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

A Snowboarder’s Hand-Built Cabin of Stone, Glass, and Steal

The following post is an excerpt from Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2012) by long-time Mother Earth News contributor Lloyd Kahn. In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.) — homes on land, on wheels, on the road, on water, even in the trees. Here is one of these builders, Mike Basich’s, story.

Glass Cube House In Snow

I went up to Mike’s with Evan in August 2010. We got in his honker 4-by-4 truck and with his dog, went up a rutted road, hopping boulders until we got to the house. First, the site is stunning. Second, the craftsmanship is meticulous. It’s an astounding little house. Everywhere you look there are creative delights. Everything is handmade.

In 2009, I go this email from my son, Evan:

Hey Dad,

I was looking for a new snowboard online, and I came across this guy named Mike Basich. He's a pro snowboarder and a very talented builder — a very creative guy to say the least. What he is doing up there is really gonna blow your mind! You've got to check out the house he built in the backcountry near Donner Pass. Really amazing!!! All built by hand using local materials and lots of rocks from the land. You'll like the hot tub.


I had no idea Evan was interested in building, but I looked Mike up. Holy cow! Mike Basich was a world-class snowboarder, and when Evan told me that Mike had once jumped out of a helicopter (sans parachute) 100 feet above the ground on his snowboard, my attention was got. Here’s Evan’s account of this remarkable guy and his remarkable house.

Window Piled High With Snow

A heavy snow in the winter of 2011 buried the cabin completely.

Michael Basich: Pro Snowboarder, Master Builder

I came across Mike Basich in September 2009. I was online, trying to find a snowboard handmade in the USA. I'd heard there was a guy who made a snowboard out of a 400-year-old dead tree from his property. Little did I know that this "guy" was none other than Michael Basich — not just a legendary snowboarder, but also a master builder and jack of all trades.

I happened upon a video of Mike after he'd finished building his cold pool and wood-fired hot tub. As soon as I saw the video, I knew he would be in one of the next Shelter books — if not a whole book on just him alone. Mike is one of the most talented builders I've ever seen.

You never know what you're going to get when you pull up to Mike's — he might be milling freshly cut trees for use in his shop, chopping up a truck and creating some sort of snowmobile-carrying, 4-by-4 hybrid, or he might just be taking runs down his hill with the aid of his homemade tow rope powered by an old engine and rear axle.

Oh, and did I mention he's the founder/owner of Area 241, which makes some of the highest quality snowboarding gear on the planet?

Interior Winter Glass Cabin

The pentagonal floor is made from lumber milled on site. At center is a pentagon. On Mike’s birthday, October 29, a beam of light shines through a hole in a 5-pointed star in the door, and falls on the central pentagon.

Mountain Cabin of Stone, Glass, and Steal

Mike has a passion for building that is only equaled by his passion for snowboarding. His cabin is located on 40 acres about three miles in the backcountry near the Donner Pass and during the winter is only accessible by snowmobile, snow cat, or on snow shoes. The first time I went out there, he put me on the front of his snowmobile, stood up behind me, and proceeded to blast through the wilderness at 50 MPH, floating like a snowflake.

The cabin is mainly built out of rocks that Mike picked and carried to the site. The steel beams were bent by Mike's cousin and welded by Mike. All of the logs were selected and cut by Mike and milled on a portable mill belonging to a friend. I've never seen a home with such attention to detail — every door handle, seat, or counter has a story behind it and a look of fine craftsmanship.

 He is regarded as a legend in the snowboard industry, not only for his amazing riding, point-of-view photos, and numerous contributions to the industry, but also for the way he influences people to look at the world and what they can build with their own two hands.

He likes to build things that he uses in his life for sake of wanting to know what it really takes. And with snowboarding being such a big part of his life for reasons of snow, mountains, and movement in the mountains with open space, he needs a place to be creative.

Building Winter Glass Cabin

In Mike’s Words

It wasn’t until I was 33 years old that I decided to bring a childhood dream to life, to build my own house with my own two hands.

