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Want to get smart about protecting the planet? The first thing you need to do is stop wasting Mother Earth’s precious resources in your home. Two years ago, America won the dubious honor of being the worldwide leader in wasting energy. Considering U.S. households use 25 percent of the energy the world consumes, reducing energy waste in the home is an essential step everyone can take to limit this negative impact.

Of course, this is old news to most eco-warriors, and the majority of Americans have been fed a steady diet of information about how to save energy at home for the last decade or two (thanks to the EPA’s Energy Star program). What is new, however, is that now our homes can help save energy all by themselves if we just give them the “smarts” to do so.

Here are the top five ways you can use home automation to turn your house into a smart, energy-saving abode:

1. Install a Smart Thermostat

Programmable thermostats have been helping homeowners save money for decades, but the addition of “smarts” by using self-adjusting thermostats has saved an additional 8-15 percent on electrical bills, on average. In a study of various smart thermostats, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that they “...provide electricity savings for 2-3 cents per kWh saved, and that overall they can reduce total US electricity use across all sectors by about [half a percent].”

Smart thermostats can cost between $250 and $300 and are manufactured by brands such as Honeywell, Nest and Ecobee.

2. Monitor Your Water Heater

After heating and cooling, the water heater is the biggest energy user in the home, averaging about 18 percent of your home’s energy bill. Regardless of whether water is being used, it expends inordinate amounts of energy heating and reheating water in a tank.  If you are on vacation or away from the house all day, that’s a substantial amount of wasted energy.

Installing a Wi-Fi connected “smart” water heater monitor lets you schedule your hot water heating in the same way you do the heating and cooling of your environment: to fit in with your schedule. And, if your needs change, you can easily override the schedule using the device’s smartphone app.

Rheem’s EcoNet Home Comfort Wi-Fi Module is currently the only standalone “smart” water heater monitor on the market, however it only works with compatible Rheem water heaters. The Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat now offers hot water heating control alongside HVAC control.

3. Control Your Shades

Allowing the sun to passively heat your home, or strategically blocking it so that your home remains cool, greatly reduces the amount of energy your HVAC system consumes while trying to keep you at a comfortable temperature. By installing smart blinds (which can be programmed to open and close at sunrise and sunset or when the temperature in a room reaches a certain point), you can take full advantage of the power of the sun to warm your home in winter and keep it cool in the summer.

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For this system to work most effectively, however, you need at least two smart devices working together: smart blinds in combination with a smart thermostat. Smart blinds lower when the sun is heating the room and raise when it’s warm outside. Currently, Serena Shades by Lutron use the Nest Learning Thermostat in this way, and both integrate with Caseta Wireless lighting to give you complete remote control over the interior of your home.

4. Get Set with Smart Power

It’s not always necessary to buy new appliances to create an energy-efficient smart home. Sometimes the simplest solution is to use smart plugs or a power strip, or install a smart socket in place of your regular electrical outlet. These smart electricity sources — from brands such as WeMo, GE and Leviton — allow you to easily turn any appliance on or off via an app on a smartphone. You can also schedule the switches to turn off at a pre-set time, helping prevent wasted energy without even needing to think about it.

Smart power strips are particularly useful for home entertainment systems, which are notorious for using vampire power (drawing energy even when they are seemingly switched off). Some smart power sources can even tell you how much power a particular device is using through the companion smartphone app, letting you easily identify power wasters in your home so you can replace them.

5. Start Using Smart Lighting

Retrofitting an existing home with smart lighting is not as expensive or as difficult as it may sound. Not only will it significantly reduce the amount of energy wasted by leaving lights on, but it will also reduce the amount of energy you use to light your home.

