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


Unlocking Your Home’s Value With Sustainability

Value of Eco

Image Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

Whether you are a homeowner looking to sell your house soon or live in it for years to come, sustainability is a proven method to increase the value of your home and have a positive environmental impact!

In a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, over 61% of home-buyers said they were interested in homes that had sustainable features—such as smart features, lighting efficiency, and lowered utility costs—and energy efficiency and “low-maintenance” features are within the top 5 selling points for most first-time home buyers.

While there are hundreds of factors that go into the value of a home, Realty Sage has compiled 12 Livability Categories that show how the features of a property can benefit a homeowner both while they are living in the home and if they plan to put the home on the market. These categories range from Comfort and Health, to Cost Savings and Unique Features, but all of them can be positively enhanced to increase the value of your home. Another perk of these categories is that many of them are related, so renovations in one area may have additional bonus benefits in another!

For example, let’s say you upgrade your thermostat to a newer, smart model to try and save money on your electric bill—not only does this fall into the Cost Saving category (which all homeowners and buyers prioritize), but it is also an Eco-Friendly upgrade, it allows for Low Maintenance living, and can positively impact the Market Resale Value. So that one improvement you made actually makes a mark in 4 different livability categories!

Eco-Friendly Ideas To Increase the Value Of Your Home

There are so many ways you can increase the value of your home, from a complete remodel to new appliances to simply swapping out your lightbulbs; thus you can effectively make a positive environmental impact and earn brownie points with potential buyers regardless of how much you can financially invest right now.

Don’t Flush Away Your Savings!

Water is one of our most precious, natural resources, yet on average each American uses 80-100 gallons of water daily!! That being said, other nations with a comparable standard of living use less than half that amount, thus it is clear there are water-saving solutions and we simply need to adopt them!

Personally, I think that cutting back on water usage is one of the easiest, most budget-friendly ways to have an eco-friendly home and also save money. While you can invest in a smart washing machine or dish washer and drastically cut back on water usage, you can also spend under $100 for a low-flow shower head or water recirculation kit and start saving immediately, with a relatively low up-front cost. The EPA calculates that 17% of most people’s entire water bill is simply due to showering—so this quick fix is really a great option for homeowners looking to make a change that is good for the environment and the wallet!

Check out more water-saving hacks here!

Energy-Saving, Smart Home Ideas

Saving energy is another great way to save money, lessen your footprint on the environment, and make your house as competitive as possible in the housing market! As almost a third of the electricity used in a home goes into space heating and cooling, targeting how the temperature is controlled in your home is a great place to start. There are many smart thermostats currently on the market that actually recognize patterns in your living habits and can suggest more efficient ways to heat and cool your home!

Upgrading your appliances to Energy Star appliances is also a fabulous way to cut back on those energy bills! The Energy Star program was created by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the goal of reducing nation-wide energy consumption, and as a result any products that bear the Energy Star symbol are held to a much higher standard of efficiency and are certified by the EPA to save you save you both on energy usage and on monthly bills!

Check out this article to learn more about what Energy Star appliances can do for you, and this comprehensive list of energy-saving appliances!

Looking on the Bright Side—Solar Solutions!

Installing solar panels, while it does require more of an investment up-front, is one of the best decisions a homeowner can make, regardless of if you are planning on staying for years to come or looking to sell soon! Solar panels really do pay for themselves, however research has also shown that the addition of solar panels to a home means that home is typically on the market for fewer days than conventionally powered homes and solar homes sell at premium prices—additionally adding $15,000 or more to the selling price!! Not only that, but having a solar system means that Real Estate Agents have even more marketing options at their fingertips to highlight just how eco-friendly your house is!

While calculating the wattage, capacity and power output you might need in a solar array for your home may be daunting, don’t worry! Here are a few resources to help you on your journey to a more eco-friendly home:

Here’s an article to help you with the math of the matter—what size panels you need, what output power makes sense, how many panels makes sense, and more!

Pick My Solar

Here's a platform, Pick My Solar, that allows you to discuss your electrical needs with a Solar Professional and compare offers from top solar providers in your area!

Capitalize On Your Eco-Friendly Upgrades—Get The Sage Score

  The Sage Score

Last, but certainly not least, you need to make sure all your time and hard work is recognized!! Just as other areas of life get more tech-savvy, the real estate market is going from basic home-hunting to intelligent real estate search engines, databases that can accurately compare how sustainable features can positively impact your lifestyle and save you money.