I came across these beautiful 40 acres on Donner Summit and bought it. It was a huge winter and I lived in a tepee and experienced the land.

I started thinking, what kind of shape will the house have? I realized that where I felt most alive was on a mountain peak, and I started looking at all the photos of me standing in the mountains with my arms stretched out, like I was reaching out to the world.

If I connected the dots of arms, legs, and head, it made a pentagon. I’d been reading the book The Golden Section: Nature’s Greatest Secret by Scott Olsen, about the Golden Section and its elegance and simplicity in nature.

The great thing about taking on a project like this is that things happen naturally after you start building: Where your front door should be. With your arms reaching out, that’s where your windows should be.

The hardest part was in dealing with the weather, mixing concrete in the snow, but it’s what I wanted: to put myself in the place where I got back to the basics of the simple life, living off the grid.                                             

Looking around, I saw a lot of rock — it’s what survived up here. So I built out of rock.

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 blogTwitterand Facebook, 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.

Lessons for Green and Resilient Communities from Olympia, Washington

Olympia WA Community Garden Drawing

Olympia, Washington has some stories to tell that show how citizens are using city programs for greening the community. Neighborhood matching grants usually are modest in size, between a thousand and ten thousand dollars. The grant money is matched by citizen sweat equity.

Grants are applied for, usually in coordination with a neighborhood association or with its endorsement. The project is citizen driven, on public property, must serve the public good and typically involves still more players in the community.

Over six years ago, neighbors in Olympia's Northeast Neighborhood recognized an opportunity to turn a problem into a benefit. This 1960's era suburban neighborhood is similar to many others all acrosFoto the country. One fifth of an acre properties, three bedroom homes, sidewalks, streets with curbs. Middle class, mostly home owners, maybe a bit on the progressive side politically. Importantly, Northeast has an active neighborhood association.

There is a grade school in the neighborhood and a lot of kids can walk to school. Some kids could have used a street right of way that had no street but it was cluttered with construction debris and overgrown with trees, shrubs and the ever present blackberry thickets. That right of way could have reduced the walk to and from school for some kids by several blocks but it was impassible.

Several people in the neighborhood looked at that overgrown and cluttered right of way and saw an opportunity. Wouldn't it be nice to make something positive with that right of way?

Several years later, after a great deal of discussion between neighbors, meetings between the city and the neighborhood association, a plan was agreed upon with matching grant money.

In 2011, the Joy Avenue Pathway and Edible Forest Garden came into being. After extensive planning and many work party, the overgrown right of way is now a winding one block long gravel pathway that connects two formerly separated streets. The jumbled and overgrown piles of concrete have been repurposed into an artistic sitting space. The space is much more open and inviting. At both ends, there are signs explaining the project.

Even better, the small park included new landscaping – dozens of different perennial edible plants - fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennial vegetables. The entire block long right of way has become a food forest with a pathway.

Now, kids can walk home from school, take the green short cut and grab a healthy snack at the same time. Could be some kids go out of their way to take the new short cut.

Community Edible Forestry Signage

The relatively straightforward Joy Street project has lead to a new program in Olympia called “Neighborhood Pathways.”

The three additional pathways completed since Joy Avenue were more complex and  involved stormwater issues, property issues and utilities, so they required a great deal more professional participation and cost.

City attorneys have also called for greater caution and regulations having to do with liability. At the present time, the Pathways program is taking a break.

In the meantime, a related but new citizen initiative allows neighbors to turn unused right of ways into neighborhood gardens. The Northeast Neighborhood is proposing the first project. The block long right-of-way is adjacent to a correctional facility for boys aged 12 to 21.

A local non-profit GRuB (Garden Raised Urban Bounty) will help plan and plant the annual garden along with the Victory Farmers (veterans transforming their mission to one that cultivates life, while nourishing their families and peers) and local non-profit Edible Forest Gardens that plants perennial gardens of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and perennial vegetables.

