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

EPA Celebrates Fix a Leak Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stem wall of urbanite and earthbag.

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

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

What’s Balecob and Why Now?

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

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

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

Moving Past Wall Systems

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

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

Cob and Strawbale Attributes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cob is a poor insulator

Cob lends itself to community building

Straw Bales

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

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

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

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

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

Balecob Building

The Foundation                                               

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

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

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

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

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

The Walls

The Bottom Bead of Cob

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

Stacking Bales

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

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

Cob Columns

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

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

Cob Base Coat

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

Upper Cob Bead

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

Connecting the Roof to the Walls

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

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

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

Windows and Doors, Electric, Plumbing...

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

All photos courtesy of Conrad Rogmans

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

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

Natural Ways to Purify Your Water at Home

boiling water in pot 

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Reverse Osmosis

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

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


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

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

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

Photo credit:

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.

Green Roof on a Root Cellar


In 2014 we built an earthbag and balecob/strawbale root cellar on our off-grid urban homestead.  

We’ve been using it since then and last year decided to put a green roof on it as well.  This “Part II” will describe our green roof process and about how the cellar has performed overall.

Root Cellar Use

Our root cellar is right next to our existing home and under twenty feet from our mudroom door - “Zone 1” in Permaculture parlance.  This close proximity is crucial because as things get even marginally more distant use and utility decline exponentially.  On winter mornings it’s still a stretch for me to put on shoes and go farther than the mudroom for our staples.  I find I often bargain with my wife: “If you get the potatoes from the root cellar, I’ll clean them and set them on the stove.” Or, I’ll interrupt my kids at play and remind them this is a small way they can contribute to our family’s continued survival...and that we’ve fed, protected, and sheltered them…and we cleaned diapers, lost a lot of sleep...they get the picture eventually.  

After the earth bags I switched to strawbales and the Balecob technique (recent blog article here).  The strawbales provide great above ground insulation and allowed us to plaster over them.  As is normal for us and our process, we’ve given the bales a good rough coat but have yet to give them a true finish coat.

Our food production and homestead knowledge have increased over the years so our root cellar has filled more, too.  With improved shelving we store crates of potatoes and onions, carrots in crates of sand, apples wrapped in paper and keep our jars of lard down there as well.  The temps inside the cellar stay consistently cool in the summer and never go below freezing in the winter.  In short, it works great!  

I should also reiterate in this Part II that our homestead is electricity and fossil-fuel-free (no solar, either) so food preservation is a bigger challenge for us.  Old and “Appropriate Technology” using the coolth of the earth has been essential to our increased sustainability.  Importantly, projects like this are also just plain fun; to build, tinker, experiment, fail sometimes, and ultimately connect more deeply with our land, our climate, our food and the direct role we take with our sustenance.  

The Green Roof

Originally, I roofed the cellar with some salvaged metal roofing and insulated it with salvaged R-30 fiberglass attic insulation.  This functioned fine but the low (4’ to 6’ above grade) metal roof, in a busy “pass-through” space from our house to our back gardens, felt too hard, harsh, and glaring.  In an effort to soften and beautify this Zone 1 area we decided to transform it into a green, or living, roof.  

Over the metal I cut in and placed two layers of inch-thick Thermasheath-3 insulation (acquired from some Burners who used it for a hexayurt shelter).  This served two purposes:  more insulative value while raising the surface above the metal fins of the metal roof so my next layer of vinyl would not rub on them.  

I built up the edges of the roof with 2 x 10’s to make a basin, essentially, into which we could place the soil.  Next, I laid out an old vinyl billboard sign on top of the insulation and tacked it to the sidewalls and to a ramshackle part of our house.  Billboard signs are a great urban resource - contact your local ad company for leftover signs and expect to pay about $20 for a 14’ x 48 ’sign. Finally, over this we put a mix of soil, compost and a few woodchips about 6-8 inches thick.  Thicker is better on top of a roof as they dry quickly but we’re only ever planning for sedums, some flowers, and weeds to grow there.  We were lucky to get a crew from Patagonia for a volunteer work day to do the heavy lifting and initial planting.  Many hands…

Along the bottom, low-side of the roof I placed a wad of rolled-up Agribon row cover against a section of hardware cloth to serve as a filter and catch to prevent soil and debris from leaving the roof.  I added a gutter after that which drains into a perennial bed full of Goji berries and protects the balecob section from drips.  