Realty Sage is one such search engine and is refreshingly data-driven—each house featured on the site is scored based on the 12 Livability Categories that matter most to home-buyers and this rating can automatically elevate a home’s listing by providing easily-understood, accurate data to seller, buyers, and real estate agents. 

By calculating a Sage Score for your house, you will be able to actually quantify how “green” your home is and truly showcase how the special features of your property positively impact the quality of living in your home!

To check out the process of listing your house on Realty Sage, click here! By Syd Ulrich-Dogonniuck, Sustainability Content Writer for Realty Sage


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.

Reflections on Living Without a Fridge

Hometead House In Colombia

I live in a quilted home of brick walls, mosquito screens, windowless spaces, and a palm leaf roof in northeast Colombia. You may see an iguana munching a mango on my porch. Once you transcend the sheer weirdness and come inside, you may realize something else strange: I have no refrigerator.

I have been living without a fridge (freezer and air conditioning) for six months now. This is even funkier because my house leans on a sub-tropical mountain–essentially the opposite of the cool climates conducive to natural refrigeration.

Why did I do this? First, most 24-hour refrigerators use an enormous amount of electricity, draining power and dollars.

Second, the environmental impact: most use coolants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping greenhouse emissions and contributing to global warming.  Refrigeration essentially enables our insane global food system, allowing fruits in southern Mexico to unnaturally land in the northern U.S., instead of relying on locally grown produce. Packaged food is an epidemic, one that would be significantly less possible without conventional refrigeration. Third, I wanted to experience daily life more like my ancestors.  And finally, I just wanted to see what would happen!

Using a Zeer Pot for Simple Refrigeration

Because of the tropical climate, I was unable to implement more traditional refrigeration alternatives like a root cellar, cold room, or ice house. My first attempt at alternative refrigeration was a Zeer Pot. An ingeniously simple system with pan-cultural roots invented by a rural Nigerian to keep food cooler in hot climates.

Basically, you fit one clay pot inside another, fill it with wet sand, place your food inside, cover with a wet cloth, and place it a cool dry area. As the water evaporates, the pot will cool. You need to keep the sand moist, which requires some watering each day. There are some great Zeer Pot tutorials.

I used my Zeer Pot for 3 months before throwing in the wet cloth. While it helped some, the excessive humidity, despite the heavy breeze, prevented the necessary evaporation for significant cooling. My pot is now home to basil and moringa.

Hanging Basket Of Fresh Food

What else I learned from six months without a fridge:

The Pros

1. Reduced electricity, waste, and muscular compost. I realized significantly reduced electricity use and cost, along with less non-organic waste (one full 16-inch trashcan weekly). My compost also grew like a well-fed teenager!

2. Hyper-local, hyper-fresh. Fresh produce can’t survive forever, and there are few nearby restaurants, so I needed to rely on local markets more, thus supporting the local economy and building community. I have the advantage of living near a family-owned store that sells most of my basic food needs. I buy fresh bread from my neighbor weekly, and other goodies from neighbors to support them and diversify my diet.

3. Develop greater attunement to food life cycles. For example, refrigerating bread can help it last a few days longer, but will actually make it go stale much quicker. Fruits like apples, mangos, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple will last many days without refrigeration. Vegetables like garlic, ginger, onions, potatoes, certain squash, turmeric, and leeks all do well out of the fridge for long periods of time. Your nose begins to learn what is good and what isn’t.

Think about where the produce is grown as a helpful indicator for how it will fair in your climate. Broccoli and strawberries could never grow in my climate, and indeed they don’t last 24 hours’ sans-refrigeration.

4. Creative storage. Hanging baskets are a wonderful and stylish way to store food where creatures can’t reach. Tying up herbs to dry will prevent them from rotting and give a rustic aestheticism to the kitchen.

After many, “What, they eat that too!” moments, I’ve learned to just put anything I can into jars and containers: coffee, nuts, rice, pasta, flours, seeds, spices, etc., which also helps maintain freshness.

Making jams and marmalades are great options I didn’t do enough of– though I did make a lot of homemade chocolate peanut butter!

Drying and dehydrating fruits is crazy fun, delicious, and storage friendly.

5. A more natural diet. The no-refrigeration diet is more natural. You eat fresh everyday and rely much more on dried foods like seeds, nuts, and dried fruit that are nutrient rich and more aligned with our ancestors’ foraging diet.

