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Make Cozy Happen with Masonry Heaters

Brick Column Masonry Heater Fireplace

So much of any new learning is learning new language. Technical definitions exist that define a masonry heater in terms of physical characteristics, but I want to come at this from a different angle. I want to start with the problem. Finding fuel has always been a challenge for humans. Fuel becoming harder to find is a reality of our times, but that alone is not the real problem.

The real problem is that it gets cold, and I'm too stubborn to move to Florida in the winter. Winter is beautiful in New England. I love when the snow piles on, and I get to walk in the woods in the stillness of a winter day but I have to admit, it hurts if I stay out too long. There are lots of ways you can make a house warm, but a masonry heater solves the problem of cold in a way that also creates what the Danes call hygge, that wonderful coziness that makes us feel warm, safe, secure and, somehow, loved.

A masonry heater burns a charge of wood (though some use coal or even straw) quickly and cleanly and then stores the heat in a thermal mass, typically brick, stone, or tile. You'll burn for an hour or two but warm the space for much longer.

As we consider what a masonry heater is, I want to focus on attributes that all heaters share, so that we encompass all of many worldwide styles with our explanation. And we don't want leave anyone out simply because their heater doesn't look like ours. The principles are simple and elegant. A masonry heater takes advantage of the natural forces at work and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A good masonry heater does three things:

1. Burns (typically) a day's worth of wood with excellent combustion efficiency
2. Absorbs the heat thus produced into its structure
3. Radiates that heat into the cozified space

Brick And Stone Masonry Heater

Burning wood completely. Wood burns very well at a high temperature and with plenty of oxygen. Well designed masonry heaters burn without producing visible smoke at all. That's due to a number of things that will be discussed later. For now, it suffices to say that a well designed firebox supports combustion at over 1,500 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (although we have seen 2,000-degree probes burn up in our fireboxes). A well designed masonry heater burns the wood and the smoke, so creosote is not a concern. The elements that condense to form dangerous creosote are completely burned and therefore are not present in the exhaust.

Absorbing and storing heat. A masonry heater absorbs heat as the exhaust moves through channels and/or chambers made of firebrick. The hot exhaust warms the inside of the channel walls, and that heat moves through the material, warming the outer surface of the stove.

Making cozy happen. The third part, transferring the warmth to the home is where the cozy happens. Have you ever been near a stone that had been in the direct sun all day on a cool day? By day's end, that stone is warm, and it feels fantastic to touch it. A large enough stone will radiate heat all night, just like our stoves. There are different ways to build masonry heater walls, but because they are masonry, they all serve the purposes both of storing and releasing the energy into the home. The warmth is released primarily as radiant energy, which has many documented health benefits and feels wonderful to be around.

Masonry heaters developed at different places around the world and at different times, and the different peoples dealt with the design challenges provided by high temperatures and heating cycles in different ways. I'll discuss those factors and how they are dealt with in future posts.

Eric Schroeder is a masonry heat expert who has been designing heaters since 2006, innovating around stove shape, size, firebox design, and heat exchange layouts. Connect with Eric at Eric Schroeder Stoves and on Twitter, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Cob Construction Returns to North America with Natural Building Workshops

Barn Raising Workers Outside 

A group of about two dozen people gather on a wooded hillside in Northern California. They are women, men, and children, ranging in age from three to 72. They come from many different backgrounds: students, a professional truck driver, a potter, a couple of architects, a retired bureaucrat, a single dad accompanied by his young son, a woman with severe physical disabilities. They look like a pretty diverse bunch, but they all have at least two things in common: They are here to learn to build their own environmentally friendly homes, and all of them are splattered with mud from head to toe.

Cob Construction Returns to North America

I attended my first natural building workshop in Oregon in1993. After completing a degree in Environmental Engineering, I had spent two years in Costa Rican rainforest, volunteering for a sustainable forest management project. I was searching for ways to use my construction background to make a positive difference to forests everywhere, to help develop building alternatives based on earth that would leave more trees standing. When the workshop was over, I approached the instructor, Ianto Evans of the Cob Cottage Company, and asked if I could join his team.

