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The first time I saw a living roof, I wanted one. A meadow on the top of your house? Who wouldn’t want that? I discussed with friends how I’d grow fruit up there, and imagined myself laying in the lush green grass plucking strawberries. I forgot of course I was living on Turkey’s Mediterranean where it doesn’t rain for five months a year. Green roofs are perfect for cool, wet climates. But for the hot and the dry?

Unfortunately, I’m a stubborn sort, notorious for paying zero attention to advice or practicalities. The benefit of such a character is that occasionally you come up with new ways of doing things. My living/dead roof is one of them.

My roof is constructed the same way as a conventional living roof, with one small adjustment. Half of the year it’s dead.


How to Make a Living Roof

Before you do anything at all, make sure your joists are strong enough. Earth roofs are heavy, and depending on how much soil, water, plants and what type of membrane you’ve used, it could weigh anywhere between 100-250 kg/square metre. You can check these figures in more detail here.

Also make sure you have the correct incline, (mine is 10 cm from front to back on a roof about 7 metres diameter, and I’d say that’s perfect). If there’s no incline, the water can’t drain away leaving you with a pond sitting on your roof. If the incline is too steep, you may have erosion issues.

A living roof is constructed with the following layers:

1. Plywood or OSB nailed to your roof joists.

2. A layer of thick (I used 4mm) waterproof roofing membrane. This is often made of rubber or modified bitumen.

3. A root barrier (greenhouse plastic works fine here). You need the barrier to stop plant roots burrowing into the membrane.

4. A drainage layer. Gravel and pumice are the least expensive and most natural options. Pumice may be preferable, because it’s lighter. Alternatively, you could purchase a synthetic drainage layer, such as a dimple mat.

5. A layer of blankets stops the soil clogging up the gravel/pumice. This layer may not be necessary if you use a synthetic drainage layer which has a soil barrier within it.

6. Earth mixed with compost. If you are worried about the weight of your roof, consider adding perlite or coconut husks to lighten the load, as well. Alternatively, leave a space in the middle of the roof, like I did, so the weight is concentrated on the supporting walls.

7. Plants. What you want is quick spreading, short plants like grass. Succulents can also work well. What you don’t want is a tree.

You also need to frame the sides of the roof to stop the soil falling out. I used wood. You could also use mesh guttering.

My Roof Both Lives and Dies

I made my roof back in 2012. How happy I was when I planted my flowers and succulents. Three months later, I had lost my smile, and so had my roof. There is no rain for five months of the year where I live, and of course the top of a roof is blazing hot. Everything died. So I came up with another plan: the semi-dead roof.

In summer, I cover the soil in dry grass cut from my garden. I have learned it’s easy to shape the straw by spraying water over it. The straw effectively insulates the house from the furnace-like heat. When winter comes, the dry grass rots and seeds, creating a lovely green roof. The fresh green growth prevents the earth from eroding in the heavy rain, too.

Myths About Living Roofs

There seem to be a lot of preconceptions about living roofs, most of which are wrong. Here’s some myths you may have heard.

1. Living roofs are hard to maintain. A living roof requires very little maintenance. The grass and earth protect the waterproof layers from sun damage, so the roof lasts indefinitely. And you never have to paint it or replace tiles.

2. Living roofs will leak. As long as your waterproof membrane is laid correctly, and you have a decent root barrier, all is well. This is the driest roof I’ve ever lived beneath in all my life.

3. Expensive and tricky to make. I had no money and no building experience when I built my house. The living roof is probably the most inexpensive and easiest roofing option going, especially if you use a basic pumice/gravel and blanket system.

Other Advantages of a Living Roof

1. Flood prevention. Living roofs slow surface run-off and reduced flooding around your property.

2. Camouflage. I admit, my roof, with its huge straw flower, wouldn’t fool a spy plane. But most green roofs blend into their environment making them less obvious from the air.

