Yes, we are here!

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we have been educating folks about the benefits of self-reliance for 50 years. That includes researching and sourcing the best books and products to help individuals master the skills they need in times like these and beyond. Our online store is open and we are here to answer any questions you might have. Our customer service staff is available Monday through Friday from 8a.m.-5p.m. CDT. We can be reached at 1-800-234-3368 or by email. Stay safe!


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


The Effects of COVID-19: How the Environment and Economy Intersect

As I am sure all of you know, we are currently living through history in the making. Our lives have shifted dramatically as we cope with the new virus by obeying stay-at-home orders and remaining self-isolated. But while we have been safely tucked away in our homes, the earth around us as begun to heal itself in our absence. This is interesting, because while the human world, specifically the economy, is seeming to crumble, the environment is being given a chance to rebound.

 Melting ice on mountains

Guiseppe Mondì on unsplash.com

Environmental Impacts of COVID-19

There is, thankfully, a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have been keeping up with social media and the news, you may have noticed that wildlife and the environment are better off due to our world pausing.

Improved Air Quality. Due to the stay-at-home orders issued by the state governments of the United States, there is significantly less travel, which reduces transportation-related pollutants. Airport and car related pollutants have decreased, which decreases the amount of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde being emitted.

Both of the named chemicals contribute to ozone development. Ozone not only contributes to global warming, but is also toxic to humans, causing chest pain, coughing, and throat irritation. Less coal is being burned due to a decrease in energy consumption during the COVID-19 national shutdown.

Coal burning creates carbon dioxide emissions, which also contributes to climate change. Although domestic energy usage has increase 6-8% due to citizens working at home, the pandemic has still caused an overall decrease in energy consumption. The reduction in both transportation pollutants and coal burning emissions have led to better air quality globally. For example, the air pollution in New York have dropped by almost 50%. Emission levels have also dropped in Europe and China.

Increased Water Clarity. There has been a decrease in boat usage in oceans and waterways during the Corona Virus pandemic. This has caused water clarity to improve. In Venice, the boats used locally stir up sediment for the bottom of the canals, making it difficult to see wildlife. Now, with no boats in use, the water clarity has improved and fish are visible.

Decreased Noise Pollution. Fewer planes, ships, buses, cars, and people are traveling due to the stay-at-home orders associated with COVID-19. This travel restriction has resulted in significantly reduced noise levels. Seismologists report that the earth is experiencing less seismic noise, which is vibration of the earth’s crust. The decrease in noise has improved quality of life for animals so much that animals are migrating less and have a lower mortality rate. Marine animals have experienced less stress due to noise caused by cruise ships.

All that being said, we can conclude that the environment and wildlife have been rebounding during the coronavirus outbreak. With less invasion by societies’ emissions and noise, the earth has has the opportunity to heal somewhat.

 high rises

 Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

The Economic Effects of COVID-19

As I said in the beginning of this article, COVID-19 is making history with its unprecedented impacts. As I am sure every American has seen and experienced, the economy of the United States has taken a big hit as a result of the pandemic.

The Dow.The Dow experienced the largest drop in the first quarter since 1987. This monumental drop in the Dow could have significant negative effects of citizens’ personal savings and pension. The Dow drop has also impacted citizens’ desire to spend money; to remedy this, interest rates have dropped to encourage spending and the U.S. national government passed a $2 trillion Corona Virus Aid bill to help stimulate the economy.

Unemployment. More than 30 million people have applied for unemployment amid the Corona Virus pandemic. The number above is a record high for the United States. This in due to the closing of non-essential businesses, which was implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Risk of Recession. The current economic climate is called the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930’s by IMF.  IMF (International Monetary Fund) says that the global economy will shrink by 3% in 2020. Economic growth is characterized by increases in both wealth and employment – in 2020, we see neither of those characteristics. Needless to say, the Coronavirus is causing significant damage to the American and global economies.

The Intersection of the Environment and Economy

There is no denying, the environmental and economic impacts of the Corona Virus pandemic are both extensive. But how do they intersect and interact with each other?

According to Bryan Duncan of NASA, If the amount of pollution emitted continues to grow over time, your economy is likely booming. The environment simple cannot handle the harmful emissions that a thriving economy produces. We see the same idea, only reversed, with the COVID-19 case – pollutants have been reduced but the economy has suffered. This evidence confirms that the environment and economy work in opposition with each other. When one is positively affected, the other is negatively affected.

