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Treehaven Garden Shed "How do I learn to build using cordwood contruction techniques is often the first question asked, followed quickly by "Will it save me money?" 

The first question is simple:

1. Read a book  
2. Take a Workshop
3. Build a Practice Building

 The second question about saving money involves many variables.  Do you have access to wood, do you have any home building skills, can you barter or trade for work, are you willing to recycle, reuse and repurpose? The cost goes up or down depending on your willingness to learn, bargain, barter and do.  Can you build your own cabinets, buy them second hand from a Habitat for Humanity restore, or trade to have them built? Suffice it to say that cordwood homes have been built for as little as $10 @ sq. ft. and more than $100 @ sq. ft.  The final answer lies somewhere in your decision on cost/benefit choices.Learning By Doing

Now, let's work on how to learn to build one first, so you can determine if this natural building technique is your cup of tea. Taking a workshop, taught by a master cordwood builder is the best way to go. You learn what mistakes to avoid and you are given individual, hands-on instruction using best practices. Questions flow and answers are forthcoming as the workshop evolves.

Here are a few examples of cordwood buildings and the actual wall building taking place. 

Kinstone Academy Of Permaculture

Workshop in Minnesota Workshop at Kinstone Permaculture Academy

Workshops smiling

If you are interested in a Cordwood Workshop for 2014, take a look at the following brochure to see if there is one near you.  Cordwood Workshop Brochure 2014.

We will talk more about the Practice Building in a future posting.

If you are interested in learning the latest about Cordwood I would recommend reading the book Cordwood Construction Best PracticesIt is available in print, CD and ebook format from the Online Bookstore at


Kefir grainsKefir is a milk product a bit like yogurt, but with even more digestive benefits.  You make kefir using grains (the "mother" bacteria and fungi), and since the grains double in size every month or two, you can often get starter cultures for free from a friend.  But what do you do once the grains show up?

Rinse your kefir grains. Since the grains (the solid gob) have been sitting in the same milk during transit, they'll need to be rinsed. Place them in a colander and pour milk or unchlorinated water (such as well water) over the grains until they look clean. Discard the rinse liquid.

Place the grains in a glass jar and add one cup of whole milk per tablespoon of grains, then cover the top of the jar with a cloth napkin or other piece of breathable fabric. You can use a rubber band or the ring of a mason jar to keep the cloth in place. The cloth is just to prevent bugs and dirt from getting in your brewing liquid. Be sure to use whole milk (cow or goat is fine), and unpasteurized milk is even better if you're a raw-milk drinker.

Fermenting kefir

Put the jar in a warm place, such as on top of your refrigerator, and leave it for 24 to 48 hours. You might actually have to wait 3 days the first time since the microorganisms will take a bit of time to recover from the trauma of being mailed. You'll know the kefir is ready when it solidifies and you see a bit of separation of whey (clear liquid) from the milk solids. If you want a mild-tasting kefir, stop after 24 hours. A more sour kefir with more beneficial fungi will develop when fermented longer.

Once your kefir is ready, remove the grains and place them in a new jar with another cup of milk to ferment the next batch. To remove the grains, you can either spoon out the contents of the jar into a bowl and scoop out the grains, or you can strain the kefir through a plastic or stainless-steel sieve. Do not allow anything other than plastic, glazed ceramics, and stainless steel to come in contact with your kefir grains or you will harm the microorganisms.

Scooping out kefir grains

Eat your kefir. Your kefir grain(s) will have been stressed a bit by their trip, so be aware that your first batch of kefir might taste a bit funny. This is more likely if you're changing to another type of milk (such as goat milk). The strange taste should go away as the microorganisms adapt to their new surroundings, but you can discard the first batch(es) if necessary. Once the flavor evens out, you can eat your kefir any way you'd eat yogurt. Our favorite methods include mixing in honey and cocoa (combine warm honey and cocoa first, then add the kefir), mixing with applesauce, or making kefir cheesecake. You can also use kefir grains to make sour cream out of fresh cream and to make kefir out of coconut milk and other non-dairy milks. However, your grains will be happiest in whole milk, so try to give them a round or two of milk in between other substances.

