With the current federal tax credits and some local utilities offering incentives, tapping into solar power is more affordable and pays off sooner than it did four years ago. Before you bring a solar energy expert out to your house, take some time to check your site yourself. Evaluating your home for solar is simple: Just follow these four easy steps.
Check your paperwork.
To be eligible for the solar incentives from the government and/or utility companies, the person who owns the system (you) must own the property where the solar array will be installed. The utility account for the property must be in your name as well.
Check the orientation.
Southern-facing roofs are optimal; west-facing is the next best. Do none of your roofs face the best directions? Fear not. There are solutions. Many people use pole mounts and racked panels to maximize their solar production.
Check your view.
Even a little shading can create a big problem. There are systems designed to deal effectively with some shading but there is a limit. There are ways to deal with shading challenges. Obvious solutions are mounting panels to poles or racks. For one Olympia, Wash., family the best place for their system was in their backyard. So, they built a pergola and used the photovoltaic panels as shading.
More dramatic (and often less desirable) solutions to shading would be removing trees that cause shading. A good solar installer will be able to give you a reasonable estimate of how effective tree removal would be before you break out the chainsaw.
Check your structure.
Outside: If solar panels will be installed on your roof, you need to take a good look at the roof itself. If the roofing is due to be replaced in the next 10 years, get it replaced before you have solar installed. To save money, roofers can replace just the area where solar panels are being installed. The rest of the roof can be replaced down the line.
Your roof and its supporting structure needs to be in good condition. Solar panels’ additional weight is minimal, but damaged and/or aging roofs require a different approach. If your roof is sagging, bowing or crumbling, getting your home safe and solid should be the highest priority.
Inside: Your home’s wiring needs to be up-to-date. The panels’ electric requirements are pretty low, but it’s best to make sure your home’s system is able to handle the additional needs.
Bonus step: Check the low-hanging energy conservation fruit first.
Before you go solar, take a good look at how you can save energy today. Seal air leaks in your walls and around windows and doors, properly insulate your roof and under your home, and use an efficient heat source. These fixes make a significant difference and cost less than a full array of solar panels.
Kirk Haffner of South Sound Solar provides his solar power expertise to Washington state’s South Sound. South Sound Solar hosts free workshops covering the steps for DIY site evaluation in greater detail. These workshops also include information on the effectiveness of different systems and full information on available incentives and rebates. Check out the solar workshop page at www.SouthSoundSolar.com.
What is a salve or balm?
The dictionary definition explains in simple terms, “an ointment used to promote healing of the skin or as protection.” I like this definition as it explains a simple solution for what may be a simple or complex health issue.
Making salves and/or balms is also simple: They can easily be produced in your own kitchen with a few basic natural and organic ingredients. Most commonly, salves are applied topically for any number of skin issues, including rashes, skin reactions to bug bites or allergens, burns, eczema, psoriasis, acne, chronic dry skin, chapped lips and more.
Many balms and salves begin with the basic foundation of infused oils and beeswax. The ingredients you choose, however, should address the specific issue for which the finished product is being used.
Infused oils are simply carrier oils that have been infused with a healing herb of choice. Examples of common carrier oils are sweet almond oil, hemp oil, grapeseed oil, olive or pomace oil, soybean oil, to just name a few. When a medicinal herb is properly infused into one of these carrier oils, you will possess a powerful healing oil which will become an integral part of your home herbal medicine cabinet.
Examples of a few healing herbal infused oils are St. John’s wort oil (anti-inflammatory), comfrey oil (skin tissue repair), calendula oil (deep moisturizer and skin softener), rosehip seed oil (antioxidant and scar minimizer), arnica oil (pain reliever, reduces bruising and swelling). Most any herb can be infused into a carrier oil. Many of these healing herbal oils can be conveniently purchased already infused for those who do not have the time or desire to produce their own.
Following are common tools and equipment you will need to have on hand to produce your own unique homemade salve or balm:
1 kitchen burner: This may be your stovetop or a single electric or gas burner
on which to heat your mixture
1 glass coffee carafe
1 wooden spoon or skewer stick for stirring
Measuring cups and spoons
Sterilized container(s) to hold your finished product (bottles or jars can be
sterilized in a hot dishwasher)
Label(s) for finished product
Recipe for Healing Lip Balm
(This is the recipe given in my presentation at the
MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Lawrence, Kan.)