During our first growing season the green roof met our expectations of softening the environment while also growing some plants.  I didn’t notice a marked improvement inside the root cellar but, then again, I don’t keep very close track of temperatures.  Our biggest challenge was keeping the roof moist through hand-watering but this year we plan to irrigate it with a couple drip lines for consistency.  More flowers, more life, more beauty.  Amen!

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.

‘Home Power’ Magazine Gets Passive Solar, Off-grid Headquarters

The following is an excerpted from Home Work: Hand Built Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2004) by long-time MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lloyd Kahn. The book features more than 1,500 photos illustrate various innovative architectural styles and natural building materials that have gained popularity in the last two decades, such as cob, papercrete, bamboo, adobe, strawbale, timber framing and earthbags. If you love fine, fun or funky buildings, you will want to own this splendid book.

The wide open spaces are the reason we live in the mountains. Our nearest full-time neighbor is more than six miles away.

I first saw Home Power magazine in the 1980s. It was a funky looking yet technically loaded and serious journal of (mainly) solar, wind, and water-generated electricity. Not only has it survived, but it’s gotten increasingly better. It’s now an all-color compendium of the latest in home energy.

Richard and Karen Perez are the heart and soul of Home Power, and after some years of living in funky sheds in the woods, they built their own home-powered home/office/hangout in the Oregon woods. I find it just amazing to look at a place like this: off-the-grid, its heat and power provided by sun and wind (and firewood). And they are running the computers and network that produces their magazine from the same clean electricity. These guys are walkin’ the walk!

Richard’s Brief History of Home Power Magazine

View from the sunken living room up into the dining area. The red tile on the floor covers the solar-heated, concrete slab.

We started Home Power in 1987 and to date, have published 90 issues. Prior do doing Home Power, I spent 10 years as an installing dealer of PV systems. I solarized our predominately off-grid neighborhood by installing more than 200 systems. I realized that folks had no idea of what current solar energy technologies could do for them — they were still running generators to power their off-grid homes and businesses.

I also saw an emerging renewable energy industry which had no way to contact their potential customers. Hence, Home Power was born.

Currently, we are entering our 15th year of publishing. Including folks who download our current issue for free from our website, we have more than 100,000 people reading each issue. We print 38,000 copies in our paper edition and about ⅔ of these are sold on newsstands worldwide.

For many years, we lived and worked in a 560-square-foot “plywood palace.” This uninsulated building was chock-a­block with the necessities of life and computers. Our site is six miles off-grid, and we’ve been powering all our electrical stuff using solar and wind electricity for decades now.

Home Power Gets a Custom, Employee-built Home

Our wood stove, which uses a secondary catalytic converter to increase fuel efficiency and reduce pollution. Last year we burned less than ½ cord of wood, thanks to the solar heating systems.

In summer of 2000, we did a total rebuild — the original cabin disappeared into the center of a new 2,300-square-foot building.

The new building has two stories. The ground floor is split-level, with a four-foot drop along its east/west axis. Thus, the building follows the contour of the south-facing hillside on which it rests. The building was designed and constructed by the Home Power crew.

Passive home design. Energy efficiency was our major design criteria. We employed both passive and active solar heating tech­niques. On the passive side, we insulated the hell out of the building — R-30 in the walls and R-60 in the roof. We installed many south-facing, double-glazed windows, a few east-facing windows for an “early morning wake-up,” and very few windows on the west and north sides of the house.

Solar hot water. Computer-designed overhangs prevent all these windows from overheating the building during the summer. On the active side, we installed four, 4-by-8-foot solar hot water collectors on the roof. These collectors directly heat a six-inch-thick, concrete, thermal slab on the ground floor.

Wood heat. The combination of passive and active solar heating, and super insulation have reduced the amount of wood we burn in our backup heater from five cords per winter to less than one-half cord per winter. We increased the size of our home/office by a factor of four and reduced our wood consumption by a factor of 10, which overall increased performance by 40 times.

Solar heat retention. Besides finally having enough space to not be crowded, the new building is very comfortable — warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We are located at 3,320 feet elevation in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. It gets cold here in the winter. Nighttime temperatures are often in the teens, and it’s not uncommon to have several feet of snow on the ground. Inside the building, it’s always cozy. The thermal slab stores enough heat for around four days of continuously cloudy weather. Proof of wintertime perform­ance is that all our dogs and cats prefer to sleep on the solar thermal slab instead of any other place in the house.

