Green Homes
Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

Moving House, The Green Way


We’re not quite at the packing stage yet, but I’m already mentally gearing myself up to a few weeks of chaos that are going to ensue while I get the whole house into cardboard boxes, and then out again at the new place. I have been married for ten years, and this is going to be our fifth move, so by now I consider myself a packing and moving expert of sorts. I’m now going to disperse some accumulated wisdom (ha!).

Moving house is the ultimate decluttering motivator. All those nooks and crannies, stashes and boxes you have successfully avoided until now are going to be dragged into the light of day, like it or not. And, since you’re actually taking the trouble of packing each possession, you naturally ask yourself, do I really need this?

It’s sobering to realize how much useless stuff tends to pile up in our homes. We’ve lived in our current house less than four years, and things were pretty neat and minimalistic when we arrived (or so I like to think), but now when I open the closets, I’m in danger of getting buried under tottering piles of stuff that can no longer be contained. I have sifted through our clothes, books, toys and other possessions several times during the past months, and still it always seems we have too much stuff. I can only wonder what happens when people live in the same house for decades.

Here are some tips for a sane and environmentally friendly house move:

1. Start early. When you aren’t pressed for time, it’s a lot easier to evaluate your possessions soberly, and look for stuff you might want to give away or sell, rather than just throw into the garbage in a frenzy of decluttering. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and your unused stuff may find a new and productive life in another home. And if you hold a garage sale, you might even earn some cash!

2. Ask yourself, do I really need this? Do I really care enough for this to wrap it carefully and place it in a box and unpack it later? Make some allowance for emotional value, but also evaluate whether your attachment to things doesn’t take away precious space and order. Do you really need those 486 PC manuals? Are you really ever going to fix that old freezer?

3. Use environmentally friendly wrapping materials. Instead of bubble wrap, I wrap my plates, cups, etc, in spare kitchen towels and clothes. This helps save space, too. Old newspapers are another option, but your clothes and linen are something you have to pack anyway, so why not make use of them?

4. Recycle your cardboard boxes. In the past, we have carefully folded and stashed away our boxes to use in the next house move, and in fact, have used the same boxes every time (labeling them with removable stickers rather than markers). Cardboard can also be composted or used for mulching.

Here’s to going through a house move without losing your mind!

Image source: CC0 Creative Commons

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.

Off-Grid Log Cabin Built in Alaska


Have you ever thought about building your own off-grid log cabin? Often it seems so out of reach to people who work full-time jobs with busy lives but today we want to show that it’s entirely possible to do your own build, even if you have no building experience.

A couple in Alaska, built their log cabin during weekends, and the exterior was complete in just 5 months. They had next to no building experience and at the time that they built, there wasn’t much information online as to how to build so they just figured things out for themselves as they went along.

They followed five basic steps in their build; planning, foundations, logs, roof and exterior finish.

Their planning stage involved a late night sat up together searching for land, and when they came across a piece of land that was not only in their dream place in Alaska, it was also affordable – they snatched it up.

They used post foundations to raise their log cabin off the floor, and started to lay their logs using a saddle-notch. To roof the cabin they build two gable walls and then built a frame to lay their roof onto.

To finish, they stained the exterior and filled the interior with unique little pieces of handmade furniture.

Here is the video of their off-grid log cabin build, including details of how they did each step

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him on Facebook.

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.

Building Greener Appliances

green appliance 1

We’ve come a long way from cleaning our clothes with washboards and doing the dishes in wooden buckets. Innovations in home appliances have helped us gain a precious resource: time. Today’s appliances also help us lead greener, more eco-friendly lifestyles.

From washing machines that waste less water to fridges that use half the energy of older models, appliance makers are innovating to save consumers’ money and the planet’s resources. Here we’ll look at some of the newest features of home appliances that help you lead a more environmentally conscious life.