The boys at the correctional facility will care for the garden and harvest the food. The Northeast Neighborhood Association will apply for a $4000 neighborhood matching grant to pay for supplies and provide volunteers to help put in the garden. The nearby church will share their property for more garden space.  This is a project with many participants!

Community Garden Work Day Party

Meanwhile, other neighborhood greening projects are happening in Olympia. These also involve neighborhood grants and neighborhood associations.

Important to know, this level of neighborhood association support for greening projects is the result of green minded people becoming involved with their neighborhood associations. Involvement means helping to set the association's agendas. Repeat -  If people interested in these kinds of green and resilient projects become involved with their NA, they can influence the NA to take on projects that help make the neighborhood more green and resilient.

Many cities have neighborhood and matching grants programs and other tools for greening neighborhoods.  NAs typically welcome newcomers. Neighborhood associations are the base of the civic pyramid.

In Olympia, five neighborhoods have planted fruit and nut trees and a full food forest at public schools. All have these projects have included neighborhood associations and matching grants.

The Bigelow Neighborhood Association used matching grant funds to plant heirloom historic varieties of fruit trees at the Bigelow House Museum, a pioneer house built in the 1850’s. The nearby Bigelow Highlands Neighborhood Association received funds to plant numerous fruit and nut trees and berry bushes in the Capital Vision Community Church’s Community Garden. The Northeast Neighborhood Association helps to fund a yearly Love Our Local Festival. In 2015, a number of neighborhoods received funds for a ten day Olympia Village Building Convergence that installed placemaking projects all around town such as painting intersections to slow traffic, constructed neighborhood bulletin boards, made public art, installed bee hives and more.  The Olympia Convergence was modeled after Portland’s famous yearly Village Building Convergence.

People Working IN Community Garden

The take home message is this.

1] Many cities have tools and resources to work with for creating green and resilient neighborhoods and communities. It’s a matter of knowing they are there and then making use of them.

2] Neighborhood associations are perfect for taking a leading role for helping organize these actions while ad hoc groups, non profits, communities of faith are all potential participants.

3] Becoming involved with any non profit, faith, neighborhood association or ad hoc group means you can help shape the group’s agenda for taking on green and resilient projects.

4] These green and resilient actions are the training wheels of a more local culture and economy - the skills learned, the friendships made, the groups learning to cooperate with each other. Green and resilient initiatives will only become more compelling given the trends. We can expect to see people and groups taking on far more ambitious green and resilient projects as current trends deepen and gain more attention.

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home, including food, energy, water, and culture. Read a draft preface for his forthcoming book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier at www.SuburbanPermaculture.orgHe is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Find his contact info, CV and more topics he can address on his website, and click here to read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

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.

Tips for Using Earthen Plaster in Green and DIY Homes

Joseph Becker earthen plaster1

Do you remember the joy of playing with mud as a child? The feel of that cool substance slipping between your fingers… the slap slap of bare feet on the semi-solid ground… the gleeful satisfaction of presenting an unsuspecting parent or older sibling with a mud pie or mountain teeming with worms?

Working with earthen plaster gives grownups a chance to relive that childhood pleasure. It’s a great way for green builders to lower their carbon footprint, and an easy way for DIY home builders to get their hands dirty while creating their own dwellings.

Joseph Beck with ION Ecobuilding, an Olympia, WA-based company that serves western Washington, says he got interested in the material because it was a way to create a meaningful experience between people, their dwellings and the earth. “You can have work parties to install earthen plaster,” he says. “You can do the application with your hands and make it in the traditional way of mixing it in a pit with your bare feet. It’s so healthy that kids can be involved.”

joseph becker ION ecobuilding

What is Earthen Plaster?

Becker defines earthen plaster as a clay- or earth-based plaster that can be used in a variety of ways over a variety of surfaces. “It’s typically made up of simple, minimally-processed materials like aggregates, sand, sometimes fibers and other additives to make it thicker or stronger,” he says. Those materials are mixed with clay, which acts as a binder to hold the plaster together.

