Sunday, February 19, 2017

Homestead Green Building: Final Thoughts and Wrapping Up

Well, we have come to the end of this journey.  By now, you should have some great ideas and creativity rolling around in your mind.  As I've stated since the very first post in this series, I am no expert.  I am simply one person who wants to go off grid.  I want a simple and rewarding life for myself and my son; a life that is healthy both for us and for our planet.  Hard work?  Definitely.  Worth it?  Unquestionably.  These posts over the last several months have been my way of sharing some research that I have done.  I started out knowing absolutely nothing about going off grid.  So I decided to write this series for other people who also want that life, but, like me, don't know where to start.  I hope that, even with my lack of expertise and experience, I may have been able to give you some basic ideas for where to start on your search for knowledge, and to guide you in the right direction.

So we started out by looking at different options for temporary housing.  Some were rather inexpensive, while others cost a bit more.  Most of them would also work well for for a permanent home, especially if you are looking for a small home.  At that point, honestly, most of your work is done.  I included these posts as temporary because of my personal situation, and the thought that there might be others out there like me.  I will be relocating from central Florida to the heart of the Colorado Rockies.  So I will need a place for us to live while we are building our ultimate off grid homestead.  If you are going some distance away from where you currently are, you will more than likely need some place to stay temporarily while you build.  Of course, there is always the option to rent.  This just isn't very likely for me due to my fur babies.  Many places are reluctant to rent to people with animals.

After temporary housing, we looked into different ideas for alternative energy.  From solar and wind, to plants and passive solar, the options are as varied as you can imagine.  There are many other options out there, and new technology always coming out.  What I listed throughout those posts were only a starting place.  Keep your eyes open for more alternatives.  They are inevitably coming.

From there, we moved on to natural ideas for permanent housing.  From using the dirt of the earth herself, to using a variety of natural materials, there are absolutely beautiful ways to live in and with nature.  It can be as natural as you want it to be.  Roofing, foundations, insulation, and interiors followed, also with options to be as natural as you'd like.  The tendency here is that the more natural the building, the less expensive it will be to build.  This is not always the case.  But it is quite common.  And the more hard work you are willing to put into your homestead yourself, the more rewarding the final outcome will be.  At least, that's my personal opinion.

For some final thoughts, all I'm going to say is to do your due diligence when it comes to scoping out potential properties.  Now, this goes for everything from the makeup of the land, itself, to the codes and laws in the area.  For example, the area where I am looking to obtain property, I have two main things that I must definitely keep in mind.  First of all, the Rocky Mountains, specifically in Colorado,  are known to be rich in granite.  I need to make sure that it's not going to be impossible for me to dig and build without the extreme expense of some major drilling equipment.  Also, within the county that I'm focused on, there are some pretty strict rules and codes for building.  They want to ensure that the natural beauty of the mountains is not going to be disrupted by some kind of monstrosity.  In my case, that also means detailed plans, including an environmental impact report on any home built within the county.  I don't foresee a problem there, as I am planning on being as all natural and off grid as possible.  But I tell you this because you never know what you are going to run into when you go to build your homestead.  Also, remember that there are some areas where the codes have not caught up to the idea of natural building (which is odd considering that natural building has been around for much much longer than any building codes).  Know what you are talking about.  From experts I've read, in many areas which may or may not have specific codes for this type of building, the more you know, and the more you are patient and willing to have an open dialog with code enforcement and other officials, the more likely you are to come out with everybody happy in the end.

Above all, no matter what you do, stay positive, hopeful, optimistic, flexible, and creative.  No matter what comes your way, stay focused on the final result.  Through all the struggles, all the sore and aching muscles, through whatever else you may encounter along the way, you are working for your dream.  That's what matters.  Make it you.  From the ground up, in all the little details, make it you.  So I wrap up this series and leave you with some links to things from all aspects that have popped up throughout the course of this series.  There are crazy home ideas and all sorts of information here.  I truly hope that you are able to build your dream and enjoy it.  Maybe I'll see you out there some where.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Homestead Green Building:Some Fun Extras