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By simply switching out your existing light bulbs for dimmable, LED smart bulbs — such as GE’s A19 dimmable LED bulbs ($16 each) and BR30s ($20 each) — you can set schedules for your lights through a compatible smartphone app. For example, you can have all your lights turn on when you usually get home, dim as you’re getting ready for bed and shut off when you go to sleep. You can also pair the lights with other smart devices such as motion sensors through a smart home hub, so they will turn on and off automatically when you enter or leave a room. Additionally, you can program every light in the house to shut off as you walk out the front door, meaning you’ll never mistakenly leave a light on all night wasting precious energy.

Finally, by choosing dimmable bulbs, you automatically use less energy than a standard bulb by as much as 9 percent. You can also use the app to set each bulb to only turn on to only 80percent of capacity, saving 20% in energy use. It's something you will barely notice, but the planet certainly will.

Smart home technology is improving our lives at home, but it’s also helping to reduce our energy usage. That’s a win-win that’s truly “smart!”

Jennifer Tuohy, a tech enthusiast, writes about cool new gadgets and technology for The Home Depot.  She especially likes to provide advice around smart home products and smart lighting.  To find out more about the home automation products and smart LED light bulbs, visit Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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



“Lime? What kinda lime? Whatcha gonna do with it?” I was sitting in a hardware store staring at a tower of dusty white bags. “You’re whitewashing your house, right?” The store owner grinned at me from beneath a large black moustache. “Erm, no. I’m building with it. I’m constructing a house without concrete, and I’m making the foundations with sacks full of limecrete.”

The store owner shook his head gravely. “Oh no no no,” he said. “You can’t build without cement, dear.”

Sigh. Unfortunately, this is still the opinion of far too many builders and architects, even those living in Turkey, a country visibly crammed with ancient buildings that have stood for thousands of years on foundations of lime.

After a long discussion in the hardware store, I finally managed to buy a tractor load of hydraulic lime. Four years later, I have one sack left. In the end I didn’t put it in the foundations at all, but I did use it plenty of other places. And the more I work with this wonderful white substance, the more I fall in love with it.


What is lime?

Lime is the predecessor of Portland cement, and is manufactured by heating limestone. It is can be purchased in two forms: Hydraulic lime, a powder which you need to mix with plenty of water and leave to soak for about two weeks until it looks like yoghurt, and slaked lime, a wet putty that has already gone through this process.

One thing to be aware of when using lime is that it’s caustic, so you need to wear gloves. But apart from that, it is everything that Portland cement isn’t: Namely, beautiful, breathable and best of all, carbon neutral.

9 Ways to Use Builders’ Lime

1. To offset the greenhouse effect. Unlike Portland cement, which is currently one of the top two largest producers of CO2 (huge amounts are produced in the manufacturing process), lime is carbon neutral. It is produced at lower temperatures than Portland cement so uses only about 20% of the energy to manufacture. But best of all, lime reabsorbs the CO2 during its lifespan.

2. Earthplaster. For those building with mud in wet climates, lime is your best friend. Unlike Portland cement, lime breathes, so it doesn’t trap water vapour. When added to earth plasters, lime allows the damp to escape from the walls fast, preventing rising damp, mold and unstable plasters.

3. Lime wash. Lime wash has been used as a paint for centuries. Nowadays you can also colour the wash with natural pigments. The beauty of using lime on walls is that it’s non-toxic, allows your walls to breathe and creates magical interiors. It also repels bugs and prevents mold.

Here’s how to make a simple lime wash:

• 3 litres of slaked lime
• 200ml of white glue or salt (this helps fix the lime)
• natural colour (if desired)
• Water to thin

Mix all ingredients well until a smooth milky wash is created.

4. Pesticide and insect repellent. I can personally attest that a lime wash deters all manner of insects. Before I applied it to my mud plaster, mining bees were carving holes out of my walls. I’m happy to say they never returned post lime wash. Lime takes care of fire ants, wood ants, mites, aphids, flea beetles, and even mosquitos according to some sources. Lime wash can be applied to chicken coops, sheds, or sprayed on your garden to keep your plants bug free.

5. Putty If you drain off the excess water, slaked lime is putty-like in texture. You can then use it to fill in gouges in your plaster or smooth over cracks.