Therefore, it is clear that it would be extremely difficult for a thriving environment and thriving economy to co-exist together.

wind mills

Anna Jiménez Calaf on unsplash.com

Where Does This Leave Us?

You may be thinking, “well this sounds pretty bleak.” But remember this crucial fact – the above section describes how the environment and economy traditionally intersect. Remember that the environment is harmed through traditional methods of energy creation such as burning gas and coal. There are, however, other ways of producing energy.

Until now, reducing global emissions through innovative sustainable measures has been a pipe dream that seemed ideal, but largely unattainable. Now, however, we have seen with our own eyes the healing effects of reduced emissions. We know that the results are real and tangible. This should drive us like never before to make changes to our traditional economic practices. By implementing widespread sustainable and innovative processes, a thriving environment and economy could potentially co-exist.

Sustainable practices can be implemented in large and small ways. Communities and individuals can reduce their personal carbon footprint by implementing sustainable urban planning, increasing public transit use, and by investing in green homes and development. Nations and corporations can reduce emissions from production and development by utilizing renewable energy sources and advanced technologies. For example, Target has outfitted 300 of their facilities with solar panels and will outfit 200 more in 2020, all of which will decrease the emissions of the company. Advanced smokestack filters can also be used to remove 90% of pollutants from smoke before releasing it into the environment. Through these types of measures, we could see continued positive economic growth, without the negative impacts on the environment.

 solar home

Vivint Solar on unsplash.com

How YOU Can Go Green

As I said, Individuals can reduce their personal carbon footprint by implementing sustainable practices. But maybe sustainability seems a little intimidating? Not to worry! There are hundreds of easy ways to make your household more sustainable in regard to energy consumption, water use, shopping, and more!

One of the other ways I mentioned that individuals can implement sustainable practices was to invest in a green home. Users can use Realty Sage's eco home search to view homes of all types, from LEED certified to solar powered and everything in between.

A green has a smaller carbon footprint than a traditional home due to energy saving technology. Green homes are incredibly healthy for residents and are also cost saving, which is an added plus during changing economic situations, as we are in now.

If you are interested in how your individual actions can change the world, check out this article, Climate Change: Can One Person Really Make a Difference. As the article quotes, Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Everyone has the ability to throw their own stone, which can cause a worldwide, planet-healing ripple effect.

Maggie Hartman is a Sustainability Content Writer Intern at RealtySage.com. Kari Klaus is the founder of RealtySage.com, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 


 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 6: Demolition Begins

Following the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This multi-part series recounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.

I thought for sure that I was going to leave the township hall with the building permit that day. After meeting with the building inspector or nearly two hours in the pursuit of receiving a permit to begin the remodel of a horse barn to transform it into a wellness center, I was taken aback But although I left empty-handed, I knew that we were getting close to getting the building permit — I just needed to jump through a few hoops.

The owners were not happy with the fact that I wasn’t granted a building permit, and after a discussion about the matter, we all agreed that we would jump through the last few hoops and focus our attention on getting the building permit. I called my wife, who was waiting to hear how things went.

“How did it go with the building inspector?” she asked.

“We didn’t get the building permit because the building inspector needs the building plans to be updated with what he and I talked about. I will have to stay up after we eat supper and the kids go to bed so that I can try to update these prints as quickly as possible.” My wife is not only a great listener, but she is also very understanding about my work load over the years. Owning a small business means that we don’t have normal nine-to-five hours.

Barn Building Plan Drawings Get an Update

After my wife and the kids went to bed, I went up to my drawing room and sat down on the chair. My face felt really warm from the sun that had I worked under that summer day. As I looked over my notes from the building inspector, I started to think about how I could update the drawings in the most efficient way possible.

I pulled out the original prints and went over each area of the drawings that the inspector wanted changed to update them. I started to think about how quickly I could get back into see the building inspector. By this time, it was 11 o’clock at night, so I decided to go to bed and call the building inspector first thing in the morning.

“I updated the building plans and I would like to meet you today to get the building permit,” I said. The building inspector did not sound as enthused about the idea of meeting as I did and said, “I am in a different township today. Call the township and schedule an appointment for us on Tuesday and I will take a look at what you have.” I had to wait nearly another week to get in to meet the building inspector. When that Tuesday came, I was back at the township hall and ready for my appointment with him.

After another thorough review of the building plans, the building inspector was ready to fill out the building permit. Unfortunately for me, he had to fill out his paperwork and the township would mail a copy of the building permit to me. I asked the building inspector if it was ok if we got started with the demolition portion of the project and he said that we could get started. Finally, we could begin this project!