Look for Energy Star and WaterSense Appliances

Start by looking for Energy Star- and WaterSense-rated products. Our household’s appliances account for 20 to 30 percent of our energy use and 25 percent of our indoor water consumption, according to the Green Building Council. We can quickly cut 10 to 50 percent of that energy use by opting for Energy Star models and conserve 20 percent more water with WaterSense products (more than 30 percent if you install low-flow faucets).

green appliance 2

Upgrade Your Washing Machine

These updated models focus on cutting down resources to make your laundry routine more sustainable.

Go small: The average household does five loads of laundry a week, and while we all want to be greener, sometimes you just have to throw in that filthy soccer uniform for a quick wash all by itself. Be guilt-free with a washing machine featuring a secondary small washer. New models from LG and Samsung offer small-capacity machines that fit in a pedestal or extra drawer in your machine so that you can run a small load without wasting excess water.

Try a front loader: While top-loading washers have also made great advances in water consumption, front-load washers featuring high-efficiency technology wash your clothes with a lot less water. They use the friction of the machine’s drum to tumble-clean your clothes, using an average of just 8.78 gallons of water per load, compared to an average of 16.15 gallons of water with top loaders (source).

Get connected: Smartphone apps let you start, pause, and run your washing machine and dryer remotely. More important, they allow you to monitor your energy usage. Plus, they can schedule the laundry to run when energy is in lower demand, which puts less strain on the grid and more money in your pocket.

green appliance 3

Make Your Fridge Eco-Friendly

Cut down your food waste and your energy usage with these refrigerator features.

Get a window: Just opening the refrigerator door makes up about 7 percent of our refrigerators’ overall energy usage. New models from manufacturers like LG and Samsung offer door-in-door features so that you can put drinks and snacks in a spot that’s easy to reach — without having to open the whole fridge. Another innovation in this space is a tap-to-wake window, where you can knock on the fridge door and a light turns on so that you can see inside the fridge from outside, without opening the door. This takes fridge-grazing to a whole new level!

Go smart: While some smart fridge features can feel a bit gimmicky, one real benefit of connecting your fridge to the internet of things is energy savings. Some smart fridges are capable of syncing with electricity grids to make the most out of their energy use. They run energy-intensive defrost cycles when energy rates are low, alert you to power outages, and let you keep an eye on how much energy you are using so that you can learn and adapt.

green appliance 4

Reduce Your Dishwasher’s Water Usage

Traditional rinse cycles can waste a lot of water, but these features clean your dishes with much less.

Use your senses: Newer dishwashers feature sensors that can detect how soiled your dishes are and adapt the cycle time accordingly. This helps cut down on wasted water if you’re good at scraping your plates.

Pick your cycle: Like washing machines, dishwashers have an array of cycles to choose from. When you can, opt for the “efficient” cycles, which use less water and energy but take a little longer to complete.

Manufacturers are always coming up with new ideas as they strive toward building greener appliances for us and our planet. The next time you’re shopping for a new household appliance, prioritize features that conserve energy.

With more than 15 years’ experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and marketing and online content, Jennifer Touhy is an award-winning freelance journalist located in Charleston, South Carolina. She covers a variety of topics, but her passions lie in green living and technology, and the intersection of the two. If you’re considering improving your appliances for efficiency, check out The Home Depot’s website for a wide selection of refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine options.

This article is editorial content that has been contributed to our site at our request and is published for the benefit of our readers. We have not been compensated for its placement.

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 5-Step Guide to Finding a Log Cabin Kit

Log Cabin Kits - How to find A Kit

Choosing your home is one of the most important and expensive decisions you'll ever make. When you choose a home that is already built, you have the benefit of being able to see exactly what you're getting for your money. When you choose to buy a kit home, you assume that you're buying a complete and finished product but that is not always the case. Some companies sell only the main components of the kit, some include fittings and some don't.

To make sure you know exactly what you're buying, we're going to look at the five steps which will ensure that you choose a good quality log cabin kit home. One of the benefits of buying a log cabin kit home, over a home that's already built, is that you can tailor is to your specific needs and lifestyle. But you need to be sure that you are purchasing the right home for you, and from a reputable company.