3. Sound proofing. If you’ve ever lived under a tin roof, you know how noisy rain can be. Tiles are not much better. A living roof is quiet.

4. Fireproofing. Living roofs, when they’re wet and alive, are not going to burn. Obviously, the semi-dead option, comes with no such guarantee. Though don’t forget, there is 15-20 cm layer of earth under the straw to slow a fire down.

5. Wildlife habitat. This is my favourite part of the roof. It’s a haven for birds, lizards, squirrels, and other creatures.

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 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, The Mud Home. Read all of Atulya'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.



When it comes to recycling household products, most people only think about the kitchen: the soup cans, the pasta jars, the cardboard cereal boxes and snack packaging. While recycling bins are commonly found next to the kitchen trash, you should also consider adding some to your bathroom.

Sound strange? Not when you realize those tissue boxes, cardboard toilet paper rolls and plastic shampoo bottles that usually end up in the trash are all recyclable. Most people don’t consider their bathroom beyond basic decoration and functionality, but it takes just a few minutes and very little space to set up a convenient station that can help save the earth and keep a lot of waste out of landfills.

Setting Up Your Recycling System

1. Gather three small baskets, bins or boxes (old shoeboxes work great in a pinch!). If you aren’t hiding the system away, or you’re concerned it won’t match your bathroom decor, consider purchasing three decorative wastebaskets instead.

2. Label each box or basket: one for plastic, one for aerosol cans and one for cardboard.

3. Place your baskets or boxes under the vanity, tuck them in an unused corner, or stack them in the linen closet.

4. Make sure your family knows which items can be recycled—some are surprising! My children didn’t know they could recycle the plastic bag that held cotton balls or the sunscreen bottle, and my husband didn’t realize that his shaving cream can and deodorant container could be salvaged, too. To avoid confusion, consider printing a list of eligible recyclables, then laminating it and hanging it on a towel hook in the bathroom. Here are a few to get you started:

• Hairspray cans
• Plastic combs
• Hand lotion tubes
• Cardboard boxes from toothpaste, bars of soap, etc.
• Mouthwash bottles
• Plastic packaging
• Contact lens solution bottles

Note that plastic bottle pumps cannot be recycled. To help prevent any mishaps (and cut down on waste), purchase non-disposable soap and lotion dispensers and buy your hand soap and body lotion in refill packages.

If you are currently remodeling your bathroom, have your recycling system in mind when picking out your furnishings. A vanity with spacious cabinets is the perfect place to stow recycling bins, keeping your bathroom looking neat and tidy.

Make Recycling a Habit

It can take some time for this shift in behavior to take root with your family. If you’re used to throwing away the shampoo bottle, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to change that habit and place it in the recycling box instead. When my family started, I’d regularly see items in the trash can that needed to be moved. It became easier after a few reminders, and now it’s a natural habit.

It’s an important habit, too—the average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. With the number of personal care products used in most homes, it only makes sense to recycle. In fact, the Environmental Working Group reported that a quarter of all women use at least 15 different toiletries daily. Think of all those plastic bottles, boxes and aerosol cans that just get tossed into the trash. What a difference it would make if we all had a bathroom recycling station!

Green and Clean Mom Sommer Poquette is a recycling maven who shares her tips online for The Home Depot. Sommer’s advice on bathroom recycling aims to keep this most important room organized and eco-friendly. To review bathroom vanities that can help you set up your recycling system, you can visit Home Depot's website. Read all of Sommer'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.


The natural building movement aims to change the paradigm of how homes are currently built, from expensive, toxic, resource-intensive boxes to elegant, affordable, healthy homes that make sense for the planet and us.

 -  Conrad Rogue          

When I was first getting started in Natural Building there were several books that were instrumental in my pursuit of knowledge in the field: The Hand Sculpted House, Shelter, and A Pattern Language were a few of them. Each inspired me to learn and do more and transformed how I saw homes and building in general.

