DIY

Water Heater Creativity

Reader finds new ways to combine power sources for their custom water heater

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by Helen Stansbury
Helen Stansbury, along with family, built a garden shed based on Mother Earth News plans.

We’re so glad to see your article on a woodstove hot water heater (Hometown Hacks, February/March 2022). It’s encouraging to see others finding creative ways to heat their domestic water.

My wife and I came up with a system that has worked well for 40-plus years up here in Vermont. The two main components are a stainless steel tank that we had fabricated at a local metal shop and a 30-gallon squat water heater. The 3-1/2-by-10-by-18-inch tank hangs on the back of the woodstove and has an interior diverter that creates a U-shaped path for the water to travel and allows the inlet (cold) and the supply (hot) outlets to be on the same end of the tank. The hot water tank is located on our second floor alongside the brick chimney. The thermosiphon loop works well with 1-inch copper pipe and gate valves, so as not to impede the water on its path to the tank.

We were so impressed with the way this system worked that a couple of years later, we added a homemade solar collector to the system. It’s the perfect complement to the wood-heated hot water, and it makes our summer showers just as comfortable. We have electricity hooked up to the tank for the short intervals in spring and fall when the solar is shut down due to cold temps and the woodstove isn’t in use. We hope our positive experiences with wood and solar hot water inspire others to make it happen for their families.

Walter and Peggy Mowle
Killington, Vermont


Everything Has a Purpose

My lovely garden shed serves two purposes: storage of gardening tools and materials, and as a small chicken coop complete with a compost bin beside it. I’m currently in my 80s, and raising 10 children on a farm taught me that we need to take care of our Earth and make good use of repurposed materials.

There was a garden shed plan in Mother Earth News a long time ago, and I saved it for many years. Then came the opportunity. With family members pitching in and my old magazine photo, we finally built my lovely garden shed! It has a rustic look by nature, because it’s made entirely from recycled materials. The framing, floor, siding, trim boards, and even the nails are from my father’s old barn that he built in the 1880s. Most of that lumber was milled from uncultivated forests. The door with beveled glass, the engraved doorknobs, the window, and the porch posts all came from an old house. Even the metal roofing is from an old corn crib. Best of all, it’s a dream of mine finally achieved, a reminder of family past, and a focal point for family and friends present and future. Everything, no matter how old, has a purpose!

Helen Stansbury
Glenwood City, Wisconsin


Celebrating 40 Years

I just figured out I’ve been with the magazine for 40 years. I bought my first one off the newsstand (Issue No. 42), and I’ve been a subscriber since Issue No. 49. I’ve been with Mother Earth News through good and bad times. I thought for a while that it would cease to be, but I was glad it came back. I submitted a letter back in the ’80s, but I’ve just read the magazine from cover to cover since then. I lost all my back issues to flooding, but now I can get back issues digitally. Keep up the good work!

Mike Hilliker
Via email


Braiding Baling Twine

My husband and I are on 40 acres in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. (GPS doesn’t work out here!) Like anyone who has livestock, we also have bags of baling twine. I asked my husband to cut the twine next to the knot, and I started making things with it. The ropes, stock halter, and dog leash are braided; the large basket is crocheted; the bosal is braided; and the small basket and the platter were made the way pine needle baskets are constructed. The blue and yellow rope is about 15 feet long. The instructions for the bosal are in a book titled How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear by Bruce Grant. He explains how to braid and construct the various knots. I do a lot of braiding while watching television. If you know how to braid, it’s a quick and easy way to use up some baling twine!

basket, ropes, dog leash, bosal, haltar, and platter made out of

Gail Gooding
Fort Towson, Oklahoma


Well-Built Red Shed

My father, Richard Snively, 87, is a Master Carpenter who retired to Arkansas from Ohio to be closer to family. He built his reclaimed-material backyard shed utilizing framing, siding, and windows salvaged from a 19th-century barn on his property in Ohio. The interior houses a workspace and his tool collection, which has been acquired over the past half-century. He builds and carves items for family and friends. Adjacent to the shed, he has two small greenhouses and a garden where he grows and harvests vegetables. An attached coop provides a home for a small flock of laying chickens. The front porch is adorned with antique tools. He continues to work in his shed almost every day.

red garden shed with chair on shed porch

Tim Snively

Fayetteville, Arkansas


Living Well Where You’re Planted

I’m writing in response to “Labor as an Asset” (News from Mother, February/March 2022). We’ve been living our homesteading dream for 20 years now, but with today’s housing and land market, so many people are discouraged by land prices and may feel unable to relocate to the country.