For the next five years, Ianto and I and other members of the CCC traveled all over North America and beyond, training groups in how to build their own homes from the ground under their feet. Although the constant travel became tiring after a while, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. I learned so much and met so many amazing people – many of whom remain close friends to this day.

How Natural Building Addresses Climate Change

Twenty-seven years later, I still believe in the power of mud to change the world. In fact, the urgency today seems higher than ever before. Worldwide, construction and operation of buildings generate nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). To meet Paris Climate Agreement targets, we must eliminate all GHG emissions from the built environment by 2050. The only way this could be possible is if we trim wasted energy from the building sector in many different ways: increasing the energy-efficiency of our buildings by using passive solar principles and excellent detailing; making smaller homes that are built to last much longer than those produced by the profit-driven construction industry; improved materials technology including recycling and carbon sequestration; and the increased use of local, natural materials.

Building with locally-harvested materials reduces GHG emissions from both the manufacturing and transportation sectors, sometimes nearly to zero. For example, many builders harvest clay soil from the building site during the levelling and excavation process, then use it to build the house. Using simple, low-tech techniques that anyone can learn, clay soil can be turned into walls, floors and plasters with only the addition of sand and straw. You can use machinery to mix clay, sand, and straw into cob — or you can use your feet. Building with local materials also concentrates environmental impacts where the communities using them can take responsibility for sustainable management and mitigation.

Three Guitar Singers Outside

Passive Solar Design and Building Codes

Earthen materials have excellent thermal mass properties which lend themselves to efficient passive solar designs, reducing energy use for heating and cooling over the long run. It’s true that earthen walls have poor insulation value and are not appropriate on their own in cooler climates. But cob can be combined with better-insulating techniques such as straw bale, straw-clay, chip-and-slip, hempcrete, or ricecrete in a hybrid design. The most efficient passive solar designs require a combination of both insulation and thermal mass in the correct relationship to one another. All of these building systems, when properly protected by a thick layer of earthen or other natural plasters, are highly fire-resistant – an increasing concern in our wildfire-ravaged world.

Although it can still be challenging to get official permission to build with natural materials, great strides towards this end have been made in recent years. The International Residential Code, the model code used as the basis for building codes in 49 of the 50 United States, now includes appendices on both straw bale and light straw clay construction. The nonprofit Cob Research Institute recently submitted an appendix on cob construction, which was accepted as part of the 2021 IRC. For the first time ever, states and local jurisdictions will now have a model cob building code approved by the highly respected International Code Council available for adoption as part of their local building regulations. (Find out more at The Cob Research Institute)

While cob, adobe, or rammed earth walls have historically been used to support the weight of roofs and second floors, hybrid designs often include a wooden structural framework. Round poles and locally milled wood from sustainably managed forests will provide the bones of a new climate-resilient architecture, while at the same time generating jobs and increasing fire safety by incentivizing sustainable forest management. We need not only a new framework of regulations and economic incentives to make the use of local building materials more attractive, but also a rapid scaling up of the skills necessary to use these materials safely and effectively.

Can Natural-Building Workshops Save the World?

That’s where hands-on building workshops come in. As I discovered during my years with the Cob Cottage Company, nearly anyone can learn to build a cob wall in just a few days. That includes simple but effective ways to analyze soils and determine recipes for the strongest mix, as well as how to install doors and windows and sculptural techniques such as arch-building.

Nowadays, my workshops also include a foundation in passive solar design and better-insulating wall techniques. Students leave the workshop with both the conceptual and practical tools they will need to contribute to a sustainable reimagining of buildings. Every home built by hand from the earth rather than being assembled of factory-made components reduces the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere. Incorporating wood, straw and other plant materials into long-lasting buildings also helps sequester carbon. We are constructing a living library of alternatives that we and our descendants can learn from in the coming decades of experimentation. If all goes well, we’re helping to develop a new building vernacular where every region will showcase its own sophisticated solutions, based on climate, seismic conditions and locally available materials.