Cob cabin interior

Conrad Rogue’s new natural building book, My House of Earth (self-published, 172 pages) is another foundational work that is sure to inspire, inform, and propel the next generation of natural builders. It is a comprehensive work with a companion website chock full of pictures and videos from which both novice and experienced builders will benefit.

House Alive!

I’ve known Conrad since late 2009 when my family moved onto his House Alive! homestead. We initially reached out to Conrad and his wife through an online posting of theirs about their unschooling efforts with their own children but were struck by the cob wonderland that is his homestead. The main house and a dozen or so cabins and landscape walls from workshops past are sprinkled among the gardens, paths, and forest of this natural building nirvana.

We were so inspired that we moved onto his land and lived and learned there for six months. Since then, we have worked together on several builds including two in our Reno neighborhood (see the One Day Cob House video).

I am happy to recommend his book not just because of our friendship but because he is great builder, teacher, and philosopher. He is original in his thinking, skilled in his techniques, and passionate about the beauty and potential of natural building. And, above all, he has the rare ability to skillfully convey all of that in his writing and teaching. 

Conrad told me he has taught more than 1,000 students through apprenticeships and workshops since 2000.  That experience shows in every chapter of his book.   I’ve read scores  of natural building books over the years and most authors do a passable job of describing techniques:  how to build a cob wall, how to determine if you have enough clay, how to tamp an earthbag… Conrad happens to do so in the way he teaches – straightforward and easy to understand with the joy and love of the work coming through on each page.

Notable Contents

Here are some particular goodies from My House of Earth:

Earthen Floors (page 143): Conrad gets earthen floors. Over the years as I’ve observed the transfer of knowledge in the NB world I am always surprised at how slow this knowledge makes its way around the globe.  NB is still a fringe practice (although growing!) and it shows with how few people understand how to make an easy and great earthen floor.   I’ve lived with Conrad’s floors and built more of my own and they are little wonders of beauty, functionality and simplicity.  Conrad’s explanations and videos online relate this well.  (His House Alive! partner, James Thomson, recently co-authored the bible of earthen floors: Earthen Floors: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Practice)

Earthen Ovens (page 163): Cob ovens are often a gateway project for new natural builders and they have the mysterious and unusual capacity to evoke deep emotions in the people who want to build them. For whatever reason (maybe it’s the tasty and addictive gluten in the bread folks hope to bake in the ovens) people go ga-ga over them. More often than not, unfortunately, they wind up unused and neglected and slowly melt back into the earth. My opinions aside, Conrad perfectly describes how to build them in about 5 pages.

“This may be helpful” sections throughout the book: For me, these are the best nuggets in the book, where Conrad’s wisdom and experience come through in spades. It’s almost like having a conversation with him: Conrad, how do earthen buildings moderate temperature? Well, Kyle, they…(page 106)


Lastly, I think what I appreciate most about Conrad and this book is the underlying notion that quality of life is the end goal in our building of homes and shaping of space. The type of materials we use and how they age over time, our connection to place and people while building with earth, the simplicity of the materials and how they contribute to a pleasant, non-toxic, and regenerative life. Conrad understands and conveys in his writing why we build this way and why, for so many of us, Natural Building feels like a homecoming in our bones, our hands, our souls to an ancient human practice and to the very fabric of the Earth itself.

More Info…

Conrad has spent a lot of time developing accompanying web content for each chapter in the book.  These are full of videos and pictures that allow readers to see the techniques in action in the same clear and concise way that makes Conrad such a great workshop teacher. 

My House of Earth is available in as a digital e-pub or Kindle book for just $8 (he even offers it for free if you are strapped for cash!).  Give it and the accompanying website a try – you will be a better builder because of it.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his 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.


Cat watching a wood stove

For the last five years, my husband and I have enjoyed the radiant heat from homegrown wood burned in our efficient wood stove. We've learned a lot in the process. Here are my top ten tips if you want to follow in our footsteps.

