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

Tree Care and Landscaping for a Hurricane-Tolerant Property

It’s no secret that landscaping is an important part of making a home. And nothing “stands out” as essential elements on that landscape more than the trees. Unfortunately, when strong winds arrive and heavy rain comes pouring down, the landscape you once loved may not only get torn apart. It may be a huge source of damage to your home.

Fortunately, there are many time-tested landscaping strategies you can use to create a tree-rich and hurricane-tolerant landscape. These strategies will not only protect the landscape itself, but may also help you to avoid property damage when the next hurricane rolls through town.

Choose the Right Plants

The first step to creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape is selecting the right trees and shrubs. There are a few factors to choosing the right plants for your landscape.

Choose salt-tolerant greenery. Choosing salt-tolerant trees is essential for designing a hurricane-tolerant landscape. Most trees available in coastal areas are already salt-tolerant to some degree. But even if you don’t live right next to the ocean, hurricanes can bring ocean water as far as 30 miles inland. This could be lethally damaging to plants with low salt-tolerance. The closer you live to the ocean, or a bay, the more you should consider salt-tolerance in selecting your plants.

Wind-resistant trees. In general, unless you live within a few miles of the coast where the worst storm surge is, wind is the most damaging aspect of hurricanes for many of the areas which they impact. Which is why choosing wind-resistant greenery is a must.

Whether you live 5 or 50 miles from the sea, considering the impact of wind on your trees should not be overlooked. In truth, the wind-resistance of your trees is something that should be considered for any homeowner, regardless of location. Whether you live in a hurricane prone area or not, high winds can pop up almost anywhere.

Trees that are both wind-resistant and salt-tolerant. When it comes to hurricanes, there is truly no shortage of salt and wind-tolerant trees and plants. Many tree families from oaks to pines have species specially adapted for life by the ocean. Fun note, there is even a mustard species known as Sea Rocket, which has adapted to life by the ocean.

According to the University of Florida, the following trees make excellent hurricane-tolerant choices. Most palm trees (with few exceptions such as the queen palm), live oaks, southern magnolias, crape myrtle, bald cypress, sweet gum, and spruce pine.

Consider Tree Placement Carefully

No doubt about it, trees can cause a lot of damage when not planted wisely. Most of the risk comes down to placement. Part of creating a hurricane-tolerant landscape is minding where your trees (especially the big ones) are located.

Spacing from your home. The biggest reason that trees should be located at a safe distance from your home is the root mass. Ideally the bigger the tree, the further from your house. For example, trees which can be expected to reach 70 feet or more in height should be spaced at least 20 feet from your home. This distance allows you to enjoy the benefits of larger trees such as shade, while avoiding damage caused by branches and roots to your home.

Consider the roots. If a tree should fall over, it's not just the mass of the falling tree you will have to worry about. The roots themselves can cause a lot of damage, too. That is why it is not only important to space the tree a proper distance from your home. It’s also important to avoid planting a tree too close to your underground utilities such as your septic, sewage or water lines, as the roots can damage them. Worst of all, if a tree comes tumbling down the roots and whatever is wrapped in them will be torn from the ground.

Maintain Your Trees

Although the above points are important to consider, possibly none of them are as important as maintaining your trees. Pruning your trees should be an annual ritual. By removing dead or injured branches before they fall, you can stop them from flying about should high winds roll in.

However, there is more to it than dead branches. Often trees fall because they are unevenly balanced. A perfect example of this is a tree right down the road from me that I have been watching fall over slowly the last year or so. As you can see, it has much more weight on the left, which is causing it to fall.

A final benefit to pruning your trees is that you can create a lower profile of the tree which will decrease the wind load a tree will have to bear in a storm. With less wind-load, a tree is less likely to fall over.

A Note on Mulching

Most of the methods used to create a hurricane-tolerant landscape involve planting the right trees in the right place. However, I wanted to touch on this one quickly, because it is often overlooked. We all know that picking up loose items in the yard before a hurricane makes landfall is a crucial part of preparing for a storm, but this one is less well known.