The muddy people on the building site are hard at work. In the flat area south of the rising walls, groups of two dance on tarps, their muddy feet beating the disparate elements of clay, water, sand and straw into a coherent mass. Another group takes the mixed cob and sculpts it around a window and door frame. Two women insert electrical wires and outlet boxes into the nearly complete straw bale wall. In the background, several people are stripping bark from round poles for roof beams and rafters. The atmosphere is concentrated, with little extraneous conversation, but also quietly celebratory. The people here know what they are building: not only a beautiful, low-impact shelter for a couple of people, but also a future full of hope for the rest of us.

Find a natural-building workshop on the Cob Workshops page.

Michael G. Smith is a natural building pioneer, credited as bringing cob construction and other techniques back to North America after a century of disuse. He is co-founder of The Cob Cottage Company and is the author of The Cobber’s Companion, the co-author of The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage (Chelsea Green, 2002) and co-editor for The Art of Natural Building: Design, Construction, Resources (New Society, 2nd Edition 2015). He farms with his partner, Cathy, at Spreadwing Farm. Connect with Michael at Straw Clay Wood and Cob Research Institute, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

14 Ways to Recycle Firewood Ash on Your Homestead

Last month we published a video with 7 ways to recycle your firewood ash. That video now has nearly 1/2 million views but more importantly over 1,200 really good comments and ideas for more ways to reuse ash. The comments included better ideas than we initially suggested! So we put together a new video with 14 ways to reuse your firewood ash. In the video, we put many of these ideas to the test and we have some laughs. The video is here and the outline is below.


1. Store some ash in a small container with a lid and put it in the trunk of you car. Great to help get tire traction when you are stuck in the snow.

2. As a homesteader we know about composting toilets. Instead of using saw dust to cover your (you know what) in your composting toilet or outhouse, use some ash. Not only will it cover up your mess it also helps to hide the odors.

3. Got greasy or oily or gasey hands after working on your homestead vehicles? Try some water and then ash to clean away the grease and cover the order.

4. Sprinkle some ash around the perimeter of your house to keep ants from coming into the house. (This one has 44 upvotes!)

5. Soak the ashes in water to extracts lye. This is what many of our grandparents used to make soap. This had over 106 upvotes. The comments also mentioned using lye to turn corn into hominy and then dried then ground to grits and also masa for tortillas and tamales.

6. Dump your ash heavily along your fence line, it will kill grass and weeds growing under the fence so you don’t have to use a weed walker.

7. You can polish silver or tarnished brass with Ash, Just try to use the fine fluffy ash not the gritty ash.

8. You know that green slime stuff used to seal tires? One commenter suggested using ash and water mix in lieu of the green slime. I haven’t tested this one yet but it does have 11 upvotes.

These are from the previous video:

9. Clean woodstove windows by mixing some ash with some water and create a paste. It becomes an abrasive cleaner to clean your window. It works surprisingly well

10. Clean oil spills. Ash can absorb oil spills just like kitty litter can. My husband does all of our car work in our garage and we sometimes get oil spills on the ground, we have been using some cheap cat litter, but why not use what we have on hand and what is for free? By sprinkling wood ash onto an oil spill, it will absorb the oil and allow for an easy cleanup with an outdoor broom and dustpan. Repairing ruts in driveway

11. Eliminate orders in fridge or freezer. I use baking soda to absorb odors in my fridge, but I just found out that putting a cup or so of ash in a bowl or even a mason jar towards the back will do the same trick as the baking soda.

12. Make a natural ice melt. Did you know you can use ash as a way to melt ice on your driveway or walkway? There are natural minerals in the wood ash that help melt ice. Just be careful if you put it close to your house when entering, it would easily come into your house from your shoes.

