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

Reflections from a Debt-Free Homestead

 

What we’ve learned in 40-50 years building a house, gardening, raising chickens, and installing solar power? I’ve learned that self-sufficiency is not attainable. It’s like perfection — you never get there.

But you do what you can. If you live in NYC, you can grow chives and parsley in a window box. We’ve refined things, made mistakes, made adjustments. By the time I built my 5th chicken coop, I got it right.

Cool tools. Not the obvious ones, but unique tools we’ve discovered. For kitchen, garden, shop, building, and crafts. Like this cats’ paw Lew showed me last week. It’s 11 inches long (pictured below). Anyone who’s done any wrecking will see how cool this is and costs about $35, and I found a titanium one on Amazon for $80.

Life lessons from natural home building. I’m gonna design a home, the way I’d do it now (after building three homes): kitchen facing south, opening out onto outdoor cooking area with a roof, cob oven, sink, dining table, and garden. You can do a lot of living outside in nice weather, just a roof overhead. Central core of wood stove with coil for hot water in winter, solar panel on roof for hot water in summer, kitchen/bathroom back-to-back, with hot water centralized. Greenhouse with double-wall polycarbonate roof. Deck with roof for sleeping outside. Photovoltaic solar panels feeding back into grid.

Debt-free home building. Does it make any sense to think of building your own house these days? It’s sure not as easy as it was in the 1970s, but the principles are the same. You save about 50 percent of the cost of a house if you do your own labor. And you may be able to get by without a mortgage. Can you make a living and build your own house? I built most of a house when I was an insurance broker, building after work every night and on weekends. I’ve never had a mortgage or paid rent.

Finally, whereas everyone wanted to find 10 acres in the country in the 1960s, what may make more sense these days is fixing up a rundown small home in city or town. (See about 75 photos of such places in our latest book, Small Homes The Right Size.)

Photo from the book Small Homes, The Right Size (Shelter Publications)

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


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Rethinking Refrigeration: The Benefits of a Smaller Fridge

Small Fridge 1

Downsizing is on trend. While we may not all be rushing to join the “tiny house movement,” there is a growing consciousness among today’s consumers to make the most of our resources, waste less, and eliminate clutter—it’s good for the Earth and for simplifying our lives. When downsizing your home or merely trying to cut back, one significant way to increase this impact is to get a smaller refrigerator.

If you’re a family of four or more — or you have teenagers in the house — a big French door refrigerator can be a lifesaver. But there’s room to simplify in even the most bustling households. And for smaller families, empty nesters, singletons, and retirees, opting for a smaller fridge can almost go unnoticed. These “alternative” fridges use less energy, take up less space, and encourage you to waste less food. They’re also a much better fit for small kitchens and can help you add counter space.

Here are the reasons to consider an alternative to a big refrigerator.

Take Up Less Space

Whether you’re downsizing to a condo after raising a family, living in a small apartment in the city, or just trying to make more room in your kitchen, maximizing space can be a challenge. A fridge that is smaller than its full-sized counterpart can allow you to find extra room in your kitchen for seating, cabinetry, and other appliances.

Use Less Energy

Not only are smaller refrigerators less expensive, but they’re also less expensive to run. Appliances are responsible for 13 percent of a household’s energy use, and after the heating and cooling system, the refrigerator is one of the biggest home-energy hogs. Refrigerators take up a lot of valuable space and energy in a kitchen, but they’re often working harder than they have to, cooling food that you don’t ever need or use.

Reduce Food Waste

Americans throw out 14 to 25 percent of their food and beverages. That translates into thousands of dollars a year for a family of four, not to mention a significant deposit into our landfills. Generating less food waste is one of the most significant ways we can save money and help make our homes greener.

Downsizing your refrigerator can help reduce waste, because much of the food shoved to the back of the shelves, stuffed in drawers, and tucked in the doors gets forgotten. With a smaller fridge, its contents are always front and center.

Living With a Smaller Fridge

If you’re afraid to downsize your fridge, take inventory of your current refrigerator to see if you’re just filling it up with unnecessary items that go unused. If so, you may be a good candidate for downsizing.

Here are some ways to flourish with a smaller fridge and reduce waste at the same time:

Shop more often for less food. Keep your fridge stocked with smaller amounts of fresher ingredients, and you’re more likely to use them up when you need to. (Added bonus: It’s a healthier way to eat as well!)