6. Limecrete Limecrete can be bought in slabs, or made and poured. Hydraulic lime is mixed with sand (and sometimes pozzolans) to create a durable surface. Limecrete can be used for floors, foundations and as a wall plaster, and is often preferred to Portland cement because it is breathable and reduces interior humidity.

7. Hempcrete Hempcrete is the natural building material of the moment. By mixing hemp, lime, sand and water together and allowing it to set in molds, a sturdy block is formed. These blocks can be used for wall construction. Hempcrete has also been used to create floors.

8. Fungicide and Disinfectant Lime is antifungal and a mild disinfectant. It prevents mold growing and is therefore perfect for walls that see damp or any area prone to bacteria.

9. Food preservation When I first heard a friend of mine saying she was going to dry eggplants with hydraulic lime to make eggplant jam, I was doubtful. “You taste it,” I said. ”I’ll stand by to call the ambulance.” In fact, the art of dehydrating food using lime is practiced in many countries, and often makes the food more delicious in the process.

One last word on lime: It’s very inexpensive.

Atulya K Bingham is an author and sustainable building addict. She lives semi off-grid in Turkey in her beloved earthbag house. Her days are spent growing her own food, experimenting with natural building techniques, and writing. For a limited time you can download her new ebook, Mud Mountain, The Secret Diary of an Accidental Off-Gridder for free! Read all of Atulya's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

You can also find a free earthbag building PDF and other natural building tips from her website, The Mudhome.

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.


We do the best we can - we dutifully sort and recycle our trash each week don't we? It seems there's still too much being hauled into the mammoth trash cans each week. You scratch your head and wonder where it all comes from!

Have you ever wished to reduce that landfill-bound trash and lower what's in your recycling bin, too? Here are 6 simple ways to live a more zero-waste life.

1. Ditch the Disposables at Your Table

From paper plates to paper napkins, it's easy to ditch the disposables. Opt for real, honest-to-goodness plates and flatware when serving your meals. Not only will it give a more rich dining experience, but it will cut the cost of buying those things just to throw them away. Add a cloth napkin and you've really got a nice dining experience. Cloth napkins are very inexpensive to buy but they can be made quickly with fabric scraps or even purchased for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores.

Real dishes and napkins make for a nicer dining experience

2. Paper or Plastic? Neither!

Many people are becoming very aware of the environmental cost of those single-use plastic shopping bags, but are those paper ones really any better? Some people complain that they need those plastic and/or paper bags because they reuse them for one thing or the other.

If you reuse them, then great! But more times than not, you find them accumulating at an alarming rate, many more than you could ever use. So even if you reuse those plastic bags, consider only accepting a small amount of them with your shopping.

What to use instead? I use reusable canvas bags — they're easy for me to remember to bring with me when I go shopping since I unload the groceries from them and then drop them back into my car when I'm done. What about those unscheduled trips for just a few things? I keep a fabric bag rolled into a heavy plastic sleeve (to keep it clean) tucked just beside my car seat. When we make an unscheduled stop, I reach down and grab that bag.

3. Repurpose Items to a New Life

Sometimes just by thinking outside the box you can repurpose things that have outlived their useful life into a new thing with lots of useful possibilities. I've already mentioned turning fabric remnants into cloth napkins — that's  a two-fer environmental win: You're using small remnants of fabric instead of throwing them away plus you're replacing those disposable crinkly paper napkins with fancy-schmancy fabric ones.

Turn that empty coffee canister into a storage for small toys like Legos or Barbie clothes. Turn those glass jars into pretty pantry storage for pasta or dehydrated veggies. You can even use glass jars to store your leftovers in the fridge. Leftovers that can be seen are much less likely to be forgotten!

The possibilities are endless, and you've delayed some materials' fast-track to the trash and perhaps delayed or even eliminated a purchase by using what you've already got.