13. Fertilize gardens. If you create a circle of wood ash around your crops this will prevent slugs and snails from crossing into your plant beds. Or dump a bucket on your garden

14.  Ash can be a dust bath for poultry. I have so much sand here on our homestead, but I just found out that ash helps treat fleas and other insects, it’s perfect for helping poultry relieve themselves of parasites. Chickens naturally dust bath to help clean their feathers of pesky bugs but give your girls an extra boost by adding some ash to their dust area.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube pageInstructablesPinterest Facebookand at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Marketing Homestead Products: Take Advantage of Traditional Print Advertising

Photo crediErika Giraud

The Marketing Homestead Products series offers market gardeners and homesteaders tailored advice for selling their goods. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of joining up with a CSA, renting a farmer’s market stall, and the various forms of advertising available to your farm-based business.

For farmers and homesteaders, it can be tricky to find your local market. With a boost in digital efforts, some small businesses find it easier to gain a social media following from users across the globe than to connect with their own community.

This gap is where print marketing can play a major role in your success. Certain traditional industries, including agriculture, can benefit significantly from hyper-local print advertising, reaching out to consumers who want location-based products and services.  

If you want to get the word out and boost your sales, there are several ways to take advantage of traditional print advertising. From sharing business cards to mailing promotional newsletters, it is easy to personalize your homestead marketing strategy. 

1. Send Out Promotional Mail

No one likes junk mail, digital or otherwise. However, meaningful snail mail is an excellent method of print advertising for farmers. Just make sure that you're direct in your messaging. 

For example, if there is an upcoming event you are advertising, or if you are looking to sign up members for next year's CSA — a group committed to the community's farm — promotional mail can be an ideal way to get the message out. Before sending to every address in your area, make sure you set a budget. 

2. Post Business Cards

Business cards are still relevant, even in an increasingly digital world. When it comes to creating personal relationships and expanding your network, these cards play a critical part in how your brand is perceived. Whether or not some people throw them out or lose them in their wallets, they're are an inexpensive option for your farm advertising strategy. 

Carry these cards with you at all times so that you can share contact information whenever the occasion arises. It can also be helpful to drop them off at local businesses and share them at events. 

3. Connect With Local Restaurants

Connecting with your community through the local food scene is a great way to reach your target customer. Tabletop advertising allows you to share a fully personalized ad that people will view in a casual setting. This idea can be the perfect place to market your product since people are already in an environment where they're thinking about food. 

By utilizing tabletop ads in restaurants and coffee shops, you can effectively connect with local companies and their customers. Plus, several benefits to tabletop advertisements, including customization, easy storage and the symbiotic relationship you create between you and the business where you advertise. 

4. Create Appealing Posters

People crave visual content. A poster with eye-catching graphics will attract attention, and its location can become a mainstay in your community. For example, if your advertisement is on the window of a coffee shop, people will familiarize themselves with your brand by just walking by it each day. 

The best part about print media today is that you can take advantage of online tools to personalize your design. Just be sure that you keep your branding consistent across all mediums so that it is easily recognizable by your audience. 

5. Personalize Everyday Items

Take your business to the next level by utilizing print advertising on everyday office materials, such as letterheads and envelopes. In this day and age, it may feel like an unnecessary step, but those small personalized details can go a long way for your customer. 

Like business cards, printing custom office supplies can be affordable and easy to manage. People will appreciate the small steps that your farm business takes to stand out. Print media is an excellent method for sharing your farm logo and tagline, and personalized stationery will take your marketing strategy to the next level. 

6. Utilize Informational Flyers

In addition to promotional material, print advertising can be a great way to provide someone with information they can hold onto.

For example, some farmer's market vendors will distribute a flyer on how to store their product or offer recipe cards for inspiration. This idea is a great personal touch that also distributes information that your customer may not otherwise find. 

Educating the consumer is also an essential step in any advertising strategy. By sharing relevant information with a potential customer, you can help them decide whether they should invest in your business. 