I was also inspired to do more wild fermentations like kombucha, wild sourdough bread, and honey mead.

The Cons

1. It’s a ton of work. More work than most modern folk can sanely tolerate. Constant cooking, cleaning, storing, frequent market trips, and trial and errors are a major time suck. If you live in cooler climates or have a community/family, that will certainly help significantly.

2. Food limitations. Forget about delicious soft cheeses, most undried meat, dairy milks, and most nut milks won’t last long once opened or homemade. I make mostly oat milk (just some oats, water, and blend) each day.

3. Practicality. Besides the joy of saving leftovers, my homesteading neighbors intelligently freeze their seasonal abundance for harsher upcoming seasons. While this can be done more naturally like in cold rooms, having refrigeration really opens up a lot of positive practical possibilities.

4. Bugs and critters. When your food lives out there with you, the critters do, too. There will be multiple skirmishes, if not epic battles, with fruit flies, ants, cockroaches, mice, etc. Ants of several varieties have been my biggest foes.

To not use toxins, I experimented with many natural deterrents. Ants don’t like cinnamon or coffee, and I use a vinegar essential oil spray that works to keep bugs away (until the next day), and makes the place smell nice Many of these are also effective in the garden.

In conclusion, life without a fridge is very hard and very rewarding. I have decided to purchase a very small fridge for select items, and maintain most of my non-refrigeration practices to maintain a more natural balance while still enjoying some benefits of technology.

Chris Ponzi was once afraid of ants. Now he is an award-winning writer and poet whose work and life focus on healing and regenerating our connection to the earth. He holds an English Literature degree from UCLA, and is certified in permaculture design, nature-based practices, and is a trained meditator-mindfulness practitioner. Connect with Chris at www.ChrisPonzi.com 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.

Tips for Minimizing Mold

cleaning mold

Shortly after we moved into our current house, we realized we were facing a mold problem of a magnitude we had never seen before. At the first signs of dampness, mold would spring up everywhere - on the ceiling and walls, in every nook and cranny behind furniture, on our bath mats, etc.

It didn't help that our first winter here was especially rainy, more so than most years I can remember. I had left a throw pillow in a corner for two days, and when I picked it up I discovered that an aggressive growth of mold kicked off in the corner behind that pillow during those 48 hours!

Mold isn't just unsightly and nasty-smelling. It can have potentially serious health consequences such as respiratory problems or symptoms akin to allergy and asthma. Treat it promptly and uncompromisingly as you would a dangerous enemy.

We don't know for sure, but we believe that the previous owner of this house didn't really fight mold. He merely painted over it now and then (and not with mold-resistant paint, either), which was a big mistake, because this doesn't kill the mold and it kept growing and emerging again and again.

The best strategy in dealing with mold is prevention. Mold thrives in damp, airless spaces, so open your windows as frequently as possible and thoroughly air rooms out, especially the bathroom after you use the shower.

Do your best not to push furniture against the walls, but leave a little space to allow for air circulation. Don't put damp clothes in the laundry basket and don't leave the washing to sit before you hang it or put it in the dryer.

Cleaning Mold

We have tried natural solutions such as vinegar, baking soda and a combination of the two, and I'm sorry to say that we found out nothing really works against our particular strain of mold other than chlorine bleach. I hate the smell of bleach and its potential hazards, but I hate mold even more, so...

Bleach fumes are harmful, so open your windows wide whenever you work with it. For mold in the corners, dip a painting brush in bleach and spread it over the infected spots. If you have mold growing in the lining between floor tiles, dip a scrubbing brush in bleach and work your way between the tiles, then wash the floor with a bleach and water solution and dry it thoroughly. Be careful to avoid the bleach touching your hands or clothes.

I have read that bleach doesn't really kill mold, that is, it can reappear very quickly, which means that the roots are still there. I have observed that if an area is thoroughly and repeatedly treated, mold will eventually stop reappearing, though any place can become re-infected if it isn't kept dry and well-aired.

It's very difficult to get rid of persistent mold that had permeated the whole house, especially if there are mold colonies in the foundation, inside hollow walls, and in other places you can never treat. However, with the right maintenance, you can still have a pleasant, healthy home.

Image source: Creative Commons

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern 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 Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead 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.

How to Make Clay Paint

Clay painted wall 

We have experimented with various natural paints over the years. Most looked good, but had some negative points such as the requirement for too many layers (such as with some lime paints) or the issue with the clay dusting off the walls when you touch it.