So here we are, and we are coming down to the last couple of posts in this series that I started all the way back in April of last year.  We've talked about temporary housing options, alternative energy options, different types of green homes, and a few of the details that go along with all of that.  This week, I want to talk about some fun extras that you might have thought about, but maybe just didn't know if it's possible.  Now, if you are wanting to be strictly simple, basic, off-the-grid, this may not apply to you and what you are wanting.  But I want to include this post because I think a lot of times, we tend to think that being off grid means primitive and basic.  And I think that idea turns a lot of people off.  There are some things that, while I desperately want a small to non-existent carbon footprint, and I want to live in harmony with nature as much as I possibly can, there are some things that come with typical modern life that I just simply don't want to give up.  And therein lies this post.  See, there are ways of having some "luxuries" and still be green and happy and deeply connected to the earth.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing.  This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, there are really only a couple of things I'm going to talk about.  But maybe it can be a good starting point to get your mind going in new directions, and finding ways to incorporate some things that don't seem like they would work with homesteading, but actually will.

First and foremost in my mind is a swimming pool.  I'm not a big fan of exercise, but I LOVE to swim!  My son is the same way.  Having lived in Florida, we've gotten used to having a pool that we can go out and use for a good majority of the year.  It just doesn't get cold enough for long enough down here to really have much of a chance to miss it.  Now, we are wanting to relocate and build our homestead in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.  We will be high enough up in elevation that the warmest temperatures in the area in the middle of summer average right around 80 degrees.  But the summer doesn't last long, and most of the year might be a little cool for an average pool.  So what is an avid swimmer to do?  Our plan involves building an indoor, heated, natural pool.  It can be done, and it can be done inexpensively and naturally.  How?  Well, our home is going to be based around the concept of an earthship.  There will be plenty of space in the front of the home where sunlight will naturally and abundantly flow in.  There are also going to be a lot of plants growing in the part of the house.  Here's where you can get creative and start integrating several different things we've already talked about.  Here's what I'm hoping to do.  So start by digging the pool.  Build the pool walls with earthbags, and cover with cob and tadelakt for a waterproof seal.  Around the edges of the pool, there will be plants- some water plants, and some not.  The water plants, built into an outer area around the pool walls, will provide a natural filtration system for the pool.  The beauty of this, is that those same plants that clean the pool water can also be doubly used for energy generating purposes like we looked at here.  The natural movement of the water through the system can also be harnessed for additional hydro energy.  The heating of the water can be accomplished in two ways.  First off, a series of radiant heating can be built into place beneath the pool floor, thus heating the water from below.  At the same time, because the pool will be in what is essentially a greenhouse, the radiant heat coming in from the sun will additionally warm the water from above.  I'm even trying to figure out if an aquaponics system can be incorporated, as well, with the fish having their own separate swimming area.  Not too shabby, I don't think.  Now, as I've not come across anyone else having done anything quite like this, I don't know for certain how well it will work.  But I'm hoping for the best, and always on the lookout for more information that can be integrated.  But this is what I mean when I talk about expanding your thinking and finding a way to make things work.  In the end, the details may be worked out differently.  But the overall objective is the same.

There are also other inexpensive ways to building yourself a pool.  If you don't mind going the winter without, or are building in a climate where an outdoor pool is a possibility, the options are abundant.  Build a frame from straw bales, pallets/reclaimed wood, or anything else your heart desires.  Line it with cob/tadelakt, tile, or plastic sheeting or concrete if you don't mind a little "not-so-green" building ideas.  And a natural pool where plants do the filtration is something that can be accomplished just about anywhere.

Now how about a great outdoor living area?  You know, with a fully functioning kitchen.  The kind where you can spend those wonderful summer days outdoors relaxing.  It really is a simple enough idea, and I can't really imagine anyone not wanting this kind of a space in their home.  Instead of a gas or charcoal grill, build a really awesome cob oven.  Let me tell you, if you've never had fresh bread or even pizza from a cob oven, you are missing something truly special.  You can build the whole area in such a way that you could cook an entire meal outside.  Maybe a solar oven, a rotisserie pit, or even a personal smoke house.  You could even include one of those ground fridges that I mentioned in this post to keep stuff cool that should be kept cool.  All these options are fun, easy, natural, and don't require any electricity.  You could even build yourself an incredible outdoor shower if you want.