Demolition Begins

As I mentioned to the structural engineer, I intended on taking this project in many steps. The first step was to go inside of the existing horse barn and remove the stall where the horse lived. Next, we took out the existing set of stairs that went up to the second floor hay loft. We took the stairs out so that we could have the concrete floor removed because the floor was not even. The new set of stairs would be located in the front addition of the wellness center.

There was a roof covering the east side of the barn. This area had no walls and was supported by posts that went down to footings sitting underground below the frost line. The plans called for a second floor above that roofed area, so we had to remove the roof and support posts.

The only way to safely remove that roof was to take it down in sections, that way we could be sure that we would not destroy the integrity of the existing barn wall that needed to stay in place. I climbed up on the roof with the cordless sawzall and Bob, who works with me, drove and placed the forks of our skytrack, also known as The Pink Panther, under the section of the roof that I was cutting off.

Section by section, I cut the roof off of the barn and Bob took the individual sections, with The Pink Panther, over and stacked them up out of the way. It felt like such a victory for our team to finally be working on this project!

We had our excavator come and remove the concrete from inside the barn, the east section where we removed the roof, and the concrete approach at the front of the barn. Then he dug our footing and foundation trenches.

 Considering Solar Power for the Barn Remodel

I met with the owners to discuss the flow of the project. During that meeting, the owners mentioned wanting a solar array to help offset the electrical usage on the property. While we were discussing the possibility of a solar array, we discovered that we needed a better idea of how we were going to power the barn. After that meeting, I contacted the electrical provider for the area and set up a meeting with one of their project managers.

 “You want to do what with the barn?” the project manager from the utility company asked me. I was getting really good at responding to that question because so many people had asked me that. I told him what our intentions were and that the township would not allow us to have poles to get the power down to the barn.

The project manager immediately started talking about how expensive it was going to be to get power down to the barn. He mentioned that a separate electrical meter on the same property meant that no matter what the second meter was used on, their commercial rate for electricity would apply to that second meter. The commercial rate was at least double the cost as residential he said. As the project manager walked the path for the buried electrical line with his measuring wheel, I stood up by the power pole and started to think about what the solar installer had mentioned during our conversation about the solar array.

The solar installer had mentioned about upgrading the electrical service at the house, which was on the property and about 300 feet in distance from the barn. He said that we might consider upgrading the house to a 400-amp service and then splitting the 400 amps so that the house would be powered with 200 amps and the wellness center would have 200 amps of electricity running to it.

As I stood by the power pole and watched the project manager from the utility company walking with his measuring wheel way off in the distance, I turned and looked past the house and down toward the barn. The distance was quite a bit shorter going from the house to the barn instead of trenching all the way across the hay field.

The project manager walked back up to where I was standing and he was breathing heavy after his long walk up the hill. “That is a really long ways, this is going to be really expensive” the project manager said. I let him catch his breath before I asked him about upgrading the service to the house to a 400-amp service and then feeding the barn with 200 amps from the house just like the solar installer had mentioned.

The project manager’s tone completely changed. “That’s a great idea” he said. “If your team did the trenching and burying the wire, then the only cost would be a new transformer on the pole and burying a wire from the pole to the house.

“Is that expensive?” I asked with a sarcastic tone in my voice.

“Not as expensive and running underground all the way across this field,” he said. He measured the new path, took notes and then, as he got into his truck, told me that he would be in touch with the price and more information.

Follow the full series as the saga of the horse barn to wellness center transformation unfolds.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. 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.

Traditional Masonry Heater Construction Methods

 

Masonry heater core and wall.

Today I'll be discussing construction styles, not channel layouts or firebox designs, but here I will give a brief overview of some ways that masonry stove durability has been addressed.

Masonry Heaters originate in many places around the world, and different cultures came up with different ways of overcoming the challenges faced when designing a masonry heater, which are pretty simple:

1. Effectively design a firebox to be the right size and shape to hold the right amount of fuel and optimize mixing of air with wood-gas.

2. Balance heat exchange area, firebox size, and wall thickness to absorb, store, and radiate that heat effectively while leaving enough heat in the gasses to allow chimney draft to keep the overall system under negative pressure.

3. Hold together under the stresses of expansion and contraction that are produced by the heating and cooling cycles inherent in the operation of the stove.

Today we live in many different shapes and sizes of house so we take these things into account with each stove we design, but plenty of heaters have been built so it's just a question of which approach we want to use for which situation.