5 tbsp +5 tsp organic beeswax
5 tbsp organic cocoa butter
5 tbsp organic coconut oil
10 tbsp sweet almond oil
5 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops vitamin E oil
Method: Pour coconut oil and sweet almond oil into the coffee carafe. Add cocoa butter and beeswax and melt all together over medium low heat until ingredients become a blended liquid, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon or skewer. Remove from heat and add lavender essential oil and vitamin E oil. Stir to blend. Cool slightly and slowly pour mixture into containers of choice. Cool completely before covering with lids and labeling.
In his excellent book Blessed Unrest noted author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken describes the millions of groups worldwide—ranging from neighborhood organizations to well-funded international organizations—working to protect the environment and fighting for social justice and human rights.
Hawken writes that this massive social movement acts as the immune system of the planet. In the same way the body’s immune system fights off viruses, these groups fight threats to the planet’s climate, air, soil and water resources, seeds and food, and people, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
I thought of this when writing an article about the GMO-free groups that have emerged across the United States. I spoke with ordinary Americans who became activated to fight threats to human health and the environment posed by genetically modified organisms. People such as Pamm Larry of Chico, Calif., Zofia Hausman of Philadelphia, Tara Cook-Littman of Fairfield, Conn., Ed Stockman of Plainfield, Mass., and IrisWhalen of Ocean Springs, Miss.. A common response from them was: “I was an unlikely candidate to get involved in something like this.” But they felt the need to do something because of their concerns over GMOs. So they launched groups—such as LabelGMOs.org, GMO-Free Connecticut and GMO-Free Mississippi, and No GMO 4 Michigan—to demand the right to know whether foods contain GMOs.
Their “immune response” is responsible for getting 26 states to introduce bills to label GM foods.
They face huge challenges: powerful multinational food and biotechnology companies that will spend millions of dollars in misinformation campaigns and threaten lawsuits against state governments to deny labeling, along with a federal government that allows biotechnology companies to claim that their GM seeds are unique and patented while declaring GM food the same as normal food.
Despite the challenges, momentum for GMO labeling is growing. Natural food retailers are either committing to labeling GMOs in their stores or removing them from shelves. National labeling legislation has been introduced. Even big food companies recognize the growing demand for labeling.
When labeling happens it will be because We the People demanded it. Isn’t that the way America should work?
Ken Roseboro is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, www.Non-GMOReport.com.
Every time I leave the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR I come home with a bag full of stuff that I have accumulated along the way. My youngest son typically tears into the bag, once exclaiming that my return from the FAIR is always “like Christmas.”
As a gardener he gets excited about a new packet of seeds. As a keeper of chickens he is delighted to have some “chicken treats.” As a maker of soil he gets jazzed about a packet of mineral additives or a bag of alpaca poop.
My other children are less enthusiastic about my return. Some of them are skeptical of the FAIR in general. The fact that Ed Begley Jr. is a regular attendee makes them think that the FAIR might be a worthwhile endeavor.
For some strange reason, not all of my children think like me.
Coming home from the fair in Lawrence, Kan., I stopped in Chicago to watch my daughter Jessalyn run in the Chicago Marathon. That night in the hotel room I handed her my MOTHER EARTH NEWS bag and explained how it is pretty much like cracking open a Christmas stocking.
She works in advertising in New York City. No garden. No chickens. No compost. But she ripped into the bag with a cautious optimism.
She was not enthusiastic about the grated beet and horseradish concoction I had purchased, so she set that aside. Not everyone loves beets.
She evaluated the stickers about stopping genetic engineering and the promotion of honeybees with the eye of a designer and writer. As someone who takes the train each day, she has no need for bumper stickers.
But there was a fridge magnet that caught her eye. And she set a scented candle aside to go home with her. She was curious about the jar of “honey and hops” spread, and delighted by the granola bar from Iowa.