Ok, so maybe on the not so much fun scale, but more of the "may become necessary" scale, what about a hidden area in your home?  Anything from hidden storage for guns and such, to a storm shelter or even an all out panic room.  Finding ways of hiding this area can get back to the fun side of things, but the area itself might actually be necessary.  And again, relatively simple to do.  As you are the designer and builder of your own homestead, you can add whatever you want, and make these areas as small and purposeful, or even as big and extravagant as you want.  And only those people who help you build (and whoever you feel the urge to tell) will know.

Something else that I know I have to consider is connection to the internet.  For both myself and my son, it's an important part of our lives.  My business is all done online, and my son does virtual schooling.  We simply cannot, at least for a while, go without the internet.  But there are ways to do this, even if you live out in the middle of the mountains, or anywhere else away from civilization where a "normal" connection may not be reliable.  Check out here and here for ideas on that.

Like I said before, I know that this isn't anywhere near an extensive or exhaustive list.  But I want you to start thinking a bit out there.  I truly believe that anything you want can be accomplished, even if no one has ever done anything like it before.  Think of the things you want for fun, things that are important to you, things that you just simply don't want to give up.  Find a way to make them happen.  Find a way to do it where it still fits into your ideal of a green, off-grid lifestyle, in whatever way that means to you.  There really are no limits to what you can do.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Homestead Green Building:Greenhouses

First of all, I'd like to take a moment to apologize for not posting last week.  My allergies had decided to lay me out pretty good for several days.  But I'm back now, and ready to go.  So let's talk greenhouses.

One of the most obvious things you are going to have to include if you are truly going to have your own homestead is a garden in some form or other.  That garden can take on any number of forms.  It can be something tiny for just yourself.  It can be several acres to feed a large group, and even potentially sell at the local Farmers' Market for a little bit of extra income.  It can be traditional, hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic.  But the most important thing of all is to make sure to plant according to your climate.  Unless, of course, you want to include a greenhouse.  Your greenhouse can be every bit as creative and unique as your house, itself.  You can even have it as part of your house.  Think of an old fashioned Victorian observatory.  Some of the first images that pop into my head when I think of this type of greenhouse are from movies like "Practical Magic", "The Addams Family" or the 1999 remake of "The Haunting".  That observatory was absolutely stunning!

I'm not going to go into a big post on what to grow, or different types of gardens and gardening.  I just wanted to cover some of the different types of greenhouses that you could very easily include into the overall design of your homestead.  There are many different types.  I've already mentioned the Victorian type.  That is one that would be built right onto the house.  In addition to the Victorian, there are also other ways for a greenhouse to be incorporated into the actual house.  For example, if you were to decide to build an earthship or something similar, the greenhouse is built right onto the front of the house, generally stretching the entire length of the home.  There are also newer ideas where people are taking a normal, average house, and then enclosing the entire structure inside one big, massive greenhouse.

There are also the traditional stand alone types of greenhouses.  These are the ones that can be something as simple as a frame of pvc pipes with plastic draped around the posts.  Or, have you ever thought about building a greenhouse from recycled bottles?  There are plans out there that tell you how to do just that.  If you are looking for a way to save money on your build, and aesethetics are not your major concern, this could be a great little option.  Then, of course, you could always add windows to the list of things to hunt for when scavenging the landfill or construction sites, and use those to build your greenhouse.

The final option I'd like to throw out there is the idea of a walipini, or an underground greenhouse.  The idea here is that an area is dug out that goes below the frost line.  The walls of the area are the earth, herself.  Then you simply place a type of plastic sheating over the roof area.  This will allow the ease of growing yearround.