I am a huge fan of pea gravel, and I use it whenever possible. However, in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, pea gravel and other stone mulches can become a real nightmare. That lovely stone mulch will become akin to high velocity birdshot in the hands of a hurricane. Pummeling windows, vehicles and siding; leaving a massive trail of damage in the wake. Instead use a soft mulch such as wood or pine straw. Simply making this small change can prevent a lot of damage to your home during a hurricane.

The Bottom Line on Hurricane-Tolerant Landscaping

By selecting the right trees, spacing them correctly and regular maintenance, you can rest assured that your landscape will be ready for an incoming hurricane or other windy storm. A lot of the damage that may be caused to your landscape by hurricanes is likely caused by improper planning or lack of maintenance. By following these simple guidelines, you can create a hurricane-tolerant landscape, and still enjoy your trees!

Douglas Dedrick is landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him at Healing Law, and read all of Douglas’ 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.

Masonry Heaters: Be in Control of Your Home Energy with Efficient Wood Heat

Photo by Manfred Antranias Zimmer

The world is nutty. Modern systems of production, distribution, and marketing have overwhelmed us with decisions, most of which matter very little to our personal happiness but have effects that impact not only people we'll never meet in places we'll never go, but those close by that we know and love for generations.

Hucksters with huge budgets try to convince us that their product, system, or candidate can solve with a simple slogan problems that took generations to develop. When I stop to think through the impact of every dollar I spend and choice I make, it's overwhelming. Even my self image is a product sold back to me. The modern world is a very complicated place, and it is extremely difficult to make sense of it all and make good decisions.

One thing I know is that as far as energy goes, we are living on borrowed time. We have been convinced that oil and oil-dependent resources like large-scale solar and wind generation are the only answer to keeping the gravy train rolling. I wish I knew how much money Big Oil spends marketing their vision of the future to the masses, but I suspect it is very high. They want our future to seem inextricably tied to them, and to mass production of energy.

I have chosen a different mindset. The world is what it has been for a long, long time, and this is because the human heart is what it is. I choose to not believe that my family's fate is necessarily tied to the fate of “all mankind.” I have chosen to keep it simple.

Home Heating: Fuel Use in Control

Home heating is one of the biggest single users of energy in my direct control. I can't control how the schools heat, how the factories heat, or how my neighbor heats, nor do I want to — but I can control how I heat.

Masonry heaters can be large, small, efficient, and well built — or poorly built and not-so-efficient — but even the poor ones often beat out a basic woodstove. This is because they are fundamentally different in their approach. This is why the U.S. EPA has consistently refused to regulate them, and it's what I want to talk about.

Modern industrial society operates on the idea that with enough power we can make things work the way we want to. We apply horsepower to our problems instead of wisdom, and have chosen to organize our lives, cities, towns, and economy around the consumption of energy to fight natural forces rather than working with them in order to create a harmonious life. This is the mentality that solves interpersonal problems with attorneys rather than investing in relationships and creating community.

Photo by Danjo Paluska

Masonry Heaters for Sustainable Wood Heat

On the surface, a masonry heater accomplishes one humble thing: It gets the most heat out of an amount of wood. But (and this is the point) it embodies a principle that industrial society seems to have forgotten and which may hold the key to our futures: It works with the natural tendencies of the materials from which it's built, the fuel it uses, and the people who occupy the space it serves.

A masonry heater involves no complicated mechanisms and needs no electrical power. It doesn't care when the power goes out. It's just a durable material that absorbs, holds, and radiates heat laid out in a way that allows its fuel to burn as it naturally does and to hold the heat produced within the building.  It uses the basic nature and attributes of the materials from which it is constructed to accomplish its end instead of accomplishing its purpose with horsepower.

Wood heat doesn't rely on political stability in far reaches of the world. It's comforting to my family to know that we have warmth regardless of what the market does.

In Maine, masonry heaters ground, center, and connect a house to their environment. That connection is more than a sticker or plastic do-dad affixed to the stove claiming itself a “partial-zero-sub-nano-non-emitting device.” Consider this: Wood fuel that is, by definition, local and responsibly harvested can improve the vitality of the ecosystem. It can come from “waste”: scraps from construction sites, pruning cut offs, branches others would throw away, or blow downs (for those interested in the extra work of finding and getting it).