Plan your meals. Instead of buying several options for the week, stick to a specific list of needed ingredients and use them on designated days.

Move nonperishables to the pantry. The following items don’t need to be refrigerated as long as you have a cool place to keep them: fresh eggs, hard cheese, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, peanut butter, cooking oil, honey, and unopened condiments.

Refrigerator Alternatives

Small Fridge 2

The Minifridge

Minifridges are fully competent, compact versions of the refrigerator you know and love. A simple, counter-height minifridge is the most straightforward and inexpensive solution for downsizing your refrigeration space. Standard models don’t have a lot of freezer room—there’s just enough space for one or two ice cube trays. However, you can opt for a model with a larger freezer compartment or purchase a minifreezer to stand alongside your minifridge. They’ll still take up less space than a standard fridge.

Refrigerator drawers are a relatively new innovation. Like minifridges, they’re small enough to fit under the counter, but you don’t have to crouch down to see what’s inside—just pull them open and reach in. They’re more convenient than minifridges but have a little less cubic space.

You can choose refrigerator drawers that blend in with your kitchen decor and look just like regular drawers. Their size does limit the height of the containers you can put in them, but decanting goods into square, stackable boxes will make it easier to fit more in and find things quickly.

These refrigeration alternatives are a particularly good fit for a single person or small kitchen because they don’t take up counter space. For added convenience, opt for two drawers on top of each other, using one as a fridge and one as a freezer.

Whether you need to fit your belongings into a smaller space, or you’re just looking to reduce waste, you can simplify your kitchen while making your home (and your diet) more sustainable, with a smaller refrigerator.

Jennifer Tuohy is a technophile who is also passionate about sustainability. Jennifer writes for The Home Depot on a variety of topics, from reducing your energy usage to choosing the greenest appliances. Click here to see some of the Energy Star–certified refrigerator options Jennifer talks about in this article.


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How to Speed up Your Home's Improvement Projects

new home construction 

Having your home remodeled can be so overwhelming that many people just decide to accept whatever flaws their home has until they find another place to live. The process can be intimidating. It’s expensive, and you have to put your trust in people you don’t know. They aren’t in as big a hurry as you are.

But there are some things you just can’t do yourself. If you have to gut and replace a kitchen or bathroom, you want people with experience and know-how to do the job. You will have to have faith in them and reassurance that while there may be bumps in the road, things will eventually work out.

Once they start ripping things out, you are at their mercy and on their timeline. You’ll go to bed every night wondering if you will ever eat in your kitchen again or if the work crew will slowly become part of the family. While you may not be able to do the work, there are a few things you can do in advance and during the project to make sure things go smoothly and the job is completed as quickly as possible, which results in less of an impact on our Earth.

Clear Out the Work Zone

Don’t waste crew work time on moving your things out of the way, unless it’s part of the contract. Move your own couches or tables and cover them with plastic or a bed sheet. You are going to treat your fragile and precious items more gently than a hurried worker.

Try to make the work area someplace you never have to go into for the entire time of the project. You want your stuff out of the way, and you don’t want to be getting in the way of their tools or unfinished work areas. If you have valuables or cash in the house, put them in a safe deposit box or find a really good hiding place. You don’t want to tempt anyone to steal from you, and you don’t want to wrongly blame someone if something ends up missing.

Establish Good Communication

Schedule a meeting to include all the major players in your project. Go over the plans and timelines, and try to identify conflicts in advance. Adjust the schedule of tasks accordingly. Exchange phone numbers and other contact information, and establish weekly status updates.

Find out what permits are needed and who is responsible for obtaining them. Contractors usually have a better relationship with the permit offices, and they know the process. It’s usually better to let them get the permits, but make sure the costs involved are transparent as well as the rules. Discuss what causes delays for each player and try to keep them from occurring in the first place. Here are some proactive strategies:

1. Have them tour the property and identify any items that need to be moved or rooms that need to be cleared out. Establish boundaries in advance. If they aren’t bringing their own portable toilets, decide if they will be allowed to use yours.

2. Show them where they can and can’t go in your home. It’s really just a matter of your personal comfort with having people in your house. Use signage and mark off areas where they should not enter.

