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Removing Grass: Less Work, More Green

The ideal home several decades ago had a green lawn and a white picket fence. While many homes still have a broad expanse of lawn in front and in back, yards in which some or all of the grass has been removed are becoming more popular.

Some of the popularity stems from the need to save water. Watering a 1,000 square-foot green lawn requires 30,000 gallons every year. For context, a person standing in a shower all day and all night for eight days would use roughly that amount. Green lawn replacement obviously cuts down on water usage, and that’s an important consideration — especially in drought-stricken areas like California. But it’s also important to homeowners everywhere interested in natural resource conservation.

Other factors driving the popularity of less grass in yards are the time savings and the movement toward native plants and grasses.

Remember, you don’t have to make an either-or decision about whether to remove grass or not. Many homeowners choose to remove just part of their lawn. They fill the remaining space with either hardscape, such as paved paths or gravel, or softscape, such as shrubs and plants.

Should you think about removing grass in your yard? Let’s look at the pros and cons.


Source: Pexels

The Benefits

A few of the benefits of removing some of your lawn include:

Conserving Water

Turf grass, which is the official name for the “green lawn” image that comes to mind, is one of the most water-intensive plantings. Whether you’re in a drought area or not, you are using plenty of water to keep your grass green, and you’re paying for it as well.

One popular solution is to remove part of a turf grass lawn and replant using native plants. Depending on your area, native plants can save up to 75 percent of the water used on a green lawn. You can also save water by hardscaping some of the land. Gravel and concrete do not take water at all!

Reducing Pesticide and Herbicide Use

Another popular reason for removing lawns is that keeping them green and weed-free may require use of both pesticides and herbicides. These have harsh chemicals that are anything but green. They are often made from petroleum products, which is a fossil fuel whose use contributes to global warming. Less lawn equates to less use of pesticides and herbicides.

Be aware, of course, that if your lawn is replaced by plants, trees or shrubs, you may also be using pesticides and herbicides on them. But more environmentally friendly ways to cut down on weeds, such as mulching, do exist. You can also plan your new yard with hardy plants that require little use of pesticides and herbicides.

Being Kind to Pollinators

Many plants need pollinators, like bees, butterflies and birds to propagate. If your yard is entirely turf grass, it’s not a haven for pollinators.

But replacing no more than 50 percent of the lawn area with flowering native plants means you can attract pollinators. You’re being environmentally conscious in two ways if you do. One, you are saving on water, pesticides and herbicides. Two, you are providing a home for pollinators, which are necessary for the continuation of plants.

Less Work to Maintain Your Yard

Removing part of your green lawn means removing the work that goes along with it. No more mowing or edging — at least for the part you have taken out.

If work is a concern, you may choose to replant the area of your yard with low-maintenance shrubs or bushes. You will have to water and prune, but that’s often far less work than turf grass or flowering plants.

patio in yard hardscaping

Source: Pexels

The Drawbacks

Some of the drawbacks to removing part of your lawn are:

Contributing to Environmental Damage

Turf grass has positive environmental qualities. It keeps soil in place, for one. Soil erosion can result if the earth is open and not watered. Soil, like water, is a natural resource. Its conservation with turf grass is a good thing. Turf grass also prevents rain runoff. Especially when rain is heavy, it can run off a hardscape or water-resistant plants. This wastes water.

Keeping up to 50 percent of your turf grass minimizes these possibilities. You can also combat water runoff by keeping rain barrels to catch rain. You then use the rainwater for watering the lawn. It’s free and environmentally conscious.

Reducing the Aesthetics and Utility of Green Lawns

Although more mixed yards are gaining in popularity, many people still love green lawns. They like the look of a sweep of green. They like the way the yard smells after being mowed. They like to play lawn tennis — yes, it’s a thing — or croquet. Babies can walk on lawns — hardscapes, not so much.

Of course, keeping part of the lawn retains those cool qualities. Part of planning can be to keep enough turf grass for tennis and a baby’s first steps.

Increasing Home Sale Time

When people look for a home with a yard, they often expect to see a home with green grass. Having part of your yard with other types of softscapes or hardscapes might not be to some people’s taste.