Adding Print to Your Farm Advertising Strategy

Like any industry, print advertising is vital and should play a key role in your farm or homestead's overall marketing strategy. Even in the digital age, print is relevant, cost-effective and fully customizable.

Adding the ideas above — such as promotional mail, business cards or restaurant placemats — to your marketing plan is a great step towards increasing connectivity with your target audience. When it comes to farm advertising, be sure to take advantage of traditional methods.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 1: Project Scoping


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.

“They want to turn a horse barn into a Wellness Center,” I read aloud to my wife from an email message that I received. After my outburst, I read the rest of the message to myself and reviewed the attached documents, and a few things on the drawings caught my eye. “There is something special about this place.”

The owners wanted to move their practice from their existing office in town out to their property in the country. My wife asked if they wanted me to build the wellness center and I replied that no, their question was about geothermal. As any better half would ask, “Well, don’t you think you should ask them if they need a builder?”

I took a deep breath and thought for a moment about turning a horse barn into a wellness center. I have helped a few people throughout the years with wellness center types of projects, so I knew a few things about what this center might entail. I breathed deeply, because I’m getting tired of building. Every time I start to get tired of not making a difference (at least, that is what I think), I get an email message that gets my interests flowing again.

Finding Inspiration by Scoping a Green Building Project

I had to answer a few questions about geothermal, and instead of just giving the owners my answer, I started with the questions: Why do you want geothermal? What type of insulation will the place have? I was invited to come down to the project site and look at the barn and see exactly what the structure was like.

While I was at the site, I asked the owners about the special things that I noticed on their building prints and if they had a builder for the project. They said that they did have a builder and the more we talked, the more we discovered that my team may be a better fit for the project. We agreed that I would first be hired as a consultant to see if turning the barn into a wellness center was even possible.

I was very interested in this project not only because it was the farthest thing from building another house, but also, because the wellness center would be a place of healing and helping people. I started to really hope that this project was legit, especially with the local building department. I had so much to know to get caught up to speed on the project, so I asked the owners to start from the beginning and send me everything they had discussed so far. I immediately started to receive emails from the owners with the first emails being all of the paperwork that they had filed with the township and the approvals from the township for their business.

Codes and Conditions for a Home-based Business

Fire department access. Several months before the owners contacted me, they had submitted paperwork to their township for the approval of a business run from their home and property, specifically in a repurposed existing barn. The township approved the project, but with very specific conditions, one of those conditions was that the very long gravel driveway coming in to the project had to be approved by the local fire department chief. The fire chief’s approval was to assure that the driveway would be able to accommodate fire trucks and support vehicles in the event of a fire.

Septic and well. Another condition of approval was that the health department approves and issues a permit for a septic system and a well. As I read the list of conditions, nothing caught my eye that would suggest that we couldn’t turn the barn into a wellness center.

Remodel or rebuild? The next question was whether we keep the existing barn or tear it down and build the wellness center brand new. I decided that I would determine what it would cost to fortify the existing barn to see how much the owners would save if we kept the structure. I took this approach, because the barn looked to me to be very well constructed and we knew that the barn was built in the early 1990s.

I used the barn at our farm as a comparison. Our barn was large and built in the 1880’s of post and beam and is still very structurally sound. I determined that the project would be less costly if we kept the existing barn and added on to it. I needed to confirm that decision with the building inspector whom I called and asked to meet me at the barn.

Residential versus Commercial Use

“You want to do what with this barn?” The building inspector questioned, then he asked if the project was intended to be a doctor’s office. I replied, "It's not a doctor's office, it's more like natural health-related stuff."  I assured the building inspector that the township had in fact approved the wellness center to operate on the property as a home business. The building inspector then asked a question that would turn the tide of the entire project: Does the township consider this a residential project or a commercial project?

The building inspector asking me if the township considered the project residential or commercial tripped me up, because I didn’t know the answer and my quickest thought was that we needed the project to be residential.