4. Learn to Make It Yourself

Now I know what you're thinking: "It's too complicated" or "I don't have time." Well, I'm here to tell you it's not as complicated as the commercial-product 'powers that be' would have you believe. And if you start small and gain speed, as you gain confidence, you'll find it really doesn't take much time at all.

Start with something quick and easy like making your own spice mix. Take an empty spice jar and mix up your own seasoning mix or taco seasoning and boom! You're on your way. Soon you'll want to try making your own desserts or homemade yogurt. Just start small and expand as you go along.

Making Yogurt is easy, inexpensive and healthy with precious little landfill waste #TaylorMadeHomestead

5. Cook From Scratch

When you buy convenience foods or take-out, you're bringing lots of packaging waste into your home. Learn to cook your meals from scratch and save yourself tons of money in your food budget as well as landfill-bound waste. Don't have time to cook? What about batch-cooking such as Cook-Once Eat twice? Once you get a supply of pre-cooked suppers in your freezer, a homemade meal is heat-n-eat convenient!

6. Compost, Compost, COMPOST!

If you're doing all you can to reduce food waste, GOOD FOR YOU! But there's still one more step you can take for an environmental win — composting. Take those peels and cores, add them to your grass clippings and yard trimmings and toss it all into a compost pile. Properly prepared compost is a power-house in your veggie or flower garden, allowing those plants to capture some of those previously-wasted nutrients while also helping water retention and plant health.

Compost containers can be something purchased such as a tumbling composter or as simplistic as a heap on the ground — it's all up to you. Just mix your compost and keep it turned periodically and Mother Nature will break down those scraps into black gold for your garden for FREE!

Composting Both Reduces Waste As Well As Making Your Garden More Productive

These six tips are a quick way to get started but I think you'll find that once you take those first simple steps, the next steps are easier and even more fun — it's addictive.

This article was written by Tammy Taylor, owner of the ~Taylor-Made Homestead~ blog.  Tammy lives & works on a NE Texas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home.  You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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



Do you have hard water? If so, you might notice a white build-up on your shower head. Most people assume that a shower head doesn’t need to be cleaned—after all, nothing touches it but running water.

However, not only does the build-up look bad, but the lime scale and mineral deposits from the water can clog your shower head and reduce the flow of water.

The solution is to regularly clean your shower head. It will look better, last longer and you’ll have better water pressure. You might be thinking that you don’t possibly have time to clean one more thing in your home, but the good news is that it’s cheap, easy and quick. You may already have the supplies in your kitchen cupboard—all you need is vinegar and baking soda.

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Steps for Green Cleaning Your Shower Head

1. Mix together 1 cup of vinegar and 1/3 cup of baking soda in a bucket or large bowl with hot water.

2. Using the mixture and an old toothbrush or scrub brush, scrub your shower head to remove any build-up.

3. Turn your shower head on to rinse away the vinegar and baking soda.

Deep Clean Method:

Soak your shower head overnight in a plastic baggie full of vinegar and baking soda, secured with a plastic tie. You can even scrub the shower head with baking soda and water first and then let the shower head soak in the vinegar afterwards. This is most effective for old build-up.

If your shower head hasn’t been cleaned in a long time and the build-up is severe, consider removing your shower head and letting it soak in a bucket of vinegar and baking soda overnight.

All options are effective and, best of all; they’re cheap and eco-friendly.

The Green and Clean Mom Sommer Poquette is a DIY expert on home greening and cleaning solutions. Sommer writes her easy-to-complete online tips for The Home Depot. To research Home Depot's new showerhead selection if you are ready for a replacement, you can visit the company's website

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


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My kitchen (in desperate need of a face lift!).

Every time I walk into my kitchen, I wince. No, it’s not the piles of dishes in the sink or the overflowing recycling bin that’s getting me down—it’s the sight of my drab, dated kitchen cabinets.