Kefir cheesecake

As your kefir grains grow, you'll need to increase the amount of milk, or split them. A rule of thumb is to use a tablespoonful of grains per cup of milk. We like to culture our kefir for two days in the winter, so I keep two jars of kefir going at all times, one to eat today and one to eat tomorrow.  Once you have more grains than you can handle, pass some on to a friend and keep the cycle moving!



Lynn Kading sent us a bunch of links to earthbag building projects and other forms of low-cost housing of earth in various parts of the world:

Eco Builders 'Sandbag Building System' Kennedy House Project

Sandbag House in Jeffreys Bay

Ukraine's Maharishi Vedic Architecture Building


canoeIf only I didn't live so far away from The North House Folk School, I'd be hanging around there a lot. The number of classes they have is amazing. Birch bark canoes, blacksmithing, tool making, timber framing, fiber arts, on and on.

I'm just looking at one page, and I'd take the class on making a crooked knife, and another on sharpening. They are in the northwest corner of Minnesota, on Lake Superior, up Highway 61 (yes, that same Highway 61 -- "…7th mother, 7th son…") from Duluth.    

Get their catalog if you like making things with your hands (or if you have kids who want to learn some hand-made skills).


Cordwood is a building technique that is richly embodied in sweat equity and labor intensiveness. The actual physical process of building is not seriously strenuous (the log ends are only 16" long), but it does take time and will-power to complete all the walls. The materials for cordwood walls are found in the forest and not in the building supply store, so it is not something one can order and have delivered on Monday. It requires planning, perseverance and patience.

Jack Henstridge's line drawing of a cordwood wall

To start this cordwood blog I would like to offer some basic thoughts about cordwood and then provide some serious cordwood eye candy meant to interest and inspire. Getting into specifics and FAQ's and such will take place down the road. If you have any questions, please be my guest.

What is Cordwood Building?

Suffice it to say that cordwood is a natural building style of choices and decisions, based on ones personal philosophy and pocketbook. The first choice comes in the form of "Should I do this or not?" The best way to answer this "mother of all cordwood questions," is to read the available cordwood literature, visit cordwood homes, build a practice building or take a workshop. Once a person has committed to becoming a cordwood owner/builder, the fun begins.

As the reader already knows, the basic wall material for cordwood is composed of logs.  The fundamental method of laying up a wall is shown in the line drawing by the Grandfather of Cordwood, Jack Henstridge (whose articles were the first on cordwood to appear in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS in the 70's).  Here are links to those early articles should you be interested:

"Build a Low-Cost Economical House"

"The Return of the Cordwood House"

Cordwood eNewsletter 2014

As we progress to current times, here is an example of the first page of my Cordwood eNewsletter for 2014.  You will notice that the times they are a'changing...

 Here are a few examples of "well done" cordwood homes using best practices.

 A beautiful timber framed, Cordwood Lodge in northern Wisconsin.

Cordwood Addition to an A-Frame cabin

This is only the opening volley, there will be much more to follow. Please stay tuned.

For information on how you can build your own cordwood shed, cottage or home go to While there, visit the eNewletter, the Articles, the Blog (What's New?) and if you are so inclined the Online Bookstore.


Mobile SaunasMobile Saunas, by Kārlis O. Kalniņš, is a unique book with hundreds of photos and hundreds of (nomadic) saunas around the world. It's expensive, because it's a Hulu color print-on-demand book, but then again, $60 might not be too much to pay for an idea that could say, lead you to to turning an old VW bus into a portable sauna.  