Once earthen plaster is made, it can be applied to interior walls just like conventional plaster. It can also be thinned out to create a veneer coat. “Typically in conventional settings in America it’s done mostly on the interior, but with good overhangs and good detailing it can be used outside,” Becker reports.

Like lime or gypsum plaster, earthen plaster can be applied over the top of just about anything, including wallboard, straw bale, light straw clay, adobe, lath and plaster, waddle and dab and insulated concrete forms.

There are many benefits to using earthen plaster. “It’s a vapor-permeable and environmentally-friendly finish that can be repaired and reused for a long time,” Becker says. “It’s minimally processed and has about the lowest embodied energy that you can have. It’s also very healthy, as it regulates interior temperatures, balances interior humidity, creates a negative creates an ionic charge, cleans the air and has no chemicals in it.”

Although it’s possible to purchase pre-mixed earthen plaster, many green home builders and DIY home builders choose to make it with local or even site-sourced materials. This allows the eco-conscious builder to lower their carbon footprint, and anyone to express the beauty and special characteristics of the place they live.

“I just did a project for a biodynamic dairy farm on Whidbey Island, and I used cow manure from their own animals,” Becker says. “A lot of joy came in because of the site-sourced materials.”

If earthen plaster sounds like the right fit for your home, Becker offers a few things to think about before you get started.

Hire a project facilitator

While you can make and apply earthen plaster on your own, there are nuances to really getting it right. Because of that, Becker recommends hiring a project facilitator. They can help you mix and test different recipes, explain how to apply it, and provide instruction on the best way to make transitions between the plaster and other materials such as flooring and windowsills.

Find earthen plaster experts through an online search, then check references. You can also ask your local green building council for recommendations.

Have a plan for protecting high impact areas

One of the drawbacks of earthen plaster is that it’s more easily damaged than conventional plasters. Homeowners should take steps to protect the material, especially in high traffic areas. “You might want to consider corner trims, door transitions and baseboard trim to keep things from banging into the plaster,” Becker says. These items can also add a nice decorative element to homes.

Given the greater likelihood of damage, families with small children or lots of pets might give more careful consideration to whether earthen plaster is the right choice for them.

The good news is that earthen plaster is easier to repair than traditional plasters. That’s another reason homeowners should strongly consider participating in the plastering process, Becker points out. If you know how to mix and use the material, you can repair any areas that are damaged over the home’s lifetime.Joseph Becker earthen plaster2

Consider the artistic possibilities

“There’s a huge variety of textures and colors and shapes and sculptural potential that’s available with earthen plaster,” Becker says. “That’s a really exciting thing for some people. You can leave the finish polished or coarser. You can include cattails, cork, oyster shells, hemp or chopped straw in the mixture. You can create all kinds of colors using pigments, but you can also use the color of the clay and sand and what the ingredients have to offer. It can be incredibly fun to use it as a form of expression.” 

For visual inspiration, Becker recommends visiting the website of Clayworks, a British earthen plaster manufacturer. People interested in learning to mix and use earthen plaster themselves can check out the books The Natural Plaster Book: Earth, Lime, and Gypsum Plasters for Natural Homes by Cedar Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras, and Using Natural Finishes: Lime and Earth Based Plaster, Renders and Paints by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce.

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.

Going, Going, Green: How to Lower the Impact of Your Move

Moving takes planning and a lot of organization, so you may think going green when moving just adds more stress and planning, right? Actually, it isn’t difficult to go green when packing and moving your belongings, and you’ll be doing something good for the environment.

Plan Ahead

You can’t just decide one day to throw everything on a truck and move. It takes preparation to get organized so the move goes smoothly. You’ll likely have time to prepare, so at least 2 weeks before moving, start making plans for an easy transition into your new place. Also, consider some greener alternatives for moving, like finding used paper boxes instead of new ones from the shipping store.

Don’t Try to Take It All With You

Moving to a new location often means making a new start, so it’s the best time to donate items you don’t want or use. While packing, go through your closets, garage and attic, then either have a yard sale or donate. Get the family involved in deciding what they don’t want or need and designate an area for things to sell, items to donate and any recycling.