We wanted a paint we could apply once, would not dust, and would have a nice consistent matt finish (and of course be made using natural materials). We have at last found our recipe, and with the help of the street artist no less. We knew that wheat paste could be added to a clay paint, or even just pasted over the top to make the wall durable, a little waterproof and stop dusting. So who better to ask for a strong wheat paste recipe than the fly-poster community?

We mixed a poster paste recipe with our own clay paint. The paint we made, when dry was incredibly durable, gave a beautiful consistent colour and barely dusted even right after drying. So without further ado, here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 6 parts cold water
  • 6 parts white wheat flour
  • 12 parts boiling water

then...

  • 2 parts sugar combined with…
  • 18 parts cold water
  • 20 parts fine filtered clay
  • (add colour pigment here if you like)

Directions

Mix all of them together and you have your paint.

We found that around 1 litre covered about 2 square metres on a clay wall, painted with a brush. Only one coat was necessary for a smooth consistent finish. Using the measurements above, with one ‘part’ equalling about one cup, we made around 14 litres of paint.

Here are the steps for making a mix...

1. Firstly, take your 12 parts of water and set it on the fire to boil.

2. Take another pan and add you 6 parts of cold water

3. Slowly add to the cold water 6 parts of flour. You can alter the measurements if you like depending on your desired consistency. We wanted quite a thick paint to cover the small cracks and bumps so we stayed with 6 water, 6 flour. More flour = thicker paint

4. Mix well!

5. Hopefully your 12 parts of water are nearly boiling. When they are, add them to the flour/cold water, and keep stirring over the heat. The longer you keep it on the heat the thicker it will get so be careful.

6. Now add your sugar, keep stirring, on the heat if you want it to thicken. We had taken it off the heat by this point.

And there you have your flour and sugar component....

fine filtered clay

If you are lucky, whilst you were busy making the flour mixture, your assistant was filtering the clay. We start with a large filter to take out gravel and rocks.

Next we use a filter made for flour to take out the larger sand particles, and leave only the finest most beautiful clay. And then you are left with an incredibly wonderful, soft clay.

Next we poured 18 cups of water into a wheelbarrow. Then we add the clay, stirring well.

Now you can add your flour sugar mix, making sure to get all the lumpy stuff from the bottom. This paint will always sink and separate so whenever decanting and using this paint, make sure to mix and shake it first or you will lose all the solids at the bottom. I stirred it with the paintbrush before each use..

You should use this paint as soon as possible! The paint we had left over was fermenting after a couple of weeks and although we were able to use it on a different project, it probably wouldn´t be so nice to use in the house due to the awful smell.

Good luck, and if you have any questions about the mix you can reach me at www.fazendatomati.org.

Tom Keeling is based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram.


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Both Freshwater Fish and Your Wallet Want You To Make Some Changes!

Smart Shower Head

Low-flow shower head

Photo WaterHawk Smart Shower

Going zero-waste, decreasing electrical usage and recycling are all great ways to incorporate sustainability into your lifestyle without having to give up the things you love, but what about water usage? Is it possible to live with the same creature comforts while cutting back on the amount of water used? And why does water conservation really matter?

While clean, safe water seems to magically pour out of taps in places like the US, that isn’t a reality in many places in the world. Less than 1% of all the water on the planet is “available” freshwater, meaning it isn’t locked in glaciers. And due to varied weather and geography, the replenishment rates of freshwater are anything but reliable.

Though water is technically renewable, it is only renewable in the sense that it can become pure freshwater through natural processes after being tainted. Water is a finite resource—meaning there’s only so much to go around. As the global population steadily grows, this means that the same, fixed amount of water needs to adequately support all our communities, agricultural practices and natural ecosystems or something will give.

Unfortunately, the truth is that our freshwater ecosystems are what is paying for humanity’s ever-growing need for more waterover 2,000 species of freshwater fish species have become extinct or severely endangered in just the past few decades according to studies done by National Geographic. Sadly, this is compounded by the fact that freshwater ecosystems are deteriorating at an alarming rate—and much faster than their terrestrial counterparts.

Based on surveys done by the US Geological Survey, the average American uses, on average, between 80 and 100 gallons of water daily. That being said, there are many other countries that use significantly less water than is used in the US! The UK, which has a comparable standard of living to the US, averages only 39 gallons of water used per person, daily!  So I think it is definitely possible to cut back on water usage while maintaining the style of living we are accustomed to—and with the water-conscious smart tech that is currently available it’s a lot easier than you might think to make impactful changes!!