Before I could ask the obvious follow up question, he started to tell me why it mattered. “If this project is considered commercial, you need to determine if the existing structure will meet commercial code, which would include such considerations as whether the second-floor hay loft floor system met the pounds-per-square-foot requirement (floor load), soil capacity under the existing barn footings, barn wall stability, and foundation wall depths, among other things.

“I am going to have to see a report from a structural engineer before I could ever think of doing a building plan review,” the building inspector stated. “Oh, and the engineer has to be licensed in this state and preferably someone who has knowledge of barns like this.” I said OK and thanked him for coming out as we both walked towards our trucks.

 I had to get in touch with the owners and let them know what I had just found out with the building inspector. I mentioned the comment by the building inspector about the project being considered residential or commercial, and they both stated that the project should be considered residential based on the paperwork from the township. After the conference call with them, I looked over the building plans to see if the plans had any information about the existing structure. I searched for the architect online and was hoping that I could go to his office to discuss what the building inspector had said. I could not find the architect’s contact information, so I contacted the owners, who then told me that the architect was from the East Coast and not from our state. I asked them to contact the architect and get specific information for me, because I needed to learn more about what the architect was thinking with his design.

We discovered that the architect had only drawn a few pages of the project, which included elevation drawings and basic interior layouts — no wall sections or foundation plans and very few dimensions to review. Someone was going to have to draw the entire project and get the building prints ready for the building inspector to review.

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.

Herbal Medicine, Natural Remedies

Herbal Remedies

Herbal Medicine, Natural Remedies has you covered no matter what ails you. Kennedy offers relief for ailments a wide range of ailments, including: allergies, bee stings, bronchitis, canker sores, chapped lips, constipation, dandruff, diaper rash, eczema, fever, hair loss, headache, indigestion, menopause, mental wellness issues, poison ivy, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, sore throat, tendinitis, weight loss, and more. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store or by calling 800-456-6018.

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.

Basement Subfloors and Indoor Air Quality: Home-Improvement Health Implications

basement, renovation, finished basement 

Nobody wants a moldy finished basement, but that’s exactly what too many homeowners end up with. Even after spending thousands of dollars, problems regularly emerge. The reason why? Moisture and the microbe growth it triggers. Too many basements are still being finished as if they were above-ground spaces, and the consequences are not limited to just the finished basement themselves. Poor basement air quality always spreads to the rest of your house, and that’s why a healthful finished basement and indoor air quality go hand-in-hand. What too many people don’t realize is that a healthy basement begins with a healthy basement subfloor.

While it’s entirely possible to install a warm, comfortable finished basement floor that doesn’t encourage mold growth, you need to get intentional about moisture control. Basements are essentially just fancy holes in the ground, and moisture in all its forms loves to flow into holes in the ground.

Two Kinds of Moisture

The first thing to understand is that liquid water and water vapour are two different things. Even if you don’t actually see liquid water in your basement, you could still have a moisture and indoor air quality problem. Here’s how .

subfloor, basement, condensation. .

In the interests of making basement floors warmer and more comfortable under foot, it’s not unusual to install carpet and underlay directly on the concrete floor without the use of a basement subfloor. And while this seems like a good idea on the surface, there’s a very real danger of condensation developing within the carpet pile itself. And the warmer and more humid it is in the summer where you live, the more of a threat invisible carpet condensation and subsequent basement mold becomes. Solving the basement floor condensation problem is one reason why basement subfloor tiles are such a good idea.

How Basement Subfloor Tiles Work

Subfloor tiles came on the scene in the late 1990s and they make it easy to create healthful, comfortable finished floors in basements. One of the most commonly available tiles are made by a company called DRICORE. Made of nominal 7/16-inch-thick by 2-foot by 2-foot pieces of oriented strand board (OSB) with tongue and groove edges, tiles interlock with their neighbours as they go down. The underside of the most common type of basement subfloor tiles has a layer of strong plastic with little legs extending down underneath.