Masonry Heaters in the United States

In some parts of the world, there is an outer stove wall made of a 4- to 4.5-inch thick softer, higher porosity brick than we have in the USA. These walls have the room on one side and the exhaust gas on the other, with no firebrick except the firebox and area right around it (where the highest temperatures are found). In some cases the red brick is plastered, which adds a layer of air-tightness to the stove.

In the USA, the most common construction I'll call “core and skin.” A firebox and heat exchange channels of firebrick are laid in water soluble refractory mortar with a gasket between them, and a red brick “skin,” is built around them, with a gap of 1/4- to 1/2-inch between them. This technique creates a heat exchange wall that's about 6.5-inch thick with a small air gap between the two layers. The gap allows for differential expansion between the core and skin but also acts as insulation, creating what has been called a “two-stage” heater.

Masonry Heater Kachelofen Basket Wall 

Kachel Tile Masonry Heaters

In other places (Sweden and Germany, among others) a different approach has been taken. The surface of the stove is made up of a specialty tile called a Kachel (or firebrick that have shallow holes drilled into them). The tiles are thick and have a very important “doughnut” on the rear. Once laid in place, wire clips hold the units together, giving the kachels two properties: the ability to move and the ability to hold together as they do so. The wire-and-kachel-wall forms a “Basket” or “Barrel.”

The heat exchange channels are built within using clay and sand mortar, which allows for some movement of each brick. The interior bricks are laid in relation to each other in such a way that no brick can fall in to block a channel, and the Kachel-tile wall holds the assembly together. This allows for a 2.5- to 3-inch-thick heat exchange wall which is ideal for a more temperate climate or home with modern insulation and gives responsiveness impossible with a thicker wall. It also handles increased temperatures which allows a smaller stove to output more heat. For example, I build a stove on this principle that uses two 50-gallon drums as the basket, and which operates wonderfully to heat rooms or large super-insulated homes.

Similarly, soapstone heaters are built using 2- to 2.5-inch slabs of soapstone as the exterior, which are laid in a mix of soapstone dust and water-glass and are pinned together. Thinner soapstone slabs are typically placed within the stove to buffer heat and facilitate a longer storage time.

I like the basket/barrel approach the most, though as with anything of this sort, there is a cost/benefit analysis to be done, and no approach is perfect. My personal stove has some parts in which individual bricks are pinned together, and some parts where I use hard setting refractory mortars. My stove utilizes an air gap technique, though I laid my red brick on edge both to facilitate the shape I wanted and to limit the activation energy needed to charge the stove to operating temperature.

In the end, which construction method you use will have an effect on how the stove performs and each method has it's place. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below.

Eric Schroeder is a masonry heat expert who has been designing heaters since 2006, innovating around stove shape, size, firebox design, and heat exchange layouts. Connect with Eric at Eric Schroeder Stoves and on Twitter, 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.

Technology and Farming: 6 Use Cases to Inspire Your Farm

 

Advanced technology in agriculture often focuses on larger operations. For small farms and homesteads, it can be tricky to find case studies that apply to their business situation. Despite the focus of ag-tech on more industrial systems, there are several options for smaller enterprises looking for new technology. 

Whether you're interested in improving crop production, streamlining management processes or using time-saving equipment, some technologies apply to your situation. Ag-tech is also applicable for growers that incorporate alternative growing practices, such as organic or hydroponic systems.

Technology does not mean you are turning your operation over to robots or relying on self-driving tractors. Here are six small farm tech examples to inspire your farm. 

1. Real-Time Data

Traditionally, farmers had to analyze crop data manually, relying on their own records to manage production and plan for the next growing season. New technology in farming, such as real-time data, proves to be a game-changer for small farms and homesteads. Intervale Community Farm, for example, improved irrigation practices by collecting valuable information. 

Using a Water Deficit Calculator system supplied by Cornell University, Intervale was able to analyze average annual precipitation, record daily plant health and reduce overall crop loss. This new technology in farming is perfect for smaller operations that need time-saving methods to retrieve data efficiently. 

2. Drone Technology

A family farm in Wise County, Virginia, has been in the same family since 1837. Since that time, agricultural practices and technology have changed, and the family has worked hard to make sure they're always using the best innovations. The farm relies primarily on a cattle enterprise and has acres of pasture that need regular attention. 

Infrastructure maintenance can be an inconvenient hassle. For the Smith family, they decided to test out drones to monitor their pastures. The trial was successful, and they are now able to save precious time by using drone technology to make sure no fences have damage around the property. 