It’s like having an unusual feature inside your home. Some potential buyers might love it, but it might turn some folks off. The same goes for a home with less of a lawn, and it means it might take longer to sell your home as it will cater to a more specific buyer.   

Should you replant part of your lawn? Only you can determine the balance of pros and cons for your lifestyle. Our itemization of benefits and drawbacks should help you decide.

Megan Wild improves homes by focusing on increasing their sustainability and finding new ways to repurpose old materials. When she’s not holding a hammer, you can find her writing up her ideas and thoughts for her blog, Your Wild Home, and read all of Megan's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Making the Most of Water on Your Property: Runoff, Drainage, and Irrigation


I don’t know about you guys, but where I’m at, it’s been a really interesting month for weather. Here in the mountains of central Montana, the weather swung low to -20F for a while, then soared up to 48F. The foot of snow that was settled in for the winter started to melt into a thick, crusty layer, and then something alarming happened - it started to move.

Our driveway is on a slope, and as things started to thaw out, the snow and ice slid down down to the bottom where we turn around, piling into foot-high piles of slush, slow, and ice - it’s been a mess. There’s only so much good that plowing that muck will do, and when things got below freezing again (as they always do), we were left with ragged, rutted out piles of frozen slush.

This whole thing has me really thinking of the importance of earthworks this month. I’m looking at this mess, and just kind of generally throwing my hands up, because we can keep plowing it out, but with the next random thaw, it will fill right back in with that muck.

During my time with Permies, I learned so much about the importance of earthworks. More than anything though, I learned that it’s always the first and most important thing you should do on a property - before you ever consider building anything.How your property manages water and temperature changes is going to dictate everything about the success of your homestead, so you need to get it together as soon as you start planning, and decide what needs to be done to make the plot efficient.

Observe and Interact - Water Patterns

Though local climate can certainly vary from year to year, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of simply observing the patterns of water flow on your property before you begin construction. Knowing what happens when it rains and snows can change everything about your approach, so try to refrain from jumping in before you’re ready. 

In addition to knowing the usual facts about where flood plains lie in your area and your average annual snowfall, frequently walk your property with a small notebook and jot down your observations at various points in your property. Get a feel for the ground, how soft it is, where water tends to settle, where things tend to freeze, and which areas drain the fastest. 

After a solid year’s worth of observations, review your notes, and start digging into the real fun - planning your earthworks. 

Creating Abundance with Earthworks 

Placing the proper earthworks in place before you start building your house or garden isn’t just going to mitigate the usual problems of a washed out driveway or flooded yard - it’s going to direct water where you actually need it. 

Swales are a fantastic way to help your property hold onto water, while still getting it out of the way. Unlike a ditch, swales hold onto water, rather than direct it away. Using these in conjunction with areas that drain too quickly is a great way to provide water to areas that need it the most. 

Berms are another great way to influence your local micro-climate. They’ll block excess wind and sun, and you can even use hugelkultur to create systems that hold onto water and provide abundant plant growth.  

With some forethought and a little heavy equipment use, earthworks can actually save you from having to irrigate, and even allow you to direct excess water in such a way that’s beneficial to your property. In his World Domination Gardening DVD set, Paul Wheaton demonstrates an interesting project, in which nasty road culvert water is directed into a pond, and then cleaned with a completely natural, maintenance-free filtration system. 

Building Considerations with Excess Precipitation

The concept of where and how to build a structure to accommodate the weather is one that could span an entire book, but there are a couple of basic principles to make sure you have covered if you plan to build a house or structure.  

Build somewhere sensible. Choose a well-drained area on a high point of your property for building your home, with firm, well-drained soil.

Use trees to your advantage. Though the risk of having your roof smashed in by a strong wind is a valid concern, there’s a lot to be said for the simple cooling effects of a large, strong tree situated near your home. The shade alone will keep your house much cooler in the summer, so don’t rule it out as an alternative to air conditioning.

Pay close attention to the pitch of your roof. This is where consulting an engineer could be a necessity if you live in a climate with a lot of snow. Snow weighs a lot, and frequently collapses buildings that aren’t designed to help with shedding it. Make sure if you’re in a climate with a lot of annual snowfall that your roof is going to allow for slide.