This design does several good things. First, the plastic keeps the OSB up and separate from any liquid moisture that might come up through the concrete floor or walls. This little space won’t help if 6 inches of water floods into your basement, but will make leaks up to 1/2-inch deep a non-issue. Although you should never finish a basement that hasn’t proven itself completely dry over a number of years, the air space underneath subfloor tiles allows small amounts of unexpected moisture to make it to the floor drain or simply seep away through pores of the concrete. This air space is key and the reason why basement subfloor tiles discourage the growth of mold even though the OSB on top is not mold-proof.

As useful as it is to have a basement subfloor assembly that can handle minor leaks in stride, this is not the most important moisture-related advantage offered by basement subfloor tiles.

Another way subfloor tiles prevent mold and mildew is by preventing warm, moist indoor air from penetrating the carpet and underlay from the top down, then cooling against the concrete and losing some of its moisture as condensation. The dimpled plastic on the underside of the subfloor tiles acts as a two-way vapour barrier. Small amounts of liquid water are kept down where it belongs, but also moisture laden air never gets the chance to come in contact with the concrete, eliminating  one leading cause of poor basement air quality – condensation within carpet and underlay.

Currently, OSB-type basement subfloor tiles come in two versions. The most common type has those raised plastic feet I was telling you about. There’s also a version of DRICORE with extruded polystyrene foam underneath instead of the plastic. This provides more insulation value at slightly higher cost, with slightly lower capacity to deal with leaked moisture.

Leave Basement Floor Uncoated

basement, finished basement, renovation

So, if liquid and condensed moisture are the leading causes of basement mold, mildew and poor indoor air quality, doesn’t it make sense to apply a waterproof coating to all basement floors before finishing, just in case? If your observations show that no liquid water is coming through the bare concrete of your basement floor, there’s still a reason you might NOT want to coat that floor with a waterproofing compound “just in case”.

If your basement ever does leak a bit of liquid water in the future and it’s sitting underneath some of those subfloor tiles, bare concrete could be your friend. Despite the fact that your concrete floor is at least 4” thick, water that doesn’t make it to the main drain of your house may still be able to seep away through pores of the concrete. In fact, more leaked water could disappear by soaking through an unpainted concrete floor than ever does make it to the main drain. Sometimes too much diligence ends up back-firing.

If you’re planning to finish your basement, check out my online basement finishing video course here. It’s called HOW TO FINISH YOUR BASEMENT, it’s currently free, it’s the most detailed course of its kind in the world, and it has saved many people from making poor basement finishing choices that affect the healthfulness of their home. This course is useful for people who want to finish their basement themselves or to be informed as they hire and manage a contractor to do the job. HOW TO FINISH YOUR BASEMENT remains free until October 31, 2020, so visit and bookmark while you can.

Steve Maxwell is a DIY expert and longtime contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. He and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, cultivating a little patch of  farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Create a gorgeous and greener home with the help of Green Remodeling, a Mother Earth News Book for Wiser Living. It includes energy-efficient, healthful and attractive choices in building materials, heating and cooling systems and appliances. It's easy-to-read and well illustrated.Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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.

Gas vs. Electric vs. Induction: Why I Love Cooking with Magnets

 cooking french toast on induction stove

One of my favorite dishes growing up was French toast but when I left home I found that my French toast never tasted as good as my dad’s. It took years for me to discover that the secret was — drum roll, please — black pepper! Yep, visiting home one time I realized that the warm, subtle notes of heat and complex flavor that I loved about French toast growing up came from a liberal sprinkling of black pepper that my dad added to the egg mixture. It was so simple but for me it transformed this dish.

