help inform your area rug purchasing decisions.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about green homes and interior décor for Home Depot. Jennifer provides eco-friendly advice and tips on appliances, energy usage and interior home products, including carpeting and rugs. A collection of Home Decorators indoor rugs from Home Depot are available online.

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



I'm a clean freak, but with a husband who works on heavy equipment, a Great Dane, and two children, plenty of dirt gets tracked into my home (plus sand, snow, gravel, and grease).

This is why I use outdoor rugs to catch dirt before it comes into my house. That's the idea, anyhow! I ask my family to wipe their feet and take off their shoes before entering the house. Most of the time, they listen.

The outdoor rugs that line my garage and mud room, in turn, get filthy and need a good cleaning every now and again-a cleaning that usually goes beyond just vacuuming. Whether or not you need to hire a professional carpet cleaner depends on what your outdoor rug is made of; some are wool, cotton or natural fibers that can easily be discolored or damaged. Always check to see what your rug is made of and spot test a small area.

I clean my outdoor rugs (after sweeping and vacuuming) with a combination of eco-friendly dish soap, white vinegar and baking soda. I spot clean stains with the dish soap and then sprinkle with baking soda, spray some vinegar and then scrub with an outdoor broom.

Some stains require more scrubbing than others! When the weather is nice, I hose off my outdoor rugs, after spot cleaning, and let them dry in the sunlight. Often times, the sunlight will bleach out any stains. This is how I've always cleaned my outdoor rug, as well as those we use for car camping in the summer.

I've had great luck, but I was curious what a professional carpet cleaner would advise, so I reached out to Jeff Voorhies of Voorhies Cleaning and Restoration. Jeff's a go-to guy for all carpet cleaning and stains and he had some excellent advice for naturally cleaning outdoor rugs. He reminded me that most outdoor rugs are made of synthetic fibers, like olefin or polypropylene. And like your indoor rugs, they can be professionally cleaned or cleaned using a carpet cleaner, but if you want to go the natural route, Jeff suggests a couple of recipes and procedures:

Stain Treatment

For stains on carpet or rugs, sprinkle dry baking soda followed by vinegar and let bubble. Then, agitate this stain solution lightly with a brush. After this stain treatment has been given 15 minutes to work, it can be vacuumed out (use a Shop-Vac) or wiped away with rags.

General Carpet Cleaning

Mix 1/8 cup of baking soda per gallon of hot water. Stir well to dilute baking soda. Add this solution to a carpet cleaning machine and follow directions for cleaning and drying. This solution will act as a natural cleaner and deodorizer for your carpet.

So there you have it-an easy solution for cleaning your outdoor carpets. If you're like me and you have dirty outdoor rugs, the first days of spring are a great time to give them a good cleaning. You'll be amazed at the dirt they've collected!

Sommer Poquette, the Green and Clean Mom, writes all sorts of cleaning tips for The Home Depot. Sommer's advice for outdoor rug cleaning will come in handy as the warmer days of spring begin to settle in. View outdoor rugs available from Home Depot's Home Decorators collection.

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.


A home must be insulated for several reasons. But speaking for efficiency, insulation helps reduce energy consumption. Even green homes must be insulated in some way, but most insulating foams are composed of petroleum – a material that's not at all eco-friendly. This creates a contradiction of sorts because it shows that even a green home can still be detrimental to the environment.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Germany have developed a new type of insulating foam that is much greener. The foam is actually made from wood, meaning it's much more eco-friendly in many ways, including how it’s disposed of.

How Wood Foam is Made

In order to create the foam, wood is ground into tiny particles that are so small they actually form a viscous-like base. A special type of gas is pumped into the solution, which gives it a frothy consistency. Then, the solution is allowed to harden, which researchers claim is sped up and "aided by natural substances contained in the wood."

This leaves a dry wood foam, which can be shaped to make the proper materials. The researchers have successfully turned it into rigid foam boards for use in walls and vertical positions, or flexible mats better suited for floor or ceiling use.

Professor Volker Thole of Fraunhofer, explains that the team was able to uphold industry standards with the resulting wood foam:

"We analyzed our foam products in accordance with the applicable standards for insulation materials. Results were very promising; our products scored highly in terms of their thermo-insulating and mechanical properties as well as their hygric, or moisture-related, characteristics."

Of course, the wood foam produced by the Fraunhofer team is not the only kind in existence. There are other wood- and wool-based insulation materials, but they're not what you'd call ideal. You see, these other materials can be messy, shedding fibers long after installation. Over time, they also tend to settle, decreasing in size and becoming less effective.

The Fraunhofer wood foam is explained to be more efficient, more eco-friendly and devoid of the common issues found in similar materials.

What's Next for the Fraunhofer Team?

Now that the team has perfected the creation of their foam, they’re experimenting with different types of wood to determine which is the most ideal. In addition, they're researching ways to manufacture it in larger quantities, which would allow the production process to be increased on a commercial scale.

As eco-friendly as this new material might be, it will largely depend on one thing: where the wood actually comes from. It's no secret that harvesting trees for any kind of resource is bad for the environment. If a great deal of trees must be harvested and ground to create the foam, it’s counterproductive because it renders the green aspect of the raw material null and void.

Imagine, however, if they could discern a solution that uses recycled wood or existing wood waste. It's worth noting that there are such materials currently being developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Freiburg.

In just a few years’ time, this wood foam could become an industry standard, bringing us one step closer to a zero footprint in our green homes.

Wood foam picture by Fraunhofer.

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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