3. Talk to your neighbors. Make sure they aren’t surprised by the work being done on your property.

new construction machinery

Identify Required Machinery

When interviewing potential contractors, discuss what type of equipment is going to be used to complete the project. Do they own or rent their equipment? Ask if the equipment is regularly maintained. Preventative maintenance reduces unexpected breakdowns and unwanted, costly delays. Heavy machinery is expensive, and it costs a lot to repair. Ask them how they have handled machine breakdowns on other projects. Do they have a backup plan? If their machinery breaks down, you will be waiting even longer for your project to get completed.

Ask What You Can Buy For the Project

There may be some things you can buy in advance, like paint, lumber, or hardware, so that the contractor does not have to obtain them. This will save your contractor time and may cost you less money. Just don’t get involved in buying anything too complicated or too bulky for your vehicle or yourself. That will be counterproductive.

Get Out of Their Way

The best way you can help your work crew speed things along is to get out of their way. Be there in the morning to go over any questions or misunderstandings. Make sure everyone can contact you if needed, and then stay in a different area of the house.

You certainly have every right to be in your home, but being in the way of a project will only prolong the finish. Plus, there are things they will be doing to your home that you or your family may find disturbing. Remodeling is only pretty at the end. Do yourself a favor and spare yourself the sight of the site. Plus, the workers already have a boss. They don’t need another one.

Check their work at the end of the day when they are gone. Make notes regarding any questions or concerns. Bring this up to the person in charge the next morning before work resumes.

Be Understanding but Firm With Delays or Changes

If you established good communication, you will know upfront what types of delays to expect. You also have to be ready to expect the unexpected. There may be some unique quirk to your house that will cause a change in plans, a delay of schedule and potentially increased costs.

Keep track of any changes or increased costs in writing. Make sure all the parties are on the same page. Get everything out in the open and make your expectations clear. As best you can, do that before something happens in order to avoid fighting with the people on whom you depend.

When they are done, tour the project with your contractor. Make notes of any unfinished or unacceptable work. Identify any messes or stains that need to be removed. Ask for a few days to go over the work before you make their final payment. If they want you to be a satisfied customer, they should not mind this request.

Major projects cause major headaches. No matter what it is, it will disrupt your home and strain your relationships. Great sums of money will disappear, your privacy will be compromised, and your house will be in disarray. Talk to your spouse and children ahead of time. Realize this soon will pass, and when it’s over, you will have a nicer kitchen, a finished basement or a swimming pool to enjoy.


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Use Fish for Natural Mosquito Control

fish pond pic

Your fish pond or container can be as elaborate or as simple as suits you. 

Many sources suggest combating mosquitoes that lay their eggs in ornamental ponds by introducing a few predator fish, usually gambusia. It certainly works, but around here we have taken this a step further. We set up an outdoor fish tank on purpose to attract mosquitoes, the eggs and larvae of which will serve as a feast for the fish. The local population of mosquitoes is thus reduced. 

Usually, it is recommended that pond water should be agitated, for example by means of a small waterfall, to discourage the mosquitoes, as they prefer still water for laying their eggs. In this case, however, we do exactly the opposite - the water is quite still, to lure as many mosquitoes as possible into our trap. Whenever the water level falls due to evaporation, we simply top the tank up using our garden hose.

It really works - our entire neighborhood is plagued by mosquitoes, but we hardly see any, even at the height of season, and hardly ever get bitten. And it's not as though we're immune - as soon as we step out of our little protected zone, we might suffer from some very nasty mosquito bites. 

It's possible to make your anti-mosquito fish domain very aesthetically pleasing, in the form of a natural-looking pond bordered by local rock, aquatic plants, etc., and it's something that's been on our to-do list for a while, but for the time being we make do with a simple old kiddie pool. It doesn't look a treat, and the water is green with algae, but it's doing its job. The fish sure don't seem to mind, and breed at an astonishing rate on no other food than the insects attracted to the water. 

We started with only a few gambusia fish, but very soon had ten times as many. These are live-bearing fish that breed prolifically - in fact, much faster in the simple outdoor fish tank than in the temperature controlled, carefully filtered and perfectly clean aquarium we have in the living room. Outside, we don't have to worry about feeding them or filtering the water. Whenever we have too many fish, we remove some with a net and give them away to other people. 