The bigger your eaves, the better. Large eaves are going to help keep your house and foundation dry in a heavy downpour. Make the overhang as large as you can.

Have a system for redirecting water. Eaves won’t do you any good at all if you’re just letting the water pool around your house. Install a good gutter system, and run some drainage canals strategically through your property to direct the flow of water somewhere more sensible, whether it be a collection tank or pond. 

When it all seems like a lot get your head around, just remember this one simple thing: always direct water away from structures. Sometimes that might mean literally building a hill to put your house on, but in many cases it could be just as simple as installing a gutter system and some French drains. 

Additionally, remember to factor in the local climate extremes as you plan and build your site, and allocate your time and financial resources according to the most pressing issues. For example, in a dry climate like Texas’, a Dallas gutter system isn’t going to work nearly as hard as one in Washington. If you have a heavy rainfall, invest plenty of time and money into systems that are going to be resilient and effective. Being a cheapskate in these areas is only going to hurt you in the long run. 

Other considerations are going to be dependent on the type of structure you build. Underground dwellings will have to account for things like condensation, and above ground homes should be engineered with wind in mind.  

All of these concepts are pretty straightforward, but the downfall of the homesteader is always jumping the gun, so make sure you take the time necessary to plan, so that Mother Nature doesn’t, quite literally, wipe your progress off the face of the earth. DIY home building is absolutely possible, but it takes a great deal of forethought to successfully execute, so do your homework.  

I know you’re itching to get your hands dirty and start putting together your property, but trust me on this - wait. Watch what happens when weather hits your property, and plan your buildings and earthworks around what Mother Nature has in store for you.

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

What Is a Passive House?


Super insulation is at the heart of the Passive House construction concept.

Is it possible we’ve been approaching heating our homes from completely the wrong angle? That’s what proponents of the Passive House believe. Those who follow the principles of this German construction concept say that instead of heating up our homes, we should be trying to keep them from losing their natural heat.

How do you do this? Through super insulation, active ventilation and superior building materials. The result is a home that claims to save up to 90 percent on heating and cooling energy use.

Think of it like your morning cup of coffee. You can keep it warm by leaving it on the hotplate, where it receives a constant supply of heat until you’re ready to drink it. Or, you can put it in a thermos mug, where it will stay hot for hours. In your home, you can either stay warm by turning on a heater, or by preventing the warm air inside from escaping through insulating your walls, doors and windows.

A Passive House is designed and built to be effectively airtight, using super insulation in walls, triple-glazed windows and thermal bridge free construction to prevent any heat escaping or intruding, depending on the season. The combination of these three building principals effectively eliminates any potential air leaks in the home, keeping the inside temperature at a constant level that never varies more than 10 degrees, no matter how frightful the weather is outside. Crucially, a Passive House has no need for a dedicated HVAC unit. It uses no external energy source to provide most of its heat.

Instead, a Passive House relies on passive solar gain and ambient heat given off by its occupants and electronic equipment. Combined with super insulation, that can provide enough heat to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the home. Any additional need can be supplemented by energy generated from renewable resources. Solar-powered hot water, for instance, can power in-floor radiant heat for homes in particularly cold climates.

The other source of hot or cool air, depending on the season, comes from the Passive House’s ventilation system. An airtight home without a ventilation system could produce significant health hazards, so it’s essential to have fresh air enter courtesy of a specially designed ventilation system. That system also acts as a form of heat recovery.

According to the Passive House International Association, “A highly efficient heat recovery system is capable of transferring more than 75 percent of the perceivable warmth from the used, exhaust air to the fresh, incoming supply air. In this way, for example, 20° C exhaust air can bring the cold supply air on a 0° C day to at least 16° C, without the use of active heating. When it is too hot outside, warm ambient air can be cooled before it enters the home in much the same way.”

Cost and Energy Usage

Building a Passive House is estimated to be five to 20 percent more expensive than construction of a standard home. This incorporates building thicker walls for more insulation, paying for triple-paned windows and higher quality of building materials, and investing in a ventilation system. However, you don’t need to buy and install any HVAC system.

Because it does away with the need for an HVAC system, a Passive House uses less than 10 percent of the energy of a traditional home. The benefits here are clear—the house that can reduce its energy consumption by 90 percent is a game changer, and will do far more for the future of the planet than any amount of recycling or composting!