1. Choose a modern, right-sized stove. Whether you go for a catalytic or non-catalytic stove, you'll make more heat and less pollution if you choose a stove that fits your space. Many sources suggest planning on 50 to 55 BTU per square foot in the extreme north of the U.S., on 30 to 35 BTU per square foot in the deep south, and around 40 to 45 BTU per square foot in the middle states. Here in zone 6, we chose a 28,000 BTU Jotul F 602 to heat our 500-square-foot mobile home, and the stove has been perfect except during the few days when temperatures dip below 0 Fahrenheit.

Smoke from an efficient wood stove

2. Burn hot fires. If your stove is the right size, it's much easier to light fires that burn without being damped down at all during the daytime. This type of fire will produce the most heat and, if your stove includes baffles to increase efficiency, will produce next to no particulate pollution.

Coals in a fire

3. Learn to damp down a stove. There are times when it makes sense to damp down a stove, though. I close our damper to reduce air flow right before going to bed, which leaves me with enough coals to make lighting the morning fire very simple. If I'm going to be away from home all day, I do the same. If you're planning to damp down a fire, it's important to first develop a bed of hot coals then to fill the entire stove up with fresh wood. Burn the new wood as hot as you can for about fifteen minutes until any moisture has been driven off and the logs are fully lit. Then damp the stove down all the way so nearly no oxygen enters the firebox. The result is a fire that will smolder for ten hours or longer, slowly radiating heat out into your cooling home.

4. Learn the different types of wood. Your local forest will determine which trees you choose to burn, but you'll soon realize that wood can be divided into three categories. Very soft wood --- like box-elders --- is extremely easy to light and burns fast. This type of wood is good for small fires during the shoulder season and for making kindling to start winter fires. Medium-weight wood like walnut and tulip-tree, is a little harder to light and creates a bit more heat, while hard wood like oak, apple, and locust will give you lots of heat but can be a bear to start without adding in other types of kindling. In our moderate climate, we mostly burn medium-weight wood but try to have a few really hard logs on hand for the dead of winter.

Firewood shapes

5. Understand splitting. How to split wood would be another post in its own right. But the shape your wood ends up in is relevant to building and maintaining a fire, so I'll mention a few pointers here. Small branches --- perhaps five or fewer inches in diameter --- can be added to the fire unsplit. These will burn slower than you think they would because of the round shape and barked exterior. In contrast, a rectangular or triangular chunk of wood from the interior of a larger log will light and burn much faster. So save those branches for chinking the gaps around larger logs when building an overnight fire.

Air flow in a wood stove

6. Understand air flow. Lighting and maintaining a fire is all about air flow. There's a sweet spot where plenty of oxygen can eddy around your logs but where nearby flammables are still close enough to bounce heat back and forth between them --- this is the perfect setup for getting a new fire up and running fast. If you want to slow things down, pack the logs in tighter together, which reduces air flow even before you damp the stove down.

7. Manage your kindling. Top-notch kindling is the difference between an hour spent muttering over a smoldering flame and a fire that leaps to life in the time it takes to gulp down a plate of scrambled eggs. I collect the slivers that spray out in all directions as we split wood and save them in a dry place for tinder. Two small logs --- about two by two inches --- arranged on the two sides of the fire box, a couple of sheets of junk mail (non glossy paper only) crumpled up in between, three or four of those slivers carefully laid atop the mass so they won't fall flat when the paper burns, and then one more small log on top is all it takes. Open the damper, light a match and let the fire catch hold with the stove door open, then shut the door and watch 'er rip.

Cooking down maple sap

8. Put a kettle on top. Hot dry air in the winter can make your nose bleed and your lips chap. So fill a kettle with water and put it on top of your wood stove for electricity-free humidification. Or, better yet, mix up a winter soup to simmer all day, filling your air with both moisture and the aroma of homegrown food. You can even use that hot surface area to boil down maple sap into syrup!