We have also added some guppies, and though they are less aggressive than gambusia fish, they love to eat mosquito larvae as well, and as long as there's enough food the two species get along just fine, contrary to what many articles claim. 

When winter approaches, it is time to get all the fish out of the tank and into the indoor aquarium. You will probably be shocked to see how many fish you have, compared with your starting number. It’s also possible, if you live in a temperate climate, to let the fish over-winter outside. Their population will be reduced over winter, though, because lack of insect prey will get the fish to resort to cannibalism.

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


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I Built My House for Extreme Weather

ICF walls and roof framing

I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm".

Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article).  Things like concrete foundation design and building structures were based on the worst earthquakes and windstorms of the last 100 years or maybe storm systems/drains were sized according to the worst rainfalls of the past century. You get the idea.

Throughout the nineties I realized we were getting these "100 year storms" with more frequency. After the year 2000 these storms were setting all time records and the discussion heated up about warming trends and climate change. In 2010 Laurie and I decided to build a new off grid home and I included many design features to address the more severe weather conditions we were experiencing in our part of the world. The costs were minimal compared to (after storm) damage costs and we've never regretted our decision to spend a little more money up front.
These features were over and above current International Residential Building codes used by most jurisdictions at the time. Our design features addressed Earthquakes, Wind Storms, Snow Loads on the roof, and Wildfires. In order to keep this article brief I won't go into details on any of the design upgrades but just want to highlight some of the things we did.

Engineering - We hired a structural engineer for $1,000 to help us with code plus all of the following:

Earthquakes - Our house is an ICF house so that means we have 8" concrete walls. Instead of the typical post and beam wood foundation we decided to go with a slab on grade so now we had concrete walls and floors. The Engineer added more rebar to tie the walls and slab together so that it would act as one unit in case of an earthquake. Our roof is a hip roof and he also beefed up the "ties and hold downs" for the roof structure to the top of the concrete walls. Total cost was less than $1,200.
To see my related article on our ICF experience go to ICF Construction

Wind Storms - We chose to have a metal roof for a lot of reasons. Most roofs in this area are metal. That allows the snow to slide off easier than a BUR but more importantly it is non combustible. We had a wildfire here on the property our very first year! We decided to go with a standing seam metal roof, again for multiple reasons one of which is superior wind load. As near as I can tell from my research, our roof will withstand winds over 135 to 150 MPH. The cost was substantial - over $8,000 but keep in mind our roof covers not only the house but a huge attached garage, attached woodshed, attached carport and covered porch. The end result is a roof that is over twice the size of the house itself.

Snow Loads - We average over 60" a year in annual snowfall. No big deal typically, but we decided to address two additional things: A. Unexpected large snowfall of several feet or more or B. Heavy snowfall and then rain. Rain makes snow really heavy and if it is stuck good enough to the roof you can get into trouble. The Engineer simply required stronger trusses which equates to more materials at the truss company but labor doesn't really change. Cost was about $2,500. I also chose to use exterior plywood (no OSB on my house) with a thicker core than code required. Cost for materials was about $600.

Wildfires - We cleared the land around us of trees and I keep the surrounding grass mowed. Our roof is non combustible metal and our siding is Hardi Plank which is not completely non combustible but it is fire resistant. Under the siding our ICF form is 3-hour fire treated foam next to the concrete walls. The only added expense for fire resistance is the metal we used on the underside of the soffit and carport and covered porch ceilings. Most residential fires caused by wildfires occur when embers are sucked into the attic vent holes (bird blocking) and eventually set the roof structure on fire from inside. The total added cost to cover the exposed underside of the carport and covered porch and soffits was $2,100. For a full description on fire prevention measures we used click on this link: Wildfires

Ready to move in.

It's been pretty well established that building for the extremes in your area have been successful. In Florida they've added stricter measures for hurricanes that have proven to work. In our area storm detention systems are being upsized to hold more water. All along the west coast earthquake standards are enforced. I did a lot of insurance reparation work as a contractor, repairing wind damage, fire damage, and water damage. I believe you will spend a lot less money preventing damage than reacting to it. I went above and beyond "code" because I haven't seen any decrease in severe weather patterns. New "severe weather event" records are being set every year. You can't stop everything Mother Nature may throw at you but you can sure minimize it in most situations. Where you draw the line is up to you, just know there are preventative measures everyone can take to minimize severe weather storm damage.