Benefits Beyond Heating

And they don’t just heat. Wood-fueled masonry heaters enhance the quality of life to all who live with it. They can be a living room fireplace, a kitchen hearth, a bake oven, and a water heater all at the same time while infusing the space with a feeling of warmth that soothes and relaxes all who are blessed to experience it.

And the kicker is: The reason I'm drawn and can't get away is there is no downside. None. It rewards us aesthetically, it rewards our children and grandchildren environmentally, it makes amazing sense financially, it provides security and local employment all without destroying habitats or enslaving people in far-off countries, without polluting the air, without back-breaking labor, and it's a visible manifestation of this principle of making the best use of what we have and not trying to force things to be what we want them to be.

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. 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.

Starting Corn in the Living Room and Other Mistakes We Made Goin’ Country

Tiny Corn Field In Backyard

Could it be only eight short years ago when I first found myself tearfully Googling “Housecleaning in the Country”?

Ah yes, I remember it well.

That was back when I was still a city slicker. We had just moved to a rural farming community from the Twin Cities and I was experiencing a homemaking crisis. An avalanche of bugs and an influx of dirt the likes of which I had never seen before.

To date, my experience as a suburban homemaker had been tame. I walked from a clean office to a clean car to a clean attached garage, but still removed my shoes at the house door. I vacuumed and dusted once a week. The odd spider met a prompt and untimely fate. The shower has some soap scum, but it remained pristinely white.

Then it happened. We moved. We gone country, baby!

Goin’ Country and Finding Home

My husband, Michael, and I moved into a 108-year-old house that had been neglected for decades and sat empty for over a year. A house abandoned to the ladybugs and spiders. A house with no hot water and only a trickle of cold rusty water that turned the shower bright orange. A house unpainted, un-recarpeted, un-redecorated, uncleaned and unloved for many years.

But it was paid off. We were Home.

The dead ladybugs that rained down when we installed a ceiling light were ours. So was the gummy linoleum. The coffee brown (before and after cleaning), napless carpet was also ours. So were the toffee-colored sticky mini-blinds and the gray-blue walls, emphasis on gray, not to mention the collapsing well.

The dirt that came in on our shoes was ours. So were the oak leaves snarled in the dogsʼ fur after their happy rolling. The smoke that belched in great clouds from the woodstove and the trail of ashes leading out the door — all mine to clean!

Between almost daily trips to Menards for home repair supplies, I cleaned with what little water we collected, drip by drip, in buckets. Thus it was I found myself desperately communing with Google. But, alas, at the time there was a surprising lack of bloggers in a similar situation.

Small Plot Of Sweet Corn

Give Up and Grow Corn in the Living Room

Finally, one message board hit the nail on the head. It merely said: “Give up and grow corn in the living room.”

My frustration turned to giggles and I took their advice. Come April, I started 36 kernels of corn in a tray of potting soil in the living room. How our friends laughed! “You don't need to pre-start corn, Lenora,” they scoffed. It was just the first of my many gardening mistakes but I had the last laugh. My corn was waist high by the Fourth of July and theirs wasn't!

Eight years later, what has become of my struggle with Kountry Kleaning?

I've adapted. I've accepted that “Dirt Happens” and the need to clean a lot more frequently than I did down in the Twin Cities but it's easy, because I finally have the right tools for the job and learned how to use them. My Bissell Zing is my baby! No cobweb is safe! Washing out the vacuum filters bi-weekly is a must. I've also learned that Mean Green is brilliant at removing wood smoke stain from walls and curtains.

But from time-to-time, especially in the muddy spring and leafy autumn, when Mother Nature gets the upper hand you have to accept the dirt gracefully. Here's a trick I learned from a poem in an old Dear Abby column.

My face in the mirror isn't wrinkled or drawn.
My house isn't dirty the cobwebs are gone.
My garden looks lovely and so does my lawn.
I think I might never put my glasses back on.  