It’s funny. Albert Bates and Bryan Welch and I have been holding public discussions about societal change and activism at the past few fairs. Something that always comes up in the conversation is the demographic of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader—and how the magazine appeals to all sides of the political spectrum.
We spend a lot of time with the audience discussing how to effectively reach people of opposite persuasions with our varying points of view.
And while I might do that in real life, I don’t really practice it with my children. I am required to run our family as a dictatorship, because I don’t dare take a chance on democracy with this crowd. And to my continued astonishment there are varying points of view even in my own family.
Fortunately the “stuff” from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR appears to cut across my family’s lines. Now that Jess has had her “Christmas” from the bag, I’ll toss it over to my youngest so that the items Jess left.
Lyle Estill’s latest book is an anthology written by 14 different sustainability pioneers—including Albert Bates and Bryan Welch. Their “Small Stories” discussions with fairgoers have become an interesting addition to the FAIR.
I had a wedding to attend in Nebraska on the 12th, so I missed the first day, that’s how life is. I would've skipped any appointment to support my aunt on her day, but that also meant forgoing presentations that I really wanted to attend. Being one that labors toward the goal of subsistence homesteading, I should prioritize the talks on functional skills, but also being a dreamer, I gravitate toward lectures with profound titles such as “Agents of Change,” “Guerrilla Gardening,” and “Nothing Is Impossible.” Of course, I’m responding to provocative language; at the grass-roots level “Beekeeping Basics” might actually be the most radical workshop to attend.
But I missed all that. We rose at oh-dark-thirty on Sunday and cruised down I-29, turned west for the last leg, getting to Lawrence after noon. Watson Park was a beautiful space for the event; a rolling lawn dotted with stately oaks and maples, and a few magnificent old bald cypresses. There was plenty of room for my boys to stretch their legs without bumping into anyone. I heard there were some complaints about the topography and obstructing trees; I guess we should expect our Mother Earth to be flat and clear-cut?
With very limited time, I ran a lap to scope out the exhibitors; from horseradish to honeybees, seeds to solar, I wanted to hear the spiel from each one. With just an afternoon, I bet I talked to less than one percent; this event should be a week long! I’m going to have to use the vendor directory in the program guide as a springboard for further research. I stopped for my longest pause at the Wood-Mizer manual sawmill demonstration. It got me thinking about that barn project, a new shed, shudders, siding, a hay loft; all the things I could source without leaving my own property.
Trying to accommodate two very young men who had spent the morning in the car, I was unable to sit still for some of the Sunday presentations I wanted to hear, specifically those by Darrell Frey, Cheryl Long, and Kelley Kindscher. But the boys had wound down enough by 4 p.m. that I was able to get a seat for Kale Roberts’ “Conduct a Home Energy Audit and Basic Energy-Efficient Retrofits.” Kale talked about easy and effective ways to cut energy costs, and at the end I found myself embroiled in a conversation with another listener about radiant heat and non-linear volumetric calculations, which brings me to a major highlight of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR: the attendees. There must be few events so accessible where one is surrounded by such progressive, impassioned individuals. It’s a breath of fresh air, at once motivational and educational, to share and learn with this community of dreamers and doers, the folks effecting change from the bottom-up.
Thanks to you all, speakers, visitors, and volunteers, who make the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR what it is. The world is watching us, so keep up the good work. I hope to see you next time.
Photo By J. Kongs
Welcome to the new Earthineer!
I've been, at turns, excited, anxious and relieved ... but mainly, I've just felt like this:
Jubilant might be an apt description.
I think you'll agree – the new Earthineer just provides a more enjoyable experience.
What you see is the culmination of many months’ worth of work. It's Earthineer reorganized, restructured and reimagined.
From the outset, Earthineer was built to support and promote sustainability and homesteading as a lifestyle choice.
Every feature we have planned has that goal in mind. What we have now is the foundation that we'll build off of.
We'll keep updating the http://www.earthineer.com/roadmap, and you can expect something new every couple of weeks ... but let's cover some of the big features that you can expect in the next few months:
More "Group" Features
This was our first release to include "groups." Groups can be public or private (private groups don't show up in searches), and other members can search for groups by topic ("beekeeping," for example), and even find groups within a radius of their zip code.