When you lighten your load, you reduce the amount of gas and money used to relocate. And, when you recycle, you’re doing your part to reduce pollution.


Photo by Pexels

Choose Eco-Friendly Packing Materials

Fragile items require extra care when packing to avoid damage. But, you can skip the bubble wrap and packing peanuts and use packing materials that are more eco-friendly. Instead of using plastic and other materials that end up in landfills, consider looking around your home to find materials that’ll protect your breakables and be reused or recycled after the move.

Some good ideas include blankets, newspapers, towels and other soft fabrics you have lying around the house. You have to move them, too. If you must use packing materials, learn how you can recycle them.

Get Smart on Moving Containers

Containers are a must for moving, but you don’t have to use cardboard. Consider using plastic bins that you can reuse in your home for organizing after the move. A new greener trend in moving is to rent plastic bins to pack up your belongings and return when done — no boxes to dispose of and no environmental concerns.

If you are moving on a budget and simply can’t afford to rent bins, you can use cardboard, but keep some tips in mind. Use boxes from stores so you don’t have to buy new ones, and recycle them after use.

Dispose of Moving Hazards

Do you have items around your home that are hazardous to move? Items like corrosive materials, batteries, fertilizers, paint thinners, ammunition and car batteries are just some of the possible hazards you may need to dispose of or take extra caution when moving.

If it’s flammable, explosive or corrosive, learn how to properly dispose of them or move them to reduce the risk of spilling or problems that can negatively affect the environment.

Hire or Rent a Truck

If you have lots of full boxes and other items to move, you might want to rent a truck or hire a moving company. Even if you have a truck or van, you’ll still make more trips than a moving truck.

Moving company employees have experience in organizing boxes and other items onto a truck to maximize space and get you to your new place in the fewest trips possible to minimize fuel use. Reducing trips during your move also reduces the amount of gasses emitted into the environment. With good organization, you may be able to move it all in just one trip.

Stay Green After the Move

Stay green after moving into your new place to reduce your carbon footprint. Find out where to recycle products in your new location, and take steps to reduce your waste and use of electricity, gas and water. Here are some simple steps:

Use biodegradable products

Turn off lights and appliances when not in use

Invest in LED bulbs

Upgrade to Energy Star appliances

Consider installing solar panels to reduce energy use

Going green and staying green is not difficult. It requires you to take the time to learn about and put to use eco-friendly options for the home. Once you start on your path to reducing your carbon footprint, it’ll become like second nature.

 Megan Wild improves homes by focusing on increasing their sustainability and finding new ways to repurpose old materials. When she’s not holding a hammer, you can find her writing up her ideas and thoughts for her blog, Your Wild Home, and read all of Megan'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.

Technology for Disaster Preparedness

BioLite LR Woodstove

From surviving power outages on the homestead to transforming the "camping experience" in the wilderness far away from the trappings of modern life, we discovered a growing lineup of technology that tackles the challenges of off-grid survival in sometimes extreme environments or during catastrophic events.

A few of my family's many favorites include BioLite's latest CampStove 2, LuminAID's PackLite 16, and Power Practical's Luminoodle Light Rope — all featured at the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, that I attended this past January in Las Vegas.

In the coming months, I'll profile a few others, like some great portable solar power options or surveillance gadgets. For many meals, we cook with the sun with our Solarvore Sport Sun Oven and All American Sun Oven. Turns out, some technology doesn't have to cost a fortune.

"Be Prepared" is the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and on our latest campout at the Black Hawk Memorial Park near Woodford, Wisconsin, my family and troop put some of our tech gear to the test. As many preppers, homesteaders, and campers know, just because you have the gear doesn't mean you can deploy it in an emergency, or during The Long Emergency. Getting some practice using the gadgets in the field — without the need to refer to instructions or product guides in hand — is essential.