Budget and Location

The company and kit that you ultimately choose will entirely depend on your budget. So before you even begin to contact specific companies, you need to make sure you know what budget you're working with.

Once you know how much you can afford to spend on the total build, you can then work out how much of your overall budget to use for the kit. Depending on the level of finish you opt for, you should allow two times the cost of your kits for remaining costs and materials. For example, if you have a budget of $120,000, allow $40,000 for the kit and $80,000 to finish it.

If you’re employing contractors to build the cabin for you, you'll need to include labor costs. A more appropriate ratio is 1:3. For example with a budget of $120,000, allow $30,000 for the kit and $90,000 for labor and finishes. As a rough guide, you can expect to pay a minimum of $125 per square foot of your finished log cabin. This number can significantly increase when you start adding more luxurious fitting and finishing, and even labor costs.

Once you know what budget you're working with, you need to buy the plot of land on which you intend to site your cabin. It's pointless approaching a log cabin kit company without knowing where you want to site your cabin. Any reputable company will take into account the land type, views, utilities and a range of other things when designing your kit.

The Right Kit for You

Before you approach a company, you should know exactly what you're looking for in your home. Otherwise, it can be easy to get persuaded into buying the wrong product through their effective sales techniques. As a bare minimum, you should know;

What your ideal square footage is;

How many bedrooms and bathrooms you need;

How many reception rooms you want.

You don't have to know exactly how you want the room layouts to work, because the supplier you choose will help you with that. But by making these minimums and maximums clear, they are unlikely to try and influence you to buy unnecessary extras. 

Type of Wood

There are roughly two dozen different types of logs used to build log cabins, each with their own unique appearance, R-value (energy efficiency) and cost.

Some of the most popular choices are Pine, White Cedar, Cypress and Spruce. You can expect to pay in excess of $15,000 if you upgrade a Pine kit to a Cedar kit, so the cost may be a large factor in deciding which wood type you'll choose.

Keep in mind that whilst Cedar is considered a premium timber due to its slow growth, the majority of species of wood that companies offer produce a stable and long lasting log home.

Supplier and Kit Quality

Now you know your budget and location, you can start researching suppliers. With over 300 log cabin kit companies throughout the US, how do you know which one to choose? You can use this checklist of questions to help you decide which company to use.

Is the supplier reputable?

Every reputable kit company will be registered with the international log builders association, such as the National Association of Home Builder, Log and Timber Homes Council, or the Home Builder Association. They will have past projects that you can look at, and previous customers who you can speak with about their experience.

What’s the quality of the kit?

Where is the timber from? Is it slow grown? Is it grade stamped? Don’t just check the timber, ask about all the other components too – the roofing materials, insulation and fittings.

What’s the manufacturing process?

Do they use correct notching techniques? The most popular ones are saddle notch and dovetail. Do they allow you to look around the factory in which your cabins being built? Can you speak to the technicians? These are all good signs that they are producing quality homes.

Do they offer service and aftercare?

Do they offer an installation service, or any on-site assistance? Always be waring if a company doesn’t offer this. You should also check how long the warranty is – most companies offer a minimum of 10 years guarantee on the condition that a maintenance schedule is followed.

What materials are included?

Below, you’ll read about the different options you have on the level of kit finish. Always get a full list of materials included so you know exactly what to expect.

Total Cost

When you’ve selected the supplier and kit, you need to ensure that you are getting exactly what you trust you’re paying for. To further explain this, you need to understand the difference between the main three packages available; Shell Only, Dry-In Package and Turn-Key Package.

The Shell Only Package includes just the logs for your cabin; this is also referred to as the log wall system. You’ll need to source your own windows, doors, floor, roof and all the interior and external finishes. You can expect to pay $50-$80 per square foot for a shell kit.

The Dry-In Package is the most popular choice and includes the logs, the doors, windows, roof and floor. Always double check exactly what the kit includes though, because this varies from company to company. The average cost for a Dry-In Package is $70-$130 per square foot.