We moved into our home two years ago, but since we’ve had to do a lot of energy saving and liveability improvements in that time, a kitchen remodel has remained on the back burner. Remodelling is so far down on the budget and “To Do” list that I may retire before I get a new kitchen. In the meantime, I was determined to do something to make me smile when I walk in. After doing a bit of research, it turns out what I need are new cabinet doors.

As a home remodeling newbie, I wasn’t aware that you can just swap out your old doors for shiny new ones and instantly transform an out-of-date kitchen, without emptying your bank account. This year, my Christmas present to myself is to reface my kitchen cabinets. The unexpected benefit of this transformation, however, is all the exciting upcycling projects I’ll be able to do with the old cabinet doors. I’m something of an upcycling fanatic, and I love finding new uses for old things. The prospect of about 30 solid wood cabinet doors coming my way has sent me on an inspiration spree.

Below are my favorite five ideas for upcycling old cabinet doors into something beautiful and useful.

1. Stencilled Serving Tray

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Trays are a useful addition to any home, especially if you have children. They are perfect for anything from homework and craft projects to quick meals and entertaining, and I plan on making at least three or four serving trays with my doors. I was particularly inspired by this stencilled design by the blogger at With just a stencil and some drawer pulls, she transformed a cupboard door into a beautiful serving tray. Get the full tutorial here.

2. Cabinet Coat Rack

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My mother always says you can never have enough hooks in your home. Inspired by this post from Gail at, I plan on taking the longer cabinet doors from my old kitchen cabinets and turning them into coat racks for each of my children’s rooms. Yes, I hold out hope that they will actually use them!

3. Cupboard Drawer Caddy

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I am something of a Mason jar junkie. I use Mason jars, as well as regular recycled jars, for all sorts of things in my house. Be it laundry detergent, spare change, flowers or paintbrushes, there’s not a lot you can’t put in a jar! I am definitely going to use Lindsay’s DIY Mason Jar Caddy tutorial from her blog, MyCreativeDays. She used pieces of an old organ, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to repurpose the drawer fronts from my kitchen into at least two of these charming, shabby chic caddies.

4. Crafty Children’s Work Station

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This brilliant upcycling project from Mindi at is definitely at the top of my list for reusing a big chunk of my cabinet doors. I have two children in desperate need of separate workspaces (my dining room table is not large enough to keep them at arms distance for much longer). Mindi created this masterpiece out of just six cabinet doors, a few shelves and some barn wood. Genius! 

5. Picture/Artwork frame

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This last one will be for my husband, who is constantly complaining about our children’s artwork cluttering up the fridge or taped to our kitchen wall. It’s not as if he doesn’t love their work, he just doesn’t like our kitchen “looking like a craft room.” Once we have our new cabinets, I’ll use a few old ones to create these clever artwork display holders for the wall, thanks to Jessie’s great directions over at I love how easy it will be to swap out the artwork, and there’s a little nameplate to make sure you give the correct artist recognition!

I think I’m actually more excited about my new upcycling projects than I am about my new kitchen cabinets right now, but I’m sure that will change once I get those shiny, new doors in place. However, it is really good to know I won’t be contributing to the landfill with my remodeling project and that I’ll be able to give new life to those dated, drab, wince-inducing cabinets.

Jennifer Tuohy is a self-proclaimed upcycle junkie and tries to re-use things that she no longer has uses for.  Since Jennifer is looking to install new cabinet doors in her kitchen, she especially likes to provide ideas upcycling kitchen cabinets.  If you too are looking to upgrade your kitchen cabinets, visit for a bunch of kitchen cabinet options.

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 world is still dark when I wake with only the faintest hint of red on the eastern horizon. It’s cold outside. As daylight begins to emerge, the early morning greyness is reflected on the frost covering our world.

I slowly make my way down the stairs to add wood to the stove and pour a cup of coffee. My wife, Paula, is already up getting ready for school with bacon and eggs frying on the stove. After breakfast, we say our goodbyes as she heads off to teach her students. I walk down the hill and get on my tractor to feed the cows before I also head to my day job. By now, the sun is breaking over the horizon and smoke is rising from the flue.