We were also there to experience the living history of the pre-1840s re-enactment camp known as the Bloody Lake Rendezvous, itself a stomping ground for those eager to put into practice survival skills, primitive camping, cooking with fire, and tomahawk throwing.

Hosted by the Yellowstone Flint and Cap club, The Bloody Lake Rendezvous is held annually the first week in May and we're there every year.  There are many other such events around the country where blacksmithing, hand-crafted item trading and knife-throwing are skills shared freely by the enthusiastic campers.

Here's a roundup and review of a few of our tech deployed on this camping trip.

BioLite's CampStove 2

Cook, grill, boil and charge with the wood-fired BioLite CampStove 2 burner that generates electricity while preparing your camp meal or MRE. Best of all, the energy source for the stove is nothing more than sticks and twigs, far more readily found in an emergency or on a campout than many other sources of fuel in many parts of the country.

BioLite's latest CampStove 2  reflects "being self-sustaining with the energy around you," says Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing for BioLite. "We feel [this] is where the prepper and outdoor world overlap."

"We make off-grid on a personal scale," adds Rosen. "We're actually most well known for our BioLite CampStove which is a wood-burning camp stove that generates electricity from the heat of the fire.

That electricity does two things. One, it powers an internal fan that blows air back into the fire so you're getting smokeless flames. So when you're cooking with wood, you're actually reducing emissions and burning really clean without any fossil fuels. Second, the surplus electricity that's being generated goes into a USB port on the side of the stove and that can recharge small devices."

In less than 5 minutes, we had our BioLite CampStove 2 fired up and boiling water for our hot cocoa in the morning. With four fan speed settings, we could control the air circulation better with the internal fan jets. We also had a source for back-up power for our smart phone should it die in the woods, with the built in USB port for charging that had 50 percent more power thanks to the improved design of the thermoelectrics in this model.

The Smart LED dashboard provided real time feedback on the fire strength, power output and fan setting. With a little practice, anyone can make a smoke-free fire now. Their USB FlexLight can provide some light at night, too. The CampStove 2 is compact, at 5 inches by 7.91 inches, and weighs 2.06 pounds.

LuminAID's PackLite 16 Solar-Powered Inflatable Light

A LED lamp can't get any lighter, safer and easier to use than this. Just clip the 3-ounce, deflated and folded down LuminAID PackLite 16 to your backpack or bug-out bag and hit the road. After about 7 to 10 hours of direct sunlight hitting the small high-efficiency solar panel on the inflatable light, we were good to go for the night.

The built-in battery holds a charge for about two months, perfect for any emergency preparedness kit on the homestead or farm. They're much safer than commonly used candles or kerosene lanterns.

When it's time to turn on, just unfold the light, inflate it by blowing it up like you would a small inner tube and hang it where you need it. The PackLite 16 is durable, waterproof and floats. At the maximum of the three brightness settings, it puts out 65 lumens of light for about 6 hours. Plenty.

We attached our LuminAID PackLite 16 to our dining canopy, carried it to the outhouse at night (in the rain) and hung it from the top of our tent for some late night reading. LuminAID was actually started by Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, architecture students from Columbia University who designed the product in 2010 to assist post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and elsewhere.

Solar LED Lights At Campfire

Power Practical's Luminoodle Light Rope

Waterproof, bright, flexible and USB-powered, the 5-foot LED light rope/lantern provides the light you need, without the weight in your backpack or bug-out bag at only 4.7 ounces. It can be used with any USB power source or a universal battery pack.

During our campout, we used the slider magnets to connect the light to the metal on our pop-up canopy tent for lighting our outdoor kitchen. The Luminoodle can also be attached with universal ties and a utility loop, or tossed inside the rip-stop nylon bag to use as a camping lantern. Our 5-foot strip provided more than enough light, about 180 lumens' worth. Power Practical also has a 10-foot Luminoodle Light Rope that producers 360 ultra bright lumens of light.

Liam Kivirist is a tech writer, computer hardware geek, fledgling programmer and freelance web developer. Based on a small organic farm in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Liam marries his deeply rooted love of the outdoors, food, and camping with his passion for technology. Connect with Liam on Twitter, at Tech Socket, and

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.