A Turn-Key Package includes all the components you need, from start to finish. It will provide you with everything you need to move into your home. The average cost per square foot for a Turn-Key Kit is $130-$180.

Last Thoughts

Once you are satisfied that you’ve chosen the right supplier and kit, double check that there are no further hidden fees, such as delivery costs and sales tax. Sales tax can quite easily add up to 10% onto the cost of your kits. Finally, make sure you get everything in writing and sign a contract. Good luck with finding the right kit 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.

EPA Celebrates Fix a Leak Week

faucetFrom March 19 through 25, the EPA is celebrating their annual Fix a Leak Week, which over the last decade has helped Americans become educated on the huge impact a small dripping in their home can have on the environment.

Small home leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water annually nationwide, which is enough to provide water all year to 11 million homes. The average single household alone wastes more than 10 thousand gallons of water a year just from leaks that go unseen or unfixed. This amount of annual water waste is why ten years ago, the EPA introduced Fix a Leak Week to help educate Americans on finding and fixing leaks in their home.

The most common leaks found in the average home come from worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and leaking pipe valves. Fortunately, these leaks are incredibly easy to spot and fix, requiring only a few basic tools that will pay for themselves in water savings. By spotting and fixing these minor leaks in our home, your water bill can drop by ten percent.

Spotting less common or major leaks in where the real detective work comes in. There are a few tips the EPA provides that can help homeowners find and tackle these leaks:

• Keep track of your water usage during colder months, such as January or February; if a family of four is exceeding 12 thousand gallons during these colder months, there are probably serious leaks happening behind your walls.

• Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period with no water use in the house; if your meter readings have changed, you probably have a leak on your hands.

• Place one drop of food coloring in your toilet tank; if any coloring shows up in your toilet bowl within 10 minutes, your toilet has a leak situation.

• Inspect your pipe fittings faucet gaskets for any water outside of the pipe; any water outside of the pipe is an obvious leak for you to fix.

Once you have identified the leaks in your own, many of them are luckily easy and cheap to fix! Most toilet-related leaks revolve around the condition of the toilet flapper, which is quick and easy to replace, without breaking your bank. Many times, leaky faucets or showerheads can be fixed using pipe tape, which can close up small leaks when applied correctly and tightly. There are also many online tutorials to help a home handy man fix leaks around the house.

If none of these tricks are helping prevent leaks in your home, it may be time to call up your friendly neighborhood plumber and replace a few pipes or faucets.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

'Balecob': Combine the Benefits of Straw Bale and Cob Building


Stem wall of urbanite and earthbag.

We live in exciting times in the world of natural building!  In the grand scheme of things, the natural building movement is still in its infancy.  While building with earth and sticks and such is ancient and global in application, its renaissance in the western world goes back only 30 or 40 years. And those 40 years of experience have been tempered by codes, regulations, and the river of twisted cultural values resulting in a slowly evolving field.  But, it is growing like never before as people seek a greater sense of belonging in their homes and communities and look for a more authentic existence.  With this growth, as with any new technology, natural builders continue to spawn innovations and creativity.  Balecob is one such innovation whose time has come to be on the center stage.

There are many wonderful and inspiring books and websites out there that go into great detail about the quixotic nature of clay or the transcendental qualities of cob buildings and so on (check out, for starters). With this article, however, I’ll start with the assumption that readers have a basic understanding of natural building.

What’s Balecob and Why Now?

What are the best inherent qualities of Cob?  And what does a strawbale have going for it?  How can they elegantly work together to give us beautiful, functional, soulfully wonderful homes?   Balecob provides the answer.  

There are things we come across in our day-to-day lives that intuitively make sense and help to create a new paradigm of understanding.  Every child, for example, grasps the rightness of the ascendant seeds of a dandelion.  I had similar feelings the first time I read Christopher Alexander’s timeless book, A Pattern Language. I found myself nodding my head in agreement to his design assertions page after page.  It was this same feeling I got when I saw and learned about Balecob.  And, as I describe it to others, they have the same nodding-of-the-head-in-agreement reaction.  