However, the construction of a Passive House relies on a delicate balance between insulation, ventilation and construction. To achieve this, calculations need to be precise in order to avoid any potential issues, so it’s important to use a builder certified in Passive House building. You should also have the project certified by the Passive House Institute.

Retrofit Your Existing House

The good news is that the Passive House concept can be applied to existing homes. It is entirely possible to retrofit your home to be a Passive House, or at the very least apply some of the principles of super insulation to your home to help cut down on the energy you use.

This farmhouse in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho underwent a complete Passive House retrofit a few years ago and today uses 90 percent less heating energy and up to 70 percent less total energy than a standard new construction house.

This 1910 farmhouse is an impressive “green” building. It boasts triple-paned Krypton filled windows, 12 inches of super-dense insulation, a 93 percent efficient heat recovery ventilation system and a solar thermal heat storage system designed to provide extra heat during winters that can hit 10 degrees below freezing. Taking no energy from the grid, the combination of insulation, ventilation and solar power keep it at a comfortable temperature that is even throughout the home.

For so long, the idea of building green has always come with substantial upfront costs and the promise of long-term payoffs. The concept of a Passive House is one that costs about the same as a regular house but eliminates the monthly power bill. That is a significant, tangible saving that any homeowner will realize immediately. Not having to wait a decade or two to recoup on your investment is a pretty powerful selling point.

Jennifer Tuohy has 15 years’ experience in newspapers, magazines, marketing and online content, winning many awards. She writes on a variety of subjects, but her passion lies with technology, sustainability and the intersection of the two. She lives in Charleston, SC, where she contributes to numerous websites, edits two local newspapers, and renovates her dream home. To learn more about insulating your home as Jennifer talks about in this article, you can go to Home Depot's website. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

8 Huge Benefits of Living in a Tiny House

tiny house

Tiny houses are everywhere! These tiny, compact, affordable houses are the perfect addition to any family. Just look up Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House Builders, or Tiny House Nation. The blogs and TV shows show how popular the craze is right now, especially with the cost of owning a “normal house” growing out of proportion. But, besides the cost effectiveness of owning and living in a tiny house, there are tons of benefits. Ability to travel, eco-friendly living, less money decorating and cleaning, to just name a few. Together, we will go over the top 10 benefits of living in a tiny house, and hey, you might even want to start considering one.

Building a Tiny House Costs Much Less than a “Normal House”

Not everyone has the knowledge to build their own tiny house, so they have engineers design it for them. Obviously, due to this or any construction project, things are going to cost a little bit of dough. Luckily, however, tiny house costs a lot less than an average house. As a matter of fact, tiny houses only cost a fraction of the cost traditional cost due to only needing a fraction of the materials. And, you can find free tiny house plans from all over the internet if you don't want to hire someone to design it for you. This cost usually runs from $20-50,000 making it a little easier to pay without needing a mortgage. However, most banks would gladly hand over this small loan payment if you needed a mortgage since it's so much smaller than a traditional home loan.

You Can Travel the Country With Ease

If you build a tiny house on wheels, you can literally attach your home to your car and drive anywhere in the country. You can even set up shop. Never again will you deal with the struggle of finding some cheap hotel room on vacation when you can take your entire home with you. Whether it's the Grand Canyons or visiting the many trails of Vermont, you are completely covered to travel wherever and whenever you want.

But what about electricity, water, or sewer needs? You’ll never need them again...well...maybe some of them. Since most tiny houses have solar and rain barrels built into them, your house kind of takes care of itself. Think of a tiny house like an RV, wherever an RV can go you can go. You can even get a tiny house suited with RV hookups for easier stays at campsites.

Say Goodbye to Future Big Moves

New Job and need to move? No worries! Just pack up your house, attach it to your car, and be on your way. No need to say goodbye to your precious house you spent years in, making new memories, or renting a new house that may not be as good. Instead of jumping from house to house, you can stick with this one and move anywhere your heart desires. The only question is where to move to next?