Seniors Build the First Hemp Tiny Homes in Washington State

Tiny House Made Of Hemp

Pat Rasmussen in front of tiny home built by Joseph Becker of ION Ecobuilding for his small family. Courtesy Michelle Burke

I dream of living in a tiny home with hemp insulation and solar panels on top. Suddenly finding myself 71, I’ve realized I need a safe, secure, warm home, a tiny home on wheels.

Many seniors on social security find themselves forced to live on less than $800 a month — you have to be creative to do that! Some, like me, worked for nonprofits that didn’t set aside retirement. Others lost their retirement and their homes in the 2007-2008 financial meltdown.

The energy efficiency of hemp insulation means no heating bills and solar means no electrical bills. Paying $300 or $400 a month to live in a tiny home in a backyard helps the senior with affordable housing and helps the homeowner pay their mortgage. This is doable.

But wait, I’m not the only senior in this predicament. Currently, Americans aged 65 or over make up about 15 percent of the nation’s population. That ratio will increase to 20 percent, or from about 50 million to 70 million senior citizens, between now and 2030, as the last of the baby boomers reach retirement age. I need to do this for more than just me. By building my hemp tiny home and inviting other seniors to help design and build a prototype, we can create a pathway for many seniors to do the same. Eleven tiny homes for 11 seniors. Then the path is open.

Benefits of Natural Hemp Buildings

Washington passed a law in 2016 allowing farmers to once again grow hemp in the state. Seeds go in the ground in May of 2017, making local hemp accessible. The use of hemp hurd (chopped hemp stalks) as a building material has many benefits: non-toxic, no off-gassing, no solvents, mold resistance, high vapor permeability, humidity control, durability, sustainability, fire and pest resistance, passive self-regulation of temperature and humidity, breathability, and carbon sequestration. Mixing hemp hurd with lime and water makes hempcrete. The building is framed, then the hemp mixture is poured in and hardens. A 12-inch thick wall of hempcrete can have an R-value of R-30. That means that no home heating is required.

For a tiny home on a foundation, hempcrete is a good option. For a tiny home on wheels, the extra weight can be problematic. Hemp insulation batts are flexible and compressible insulation panels made from hemp fibers. Another solution is to blow in the hemp hurd with a binder. Using hemp, I can build a warm, efficient, eco-friendly tiny home. We are fostering a new industry for our state. It's time to get ready for building with hemp!

The ‘Missing Middle’: The Legality of Building with Hemp

As I began my project, the City of Olympia launched a “missing middle” process to change codes to allow for permitting tiny homes, cottages, and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in the neighborhoods. If passed by the City Council in December, the tiny house can be in a community space, a tiny home village, or as an ADU in someone's yard where they can live in community with the home dwellers and other friends in the neighborhood of their choice and with a network of support.


Although the most frequently asked question at the City’s planning desk is, “How can I get a tiny home permitted,” the answer currently is, “you can’t.” Tiny homes are wildly popular across the U.S., but in most places they are not permitable.


This needs to change. Rental rates are skyrocketing in Portland, Seattle, and even Olympia. With rent averaging $900 to $1200 a month in Olympia, a senior living on less than $800 a month cannot rent a place to live. They would be required to have an income three times the rent.


You Can Fund a Hemp Tiny Home Project for Seniors


Along with my friend Chris van Daalen of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, who created the Code Innovations Database, I created a plan: I launched a Gofundme “Help Seniors Build Tiny Houses.” Seniors will work together to build my tiny home, while learning the skills to design and build their own. We’ll work together with partner organizations and agencies to build a program and develop funding sources so many seniors can take advantage of the new “Senior Hemp Tiny Homes” housing solution.

I reached out to the South Sound Senior Center to find interested seniors. Other seniors who want to build tiny homes came forth. Seniors with building skills and tools volunteered. PureSolar, our new local solar panel company, offered free solar panels. Western Green will do the hemp insulation along with Northwest Hemp Builders. ION Ecobuilding that builds tiny homes will make the designs and lead the construction.