Passive cooling. During the summer months, when the outside temperature is often in the high 90s, the inside temperature never rises above 76 degrees. We open the many operable windows after sunset and allow the cool mountain air to chill down the house. In the mornings, we simply close the windows and allow the super insulation to keep the house cool during the day.

Power room, which houses our batteries, inverters, and other renewable energy equipment

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.

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

The Most Eco-Friendly Home Construction Materials

bamboo eco-friendly 

Bamboo. Image Source: Pexels

If you’re building a home or an addition to your existing home, be sure to choose eco-friendly construction materials.

There are really two ways to be eco-friendly in your home building materials. The first is to choose materials that minimize environmental impact.

Using recycled materials, for example, always causes less environmental impact than using new materials. If you use a wood construction with new timber, you are essentially putting in an order for trees to be cut down. The harvesting will use energy and remove green trees from the environment. If you use salvaged or reclaimed wood, the construction uses already-cut trees, yielding much less environmental impact.

The second way is to choose materials that will promote sustainable energy. Sustainable, green building naturally insulates homes from both heat and cold. It, therefore, cuts down on energy consumption, leading to less use of natural resources that cause climate change warming, such as oil and gas.

Here are eight of the eco-friendliest home construction materials.

Recycled Steel

Producing and smelting steel takes a lot of energy. Just think of forges and smelters, with sparks flying up to the sky. That’s one of the reasons recycled steel has become an enormously popular green building material. It utilizes steel already in existence for structural use in a home, in beams and girders, for example. The reclaimed steel from six junked cars provides enough recycled steel to build a 2000-square-foot house. Recycling saves 75 percent of the energy costs utilized in making the steel.


Bamboo is increasing in popularity as a building material. It has a great deal of tensile strength and can be used in walls and flooring. It is an ideal building material because it can be used behind the scenes — underneath another type of flooring, for example — and as wall screens and mats. Bamboo is very sustainable since it grows quickly. While trees such as pine and cedar can be reforested, growing them can take years. Bamboo can be reforested much more promptly and grows throughout the world.

Sheep’s Wool

Sheep's wool, of course, can also be regrown quickly. After shearing, sheep inherently produce a new crop. Clothing manufacturers have long-known the insulating properties of wool, which make very cozy sweaters and socks. The same insulating features can make sheep’s wool an energy-efficient insulator in walls, ceilings and attics.

straw bales eco

Source: Pexels

Straw Bales

Straw bales also have fantastic insulating properties. Straw bales are placed in walls, attics and ceilings to contribute to cooler temperatures in the summer and warmer temperatures in the winter. Straw can be harvested and re-planted easily with minimal environmental impact. The making of straw into bales also has a very low influence.

Precast Concrete

Concrete is a natural material that can be recycled, making it an appropriate choice for eco-friendly homes. Also, pre-cast concrete is eco-friendlier than concrete poured on site. It is poured into pre-made molds over rebar or wire, then cured. Once the concrete has hardened, it can be shipped and placed into multiple structures. As a result, precast concrete achieves economies of scale that concrete which is poured on-site cannot.

Reclaimed or Recycled Wood

As mentioned in the introduction, reclaimed or recycled wood has much less of an environmental impact than harvesting new timber. Since many homes and other structures have used wood for several years, it’s relatively easy to reclaim those structures for new home building. Wood can be used in the construction of a home — reclaimed and recycled wood can also be used to make unique floors or exposed beams with an antique look.

pic of earth

Source: Pexels


Many cultures throughout the centuries have used earth for building. Just think of adobe, which can be dried and painted colorfully for an aesthetic treat. Homes built of earth are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. While earth homes are frequently produced in China and parts of South America, they are far less prevalent in the United States outside the Southwest. Be sure to check that local regulations and zoning will allow an earth home and that local contractors know how to work with it.

Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam

Rigid foam is often used as insulation material in building. Think of what surfboards are made of — but that material is not environmentally friendly. Enter plant-based polyurethane rigid foam. Yes, it’s quite a mouthful. It’s made from kelp, hemp and bamboo. Because it is rigid — and relatively immovable — it can be used in insulation. It offers protection against mold and pests, as well as sound insulation and heat resistance.  

Eco-friendly home construction materials minimize the environmental impact and can insulate homes well, promoting energy efficiency and reducing reliance on unsustainable resources like oil and natural gas. These eight green and sustainable building materials will make your home ready for a green future.