As you can see, there are many options to think about when pondering a greenhouse.  It can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish.  Be sure to consider all of your options.  And whatever you do, don't forget to think about any furr babies you may have.  There are many plants that are toxic to our four-legged friends.  For me personally, I plant to have an attached greenhouse in the idea of an earthship.  But I also plan to have a spearate walipini where I will grow those things that could hurt my babies.  Things like onions, garlic, tomoatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.  Otherwise, use your imagination and make it whimsical.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Homestead Green Building: Interiors and Resources

At this point in the process, you're probably a bit tired.  Am I right?  You've built your home, supplied it with necessary power and water.  You've possibly even taken the time to grow and process your own wood, mixed up your own paints.  Maybe you even built a temporary home for you to live in while your homestead dreams began to take shape.  So why not take a break here?  Go out and buy cabinets and furniture, or use what you already have.  You can, absolutely.  There's nothing wrong with that.  But if you're watching every penny, and you're not in a hurry, why not take this extra step?  Hmm.... well, let's see.  You're not a carpenter?  You're not an upholsterer?  You probably weren't a builder before undertaking the build of your own homestead, either.  Anything is possible.  So why not have some fun?

There are many reasons to take some time here.  If going green is a real concern for you for whatever reason, this is a great opportunity for you to continue on that path.  Bring it in from the building itself into the things in your home that you will be using, sitting on, etc. every day.  You can choose what materials you use, what finishes are applied, every last detail.  Keep it as green as you want it to be.  Pick materials that best suit you and your lifestyle.  Are you going completely primitive with no electricity?  Are you wanting to go off grid and green, but still be connected?  How rustic do you want to go?  Or how modern?  By not purchasing pre-made furnishings, you have much more say.  Want an extra long sofa? Want an overly over-stuffed chair?  That can get really expensive real quick.  Build it yourself to your exact specifications.  All it takes is a little effort and planning. Yes, it may take a bit more sweat equity, but it can be very inexpensive, rewarding, and fulfilling, depending on what you're wanting. At this point, you're pretty much on a roll.  Don't stop now.  You're almost at the finish line.

Now, if you've used cob, adobe, or something of that nature to build you're home, continue with the theme.  It's very easy to use the same mix to create built in benches, chairs, sofas, bed frames, tables, and even sinks and bathtubs.  Build them right into the walls as you go.  Get creative.  Add some sculptural elements into your creations.  Make it unique.  Make it you.  You can even build a rocket stove for that extra bit of warmth in the winter.

Reclaimed wood is another great thing to use.  Everything from your floors to your walls, your kitchen cabinets, your table and chairs.... anything you want can be made from reclaimed wood.  You can use pallets, look for construction or remodeling projects going on around town, and ask if you can have their extra wood, even the local dump can be a place to score some wood.  I even found some beautifully perfect pieces of plywood sitting out for the garbage collector right around the corner from my house.  You might just be surprised at what people throw out.  No matter where you find your wood, just make sure to take your time to really look at the wood.  Make sure there is no rot or mold, and, depending on it's intended purpose, make sure it's the same or similar types of wood, not a lot of warping or knots that can buckle when under weight.  You may also want to figure out if the wood has been chemically treated in some way.  For a lot of reclaimed wood, that may or may not be possible.  You'll just have to use your best judgement.  However, if you're specifically using pallets, maybe this can help you determine what, if anything, has been done to the wood.  Or, if you've already gone the extra step of growing (or buying) bamboo for any other part of your home, then that can also be used for furniture or.....

What about counter tops?  Yep, you can do those, too.  You can use the reclaimed wood, bamboo, or even salvaged butcher block. Other surfaces, again, may be obtained possibly from remodeling or construction jobs.  If you do this, please make sure to ask before you grab.  Some construction companies make a small profit from recycling themselves, or have other protocols for discarding unused materials.  It's always best to ask.  Another option is to build a mold and pour a concrete counter.  I would, obviously, recommend to do this in rather small sections.  Otherwise, it may simply be too heavy to lift.  Now, that might not be an issue for you if you have a bunch of people with muscles to help you out.  But still.  Don't overdo it.  Remember that you still have to have a cabinet underneath it that is strong enough to support the weight.  There are companies out there that specialize in green options for counter tops.  So this could be one of those places where you can spend a bit of extra money if you've saved enough in other areas.  Now if you really want a special touch, and don't mind the expense (because, wow! some of the prices), look into semi-precious stone counters.  Beautiful, luxurious feeling, natural.  You can even get sinks and bathtubs made from these stones.  They are incredible!  Now you can also get a similar look by taking a collection of smaller stones, inexpensive slices of agate, or whatever else you want, and encase it in a food-friendly, natural resin.