Together we’ll set off a new green, affordable revolution: hemp tiny homes for seniors!

Pat Rasmussen is an advocate for building hemp homes to house seniors and is coordinator of the nonprofit Edible Forest Gardens. On the Education Committee of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, Olympia Chapter, Pat encourages natural building, especially using hemp as a building material and was instrumental in legalizing agricultural hemp in Washington State. Contribute to the Senior Hemp Tiny Home movement at her GoFundMe page and follow her on Facebook. To connect with Pat, e-mail her at or

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.

5 Ways to Clean the Air in Your House

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Houseplants like this dracaena help keep the air in your home clean by filtering out toxins.

Indoor air pollution is one of modern society’s deadliest silent killers. Responsible for premature deaths from stroke, ischemic heart disease, COPD, acute lower respiratory infections in children and lung cancer, indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves in 2012, according to the World Health Organization

While few of us still use these type of unfiltered cooking methods in our homes today, the risks of poor indoor air quality are real, especially as more and more chemicals, in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are introduced into our homes through furniture, cleaning products, paints, building materials and other manufactured products. VOCs are linked to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. Some are known to cause cancer in humans. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates concentrations of VOCs are generally two to five times higher indoors (and sometimes up to 10 times) than outdoors.

So, what can you do about it? Other than remove offending items, which can be difficult and in some cases impossible to do, there are some simple steps you can take to help make the air quality in your home cleaner. Here are five things you can do to help combat indoor air pollution:

Change Your Air Filters

Most homes have some type of HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and these actually do a lot of the work for you, typically filtering 100% of the air in your home twice each hour (while running). A good air filter will capture large particles like household dust, lint, dust mites, pollen and pet dander, small particles like bacteria and mold spores, as well as smoke, smog and microscopic allergens. They can also filter out particles that can carry viruses and odors. Most manufacturers recommend you change your filters every three months. There is certainly no harm in doing it more often, though, and if you have a full household—children, pets, lots of people coming in and out—inspect the filters every month or two and replace them if they look full.

Circulate Your Fan

Speaking of HVAC systems, you can circulate the system’s fan without actually heating or cooling. Some smart thermostats, such as the Nest, offer the option of scheduling the fan to come on at certain times when the heating or cooling is off. If you don’t have this option, you can just manually turn it on and off, which is good to do once or twice a day to help circulate and freshen your indoor air, especially if you can’t do step number 3 …

Open Your Windows 

Open it up! Open windows and doors, turn on kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, and activate fans in windows or in the attic—anywhere you can to get the air moving through your home. Cross ventilation works best, so open the front door and back door to help the new, fresh air push out the old, stale air. If you live in a very cold or very warm climate, chances are your home is shut up tight, and there are probably only a few months each year when you can do this. Take advantage of those times, and open everything up whenever you can to give your home’s air a good cleaning.

Embrace Houseplants

In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a study to find out which plants were effective air purifiers, because they wanted use them to filter the air in space stations (where they really can’t open windows!). The study found that many houseplants actually absorb harmful chemicals, so by adding a few of these to your home you have your very own natural air purifies. A few of the best performers include: spider plants, peace lilies, dracaena, ficus, aloe vera and Boston ferns, all of which help eliminate formaldehyde, which is one of the nastiest VOCs, among other toxins.

Use Low VOC Paints and Products

We introduce chemicals into our home nearly every time we bring manmade items into it. VOCs are present in paints, stains, plastics, furnishings, upholstery, carpets, synthetic building materials and cleaning products, to name just a few! Look for products that advertise low or no VOCs to help reduce the off-gassing that occurs when you bring new items into your home.

Jennifer Tuohy is a mom with a passion for sustainability and technology who writes for The Home Depot. She experiments with different ways to help her family be more eco-friendly, including picking and changing the furnace air filters in her home and using LED light bulbs to save energy.

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.