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

How to Design a Practical Log Cabin

 Log Cabin Overlooking Valley

Photo by Tony Basilio

Designing a practical and usable log cabin isn’t easy. The planning stage of a log cabin build is the single most important stage. Spend enough time on this stage and your build will be successful. Rush it, and you are likely to hit many hurdles. These hurdles will increase the cost and the duration of your build. The three most important design considerations for your log cabin are:

1. The location

2. The exterior

3. The floor plan


Most people make the mistake of jumping into the planning process at the floor plan stage. Instead, you should decide where you want to build your log cabin, and then design the cabin and floor plan around the specifics of your land.

The natural habitat your cabin is placed upon will heavily impact the design and layout of your cabin (i.e. your plot of land is crucial to the design of your log cabin). It is nearly impossible to design your cabin without knowing where it will be situated.

You need to think about the orientation of your cabin and how best to utilize your land. Knowing your location allows you to plan where best to place your windows to make the most of the suns’ natural energy:

• If you live in a cooler climate, position your log cabin so it is south facing, and put most of your windows on the south wall too. Avoid using north facing windows.

• Conversely, if you live in a hot climate orientate your cabin so its south-east facing and have counterpart windows on the north side to save on cooling costs.

If the land you have chosen has natural slopes, you have the option of building the front half of your cabin on stilts or incorporating an under-cabin garage to make the most of the natural grades.

Finally, your site may provide natural shelters or wind breaks (e.g. wooded perimeters) that will reduce weathering and protect your cabin from extreme natural forces (e.g. wind, rain and snow). Using natural shelter can combat against south-facing gable weathering due to direct sunlight, wind and rain exposure.

Orientation, grade, and natural shelters will all impact the design and practicality of your log cabin.


Before you start thinking about the interior of your log cabin, you will need to decide what you want to achieve from the exterior. Do you want a traditional log cabin to use as a home? A small weekend trapper’s cabin? A large glamourous ski-in ski-out cabin? The exterior of your log cabin will likely be determined by its future use.

Many prospective cabin builders forget to think further ahead than the finished log cabin design. But one of the most important exterior aspects is to decide upon the construction method (i.e. notch type) and the logs’ profile (i.e. cut and type of log).

There are over 700 species of trees in the US, but, only two dozen of them are used for building log cabins. Your choice of log will most likely come down to appearance, cost, energy efficiency and availability. The most popular choices are Pine, Cedar, Cypress and Oak.

Once you have selected the lumber, the next design consideration is your construction method (i.e. notch type), each of them has a distinct design appearance. There are three main notches which will determine your cabin’s exterior appearance, full dovetail (Appalachian log home), Scandinavian saddle notch (traditional log cabin) and butt and pass (DIY log cabin).

If a contractor is building your cabin, the decision will most likely fall down to which is more aesthetically pleasing to you. If you are building your own cabin, you will want to consider your carpentry abilities, butt and pass is the most preferable method if you are a novice.

Floor Plan

 Practical Log Home Floor Plan

Floor plan by David Woods

After you’ve decided upon your cabin’s location and exterior appearance, it’s time to start on the exciting part: the floor plan! A floor plan is vital to ensure space maximization, good flow and practicality. There are two places I recommend starting at during your floor plan design: pre-designed floor plans and your current home.

You will know what size cabin you want (i.e. square feet). This will be determined by three factors:

1. How many people will live in or use the cabin

2. How many function rooms you want

3. The purpose of the log cabin

Start off, by looking at similar sized floor plans for inspiration. Use them for inspiration and guidance. Look at how the rooms flow from one to another and really imagine yourself living in a space just like that. Do you foresee any problems?

Then think about your current home, what works well, what doesn’t? Are there any aspects you want to carry over to your new home? Once you get some ideas about the layout of your cabin, you can start to think about the practicalities of the room layouts. Write down all the rooms and spaces you want to include in your home, and start thinking about how each of them will connect.

Do you need particular places to be open plan? If you like entertaining, you’ll likely want a large open plan kitchen and living space. Do you need quieter areas? If you work from home, you’ll probably want a quiet office space away from the main living area.

The more thought you give to your lifestyle, the more you can ensure your floor plan is practical and flows well for you, your family and guests.

A Successful Log Cabin Build

If you give thoughtful consideration to each of the points covered above, you will end up with a practical design for your log cabin — practical in its use and practical in its design for energy efficiency and weatherproofing.

Remember, what is practical for one person, may not be practical for another. The important thing to ensure when designing your cabin is that it fits your lifestyle and your needs. If you take two things away from this article, they should be, to design your cabin around the land you are building upon and to design your floor plan to be practical for you.

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

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

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

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, 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