Here's what they say: "This is a collection of sauna trucks, sauna buses, sauna wagons, sauna cars, sauna bikes, sauna trailers, sauna boats, sauna floats, trail sweats, bastuflotten, bastubats, banya trucks, banya tents, and other mobile sweats. They are gathered from across North America, Russia, Europe and particularly Finland, where the annual Teuva mobile sauna festival attracts over 50 examples every year.  After building several mobile saunas, Kārlis began a multi-year study of the mobile sauna phenomenon in form and culture. Collected here is the result of that study, including photographs, viewpoints of builders, commentary and notes on design.

Students of culture and architecture, sauna lovers and mobile sauna builders will appreciate the variety of forms, designs, styles and ideas revealed in this volume."


In a previous post I mentioned the importance of air-sealing for energy efficiency in green construction. But you don’t have to just take my word for it—green building programs for new construction, such as Energy Star for Homes, require extensive air-sealing to achieve certification.

Many of us have heard of Energy Star certified lights and appliances. But did you know that the Energy Star is also a green building certification available for a new home?In fact, in its newest version, version 3.0 an Energy Star home is a true distinction from a conventional new home, offering 15%-30% reduction in energy costs—and most importantly of all—quality assurance that the systems in the home will work as they are intended.

If you want to build a new home, and you want to put a “stamp” on it proving that it is green, voluntary certification programs abound. One of the most well known is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes, and there are green building certification programs through the NAHB, through state programs, or even through utilities. Energy Star is quickly becoming one of the most distinguished certifications available for new homes.

 Getting any certification on your new home is a bit like earning a merit badge in scouting used to be—you have to follow certain checklists of requirements while building and pass certain performance tests once the home is built. And any of these programs are great. They insert green building practices into the homebuilding process from the design phase, in an organized way, sometimes educating the homeowner, the builder, and the sub-contractors about green building practices along the way.

air sealing details for energy star certification

Photo: Yours truly, air-sealing the wall panels of an Energy Star certified Deltec home. In typical new construction, this crucial step might not get done, after which an opportunity to make the home more air-tight is lost, buried under drywall. Energy Star certification requires caulking at many major joints in building materials. 

I think Energy Star is great because the main things it asks for are simple common sense. Energy an important green building goal because a home will continue to use energy its whole life—creating a profound impact on the environment. Part of energy efficiency is in the design: giving the house more R-value, specifying more efficient heating and cooling equipment—but a big part of it is in the follow-through of that design. Not only is there more insulation, but is that insulation installed well? Not only is the HVAC system efficient, but has it been properly sized for the house it’s going in, have the ducts been sealed against leaking their air out? Has the home been air-sealed?

What Does an Energy Star 3.0-Certified Home Look Like?

We recently completed an Energy Star 3.0-certified home here in the mountains of North Carolina. It was one of the first homes in our area to be certified as Energy Star 3.0. With features like an inch of exterior foam insulation on top of 2x6 walls, Energy Star-certified windows, a high efficiency (16 SEER) heating and cooling system, fresh air ventilation, a solar water heating system, and lots of air-sealing, the house was able to easily qualify for the requirements.

In some places, building Energy Star can earns the builder and the homeowner utility incentives: here in Western North Carolina, for example, we earned a nice builder rebate, and the homeowner got an extra 5% off of their monthly power bill.

 an energy star certified deltec home

An Energy Star 3.0-certified home in Western North Carolina.

The value that Energy Star Certification gives to homeowners—ongoing utility savings, that only grow over the life of the home as energy costs continue to rise, are starting to be recognized in the marketplace. Several studies are finding that green certified homes, such as Energy Star, sell for a higher price, and stay on the market for a shorter amount of time. The North Carolina Alliance for Energy Efficiency did a study on green homes in central North Carolina and found this to be the case, while studies in Oregon, California, and Atlanta, to name just a few, tell similar stories.

Green building only makes sense, and green certification programs offer builders guidance on green building practices while giving projects official, marketplace recognition for the above-and-beyond practices that have been done. Energy Star is becoming one of the most recognized and common-sense way to ensure that new homes are built to exceptional energy performance.

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