How to Not Flush Your Money Away—Water Saving Bathroom Hacks

We’ll start off with the bathroom, where most people use the most water! When it comes to decreasing your water usage, the bathroom has a myriad of ways that you can alter what you already have to make your home more environmentally friendly (and save some money on that water bill!!).

Low Flow Shower Heads:

The EPA calculates that 17% of most people’s entire water bill is due to simply showering! Thus it’s one of the best places to start cutting back on water usage (that won’t break the bank). If you check out your shower head (or the packaging it came in) you should notice a number followed by GPM, for example 3.0 GPM, or 3 gallons per minute. This measures how much water you’re using. The average showerhead uses 2.5 GPM, however older showers can use up to 4 or 5 GPM.

To correct this, look for shower heads with the WaterSense label, indicating a Rate of 2.0 GPM or less, or any faucet with the same capacity. Amazon has some budget friendly options  and even a few that monitor your real-time water usage, so as you shower you know how much water you’re using. If you’re looking for the Mac Daddy of low flow, smart shower heads there are also smart-tech companies like Hydrao that save water and track your usage patterns and savings, as well as much more.

Water Heater Recirculation Kits:

 Hot water recirculator

Do you get in the shower the minute you open the tap? I sure don’t—the water is freezing! The solution: installing a Water Heater Recirculation Kit. These kits basically loop the cold or lukewarm water through a small system, instead of flushing it down the pipes, until the desired temperature is reached. They can be purchased in many hardware stores, such as this kit at Home Depot, or online (Amazon to the rescue as always!) and a simple one-hour installation can save you up to 10% on your water bills!

Photo Watts Instant Hot Water Recirculating System

High-Efficiency Toilets:

 Dual flush toilet

Toilets are the #1 culprit for indoor water usage—using on average 24% of your total water usage. Thankfully, some brilliant engineers out there have come up with a whole slew of solutions for you to save you from flushing your money down the toilet! There are Gravity-Assisted Toilets, Dual-Flush ToiletsPressure-Assisted Toilets and Vacuum-Assisted Toilets (who knew?!). Each type has slightly different technology, but the end result is that less water is used per flush.

While replacing your toilets is definitely not cheap, think of it like an investment—you invest $200 (plus or minus depending on your taste, obviously) in a new toilet and it will pay itself off in no time, and then save you money for years to come. Home Depot and Lowe’s both have very large selections if you want to check them out for yourself!

Photo WoodBridge Toilet

How to Cook Up Even More Savings—Water-Saving Hacks for the Rest of Your Home

Though the bathroom is where most of the water in the house is used, there are definitely other household appliances that can be upgraded to help you save water and save money!

Smart Dishwashers:

Smart dishwasher

Hand-washing dishes takes time and, unless you’re a house elf, no one likes to do it. Luckily, Energy Star dish washers are here to save the day! It has actually been proven that it is both less water-intensive and energy-intensive to use your dishwasher (given it meets the Energy Star ratings). I’m not sure how they measured the amount of energy you or I would exert while hand-washing, but if they say I shouldn’t ever wash another plate in the name of science, I definitely won’t argue!!

Since the 1990’s we’ve seen dishwashers go from 10 gallons a wash, to only 2 gallons a cycle—thus Energy Star rated washers can save almost 4,000 gallons of water over the appliance lifespan. Additionally, on average it costs only $35 a year to run one. A few companies worth checking out are Miele, Asko and Beko as they are industry innovators.  

No more hand-washing…saves you money…protects our environment…honestly it’s a win-win-win!!

Photo Miele Optima

Eco-Friendly Washing Machines:

eco friendly washing machine

Washing machines, just like dishwashers, are another household appliance that has come so far over the past few decades. The amount of water used in older machines is over double what is used in new High Efficiency (HE) and Energy Star certified machines.

One of the innovative front-runners in this category is Fischer & Paykel; they have developed a patented technology that means their washing machines only use 22% of the energy and 58% of the water used by a conventional washing machine. On top of this, their EcoSmart technology also saves 30% of the energy typically used in the dryer!