You can even customize the little things, like light fixtures.  You can use anything from mason jars, to bottles to globes.  Then, all you need is the wiring, which can be acquired relatively inexpensively from any hardware store.  Again, make them special.  Make them unique.  If you need ideas, look on Pinterest or Instructables.  You can even find out how to build your own coffee maker (I really love my coffee, so this one is my personal favorite).  You can find ideas for just about anything you could possibly imagine.  Anything, big or small, you can get tons of ideas here.

So, if you've decided you want to repurpose, recycle, or build anything and/or everything that goes into your home, where do you go to find the stuff you're going to need?  As I mentioned above, roadside, construction/remodeling jobs, and the landfill are all good places to start.  While Craigslist can sometimes have a bad rap, you can find some really good deals there.  Make sure to check out the "free" section.  Similar sites are abundant.  Check out LetGo, Wallapop, OfferUp, or Varagesale.  I've not personally dealt with these sites, but I know people who have.  As with any site, there are good and bad experiences.  Above all, be safe.  If you meet with someone to acquire something, meet in public, take a friend or two... you know, the common sense safety measures.  Another place to try is freecycle, or a similar site.  Everything there is free, and most communities have one, or have one not too far away.  Check out thrift stores and garage sales.  Network with an online yard sale.  They are abundant on social media.  Find a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.  Get good quality materials, save a bit of money, and help out a wonderful charity all in one.  These are also good resources throughout the building process.

Keep an open mind, keep the creative and independent spirit alive throughout the entirety of your building experience.  Don't forget the small stuff.  The little details are what makes your home truly and completely YOUR home.  Don't try to think outside the box.  Just get rid of the box altogether, and use your imagination.  It may have been a long road up to this point.  You're almost finished.  Keep your eyes on the finished dream you've envisioned up to this point.  And as always, have fun!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Homestead Green Building: Natural Paints

Painting.  Not something that you generally put too much thought into, other than picking a color, right?  Well, I'm here to tell you that you should put some thought into it.  Color is important, yes.  But there are other considerations, as well.  If you have spent this much time and energy thus far in designing and building an off grid homestead that's truly green, then don't stop before planning your paint.  The readily available paints that are currently on the market are loaded with chemicals.  You know that classic "fresh paint smell"?  Yeah, that's off-gassing.  And that is also the reason why many people get headaches, nausea, and other issues when painting, especially in a non-ventilated area.  Even the newer paints that are labeled as free of VOC's (volatile organic compounds), they still have other chemicals and artificial colorants in them.  So what is a person to do?  The good news is that you can easily buy or even make, your very own natural, environmentally friendly paints.  The even better news?  They are incredibly fast and easy to make.  Primarily, all you need is pigment and a binder.  The down side?  Mix up only what you can use within a day or two (depending on what type of paint you're making).  Some of these can go bad relatively quickly.  So are you ready to learn more?  Great!  I'll include links at the end with recipes for the various paints, how-to's, and suppliers. But here are the basics.

Have you ever heard of milk paint?  Often called casein paint, it's actually something found quite commonly on older/antique furniture.  It's been around for a while.  You can buy pre-made milk paint.  If you'd rather do that, by all means go for it.  Just make sure to thoroughly research the company that makes it.  There are "milk paints" on the market that are not true milk paints.  To make your own is really easy.  The basic recipe is milk, white vinegar, pigment, and water.  At room temperature, mix the milk and vinegar.  The vinegar causes the milk to curdle.  This usually doesn't take too long, maybe 20 - 30 minutes.  Separate and rinse the curd to thoroughly remove they whey, add pigment and just enough water to make your paint.  That's it. You're ready to go.  It makes a beautiful and simple paint.  You can also make a glaze by adding oil (like linseed oil) instead of the water.  See?  Easy.  Now like I mentioned above, only make enough that you can use within a day, maybe two.  You can store it in the refrigerator, but it doesn't take more than a couple of days for the milk to start to go bad, so use it quickly.  You can also use powdered milk if you choose.  It will drop the overall price of ingredients a little.  Just take the powdered milk and add enough water to make the consistency of traditional pain.  Then add your pigment.  Paint away!