Eight years later, my metamorphosis from City Slicker to Country Girl is well under way. The process has been both painful and hysterical. I've learned by doing everything wrong. If it can be done wrong, I've done it wrong — and learned from my mistakes. If my struggles give you a good laugh, then it's all been worthwhile.

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated freelance writer from Northern Minnesota who left a successful career in IT, married her husband, and moved from the Twin Cities to a small rural town where she reinvented herself as a freelance psychology writer focused on helping those affected by narcissistic and cult abuse. Connect with Lenora on her website, Facebook and Instagram. Read all of Lenora’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.

Lloyd Kahn’s Half-Acre Homestead

The following is an excerpt from Lloyd Kahn’s The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building & Gardening, a record, with over 500 color photos, of Lloyd’s and his wife Lesley’s owner-built home and garden. They show you what the house and garden look like, how various functions operate, including solar panels, septic systems, skylights, and tools they use in the kitchen, garden, and shop. Buy the book from Shelter Publications and several of Lloyd’s other books in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.

When Lesley and I first got together, it was homesteading at first sight. We both wanted to create a home and grow our own food. I’d been working as a carpenter for about 10 years and had built a homestead in Big Sur in the 1960s. Lesley had been gardening, sewing, and practicing crafts most of her life.

We both wanted to do as much for ourselves as possible. We both wanted to avoid paying rent or getting a bank loan. And we both wanted to have a home built of natural materials, and that was functional, practical, and good-feeling.

21st-Century Homestead

When I say “homestead”, I don’t refer to the original meaning of the word as it applied to farmers claiming land in America in the mid-1800s. Ours is a homestead in the sense of building our own home and growing much of our own food on a (small) piece of land.

Starting. We began in 1974. We had a 100-by-200-foot lot on the Northern California coast — about half an acre. (To give you an idea of the area, a football field is roughly an acre in size.) The book serves as the story of our adventures in providing our own shelter, food, and practicing crafts on this land. There are also lists of useful tools. And it’s a look at what we see in our everyday life, inside and outside the house.

We’ve learned a lot by trial and error, and want to share our experiences with others who are interested in homemade and handmade shelter, food, and crafts.

Skill level. Our building, gardening, and cooking skills are not on the professional level. I’m an owner-builder, not a highly skilled carpenter. Lesley’s cooking is simple and delicious, not fancy. Her garden is home-oriented, not professionally landscaped. The tables I’ve made are crude by cabinet makers’ standards — I think of them as folk art. The point is, these are things you can accomplish on a do-it-yourself basis without getting hung up by the absence of perfection.

The 60s and the 70s. It’s said that the 1960s happened in the 1970s — that’s only partially true. The 60s happened in the 60s and the 70s. Much of what we did in the 70s was inspired by the some of the countercultural concepts of the earlier decade, which we both arrived at independently.

Reinventing the wheel in the 60s, there was — among some of us — a spirit of relearning skills of the past. Building one’s own home, growing vegetables (and preserving the surplus), managing chickens, bees, and goats, making bread — skills that had been abandoned by our parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

It’s a juggling act — there was always more to do than time to do it. We didn’t take holidays. We mostly stayed home and kept busy, enjoying the process as well as the results. There were maybe 35 of us building our own homes in or on the outskirts of our small town in the 70s. It was probably amusing to the older inhabitants here to see a sudden influx of young people learning skills and crafts that previous generations had given up.

Easy living. This was possible then, because it was a time of great prosperity in America. You could live on very little money and take the time to experiment, try things out, learn new skills. Land was cheap — ours was $6,500 — and building codes, planning codes, and fees were reasonable rather than onerous, as they are today.

Self-sufficiency. It’s important to realize that self-sufficiency — like perfection — is a direction. You never get there. No one is completely self-sufficient. Nothing is perfect.

You can’t grow all your own food. You probably can’t do every bit of house-building yourself. The point is to do as much for yourself as possible.

Handmade. A few things haven’t really changed much from 40 years ago. A computer is not going to build your house for you, nor plant your food (nor make quilts or shawls). These things still need to be done with human hands. Just about everything you see in these pages was done by hand.