Photo: Fisher Paykel AquaSmart

Smart Garden Sprinklers:

smart sprinkler

I think many people sort of forget that the yard is part of the house, so being mindful of how much water is being used in the garden is really quite important, but often overlooked! Most people love their gardens but are not gardeners, and as a result, they over- water the living daylights out of their plants (as someone who has worked for greenhouses and nurseries, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told people plants can’t swim!).

So I introduce to you a high-tech garden gadget: Rachio’s Smart Sprinkler System. This system isn’t just some over-priced watering timer, oh no, it actually takes into account so much data  it’s unbelievable…It takes into account weather patterns, soil type, exposure to the sun, humidity, and creates a “hyperlocal precision forecast” that dictates if, and how much, and at what time your garden will be watered. Like I said, unbelievable. And that’s not all, a smart system like this can cut your water bill for the garden by over 50%.

Photo Rachio Smart Sprinkler System  

By Syd Ulrich-Dogonniuck, Sustainability Content Writer for Realty Sage

There are so many more ways to save water in your house, but hopefully the ideas above started to get you thinking of other ways to curb your household water usage. For more ideas to save water in and around your home, check out some of these other eco-friendly gadgets here on RealtySage.com.


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.

The Making of a Solar, Passive, Off-Grid Home: The Architect’s Story

 

The design of a passive solar building is the compilation of art, architecture, astronomy, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  In January 1973, when I was a first semester student at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture, the overwhelming sentiment in academia was that we had an environmental emergency in progress.  Humankind had been burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and there was hard, empirical evidence that we were changing the climate.  Our professors said we had to start designing structures that heated and cooled themselves, produced electricity, and actually improved the environment around them.  The oil embargo that same year reinforced our realization that the earth was finite as were our sources of energy.

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

So it was with a sense of urgency that we built our first solar home in 1977 in the high country near the Navajo Nation in western New Mexico.  At a staggering 800 square feet, it was built of stone and wood framing.  The floor was 3 feet below ground level to tap the natural warmth of the earth.  A windmill pumped our water, a wood burning stove cooked our meals (and provided back up heat) and we read at night by the light of kerosene lamps.  As temperatures graced the 30 below zero mark, we learned some valuable lessons that we applied to other solar homes.

The Eco and High-Tech Home

Fast forward to the summer of 2000 when we began building our third solar home on 200 acres in the high sage brush and forests of Taos County.  Technically, it was massively different from that first home.  The idea was for the house to be “off grid” and keep our carbon footprint below the world average of 4 tons per person per year,  (the average American puts out about 20 tons).  But we would actually have electricity and everything a “normal” house would have.   

All building materials carry with them an embedded energy - the energy needed for their production.  When it comes to building in the American Southwest, adobe is a natural choice because of its low embedded energy.  Traditionally, adobe has been the product of mud, straw, sunshine, and human toil.  These days, even with the use of a front-end loader and dump truck, it is still a very environmentally friendly building material. 

Harnessing the Power of Nature

Another natural choice here in the Southern Rockies is the use of sunshine to heat.  We have about 300 days of sunshine a year.   Winter storms come through, dump snow, and leave days of brilliant sunshine in their wake.  

In this climate, during the month of January, any south-facing window will gain more energy than it loses.  Make that window double glazed, put an adobe wall behind it, cover it at night with an insulative shade, and you have a heating system.  

The winter sun is very low in the sky and, on a clear day, it floods the home with sunshine all day.  Typically, at the winter solstice, the adobe walls have a temperature somewhere between 75 and 78 degrees which will warm the house at night and through cloudy days.  Even a fire in the stove all day does not give you as much heat as one sunny day.

Summer cooling is not a problem here at 7700 feet.  As I write this in late July, we have yet to see the thermometer hit 90.  The opposite of winter, the high summer sun comes just a few inches into the house on the south side, producing little or no heat.  Strategic placement and size of north, east, and west windows keeps summer solar heating to a minimum.