I tell people, “Live where you’re planted.” There are so many things you can learn to do, even if it’s in the middle of a development. A few examples include starting a container garden; buying local vegetables and meeting the farmer who grows them; buying locally bottled milk and learning how to make cheese; buying fleece from a local farmer and learning to spin, weave, knit, or crochet; buying local honey; buying goat’s milk from a local farm and making soap; and learning how to make syrup (we do it from just three trees), grind wheat, bake bread, sew, and can. For all of these things, look into buying or bartering locally.

I offer free classes so folks can to learn to do all of this, and my advice is to find a mentor! Everything I know is self-taught. Keep trying until you succeed. You can still have fun while waiting to find the property of your dreams.

Lynne Almasy
Mustard Seed Farm
Hubbard, Ohio


Winter Sowing Success

I recently attended my first Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas. I understand it was smaller than previous years, but I greatly enjoyed it. Over the past few months, I’ve been turned on to winter sowing via Facebook gardening groups. Currently, I’m having great results. I don’t have room indoors to start plants (and I have a destructive cat!), so the method of jug-sowing and leaving the jugs outdoors has been ideal. Although I’ve only received your magazine for a year, and read occasional issues in years past, I haven’t seen anything on this viable gardening technique. Sheryl Mann has a wonderful Facebook page and YouTube videos from which I’ve been learning. I think this would be a great article for the magazine and a terrific lecture and demonstration at a future expo.

Renvy Smith
Via email


Family Greenhouse Project

My greenhouse was built by my husband, son, and 71-year-old dad. The windows are 46-plus years old, and the brick flooring is 100-plus years old. The flooring came from a factory in my hometown that was torn down. The greenhouse is something I wanted, and, without plans, I got the windows and the greenhouse was built in four weekends. Also, the bench and herb box were built by my dad for Christmas.

interior of potting shed showing hanging plants and shelves with

Tammy Wilson
Via email


Long-Lived Tire Stairs

I needed a way to get from my house 40 feet down to my lake. I decided on these tire steps, because the tires were free. I started at the bottom, digging out the shape for the first tire. I set the tire in place and packed the inside with the dirt I’d dug out, plus dirt from the space for the next tire. I repeated the process 38 times until I’d finished my stairway. I used exterior latex paint on the tires, because the sun will deteriorate rubber tires over the years. These tire steps were completed in one month during 1992. Here they are in 2022.

rust-colored tires forming stairs leading from lake uphill to a

Larry Behnke
High Springs, Florida


Making Dreams Come True

In “Labor as an Asset” (News from Mother, February/March 2022), you asked for comments on successful lifestyle changes. Here’s the story of my son and his wife.

Because of their long-term efforts and commitment to being debt-free, my son and his wife were recently able to purchase a small farm in the Midwest that will be their retirement home, as well as a retirement home for their son once he retires from the military. My son is 50 years old and has worked at a variety of lower-paying jobs through the years, as has his wife. Over time, they were able to pay off all of their debts, including vehicles and credit cards, because they had a shared goal of property ownership and hobby farming.

They spent several years searching for the right kind of property. It needed all the features for their future projects, including being sustainable, all while not over-extending their budget. They set a target price for the property and didn’t deviate, calculated the amount of acreage they would need and didn’t settle for less, and decided what sort of structures they would need on the property in order to accomplish their future goals. The biggest keys for them were budgeting, knowing what they wanted and needed to accomplish in the future, and working diligently to achieve those goals. They didn’t get lured into the trap of spending far more than what they wanted or could afford. They took their time and found a place that, with some sweat equity, will provide them with a nice hobby farm in the future.