The world is waking up and the horses are kicking their feed buckets nickering for my attention. The heifers start working their way to their feed troughs. On most mornings, I can see a dozen or so deer grazing in our hayfield below the cabin. I set my coffee mug into its holder as I crank the tractor to life.


Responding to Economic Shocks with Self Sufficiency

This is our life. It’s a good life. A life we worked hard to have. The financial crash of 2008 hit a little too close to home. Watching so many others lose their life savings and homes as the result of a financial system out of control, we realized how close we came to being part of that statistic.

It was then that we decided we would choose a different life. A simple life. A good life. We wanted to invest in things that matter and remove ourselves from the things that offered an illusion of security and nothing more. We wanted to be self-reliant, but money was tight.

We had a couple of things going for us. A year earlier, I had purchased a Wood-Mizer LT15 portable sawmill to mill lumber for repairs around the farm and we had a plot of land that was mortgage-free. But with it feeling like the world was falling apart around us, we decided to do what it takes to build a log cabin from scratch. We just had a few rules:

1. It had to be built completely debt free.

2. There would be no deadline on when it would be finished.

3. It had to be built strong enough to endure generations of use.

4. It had to be beautiful.

Cabin Built from Downed Trees

So one night I sketched out a floor plan on a piece of paper and started searching for trees. A few months before we made the decision to build, a wave of tornadoes blew through Arkansas and caused a great deal of damage across the state. Part of that damage was in the Ozark National Forest about an hour north of the farm where the storm had blown over about 50 mature yellow pines.

When I called the forest service, they offered me a salvage permit to log the trees. And over the course of a month I logged out the timber with nothing more than a chainsaw, a tractor and a utility trailer. Then during what seemed like one of the hottest Arkansas summers in history, I cranked up the LT15 sawmill and began milling the pine into lumber and 6-by-12 logs.

It was over the course of the next four years of working weekends and evenings and cutting out all the unessential expenses in our lives that the pile of pine logs became an 800-square-foot log cabin. And when the last nail was driven, it was ours. With the exception of some plywood, every stick of lumber in that cabin was milled by me and my sawmill.

I am asked quite often where I learned to build a log cabin and the truth is that’s the wrong question. The knowledge of building a cabin isn’t the hard part. You learn as you go. The hard part is getting over inertia. Newton’s first law of motion says that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by another force. That cabin wasn’t going to build itself.

The hardest part was getting up one day and actually doing something tangible to make it a reality. After that, the hard part was dedicating what little free time I had to the cabin and learning to be okay with slow progress.

It was cutting out things we used to consider necessities and working part-time jobs to pay for materials. It was the cold weekends I slept in the cabin without windows or heat so I could save gas money and time driving back and forth. And it was stepping away from building it when I was getting tired and sloppy. But then one day it was finished and as much as the landscape had changed, so had I, for the better.

Home Milling Lumber

I owe a lot to that LT15. Of all the tools at my disposal, it proved to be one of the most valuable at making my goal a reality. While not a large mill, it’s a workhorse. It chewed through every log I offered, no matter how hard, and never failed me. It isn’t complicated to operate and it’s willing to work all day every day. And that’s the way I like it.

Years later, it’s still going strong as I mill lumber for barns, sheds, fences and other projects around the farm, saving me thousands of dollars in lumber. So we continue to build our world a little at a time as money and time allow. Each day a little closer to being completely self-sufficient. Each day building the life that we want. A deliberate life. A good life.

The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of individuals including 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. Connect with Billy Reeder and Cabin People on Facebook and YouTube, or visit the Cabin People 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.



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

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

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

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

1. Location

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

2. The roof

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


3. Stem wall

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

4. Foundations

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

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

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

6. The earthbag technique

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

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

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

Pick up your free copy of The Mud Earthbag Building PDF

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

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