Most Tiny Houses Are 100 Percent Eco-friendly

You can finally fill your life’s purpose of re-purposing everything. Even the materials that made your tiny house can be made from recycled materials promoting healthier living. Not to mention the solar panels on the roof, the rain barrels on the side of the house, and composting toilet. There is no end to how eco-friendly you can be, promoting a healthier and cleaner earth for future generations.

Goodbye Electric Bills

Tear up those electric bills right now. Hello, the beauty of solar power. That’s right, you can get all your electricity by that hot yellow sun. Since tiny houses are smaller and require fewer appliances, you don’t even need a lot of power to start with. However, if you need a bit more juice, remember what I said about it being an RV, just grab a spot at a local campsite that provides hookups. Life could not be simpler.

You Can Live Simpler

Say goodbye to your tubs and containers of things you “had to keep.” You crazy hoarder you. Time to say goodbye and start living simpler by decluttering your home and your life. Since tiny houses are so much smaller than a house there’s no room to keep that stuff. I mean, you could rent a storage unit if you needed to, but that’s all you.

Spend Less Money on Decorations

Why have a Christmas tree inside when you can have it glowing outside your home? Say goodbye to pine needle messes. But don’t worry, I’m sure Santa will still manage to find a way to drop off your presents. With less decoration, there comes less electricity needed, which means less spending for you. See how this all works out for you? Trickling unnecessary spending in the trash.

Spend Less Time Cleaning

Who likes cleaning? Well, I do, but most people don’t. With a tiny house, all you have to do is some light sweeping and dusting...and done. Yea, seriously, that’s it. 10 minutes tops every week, talk about living simpler.

Stay Tidier

Say goodbye to clothing piles. Since there is less space in tiny houses, having messy areas isn’t really suggested since you’ll be walking over them. You’ll start to love compartmentalized living since it really is cleaner. Start decluttering your life and staying tidier in the space you have. Something to teach the kids.

It Can Be Anything You Want It To Be

Tiny houses are entirely customizable. There are tons of designs on tons of tiny house building websites. However, if you don’t find something you like I’m sure someone on TaskRabbit will be up to the challenge. Even when you have your tiny house, things can be rebuilt and rearranged. This is easy living after all.

I really hope I managed to sweep you off your feet and get you into a tiny house. It’s affordable, popular, and really cool! Even if you currently have a house you’re paying off, who doesn’t like a portable vacation home? I know we will reach the critics of the dangers of tiny living, but if it’s just you and your dog, the possibilities of a happier and easier life are within reach. If you love tiny living or have any suggestions feel free to comment below.

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

A Hand-Built Cabin in the Woods of British Columbia’s Hornby Island

The following post is an excerpt from Builders of the Pacific Coast (Shelter Publications, 2008) by long-time Mother Earth News contributor Lloyd Kahn. A continuation of Kahn's journeys into the creative processes of owner-built homes — their innovative techniques, use of sustainable materials, and essential dedication to the natural elements surrounding their designs — Builders of the Pacific Coast explores the aesthetics and techniques of three master builders in California, Washington state, and the rugged terrain of British Columbia.

Michael McNamara studied architecture at the University of Oregon in the mid-60s, and then got drafted for Vietnam. Like so many other sixties-era draftees, he headed north for British Columbia, where he found welcome asylum.

As I met Michael and other 60s immigrants to Canada, I realized how wrong the term “draft dodgers” is. Sure, they dodged the draft, but primarily, they believed the war was wrong, that Nixon and Kissinger were wrong, and that they didn’t want to end up killing Vietnamese people. Trudeau was prime minister of Canada then, and his policy was that the border guards could not ask an immigrant’s draft status. And so Canada got some of our best and brightest, including this one.

Michael applied for landed immigrant status and moved to Vancouver, where he got a job with architect Arthur Erickson. On weekends, he was on the ski patrol at Whistler Mountain. One day, Dean Ellis, one of his ski patrol friends, told him about a carpenter on nearby Hornby Island who was building unique houses out of driftwood, and Michael started visiting Hornby.

There was a serious back-to-the land movement going on in that part of the world then — he felt so sympático with it that he moved to Hornby. In a year-and-a-half, he bought 10 acres with two other people, his then-wife Kirstin and Dean Ellis, and has been there ever since.