My son and his wife already can a variety of fruits, vegetables, and soups; dehydrate many items; and they’ll begin freeze-drying foods once they move to the new property. Meat smoking is a new hobby for them as well, and it seems to be a hit where they currently live! They have a raised-bed garden at their current property, and they intend to have a huge garden and orchard once they move. My daughter-in-law knits and crochets, and she’s learning how to weave and sew. My son is learning carpentry skills, plumbing, electrical, tile, heating and insulation, concrete and foundation work, and how to make furniture and other items for the home. All of these skills will be useful when they move and make changes or do repairs to their new home. We’ve purchased many books on homesteading and farming so they can research any issues that come up along the way.

We hope this information will be helpful to those contemplating a simpler lifestyle. I’ve read many of your readers’ comments over the years about how they achieved their desired lifestyles, and it all seems to revolve around a series of changes about finances, a commitment to a goal, working together to achieve that goal, and not being afraid of doing the work required to make a dream come true. We encourage people to take the leap and start this rewarding process.

The Powell family
Visalia, California


Renewed Workspace

When our granddaughters were young, this shed was built as a playhouse for them, with all the trim of a gingerbread house. Twelve years later, when the small rural town where we raised our children became a city, we decided to buy a small farm farther out. We loaded the playhouse on a trailer and took it with us. There, it became a chicken coop, with all the scalloped fascia boards still in place. Ten years later, when our chickens outgrew the coop, we built a bigger coop, and my wife suggested we turn the old coop into a garden shed to house tools and supplies for our ever-expanding herb, vegetable, and butterfly gardens. The shed frame was still good, but it needed to be re-covered. With COVID-19 and Gulf Coast hurricanes, the price of lumber skyrocketed. So, I got old pallets from the feed store and broke them up. The boards became the lapboards on the sides, fascias, and soffits, while I used the 2×4 pieces for supports for the shelves, with additional pallet boards making up the shelves themselves. We wanted a rustic look, so we didn’t paint the shed. We only had to purchase a box of screws, three tubes of caulking to caulk between the overlapped boards, a gallon of water sealer to protect the wood, and a solar light for inside.

Thomas Clooney
Springtown, Texas


Perfect Match for a Potting Shed

I love small garden sheds, from the whimsical to the utilitarian. My husband enjoys repurposing, upcycling, and leaving a small imprint. So, when we had to work together to build my potting and toolshed, it was the perfect match. We’ve built many things together, including the passive home where we presently reside. The potting shed is the structure that gives me the most joy. Other than the rough-sawn pine siding, which we purchased from a local mill, all the other materials had a previous life. The door and windows came from a friend’s old sunroom, our potting table was made from the decking of our previous home, and even the stone and brick were discarded items that found new life. I could tell you a story about each piece you see in this photo, but I won’t, as I’m certain there are many of these to read.

wooden potting shed with chair and potting bench on porch

Kristi Mareso and Greg Crawford
Wakefield, Rhode Island


Applauding the Ayrshire

In the 1950s and 1960s, I lived on a small farm in Washington state. My sisters and I were in 4-H and showed our three Ayrshires – Misty, Queenie, and Snowball – at the state fairs.
I didn’t know the breed had become endangered, and I’m so glad it no longer is. It’s a very gentle breed, and I’m a better person for being raised on a farm.

Nancy Olson Gates
Via email

Nancy, thank you for the note. We’re also thrilled that this beautiful dairy breed is making a comeback. Readers, in 2021, The Livestock Conservancy announced that the Ayrshire breed has graduated from its Conservation Priority List, meaning it’s no longer considered a rare breed. – Mother


Write to Us! Started in 1970 to raise awareness of environmental concerns and to provide information and support for a simpler lifestyle, Mother Earth News has made it this far because of continuous interest from you, the readers. Your dedication to living more sustainable lives has kept this magazine afloat through five decades and an increasingly digital world, and we’d love to hear from you. Send photos of your farm, your garden, and any projects you’ve undertaken over the past five decades to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com. Or, mail a letter to Dear Mother, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Please send your full name, address, and phone number. We may edit for clarity and length.