Individuals who run small farm businesses are often interested in new technology, but unsure how to navigate the legal aspect of new markets. Organizations all across the country are passionate about rural prosperity and may be able to assist you in making a smart investment. 

3.Blockchain Network 

Ag-tech influences agriculture across the supply chain. As blockchain technology advances, more and more businesses are adopting this digital ledger system. In the case of the healthy fast-food chain, Sweetgreen, blockchain streamlines how they manage locally sourced produce across the country. 

The business emphasizes the importance of supporting local producers, and their seasonal menu reflects that value. Using a blockchain network allows them to create transparency for their customers. They can easily track the journey of food from farm to plate, which is beneficial for both the producers and the restaurant. 

4. Portable Imaging System

GPS mapping capabilities already transformed large farm management, but now the technology is spreading to smaller operations as well. In New York State, a project coordinated by Cornell University and Penn State is testing out how to use imaging to improve grapevine health. Wineries in the northeast are particularly susceptible to cold spells, as grapevines require careful pruning during winter months. 

This portable imaging system, using thermal and multispectral technology, allows farmers to drive through their crops and use the technology to map dead and live buds. Usually, farms do this process by hand, and it's incredibly tedious. With the new technology, farmers can measure the number of dead buds on a grapevine and prune accordingly. 

5. Vertical Farming 

Vertical farming systems, the process of growing produce indoors in a climate-controlled environment, are increasingly popular in urban areas. This innovation, touted as a sustainable alternative for soil-intensive growing practices, may be an energy-efficient way to grow produce in cities, cutting down on transportation and distribution costs. 

However, vertical farming operations often have high operating costs, since the growing areas require specific conditions. Temperature, moisture and light levels must be optimal for the system to be economically viable. For one farm, FarmEcology created a new way of placing LED lights in a display that saves both energy and money. Known as Asymmetrical Integral Motion Sequence, they adjust the orientation, placement and output levels of various LED lights to use less energy and save money on operating costs. 

6. Innovate Online Platforms

Some of the most innovative technologies transforming small farms and homesteads today are not in the field. The creation of online resources for farmers is integral to finding solutions to complex problems in an industry that can sometimes feel isolating, especially for farmers in rural areas. One successful example of this is Food & Tech Connect, a digital platform that cultivates an online community in farming and innovation. 

Food & Tech Connect has invaluable resources for those interested in the latest innovations in farming, especially as they relate to sustainability. Another great resource for individuals interested in new technology in the sector is FarmHack. In this forum, farmers share projects associated with updating software systems, adding technology to traditional tools and more.

Ag-Tech for Small Farms

Small farm tech examples are essential because it can be difficult for local operations to find success stories. Innumerable cases may be out there, but as a whole, the industry focuses on larger enterprises when it comes to new technology. 

Regardless of the size and structure of your operation, there is technology out there to fit your needs. Ag-tech can help streamline your business, from data analytics to supply chain logistics. Whatever it is you're looking for, there are great resources out there to discover.

Photo source.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

When Recycling Stops, Go Zero Waste!

Photo by RikaC on Pixabay

Even though new recycling policies were put in place about a year ago for the Gaston County region of North Carolina, I have only recently learned about them. Gastonia's recyclables are now limited to Number 1 and 2 recyclable plastics, newspaper, cardboard, and aluminum cans. The city I live in no longer accepts glass, mixed paper, or plastics 3 through 7.

When I found this out, I was shocked. I thought this was just Gastonia not wanting to spend the money anymore. The real reason for the cutback was the fact that many countries stopped buying our recyclables due to the adverse environmental effects. The U.S. had been selling its plastics to other countries for years. This cutback made me interested in how I can help make up for the extra plastic going to waste in my household.

What are the Barriers Preventing a Zero-Waste Household?

I started to research composting and zero-waste options. The main problems with these options are inconvenience and price. A good composting bin can go for well over 50 dollars. Choosing to go zero waste means you are also very limited with what you can order online as most orders come with lots of extra packaging.

When going to the grocery store, items not in excessive packaging are few and far between, and usually cost a little extra. If you tried to find a bulk store with zero waste options in this town, you would no doubt have trouble. Even when you do acquire the tools to go zero-waste, you have to carry them everywhere you go or risk having to accept plastic that will go in the garbage. Going zero waste and composting also require additional research that many are not willing to do.

Consistent Composting Requires Proper Procedures

A few years back, my family tried composting, but it started to smell unpleasant, so we stopped. It was only recently that I learned how to compost correctly. Proper composting does not cause an odor and is very easy.