In the near term, we'll be adding in more ways to discover groups.
Eventually, we'll also be able to give you recommendations based on your interests and location.
If you're familiar with Pinterest, we'll do the same – only we'll be creating pin boards and sharing content on earthineer-related topics. These could be articles from MOTHER EARTHNEWSor Backwoods Home or they could be blogs from other site. You'll also be able to pin (and share) conversations on public groups. If there is a conversation going on about how to deal with barber pole worms, you can share it so that others can benefit from the discussion.
It's all about discovering content you'd be interested in – no matter where it is.
As homesteaders we barter. We trade with our neighbors for goods that we need. What we want to do is broaden that network to facilitate food swaps, seed swaps, plant swaps, and services with a larger base.
We'll have more on all of this soon, and we'll share some of the early versions as we finish them.
In the meantime, enjoy the new site, and join in the conversation.
Earthineer will be joining us at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Sept. 20-22 and in Lawrence, Oct. 12-13.
Please join their DIY Solar Panel workshop in Seven Springs on Saturday, Sept. 21 from 2:30 - 3:30 on the Renewable Energy stage! They will also be giving in booth demonstrations at booths 1705 & 1707. Be sure to stop by!
Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRS: September 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa. and October 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets on sale now.
You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Protecting against fires has long been important to code officials, builders and homeowners alike. None of us want to see our homes go up in flames or experience the loss and grief associated with fire. Building codes exist to protect homeowners from fires, both minor and catastrophic. Even with those codes in place, we have seen that a well-built house can burn to the ground in a matter of minutes. To me, the reason for this is obvious. A conventional stick-framed home is nothing more than a series of chimneys behind a thin layer of fire protection. What many homeowners don’t know is that the majority of the fire protection required by code in a conventional home is in the form of drywall. That’s it! 1/2″ of gypsum board is all that is required to protect you from fire. Once that drywall barrier has been compromised, there is nothing to stop the fire from attacking the structural wood and/or steel framing in your home.
Straw bale homes are different. Straw bale houses are known for their fire resistance and have been independently tested showing that they resist fire by up to three times that of conventional homes. Three times the protection may be the difference between a total loss and a house that can be saved. In a straw bale house, the first line of defense is the application of 1 1/4" of plaster. The plaster provides far superior resistance to flame than most sidings.
The second, and often most surprising element of straw bales that increases the fire resistance is the bales themselves. When most people think about straw and how it performs in fire, they think about barn fires, spontaneous combustion, and other fire stories. The fact of the matter is that barn fires are caused by hay that was baled too early and thus has high levels of moisture still in the crop. The fires start when that moisture creates heat by decomposing the hay. The hay then flares from the heat of the decomposition process inside the bale.
Straw is baled when the crop is dead and dry, usually around 8% moisture content by volume, so no interior decomposition occurs. Moreover, the bales are so tight that there just isn't a lot of space for oxygen to easily move through. Fire cannot exist without oxygen, so once again the bales have created a form of protection against flame spread. Consider that a bale is like a phone book. If you rip out the pages one by one and light them on fire, they will burn: so will loose straw (although not very well, due to the high silica content). If you hold a lighter under the entire phone book, however, you will likely run out of fuel in the lighter before the book catches fire because there is no oxygen in between the pages to support the flame. The same is true for the baled straw.
Put the two systems together: thick plaster on both sides of the wall and dense, oxygen-deprived bales inside and you get a combination that makes for a very fire-resistant wall. Protecting your home from fire in other ways is still important. Be sure to clear brush from around your house, clean out your gutters and under your decks, and so on. There are several sites that offer guidance on how to protect yourself from wildfires, and I strongly recommend you visit them.
My wish is for people who live in fire-prone areas to start getting serious about protecting themselves from fire. Tens of thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed in the last several years. Most of the people who lost their homes will rebuild. I[ah2] invite them to build with bales instead of building another conventional home. The benefits go beyond fire protection and reach into the world of green construction and healthy homes.