Analog times. The bulk of our house building was done before computers. Much of what we learned came from books. It was truly a different world. We communicated with landline phones (when possible) and letters via the U.S. Post Office. The Whole Earth Catalog was immensely useful for a large group of like-minded people.

There was no Facebook, no Instagram, Apple, Google, Alexa, or Amazon. There was no internet! If you wanted to build a house nowadays, what if you took all the time you now spend in the digital world (well, a lot of it), and spent it building? Just sayin.’

Assembling this book. I’m the communicator (blabbermouth) of the family. From an early age, I’ve written about, talked about, taken photos, blogged, Instagramed, and published books about what I run across in the world. The same here. Most of the text here is in my first-person voice.

But as I’ve watched this book develop, I’ve realized that, although I’m doing most of the writing here, these pages are a testament to Lesley’s creative skills, her arts and crafts. She’s the captain of this ship, and the food, the garden, the flowers, the quilts, the way things look and work around here is all her doing.

Could you do this nowadays? Times are way different now than they were when we did the bulk of this work. You could do some of the things we’ve done here without devoting as much time to these pursuits as we have. You could scale it back compared to what we’ve done. This book is descriptive, not prescriptive.

For example, you could remodel an old house instead of starting from scratch. If you live in the city, you could grow parsley on your fire escape, bake bread, buy fresh ingredients at farmers markets. You could remodel your living space, build some of your own furniture, do your own maintenance, make your own repairs.

The benefits. In the last few years, we’ve looked around and thought, “This is pretty good.” The house has been upgraded, changed, remodeled, and is working well. The kitchen is a far cry from the outdoor kitchen with washtub sink that we started with. The soil in the garden is black and rich from decades of improvement. The chicken coop is working well (in its fifth incarnation). Every day we make improvements, do necessary maintenance, and tune things up.

We have no mortgage. We pay no rent. We live in a place that we love, that we’ve crafted and created with our own hands, that is ever evolving. This is our handmade world.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including The Half-Acre Homestead, Home Work, Tiny Homes, Tiny Homes on the Move, Shelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (many available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or at Shelter Publications). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebookand 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.

6 Easy Ways to Live a More Zero-Waste Life

We do the best we can - we dutifully sort and recycle our trash each week don't we? It seems there's still too much being hauled into the mammoth trash cans each week. You scratch your head and wonder where it all comes from!

Have you ever wished to reduce that landfill-bound trash and lower what's in your recycling bin, too? Here are 6 simple ways to live a more zero-waste life.

1. Ditch the Disposables at Your Table

From paper plates to paper napkins, it's easy to ditch the disposables. Opt for real, honest-to-goodness plates and flatware when serving your meals. Not only will it give a more rich dining experience, but it will cut the cost of buying those things just to throw them away. Add a cloth napkin and you've really got a nice dining experience. Cloth napkins are very inexpensive to buy but they can be made quickly with fabric scraps or even purchased for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores.

Real dishes and napkins make for a nicer dining experience

2. Paper or Plastic? Neither!

Many people are becoming very aware of the environmental cost of those single-use plastic shopping bags, but are those paper ones really any better? Some people complain that they need those plastic and/or paper bags because they reuse them for one thing or the other.

If you reuse them, then great! But more times than not, you find them accumulating at an alarming rate, many more than you could ever use. So even if you reuse those plastic bags, consider only accepting a small amount of them with your shopping.

What to use instead? I use reusable canvas bags — they're easy for me to remember to bring with me when I go shopping since I unload the groceries from them and then drop them back into my car when I'm done. What about those unscheduled trips for just a few things? I keep a fabric bag rolled into a heavy plastic sleeve (to keep it clean) tucked just beside my car seat. When we make an unscheduled stop, I reach down and grab that bag.

3. Repurpose Items to a New Life

Sometimes just by thinking outside the box you can repurpose things that have outlived their useful life into a new thing with lots of useful possibilities. I've already mentioned turning fabric remnants into cloth napkins — that's  a two-fer environmental win: You're using small remnants of fabric instead of throwing them away plus you're replacing those disposable crinkly paper napkins with fancy-schmancy fabric ones.