I use a bin-style composter. I found a regular tub in my garage and went to work, setting it up. I first layered in brown materials (dirt, twigs, leaves, etc.) and added a little moisture. Then I placed a small bucket in my kitchen, in which my family could put their food scraps. After the bucket is full, I empty it into the compost bin and mix the scraps with the brown materials. It is a very simple process, but even the extra little steps turn people off from composting.

Addressing Garbage at Home

I also recently have started attempting to reduce my trash on a journey to become zero waste. This concept is often very daunting for most people, and many may think of a video that became viral a while back about a girl who had her trash from the past five years in one mason jar. The truth is zero waste does not have to be that extreme. I have had metal straws for a while now, and my family uses reusable rags instead of paper towels for the cost-benefit.

To reduce your waste, all you need to do is grab fruits and veggies that don't come with extra packaging. Take a look around before buying something to make sure you are getting the least amount of waste possible. Cut back on buying things you don't need that come with extra packaging. Grab a few reusable bags before you head out to the store.

Even these little changes can inspire others to make changes to their lifestyle, too. Sixty percent of trash in United States landfills is plastic or compostable — this shows changes like composting and using less plastic can make a huge difference in how our landfills stack up.

Emma Martin is a junior in high-school who plans to go into college for a degree in environmental engineering. She’s a dancer, a runner, a cheer coach, and an environmentalist whose goal is to make the Earth a better place for all living things.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 5: Floorplan Review to Determine Occupancy Numbers

Follow the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This multi-part series recounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.

I went into the building inspector’s office, handed him the building permit application paperwork, and had a seat. The building inspector started to look over the building permit application when he paused and asked me what the owners intended to do with the building when it was done.

He was trying to determine if each room in the wellness center had to be equipped like a doctor’s office would need to be equipped. I replied that there was not going to be any medical doctors practicing there and no request was being made for upgraded electrical outlets.

Inspecting the Floor Plan

As we went through the building permit application and the building plans, the building inspector started to key into the names of each room that was listed on the building plan. The structural engineer had told me to be careful naming the rooms on the building plans, because an inspector could question floor loads. For instance, naming a room on the second floor a closet may make the building inspector wonder if chairs, tables and other heavy items might exceed the floor load rating of the floor in that area. To avoid confusion, I made sure that I wrote “linen closet” on the prints wherever there was a second floor closet.

An area on the building plans that the building inspector started paying extra attention to was on the second floor: I’d named the large room “open room” on the building plans.

“What is going to be happening in this room labeled “open area?” he asked. I was told that the area would be used for classes and areas to meditate. “Like yoga classes?” the building inspector asked.

“I would guess so,” I responded. “And maybe some classes where people would sit at tables.”

I was starting to wonder where the building inspector was going with his line of questioning. As he continued, I started to feel that he was prying for as much information as possible. I opened the building plans and showed him the areas of the building plans that called out the 26 different details of floor loads, wind uplift, and everything else that the structural engineer had me draw.

“How many people are going to be up in the open area at a time?” he asked. I replied that the township documents stated that they could only have 10 appointments per day during normal business hours and no more than 20 people per day for group activities.

“That is a big room on the second floor,” the building inspector said, almost enticing me to respond. I did respond with a well placed (at least I thought), “Yes it is.” I learned to listen more than speak when it came to trying to figure out people during their line of questioning and this process was no different.

After a short, awkward pause, the building inspector said, “Do you think that the owners will have more than 20 people at a time up on that second floor?”

To which I responded, “I hope not, the township says that they can only have 20 people at a time.” My response made him sit back in his chair and take a deep breath. I sat still and waited for him to say something. He reached for the commercial code book and I thought, “here we go.”

At that point in the conversation, we had been discussing this building permit application and the building plans for over 30 minutes. I planned on being there as long as possible to get our building permit; all afternoon and into the evening if I had to.

“More than 20 people can fit in the upper area, wouldn’t you agree?” the building inspector asked me.

“Yes.” I responded. You can tell that someone is taking a legal route in a conversation when they say what he said next.

“Is it reasonable to assume that the owners would want to grow their business and, ultimately, have larger groups of people use that big open area?”

“Yes, that is a reasonable assumption,” I said confidently.

Determining Safe Occupancy Numbers

The building inspector replied that, liability-wise, we need to look at how many people that building could hold if the owners ever went back to the township to request a larger number of attendees at a time. I asked whether a maximum number of people are allowed in a building based on square footage. He said yes. He used a multiplier that showed what the building’s safe occupant load was.