Ianto Evans and the good folks at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon came up with the original idea for Balecob.  Ianto is the grandfather of the modern natural building movement and I gratefully tip my hat to the work he and the CCC have done for the past several decades.  I learned Balecob from Coenraad Rogmans of House Alive and it’s a slightly different technique that I’ll explain forthwith.   

Moving Past Wall Systems

Generally, when folks talk about the type of natural building they want they define it by what their walls will be.  Like, “I’m building a...strawbale, cob, rammed earth, earthbag... house”.  I encourage you to leave this type of limited thinking behind and instead focus on what materials will best meet your needs in a given wall or section of your house and what you have available.  Got a lot of windows and doors on the south side?  Consider framing it with wood.  Have a long, cold north wall with no windows?  Go with balecob or strawbale.  Want curves?  Use cob.  Lack clay?  Consider earthbags.  Got cordwood up to your elbows?  Cordwood-cob might be part of the answer.  Interior walls could be light straw clay, etc.

By defining your home as a “natural building” instead you’ll put yourself in a new framework that opens more possibilities for a better overall building and building process.

Cob and Strawbale Attributes

Cob and strawbales are both great...for some things.  


Cob is strong and durable: it holds up roofs, it can last for centuries, it will stop runaway cars

Cob is malleable: it can be shaped into curves, domes, and whatever (think clay)

Cob provides thermal mass: cob stores heat and heat moves through cob slowly (~1”/hour) thus moderating temperatures in a building

Cob is local and cheap: most of the material can usually be gotten from under your feet or just down the road

Cob is good for you: just earth; no solvents, glues, paints, nasty stuff that makes your hair fall out or sperm count decline

Cob is for the people (Democratic Building): anyone can do it!  

Cob is a great teacher: it is self-correcting in the sense that, as you experiment, cracks and crumbling will let you know you have room for improvement

Cob is a poor insulator

Cob lends itself to community building

Straw Bales

Most strawbales to be had in the U.S. are wheat straw.  They generally come in two sizes: the larger three-string bale of about 48” x 24” x 16” or the smaller, two-string variety: 36” x 18” x 14”(see pic). Check on sizes and availability well before you begin construction so you can plan the dimensions of your structure accordingly.  

Strawbales are good insulators.  They provide an R-value of about 2 per inch.  For reference, conventional fiberglass insulation has an R-value of about 3.5/inch.  With conventional strawbale construction that sets the bales wide-side down, total R values are about 48, much higher than code calling for R-13 or R-20 on walls.  This is great but also a bit of overkill that has merely been a function of bale size (note: we’ll explain later how Balecob sets bales on their narrow side.  Think to yourself why this is a good idea and give yourself a star if you turn out to be on track).

Strawbales take up a lot of space.  Whereas cobbing a wall can seem excruciatingly slow going as it rises inch by sluggish inch, plopping a row of bales on a wall leaves one feeling downright effervescent!  Of course, it’s never as straightforward as that and there’s always more work to be done with bales but volume is volume.

Strawbales are structurally weak (load-bearing strawbale houses, for example, make use of a lot of wood and wire to provide structural support and shear strength).

In conclusion: use cob for strength, mass, and curves; use strawbales for volume and insulation

Balecob Building

The Foundation                                               

The foundation has two parts: the rubble trench and the stem wall. Rubble trenches are an age-old technology that always impress me with their simple effectiveness.  A well-built rubble trench does two things very well: Moves water quickly away from a building keeping the above-ground materials dry; eliminates any chance of frost heave

Conventional concrete foundations must be set below the frost line (often 4’ or more) because they are solid and will heave if water freezes and expands under them.  Rubble trenches do not have to extend below the frost line because if water does pool and freeze in the trench it has room to expand between the gaps and will not heave the walls.  How deep you make yours is a function of the annual rainfall your area receives.

Next comes the stem wall which also does two things: Raises the cob and bales above the ground keeping them away from water; provides a solid base on which to build walls

Stem walls can be made from many materials including stone, brick, urbanite or earthbags.  One could also pour concrete but their natural building Karma will suffer.  Whatever material you use, center your stem wall over the rubble trench and be sure to make it about three to four inches wider than your bales’ width (narrow-side).