Ed and Laurie Essex live in the Okanogan Highlands of Eastern Washington State where they operate their two websites: Good Ideas For Life and Off Grid Works.


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Green Bathroom Improvements for Your Home

bathtub in home 

Source: Pexels

How much time do you spend in your bathroom each day? An hour? Two hours? Bathrooms are a central part of our daily routine. Between quick trips to visit the toilet and long, hot showers, the time — and resources — add up. Given the amount of time we spend in our bathrooms each day, we should give more thought to their efficiency and design.

Here are some ways investing in eco-friendlier alternatives and changing your bathroom layout can save you money and improve your overall health.

Say Goodbye to Baths

While taking a long soak can be relaxing, it comes with environmental consequences. Taking a bath can use nearly twice as much water as a 10-minute shower. Consider removing your bathtub to create more space in your bathroom and avoid taking baths altogether. You’ll conserve water, which is beneficial for the environment, and you’ll reduce your water bill in the process.  

Isolate Your Toilet

Men and women have long debated bathroom etiquette, but as it turns out, women may be onto something. Putting down the toilet seat is better for your health. Each time you flush, fecal particles can intermingle with the air and travel far from their source. The best way to prevent these particles from contaminating your bathroom is to isolate your toilet, if possible, in a separate room. At the very least, put down the toilet seat when you flush to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Reuse Greywater

The water you use for taking a shower or washing your hands is called gray water. Rather than contaminate freshwater with each toilet use, consider rerouting your piping to flush your toilet with gray water. You can also reuse greywater in your garden to water plants. If you’re feeling extra eco-friendly, invest in a composting toilet, which turns waste into usable compost.  

shower head close up

Source: Pexels

Install Low-Flow Water Features

Low-flow water features can cut your water usage in half. Low-flow toilets have two separate buttons for different water volumes, depending on whether you have solid or liquid waste. Instruct guests, roommates or family members how to properly use the toilet to maximize its environmental benefits. If replacing your toilet doesn’t fall within your budget, try installing aerators in your shower heads and faucets to reduce water flow.  

Mitigate Mold Growth

Hot, humid bathrooms are the perfect environment for mold growth and unpleasant odors. Mold exposure can lead to skin, eye or throat irritation, as well as aggravate other respiratory ailments. Mitigate mold growth by installing a window or ventilation system to promote fresh air flow.

Another way to mitigate mold growth is to prevent it in the first place. Revamp your bathroom by installing mold-resistant materials such as cork flooring. Cork has natural mold inhibitors and can be laid over uneven surfaces, which reduces its installation costs. It’s also a natural insulator, which will help reduce your heating bill, and creates a comfortable walking surface.

Switch Your Water Heater

If the idea of lowering your shower temperature makes you cringe, switch to a tankless water heater instead. Water heaters with tanks heat a large volume of water every time, regardless of whether or not you use it. A tankless water heater will only heat the water you use for your shower. You’ll reduce your monthly energy bill and rest easy knowing you’re engaging in environmentally conscious practices.

Change Your Light Bulbs

While bright lights in the bathroom are a necessity for getting ready in the morning, the high price tag doesn’t have to be. Change from traditional bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs, and you’ll enjoy bright light at a fraction of the cost. You can make this quick, inexpensive change right now to reduce your energy bill and help Mother Nature.

Repair Leaky Pipes

Leaky pipes are expensive and wasteful. A single leaky faucet dripping at a rate of one drop per second can add up to more than 1,600 gallons of water per year. If you have more than one bathroom in your home or more problem areas, you’re sending more money and resources down the drain. Fix your plumbing problems as soon as they arise.

By implementing just a few of these improvements, you can turn your bathroom into an eco-friendly oasis.


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.

10 Beautiful and Useful Things You Can Create with Earth Plaster

My earth plaster.

People are often fascinated by the structure of my earth bag home, but in truth that was the easy part. It’s the plaster that is an art. And a science. At times I thought it might have even been witchcraft. Because it took me just 6 weeks to build my earth bag house, but almost 2 years to get my plaster sitting beautifully on my walls without cracks or bits of it falling off.