Living on a homestead with eggs in abundance, French toast is a no-brainer way to deal with lots of eggs and a family that ignores the ends of bread and stale bread left in the breadbasket. We have also discovered that leftover French toast heats up beautifully in the toaster for a quick snack. Perfect French toast also needs to fry up quick and turn lovely crisp golden brown and to do that a good stove is a big help.

induction stove in my kitchen

Comparing Electric Stoves to Gas Cooking Ranges

I grew up cooking on an electric range. Back then I was known for two things when it came to cooking. The first was the ability to invent amazing dishes that I could never replicate and the second was burning things on a regular basis especially the last few pancakes. Electric stoves take awhile to heat up and a long time to cool down (thus the charred pancakes). When I went away to college, the apartments all had electric burners as well; crusty, sad, hard to clean, low rent electric burners. I made bland French toast, continued to burn pancakes and agonized over how long it took my pasta water to boil.

Fast-forward to my marriage and my husband who had only ever cooked on gas. Our first apartment had a groovy retro gas stove. I loved it. My husband showed me the ropes, I learned all about pilot lights, super fast stir-fry and the ease of cooking on the gas range. Over the next 20 years, each subsequent house had access to natural gas. Meanwhile, my parents had graduated to a glass top electric stove which I tried and disliked only slightly less than the electric burner since the heating elements didn’t cook with the direct and controllable heat of a gas stove. I was committed to cooking with gas in spite of its less than stellar environmental score. That is until we moved to our farm.

First Experience with Induction Cooking

Our farm is situated in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Most of our neighbors have gas wells on their properties and we had hopes that we might find a place with a source of “free” heat and fuel too. But alas, our dream property does not have access to natural gas and so we had to do some research on just how we were going to cook our food since I was NOT going back to electric burners. This was in 2015 and induction stoves were just moving mainstream. We were able to find a new stove with an induction cooktop at a department store that is now out of business. I was hesitant, but our options were limited to electric or propane. I was hesitant about propane and had read that propane stoves did not have the same cooking power of natural gas and with all the canning, home cooking, and food preparing I was planning on doing on our homestead I did not want a wimpy cooktop. We investigated induction stoves, but could not find anyone who had one to ask or try out their stove, so we took a risk and jumped in.

The biggest concern was all my primary cookware was stainless with aluminum core bottoms except for my cast iron frying pans and a smallish dutch oven, what would I do for cookware? Well, I got lucky and my super awesome mother-in-law decided to buy me a set of induction pots and pans for Christmas that year. Today, most cookware is induction ready and you can see if your pans will work by checking to see if a magnet will stick to the bottom. We discovered we had a few other pots and pans including my canning pots that would also work. Once we got the stove installed it was time for this technology to prove itself to me.

I discovered that the pans heated as quickly on the induction stovetop as they did on the gas stove. The heat control was comparable to the gas cooktop. I often forget that I am not cooking on a gas range. The real difference is in the absence of the heat that wraps up the sides of the pan or pot when using a gas range. This does change what part of the pot or pan gets hot, so that really big pots and pans tend to have hot spots in the middle with the sides being less hot, similar to an electric stove. However, this also has an unexpected upside: while only the bottom of the pans and pots became hot enough to cook on, it meant that any spills or spatters did not cook to the pans or the cooktop. This made clean up a breeze. It is also safer as the handles and surrounding areas do not get superheated either.

Five years into using our cooktop with heavy cast iron pans, it still looks good as new. The burners do make a distinctive buzzing noise if two or more are on simultaneously but the vent fan drowns it out. If anyone has any lingering concerns about the health and safety of this technology I found this article by Rational Kitchen to be useful for explaining how induction stoves work and why they are safe. They are also environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient and fun to cook on and you can make some really fabulous French toast.

Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who raises heritage-breed livestock on her 22-acre, restored Singing Wren FarmConnect with Nicole at Smoldering Wick, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Cast-iron cookware never goes out of style, and cannot be destroyed (despite how you feel about yourself as a home cook). Howie Southworth and Greg Matza, best friends and adventurous home cooks, share 100 recipes for cooking in a skillet on the stovetop or outdoors on a grill or campfire. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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

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