The height of your stem wall will depend on your conditions and materials available.  If you get lots of rain and it is often driving, then higher is better especially on the windward side. If you have access to lots of great stone or urbanite, you might choose to make it higher thus reducing the need for bales and cob.

The Walls

The Bottom Bead of Cob

Once your stem wall is up and mostly level, paint it or sponge it with some clay slip and start building a layer of cob about 8” to 10” high.  Fill in any gaps and spaces in your stem wall as you go so you can have a more level surface on which to stack your first row of bales.  Some sections may only be 6” while others are 12”.  That’s ok as long as this cob bead is helping to make the base level.  Re-apply slip to the wall as needed so it is wet when you lay on the cob.  This layer of cob should match the width of the stem wall and will tie in the separate components of your stem wall creating a very strong foundation.

Stacking Bales

When the cob bead is still soft and wet, coat a bale with slip on all sides.  You can scoop slip onto the bale and rub it into the straw (put a tarp underneath) or dunk the bale in a flat of slip a few inches deep.  The idea is to coat the straw thoroughly so future layers of cob will adhere strongly to the bale.  Without the slip, any cob smushed against the bale will likely fall off.  Think of slip as primer.

Set each bale on its narrow end so they are centered on the cob bead.  This should leave a couple inches of exposed bead on either side of the bales.  That’s good because it will be the base upon which we’ll eventually apply more cob to the sides and the finish earthen plaster.  We set the bales on their narrow sides because we can save space on our footprint and foundation and use fewer bales while still getting an R-value of about 32 which, for walls, is outstanding.  The one downside is that the broad side of a strawbale has the straw running lengthwise which is harder to stick plaster to which makes slipping it even more important.  I feel, however, that this disadvantage is far outweighed by the advantages.

Cob Columns

When designing your building in the beginning take time to plan out your wall lengths and heights with consideration for the sizes of your bales, the widths of the cob columns, the height of the bottom bead, and the top bead of cob that will support the roof.  Plan to use half-bales for the start of each successive start.

For each Balecob wall we build there will be two or more cob columns as high as the walls providing much of the structural support to hold up the roof.  For a short wall of ten feet or less, there need be only one column at each end of 8” - 12” wide by the width of the bale.  For larger spans, an additional column in the middle will be necessary.  On a house with 30’ walls we built in South Dakota, we built three cob columns (two ends and the middle) each two feet wide.  This left 24’ for bale infill – or three bales on each side (either 3 full bales or 2 full with 2 halves).

Cob Base Coat

As each slipped strawbale is added to the wall, cover it all over with a one to two inch layer of cob.  This means the sides, ends, and the top.  Then, set the next bale right against the first.  There will always be gaps between bales so really cram the cob into these cavities.  This encases each bale in cob and one can start to imagine how strong the wall and structure will be as the cob forms a lattice of strength over, under, and between each bale.  Add to this the cob columns and the top and bottom beads and a strong wall will be had!

Upper Cob Bead

After the last row of bales is stacked and set it’s time to lay the upper bead of cob.  Make this bead about 10” thick for larger structures (on my pig house I went about 4”) and use the natural malleability of cob to level out any rises and depressions in the bale wall so that the top plate and roof beams will lie true.  This bead will connect the cob columns to the cob base coat to the lattice between the bales to the lower bead like a python hugging a chubby kid (or a Capybara, a giant South American rodent).

Connecting the Roof to the Walls

It’s very important to connect your roof with the mass of the wall to ensure a solid and strong building.  We use “dead men” and metal strapping for this purpose.  A dead man, in Natural Building parlance, is a hunk of wood (dimensional or not) set into a cob wall and then surrounded by cob that serves as an uber-strong anchor for shelves, stairs, benches and, for our purposes right now, to securely attach roofs to a wall.