Turn that empty coffee canister into a storage for small toys like Legos or Barbie clothes. Turn those glass jars into pretty pantry storage for pasta or dehydrated veggies. You can even use glass jars to store your leftovers in the fridge. Leftovers that can be seen are much less likely to be forgotten!

The possibilities are endless, and you've delayed some materials' fast-track to the trash and perhaps delayed or even eliminated a purchase by using what you've already got.

4. Learn to Make It Yourself

Now I know what you're thinking: "It's too complicated" or "I don't have time." Well, I'm here to tell you it's not as complicated as the commercial-product 'powers that be' would have you believe. And if you start small and gain speed, as you gain confidence, you'll find it really doesn't take much time at all.

Start with something quick and easy like making your own spice mix. Take an empty spice jar and mix up your own seasoning mix or taco seasoning and boom! You're on your way. Soon you'll want to try making your own desserts or homemade yogurt. Just start small and expand as you go along.

Making Yogurt is easy, inexpensive and healthy with precious little landfill waste #TaylorMadeHomestead

5. Cook From Scratch

When you buy convenience foods or take-out, you're bringing lots of packaging waste into your home. Learn to cook your meals from scratch and save yourself tons of money in your food budget as well as landfill-bound waste. Don't have time to cook? What about batch-cooking such as Cook-Once Eat twice? Once you get a supply of pre-cooked suppers in your freezer, a homemade meal is heat-n-eat convenient!

6. Compost, Compost, COMPOST!

If you're doing all you can to reduce food waste, GOOD FOR YOU! But there's still one more step you can take for an environmental win — composting. Take those peels and cores, add them to your grass clippings and yard trimmings and toss it all into a compost pile. Properly prepared compost is a power-house in your veggie or flower garden, allowing those plants to capture some of those previously-wasted nutrients while also helping water retention and plant health.

Compost containers can be something purchased such as a tumbling composter or as simplistic as a heap on the ground — it's all up to you. Just mix your compost and keep it turned periodically and Mother Nature will break down those scraps into black gold for your garden for FREE!

Composting Both Reduces Waste As Well As Making Your Garden More Productive

These six tips are a quick way to get started but I think you'll find that once you take those first simple steps, the next steps are easier and even more fun — it's addictive.

Tammy Taylor lives and works on a Northeast Texas ranch, where she writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, and DIY living on her ~Texas Homesteader~ blog. Connect with Tammy on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. Read all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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 my region of North Carolina, I have only recently learned about them. My county'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 my county 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 10: Drop Ceilings and Concrete Flooring


Photos by Adam D. Bearup

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.

One of the big challenges that we faced when turning a horse barn into a wellness center was limiting the amount of sound that transferred from the upstairs to the main floor. (See the previous installment for more on sound-proofing in construction.) Anyone who has been in a repurposed building, especially an old building made into office spaces or apartments, will know that the biggest sound that they hear is people walking around on the floor above them. As I worked on the main floor of the project, I would stop and listen to whoever was working upstairs and try to focus my attention to where the person was and what it sounded like when they would walk around.

To my amazement, the footsteps and creaking would get louder with each piece of insulation that we put into the walls. I wasn’t sure how that could be possible, but I guessed that the more that we deadened the sound in each room’s walls, the more the sound from above was amplified.

The sound from above may not have been technically amplified, but it was definitely clearer and more noticeable. This is one of the reasons why we were looking for a ceiling that could help us to lower that sound of walking around upstairs. Several of the treatments at this wellness center would require the rooms to be as quiet as possible and footprints and creaking from above would be an annoyance that could not be tolerated.

We always look to multiple options when we are looking for a solution to a problem and try to determine which solution provides the best value for the dollar. I didn’t want anyone spending a bunch of time trying to figure out a best fit option when all I was really interested in was performance versus square foot cost.

Putting Up Interior Walls and Duct Work

Almost on cue, my phone rang and it was the manufacturer representative for the drop ceiling company. She helped me to understand exactly what I needed to know and would send me a box of samples that would fit into the “good, better, best” categories. Each would be an environmentally friendly option.