It doesn’t have to take that long to learn earth plaster though. I was sitting atop a remote hill in Turkey, and not receiving the correct information about how to deal with my soil and my climate. But once you learn the art of mud render, it opens up a whole world of possibilities. I think it’s one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learned.

Earth plaster (also known as clay plaster) is made from a mixture of earth, clay, straw and sand. The clay is the binding element, hence why it’s also called clay plaster. Sometimes other ingredients are added into the mixture for various reasons, perhaps to water proof the plaster or to help it adhere better, or to mitigate the damp. Each stage of plaster creation and application is crucial to success. You need to know how to mix it, test it, and apply it.

Here’s an incomplete list of just what you can do with earth plaster. The beauty of course is that it’s insanely inexpensive to make things out of mud. Most of the time it’s free. And if you’d like to know how to make it, I have a free PDF here.

1. Render

The most obvious use of earth plaster is as a natural render. Render is crucial for any house as it protects the main structure from weathering. What a lot of people don’t realise is just how many different surfaces you can successfully render with earth plaster; stone houses, straw bale homes, cob, earthbag, and even wood (wood requires some preparation, but can definitely work). Earth plaster doesn’t work well with mainstream building materials such as Portland cement and plastic though, as they are not breathable.

Earth plaster sculptures protect walls.

2. Wall Sculptures (Pargeting)

Pargeting is both decorative and known to form a stronger protection against weathering. One of the things I most enjoyed creating out of earth plaster were my wall sculptures. By slowly working the plaster with your hands and tools, you can form any shape you like.

3. Mosaic

Earth plaster works amazingly well with mosaic. You can inlay broken tiles or glass into the plaster, then buff it smooth with newspaper or a leather cloth to create beautiful and hard-wearing results. Mosaics on walls form an almost impenetrable surface which protects against rain.

Mosaic and earth plaster.

4. Bottle Walls

By using earth plaster as a natural cement, you can create gorgeous bottle walls. The bottles actually add structural strength to the wall, while the earth plaster grips them and holds them in place.

Bottle wall being made.

5. Alcoves and Nooks

Alcoves are perfect for holding candles and lighting. Book nooks are beautiful when crafted into an earthern wall. Alcoves can be created either by scooping out earth plaster from a rendered wall, or by slowly building up the plaster around a space. Or, as I did, you can use a combination of both techniques.

6. Shelving

Never again do you need to suffer (or cause others to suffer) a drill induced headache when putting up a shelf. Earth plaster shelves are so easy to make, and they never come loose. By building up the plaster layer by layer you can form incredibly sturdy spice racks, book shelves and more.

7. Inlay Mirrors and Other Decorative Features

Interior design is a whole new ball game when you use earth plaster. Mirrors and pictures don’t need to be hung, they can be incorporated into the wall for a clean, graceful look.

Mirrors can be inlaid.

8. Make a Cob Oven

Cob ovens are all the rage at the moment. The word cob comes from South West England, and was used to describe the shape of the balls of earth plaster people used to build their homes with. If you know how to render a wall with earth plaster, you can just as easily make a cob oven from the same mixture.

9. Use It as Mortar

People have been using earth plaster as a mortar for millennia. Most ancient stone houses are mortared with mud. Later in Europe, the Romans introduced lime and limecrete instead. But many old stone homes all over the world still have their original mud mortar. By changing the consistency of the plaster slightly (generally you use a softer, wetter version for render, and a dryer, firmer more clayey mix for mortar), you can use your earth plaster to cement rocks in stone walls and other structures.

10. Use It as a Daub on a Lath (wattle and daub)

Wattle and daub is another traditional building technique enjoying a bit of a revival. You can create houses by building a post and beam structure, and then fixing woven willow (or similar) laths where you want the walls. These laths are subsequently covered, layer by layer, with...you guessed it, earth plaster.

If you’d like the Perfect Earth Plaster PDF, or to take my FREE mini email course on how to make earth plaster, click here.

Atulya K Bingham is an author and natural builder. She lived semi off-grid in Turkey in her beloved earthbag house for five years, before recently having to leave. She is now on the road searching for a new space to build. Atulya is author of The Mud Home website (www.themudhome.com) which offers plenty of earthbag and natural building information, a window into Atulya’s off-grid life, sustainable living tips, and much more. Read about Mud Ball, Atulya’s popular memoir of building her earthbag home.


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.