A Labor of Love Built to Last

My wife and I started building this house in the fall of 2000.  As a licensed architect, I was able to draw the plans and get a building permit.  Like our first house, with no electricity on the site, this home was built entirely with hand tools.  Since it was just the two of us, some things, like the huge, concrete foundation, were contracted to professionals.  After that, every board was cut by hand, every nail driven with a hammer, and every ton of adobe mud was mixed by hand in a wheel barrow (mostly by my amazing wife as I hauled in adobe and built the walls).  The house is basically a highly insulated wood frame house that surrounds 225,000 pounds of adobe.  Like a thermos bottle, the adobe walls are surrounded by insulation and kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The well and house are each supplied with electrical power by 10 - 130 watt solar panels on solar trackers with banks of batteries that store energy for night and cloudy days.  Before we moved into the house, we got rid of all of our electrical appliances, not knowing how much electricity we would be using.  We quickly learned that we had plenty of power to spare and began re-accumulating those appliances.  Blow dryer, electric teapot, toaster, toaster-oven: we have those and more now.  The trick is not to use them all at once.  The refrigerator is the biggest load on the system because it is always cycling off and on.  But we have a super efficient model and it just sips the energy.  Electronics, like the TV and computer, draw very little power and can be switched off when not in use to avoid “phantom loads”. The batteries will supply plenty of energy during a week without sunshine, although in 18 years, we have never seen that many consecutive cloudy days.

An Opportunity For a New Family

Our home and land are now for sale.  We are beginning our next adventure and are remodeling and solarizing a house in town.  Searching the Internet, I found Realty Sage, and posted our property there.  The posting process was efficient and easy to use.  Kari Klaus and her team have an innovative “Sage Score” that rates homes on a variety of criteria like home heating, water, and adherence to environmentally sensitive principles. Our house has a Sage Score of 100+.  It was accomplished using very simple, traditional building materials and skills combined with standard solar electric systems.  This has enabled us to keep our total carbon footprint at around 3 tons each per year.  

Check out this New Mexico home.

By Fred Black, a guest writing contributor for www.RealtySage.com .Taos County, New Mexico.

Connect with expert local eco real estate agents who understand solar, off grid, and passive homes with the agent-finder www.RealtySagePros.com


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.

Plastic-Free July & Other Tips to Reduce Your Waste

 

"Plastic-free July" is a movement to reduce our dependence on plastics. You may already reduce your usage of fossil fuels and you have cut back on single-use plastic grocery bags, but what else can we all be doing to lead a much more eco-friendly lifestyle including how to make our homes eco-friendly beyond their four walls? Have you considered how trash impacts your environmental footprint?

In college, I was asked by my environmental studies professor if I knew where my trash went. I was completely embarrassed, as a self-proclaimed environmentalist, to stare blankly across the room and finally admit that I had no idea where my trash went after it left my household. And what’s even worse, is I didn’t even know how much trash I was really producing. Apparently, I am not alone.

Sustainability writer for RealtySage.com, Syd Ulrich-Dogonniuck, breaks down the American waste habit and the impact trash is having on our environmental footprint in Are We Wasting Our Waste?

When you think of “waste” what do you think of? Trash day? Setting the trash bin on the curb once a week? Or have you thought about what happens to the waste created from your home after it leaves the curb?

For years, decades even, it seems our society has had a very “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about waste—you do your due diligence to keep your neighborhood clean, you pick up litter in the park, you wouldn’t dream of throwing a Styrofoam cup out the window on the high way. On the surface the “waste issue” doesn’t seem like an issue at all—it seems well contained, old news even. Dig a little deeper, however, and some truths start to materialize… The average American produces a whopping 5.91 pounds of waste daily.

At nearly 6 pounds of trash per day on average, most of us need a little help in finding ways to cut the waste and to do so easily. From electronics, to groceries to paper products, Ulrich-Dogonniuck provides us with the 8 Quick, Easy Ways to Kick-Start Your Zero Waste Lifestyle to help motivate us to reduce our trash in fun and easy ways. 

Since this is plastic-free July, it’s also a good time to rethink the use of plastic. One area where plastic is used with great abundance is the beauty industry.

Since World War II the beauty industry has been in love with plastic packaging—it’s cheap, lightweight, moldable, and doesn’t degrade when in contact with fluids, be it shower water or a gel or foam product. To obtain all these characteristics, however, means that most of the plastic packaging that is used is not easily recyclable, and as such will end up in a landfill once the product is finished (or you find a new favorite product to replace it), says Ulrich-Dogonniuck in Going Waste-Free Beautifully—How to Clean Up Your Beauty Routine.

Following these simple and easy tips to reduce your beauty-routine’s reliance on plastic will make your morning all that much brighter.

This July, and every month, taking just a few steps to change your everyday routine will reduce your trash and create a positive impact towards your environmental footprint.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions, can transform the world.” – Howard Zinn

Photo by Pedro Aguilar on Unsplash

Kari Klaus is the founder of RealtySage.com, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings.


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.







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