Michael is responsible for leading me to many of the builders for the book this post comes from. (His light-filled studio and house were my nomadic headquarters for plotting who to visit.) The builder he originally came to Hornby to see was Lloyd House, and this was the first builder he urged me to see.

Michael built his own house and went on to found Blue Sky Design, a firm that does both design and construction. In the beginning, they did the design, framing — “everything from foundations to furniture.”

“Framing was always one of my most favorite parts,” Michael says, “because at that stage, you’re shaping the space. It seems the most creative.” They’d do the design in the winter and the building in the summer. He’s still running Blue Sky Design, with his long-time partner, builder Tim Wyndham.

At this point, he’s designed over 100 houses, a low-cost “village” for elders, was coordinating architect, along with Lloyd House and Ernst Snijders, on the unique Hornby Island Community Center built in the early 70s, and has been active in designing the infrastructure of the island for over 30 years.

Michael has designed a number of sod-roofed houses, and I asked what kind of waterproofing membrane was used. Michael showed me a piece of “torch-down” roofing material, which is applied with a large propane torch (called a Tiger Torch), and is used for most sod-roofed houses on the northwest coast these days. I was fascinated by a roll of torch-down lying around in his studio that had a quilted copper finish — not something to go under sod, but for an “aggressive industrial atmosphere.”

On one of my trips, Michael and his wife, Sally, were traveling, and said I could stay in their house, which I did. I woke up one morning, and the skylight was covered with snow. There’s an outdoor bathtub on the deck, which I filled with hot water. I lay in the tub watching snow fall all around.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitter, and Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here.

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

What Is OLED Lighting: And How Is It Different from LEDs?


LED lighting has been a key factor in the energy-use revolution over the last decade. It’s amazing to think that something as innocuous as a light bulb has been at the forefront of educating consumers on how technology can cut our carbon footprint and improve our homes and businesses.

In just a few years, LED lighting went from niche uses to mainstream. Helped in part by a significant drop in price, total installations of LED bulbs in American homes more than doubled from 77 million to 202 million in just one year. That figure is even more impressive when compared to the fewer than 400,000 installations in 2009.

But will this dramatic shift from one technology to another repeat itself? Will our 25-year life span LED lightbulbs be obsolete in 10 years when another hot new green technology comes along? We won’t have to wait another decade to find out. That new technology is already here: organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

Estimated to be a $1.3 billion market by 2023, OLED lighting works by using thin layers of organic compounds to emit light through electric currents. In contrast, LEDs predominantly use the chemical yellow phosphor. Score one for OLEDs on the green scale. OLEDs also have no UV rays, whereas LEDs have some.

OLEDs differ significantly from LEDs in form. They are made in sheets that are incredibly thin and pliable, so they can be adapted to work in places LEDs can never go. They also emit light evenly, as opposed to the bright, concentrated light of LEDs—think the difference between a paintbrush and a pen.

Does this mean OLEDs are going to replace LEDs as a greener, cleaner light source? In short, no. But they will augment and enhance the quest for ultimate lighting efficiency. Due to technical limitations, OLEDs are not, and likely won’t ever be, available in the traditional bulb style. They come as flat panels, which can be replaced as you would a light bulb. Here is an example of a consumer OLED lighting fixture:


Additionally, while OLEDs generate less heat than LEDs and are capable of a significantly higher color rendering index (CRI), they are currently much more expensive, have a shorter lumen life than LEDS and are not as bright—meaning you need up to twice as many to produce the same light as LEDs. They are also not yet able to produce color and are not as energy efficient as LEDs. When it comes to energy efficiency and longevity, LEDs are still in the lead.

So what are OLEDs good for now? Anywhere a smooth, diffused light of reasonable brightness is needed. From under-cabinet lighting to panels wrapped around a bathroom mirror, OLEDs provide a smooth, shadow free, non-glaring light—in contrast to most LED bulbs, which need diffusers and other effects to reduce glare and dissipate heat. This also makes OLEDs a good choice for overhead lighting in commercial office buildings and schools.

Where OLED won’t work is spotlighting, track or recessed lighting and anywhere you need point source light or long reach—LEDs will always win in those regards. What this means is that OLEDs are not a replacement for LEDs, but an enhancement. They fill in the gaps where LEDs don’t shine.