Ash bucket

9. Manage your ashes. I scoop the ashes out of my stove each morning before lighting a new fire, tipping any coals back into the fire box to make new logs light easier. The ashes go into a metal bucket (careful --- some coals will still be smoldering!), and when the bucket's full I take it all outside to sift out the biochar for use in my garden. If your soil is more acidic than mine, you may use the ashes in your garden plot as well.

Writing by the fire

10. Don't forget to enjoy the flames! I have to fight the cats over the warm spot in front of the fire and it's a bit tricky to make sure my laptop screen doesn't melt when I write there. But it's all worth it for the happy glow of a warm fire on a cold night.

Anna Hess is the author of The Weekend Homesteader, The Naturally Bug-Free Garden, and Trailersteading. She and her husband also blog about their homesteading adventures daily at the Walden Effect blog. Find all of Anna'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.



The dog days of summer may be over, but the freezing cold weather has just begun. Whereas you’ll need to worry about the cooling costs in summer, winter is the time when your heating costs start to climb. Because heating and cooling contribute to as much as half of the energy consumption in any home, EnergyStar recommends homeowners to pursue a number of smart energy-saving practices to keep their energy bills in check. This includes changing the air filter every 3 months, tuning up the HVAC equipment yearly, and investing in eco-friendly appliances. However, there are also a few things you can do right now to remain eco-friendly in winter while enjoying a reduction in energy costs:

1. Smart Thermostat Operation

Knowing how to properly operate your thermostat can help you to reduce your energy cost without compromising any personal comfort. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill by turning your thermostat back 10 degrees to 15 degrees when you are asleep or away from home. This can translate to“a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.” For families who may be swamped up in the hustles and bustles of life (and holiday shopping spree), a programmable thermostat can seamlessly “learn your family habits” and save you the trouble of setting and resetting the system.

2. Knock Out the Drafts

If you have leaky windows and doors, your home may be intruded by cold air without you ever knowing it. Depending on the severity of the situation, drafty windows can cost you anywhere between 5 percent and 30 percent of your home’s energy. Thankfully, the solutions are relatively easy and affordable. As Consumer Energy Center points out, while improperly sealed homes can lead homeowners to waste 10 to 15 percent in heating costs, homeowners can take immediate actions by weatherstripping and caulking the leakage. Besides using window treatments and coverings (like heavy drapes and curtains) to improve your home’s energy efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy also encourages homeowners to remember to open curtains on their south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to heat up the home naturally.

3. Reduce Water Heating Costs

A hot shower or bath in winter may be a much-anticipated luxury, but it also comes with a heavy price tag. When interviewed by Money US News, Marianne Cusato, the housing advisor for, explains that homeowners can easily winterize their home by lowering their water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 with no ill effect. The U.S. Department of Energy also advises homeowners to check for leaky fixtures (faucets and showerheads) to save approximately 1,661 gallons of water and up to $35 per year. As a general eco-friendly practice, homeowners can purchase quality, low-flow fixtures for approximately $10 to $20 a piece and experience a generous water-saving of 25 percent to 60 percent.

4. Heat Up the Room Sparingly

Staying warm is undoubtedly a priority in winter. However, instead of heating up the entire room, you can focus on a few popularly occupied rooms with a space heater. Doing so will eliminate the possibility of overheating your home and keeping the heat concentrated in the areas you need the most. Finally, putting on quality layers of clothes will also help you to fight the cold and maintain a reasonable room temperature.

Paul Kazlov is a metal roofing expert and has grown Global Home Improvement to be the Mid-Atlantic's largest installer of residential metal roofing, saving the everyday homeowner money on energy costs. He has installed more than 1,000 metal roofs and more than 2 million square feet of standing seam, metal slate, and metal tile, helping the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York area. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulKazlov. Read all of his 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.


Jenni image 1

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.

Jenni image 2 

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.

Jenni image 3

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.

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