We continued to remodel the barn and work on the 26 details that I had drawn into the plan with the help of the structural engineer. Each interior wall that we built made the project feel more and more like a wellness center.

After we got the interior walls built and everything “roughed-in”, I called the heating and cooling company to begin working on the radiant heat for the second floor and also to run the duct work for the cooling system. The air exchange in the building would be handled by a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), which would be connected to the duct work for the cooling system to avoid needing to run a second set of duct work.

Reviewing Drop Ceiling Samples

A few days after I had talked to the drop ceiling representative, a medium-sized box showed up at our farm. I opened the box to find several white pieces of drop ceiling that were wrapped individually in a clear plastic, each with a description on the back. The samples all looked the same to me — I decided to call the lady who had sent the samples to me to see if she could explain what she sent.

She started by telling me that every one of the samples, from good to best, met the requirements that we had asked for. Each was environmentally friendly, inhabitant friendly, looked nice, and were readily available. I mentioned that I had asked for information and square footage cost to try to save people time, because I really had no idea what sound-deadening drop ceilings cost. In my mind, I was thinking that we may be at a very expensive price per square foot. She wanted to explain what the information meant on each one of the samples before she talked about price.

I learned all about the different ratings for the drop ceiling panel. Each is rated for how they absorb sound in the room, and most importantly to us, the panels were rated for how much sound they would reflect from the top side of the panel. As I gained a better understanding of the ratings for each sample, I noticed that the top side sound reflection rating for each sample in the range from good to best was exactly the same. The sound absorption rating for the room side of the panel increased with each trim level and so did the options for how the drop ceiling would look when it was finished.

The drop ceiling representative finished her presentation by telling me that she could not give me pricing — pricing needed to come from our lumber company representative. Although thankful to have learned so much about drop ceiling panels, I was disappointed that I didn’t get any pricing.

After reviewing all of the samples and comparing all of the ratings, I could not get my mind off of the “good”- rated panel. I assumed that the price was less than the other trim levels and I thought that we would get good sound deadening from the top side because that rating was the same for all of the trim levels. It made no sense to me to select the “best” panel that they had because all we interested in was the top side sound deadening rating.

I talked to our lumber company representative, Mark, and he told me the pricing for each trim level. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the panel that I was interested came in within our budget numbers. I presented my findings to the owners and they agreed that the “good”- rated panel was the best value for this project. They selected the style that they liked and I called Mark back to place the order. It felt good to finally have this part of the project figured out.

Pouring Concrete and Exposed Aggregate Flooring

When we poured the concrete slabs for this project, we did not pour the concrete where the main entrance would be. We decided at the time to wait until later in the project to pour the front entrance concrete, because it was going to be a very special exposed aggregate finish concrete, and we didn’t want anything to happen to the surface during construction. I was hoping to pour that area as one of the last things that we did before the wellness center’s grand opening.

The owners asked us to sprinkle special stones in so that they would be part of the finished floor’s surface. Bob and I would be pouring the exposed aggregate front entry area, because we felt that we had one shot at getting it right and we didn’t trust anyone else to do it. If the floor did not turn out, we would have to tear the floor out. That would be difficult because of the radiant heat tubing that was in the slab.

We decided to pour the exposed aggregate slab at this point in the project, because it made more sense that to wait until the end. We spent a little extra time researching the best way to pour an exposed aggregate floor and have it turn out. We learned that there is a special mix of concrete that we needed to order and a release agent that we needed to spray on the surface after the fresh concrete was poured, bull floated and then went over once with our mag floats.

We did not need to use finish trowels because the top of the concrete would be hosed off the next day. We ordered the concrete and poured it in the front entry area. We followed what we had learned and sprayed the release agent on the slab after we went over it with our mag floats and let the release agent set on the fresh concrete over night. I could hardly sleep that night wondering if the exposed aggregate floor was going to turn out. The next morning came and we hosed the surface off with a rented power washer, the floor looked amazing! It felt really good to cross another part of the project off of the list.

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 Michigan. Adam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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