OLEDs also give us a glimpse into how we will light our homes in the future. Think about the sci-fi movies you’ve watched. Did you ever see a light bulb on the Starship Enterprise? The form factor of OLEDs is essentially what you saw in those futuristic worlds: diffused, flat light that glows gently from walls, ceilings and even floors.

Some companies have started to experiment with such futuristic uses, like using OLED panels in their display windows. Additionally, because of its flexibility, OLED lighting can be shaped into bold new designs far from your traditional light fixture.

"OLEDs will present lighting products in a new form factor, which will expand the design possibilities and change the way we use light in many environments," Darice Liu, of Universal Display, told CNET.

Switching America to LED lighting is still the holy grail that will generate enormous energy savings of 5.1 quads annually by 2035, according to While OLED technology is developing rapidly, it can’t outperform the dramatic reduction in electricity bills, enhanced energy security and significant environmental benefits LEDs provide.

However, as the cost of OLED drops, as we saw it do with LEDs, it will surely be a significant lighting source for our future.

Jennifer Tuohy is techie by heart and has a passion for seeing how tech can help with improving the environment. She provides great tips on how to use LEDs in your home. Click here to see some the LED light bulb options that The Home Depot has to offer. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

A Tucson Couple Builds Houses of Mud and Straw

The following post is an excerpt from Home Work: Hand Built Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2004) by long-time Mother Earth News contributor Lloyd Kahn. More than 1,500 photos illustrate various innovative architectural styles and natural building materials that have gained popularity in the last two decades, such as cob, papercrete, bamboo, adobe, strawbale, timber framing and earthbags. If you love fine, fun and/or funky buildings, you will want to own this splendid book.

Ongoing and never-ending remodel of early 1900s adobe ranch/farm house

On a hot day in late July, 2002, I drove south from Tucson, heading up into the high desert to visit Bill and Athena Steen. Bill and Athena, authors of the The Straw Bale House book, a best-seller and precursor of the straw bale building movement, had done an impressive mud/straw/bamboo series of buildings with villagers in Ciudad Obregón, Morelos, Mexico, and I wanted to do a story on it for Home Work.

Another reason for the visit was the chance to meet photographer extraordinaire Yoshio Komatsu, author of the stunning book Living on Earth, who with his wife Eiko was visiting the Steens at that time.

Athena, Yoshio, and Bill

The Steens live on a 40-acre homestead 70 miles southeast of Tucson (15 miles by crow-flight from Mexico) and at the end of a dirt road. They bought the land in 1985 and Bill converted a run-down shack into what is now a gracious and comfortable hacienda, with adobe walls and floors of Mexican tile.

These days, Bill and Athena use their homestead to host a series of workshops on straw bale building, natural wall finishes (main ingredient mud), earthen floors, clay ovens, and harvesting and cooking agave and prickly pear.

What I expected was to work with the Steens on their Mexico project. What I didn't expect was such an elegant house, set alongside a creek, in a place with Feng Shui up the kazoo, with good vibes, sights, colors, smells — the essence of wonderful shelter — plus there was a series of experimental earth buildings, each one a delight, and with a variety of textures, colors, and construction innovations.

Kitchen sitting area, corner seat of adobe, walls painted with homemade casein paints

Bill, Athena, and their three kids — Benito, 11; Oso, 10;  and Kalin (Bug), 2 — are way out there in the desert. The older boys are home-schooled. Bill and Athena work on their building techniques, writing, photography, and teaching. Bug happily wanders around barefoot all day, whacking a golf ball with a driving iron and amusing himself in amusing ways. One day, he came up to me with a salad bowl on his head, a straight face, and watched for my reaction.

I slept in an adobe-walled bedroom, with two screened doors opening out into a bamboo grove in the garden. The first morning I hiked up on the hill to watch the sunrise, then came down and shot pictures. The second night there a storm hit, and thunder, lightning, and the good smells of the desert came in through the screen doors next to my bed.

Interior of guest cottage, by-product of firsts straw bale workshop/happening in 1990. Adobe wall/seat divides bathroom space from living area. Back side of the wall forms lime-plastered shower.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here.

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