A building has to be safe for its occupants, meaning fire exits, bathrooms and many other things. The building inspector looked through the code book searching for the section that talked about occupancy. When he found that section of the code book that listed out the codes for occupant numbers, he adjusted his glasses high on his nose and started to scan the text. Meanwhile, I was sitting there trying to imagine what he was reading.

“Well, this might not be good,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“Any building with ‘X’ number of occupants [I am purposely not mentioning that exact number because this article is not intended for instruction] requires fire suppression, an elevator, multiple means of egress and the list goes on.”

“That number is four more than what your multiplier told us that the building could hold,” I replied. “What does the code book say about our number of occupants?” He once again adjusted his glasses higher up his nose. I watched his face for when he found the text that I was asking about.

“OK, I think we are in business,” he finally said. ‘X’ number of occupants requires one additional means of egress to the outside (an exit door with a sign above it), one bathroom per 15 people and, to avoid needing an elevator, the owners would need to offer the same on the main floor as they would upstairs. But that’s not all. Additional requirements include specific sizes for the stairs, handrail height, and other features.

 The building inspector has been incredibly involved to this point; moreso than for a typical plan review for a residential project. I was hoping that he was recognizing that I wanted to make sure that everything that was required got done and that this permit would be secured no matter what.

Defeat or Determination

At this point, our meeting was approaching an hour and a half in length. I felt positive that I was leaving there with the building permit. I could feel it!

The conversation with the building inspector turned back to a plan review. We discussed the new guidelines that he found in the code book and made it very clear that he was writing on the building permit paperwork that although the township paperwork mentioned a certain number of people per day, that the building had a maximum occupancy that was higher. The building inspector was thinking of township liability and my liability as the builder in every comment he made. I really appreciated that fact.

“I don’t see the second egress point on the second floor”, the building inspector said. I pointed to the center of the south wall of the large room. He nodded. The building permit was almost in hand, I was getting excited but trying not to show it.

“We need another bathroom in this place, on the main floor,” he said. I pointed to where we originally wanted an elevator, but would now be a closet. We could make that a bathroom. I was really feeling confident now about leaving with the building permit. I looked down at my phone and I had several texts from the owners asking if I had the permit in hand. I texted: “almost”.

 “So, there are no treatment rooms upstairs?” I responded that no, only classroom space was upstairs, and if you look closely on the main floor, we have an area in the center that we can put a large television screen and speakers to broadcast down there what is happening upstairs. “And you will make sure that everything else is built to the code?” he asked. Absolutely.

“So we got it?” I asked.

“Got what?”

“The building permit?” 

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” he stated. “But I need to see the changes on the building plans before I can issue a permit, so make the changes and resubmit everything when you get them done.”

My jaw dropped. After nearly two hours of discussing the project, I was not going to leave with a building permit. I have learned that there are many ways to handle situations like this: You can be overcome with frustration at the many hoops to jump through for a building permit. Or, you can show determination.

As long as I know that there is a chance of success, I will do everything in my power to succeed including biting my tongue and jumping through every hoop. I called the owners to give them a report.

“Did we get it?” the owners asked on our conference call.

“No, but we are getting closer.” 

Follow the full series as the saga of the horse barn to wellness center transformation unfolds.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. 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.

Single Mom Begins Off-Grid Cabin Living with Hard Work and Joy

Blond Boy With Old Shed

The author’s son, Jordan, with their multi-purposed garden shed. Photo by Jo deVries

I can hardly believe that it’s been 25 years since I purchased 6 ½ acres of bush land with the idea of turning it into a home for myself and my three-year old son.

I was raised in a quiet part of the city of Ottawa, with a corn field at the end of our road. Development happened quickly; the corn field became a nursing home. I had friends that lived in the country and I knew that was the environment where I belonged. It took me a while to get there.

Adjusting to a New Reality in an Old Home

Pregnant and single at the age of 29, I decided that my first priority was to give my child a great quality of life. I wanted to help him discover the road less traveled; the road to personal sustainability and independence. But first, I had to know what that meant myself.

The majority of us are dependent on gasoline and electricity far too much — I wanted to escape that trap. I wanted to be able to not only survive, but enjoy life to its fullest, despite what might be happening in the world around me. I knew that the answers would be found in living a simple down-to-earth lifestyle, in escaping the things of man.

I was a struggling artist with big dreams and no savings. It was time to be practical. I decided to sell my Harley-Davidson for a down payment on a home.