In straight-up cob construction, we set metal strapping with deadmen all along and into the cob walls 16” or more from the top of the wall.  This provides a super-strong anchor to tie to the bottom plate or beams of the roof structure.  There are several ways to roof a cob building but that is beyond the scope of this article.

With Balecob we use similar methods:  dead men and metal strapping in the cob columns as well as under the top bead and under some of the top-most bales every couple feet (this will vary based on your roof type). Over the length of a wall this gives numerous, well-anchored attachment points.  

Windows and Doors, Electric, Plumbing...

Fear not, with Balecob, all of these can be incorporated into your building but this is, once again, outside the scope of this article.  Do your research, take a workshop with us, play around with the materials and you’ll get ‘er done and wind up with a beautiful and highly functional building.

All photos courtesy of Conrad Rogmans

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email, and read all of his blog 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.

Natural Ways to Purify Your Water at Home

boiling water in pot 

Everyone needs access to clean water, but in many areas, the available water supply contains bacteria, chemicals and even sediment. These contaminants can cause everything from an undesirable taste to long-term health problems. Purifying your water can remove these unwanted elements and prevent these problems.

Some purification methods, though, involve adding even more chemicals and can be taxing on the environment. Buying plastic water bottles instead of using tap water is harmful in its own way. Whether you’re concerned about the safety of your water, or just want it to be as clean as possible, you can use these natural water purification methods at home to protect your health and the environment too.


You’ve probably boiled your water before if your city issued a water safety advisory. Boiling is a reliable water purifier that’s effective for removing almost every contaminant except dirt.

It’s a simple, natural technique that’s been used throughout history, but it’s not the most efficient technique. It takes a substantial amount of energy to heat water to the boiling point, and you’ll lose some water to evaporation. If you don’t have any other methods available, though, boiling your water can be a smart choice, at least as an occasional solution.


Plants are natural water filters both above ground and in the water. Hikers and other outdoor adventurers use plants in the woods to get clean drinking water, but you can do the same thing at home. There are a wide variety of plants you can use to filter your water.

Cilantro is one of the most common household items that can purify water. Just grind it up and filter water through it. This herb may even remove heavy metals as effectively as charcoal filters. You can also use lemon peels, the core of a cactus and pine tree branches.


If you’ve used ceramic pots for houseplants before, you know they allow water to flow through them. Ceramic has been shown to filter out water impurities in remote areas such as Cambodia. At home, all you have to do is pass water through the pores in a ceramic material. The water that comes out on the other side will be free of microorganisms. This method, however, is less effective against pesticides and organic pollutants. If microorganisms are your main concern, though, this method should work for you.


Carbon filters are another common type of water purification method, which has been found to suppress bacteria. There are several types of carbon filters. Activated carbon, which may be referred to as activated charcoal, has a positive charge, so it’s especially effective at attracting impurities. But block carbon has the benefit of a higher contaminant removal ratio.

Carbon filters are ideal for removing chemicals such as chlorine, benzene and pesticides, as well as unwanted tastes and odors. It’s not the best choice for removing heavy metals. It can remove larger microorganisms, but smaller viruses can slip through.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is one of the most effective ways to purify water, but it is a little more involved than the other methods. This method is used on a large scale to provide clean water to whole cities full of people, but you can have a smaller system installed in your home.

Reverse osmosis is the process of water passing through a semipermeable membrane. These filters, which have a pore size of approximately 0.0001 microns, are very effective at removing viruses, bacteria, protozoa and chemical contaminants. It can even turn salt water into drinkable water.


This method takes some time, but it’s a completely natural, affordable way to purify water. Just use the power of the sun to evaporate dirty water. The vapor will be clean, while contaminants get left behind.

You can make a solar water purifier at home with two water bottles and a thin PVC pipe. Place dirty water in one bottle, and let it evaporate into the other bottle. See the full instructions here.

If you want to purify your water naturally at home, you have plenty of options, and many of these same methods are providing access to clean water to communities around the world. Whether you want to invest in a long-term solution or just want a one-time fix, there’s a method for you. Using them can improve health and the well-being of the planet.

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