I bought an unbelievably cheap old house, with the idea that I would fix it up and sell it for a healthy profit to fulfill my dream of purchasing acreage. I put my sweater-designing studio downstairs, leaving us with a large two-bedroom apartment upstairs.

During that time, I learned that owning a house that depends on oil and electricity requires a substantial cashflow to keep everything maintained and operating. My sweater-designing career hadn’t panned out the way I had planned, and it soon became clear that there might not be any profit to be made from my business or my house.

Despite these realities, life was good.  We were living on the corner of a small town with friendly people, a number of fellow artisans, and a big backyard with a swimming hole across the road. I had no money, but was armed with an impressive portfolio, a solid work ethic, and deep faith that I was not alone on my quest.

Mother And Son Vintage Photo

Jo and Jordan wearing Jo’s knitwear. Photo by Marlene Schaly

Finding the Perfect Property and Breaking Homestead Ground

Despite my financial situation, I searched for an inexpensive piece of property that had privacy, a natural freshwater source, and a seller that had a good sense of humour and was open to negotiation.

My search brought me to an affordable piece of bush land, only 15 minutes away. It was not the kind of property that the average person would want, but to me it was a diamond in the rough — exactly what I was looking for.

The property was half rock, one quarter recently cleared field, and one quarter dense woodland with a meandering creek at the back. I fell in love with the stone ridge face that stood 20-foot-high and ran 300 feet in length, down the center of the property. At the time of purchase, there wasn’t even a driveway in. The back part of the property was like a jungle, making it difficult to walk two paces without getting stuck in the brambles.

The deal was closed before I had even seen the creek. I put a down payment on my dream and bought some time to come up with the rest of the money.

While waiting for my house to sell and my career to take off, I would spend time at the property, planning and landscaping. I purchased a set of brush cutters and started clearing a way in, following the foot of the stone ridge to the back, just in case the low-lying field flooded in the spring (good thing too!). I wanted to build away from the road and the visibility of neighbours. The view from our windows would focus solely on nature. I had the trees that were in the way cut down for firewood and started making plans for a potential house site, a garden area and, most importantly, a temporary shelter.

I bartered some furniture to have a friend build a 9-foot-by-9 ½-foot garden shed that would house my tools and a hide-a-bed couch. Jordan was now four years old and was able to help with chores. His task was to pick up sticks for kindling. At one point, we spent seven months living in that tiny shed. It was the best time ever!

The Slow Pace of Building an Off-Grid Cabin

Progress was slow, but while others were planning their exciting, one-week camping trips, we were living it. Cooking over an open-fire amidst the occasional snowfall was challenging. But witnessing pileated woodpeckers and hawks flying overhead, listening to the calls of owls and wolves, catching glimpses of foxes, moose and deer, made it all worthwhile.

The journey has been rough at times, and there have been many distractions and obstacles to overcome, but that’s just part of life. Progress was much slower than I anticipated. Jordan was 10 years old when we finally moved into our 14-by-18-foot timber-framed cabin.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with plans, but I have learned to live in the moment and take solace from my peaceful surroundings. The many photos I have taken along the way are instrumental in helping me focus on the many things that have already been accomplished. They provide evidence of just how rich our lives have been, having taken that leap of faith.

Never give up on your dreams, especially if it concerns your quality of life. If your intentions are pure, you will be blessed.

I have now been living in my cozy cabin without electricity for 20 years. Last year, I purchased a small solar panel and a marine battery to enable me to finish my second book and continue writing on my laptop. On sunny days, I can write for hours. On cloudy days, there are countless other things that can be done. When I need Wi-Fi, I drive 15 minutes to town and work from my van.

Vintage Cabin Frame In Woods

Follow Jo’s story on MOTHER EARTH NEWS to watch her cabin build reveal.

Continued Gratitude for a Well Lived Life

At present, the sun has barely been out in two weeks and I’ve got a deadline. I am sitting in my van, typing, an extension-cord plugged in at my friend Joanne’s place. I am counting my blessings.

Challenges separate those who are serious about accomplishing their goals from those who are just talking about it. When the going gets tough, we need to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t.

In a world of unrest and worry, I sleep well knowing that my heavenly Father is watching over me, and Mother Earth is providing the things that make life worth living. A walk down a country road, or sitting by an open body of water, always helps recharge my spirit.

I hope to continue to share my many experiences with those seeking a down-to-earth, simple existence. Everything is better if we have someone to share it with.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’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.






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters


click me