Next up is egg paint.  If you're anything like me, the first thing to pop into your head maybe something along the lines of "won't that stink"?  While some people have reported a smell, most people who use egg paints will tell you that so long as the eggs are fresh and the paint is thin and is used quickly, there shouldn't be much more than a slight scent that disappears within a few days.  It is recommended that egg paints be used either on small projects or in small sections for a larger project.  And be patient with it, using several thinner layers, rather than trying to get the job done in fewer, heavier coats.  This should minimize any smell that may happen.  This isn't really anything new, either.  In fact, it was commonly used in renaissance painting until oil paints made their appearance on the scene in the latter renaissance.  To make egg paint, again is very simple.  What type of egg you use isn't really that important.  Take the egg and separate the white from the yolk.  Once the white has been removed, hold the egg over a cup or bowl and puncture the sac around the yolk.  The yolk will pour out.  To the yolk, add water to make a consistency of a thin cream.  Add your pigment, and whola!  You can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for no more than a day or two.  This paint tends to have a slightly more glossy appearance when it's dry.

There are also recipes for the vegan, or anyone who doesn't like the idea of using an animal-based product.  And these are just as simple.  Flour paint.  Flour, water, pigment.  That's it.  This one can even be used out doors with great results, depending on climate.  Chalk paint.  Whereas the term "chalk paint" generally refers to a specific brand of store-bought paint, a similar paint can be made by adding pigment and water to sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), plaster of paris(may not be ideal for natural walls that need to breathe), borax, or calcium carbonate (think of those powdery tablets that treat gas and heartburn).  Each of these creates a slightly different effect, so play around and experiment before going all in on your walls.

Finally, we come to tadelakt.  This one is slightly more complex, but definitely has a place and a purpose.  In simplest terms, tadelakt is a lime plaster (with or without pigment) that is sealed with a black olive oil soap.  The olive oil soap is crucial in that it makes the plaster virtually waterproof, while still allowing walls to breathe.  Tadelakt has a history that traces back hundreds of years in Morocco.  Accordingly, true tadelakt can only be made with lime from that region.  The effect, however can still be accomplished with any good lime plaster.  It is time consuming.  Two to three layers (minimum) of plaster should be applied, allowing ample drying time between, until you get to the last layer.  While the last layer is still partially wet, you start applying the oil.  Applied in small areas at a time, apply the oil/soap and buff with a stone made specifically for that purpose.  This pushes the oil into the plaster and tightens it's "pores".  The finished product is a beautiful, deep color with a shine.  With minimal upkeep, this finish is ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, or any area that sees a lot of moisture.

As for pigments, well, you have a few options here, as well.  You can easily purchase natural powdered pigments online (and occasionally in stores).  As always, do some research on any company you are thinking of buying from.  Make sure they are really using natural materials.  Or.... you can make your own pigments.  Traditionally, pigments can be made of ground up stones, minerals or plants.  You can use the same materials to make your own.  Some minerals may need a bit more work to get them into powdered form, depending on their hardness.  But it can be done.  Think of ancient Egypt.  They would grind up malachite for green, lapis lazuli for blue, charcoal for black.  If you can powder it, you can use it.  Well, for the most part.  Again, research.  You don't want to go grinding up lead or some other toxic mineral.  Even malachite is potentially toxic, and it is not recommended to breathe in the dust.  So please be careful if you choose to do this.  Plants, however can be used just as easily.  This can be done in two ways.  You can dry the plant in order to make a powder pigment.  Or, you can use the juice from the plant itself, if possible.  If there is no juice, like in onion skins, boil the plant/skins in water to release the pigment, and then use that water.  Simple and inexpensive or even free if you take a nature walk or pull from your own garden.

Painting can be a fun and enjoyable experience that doesn't have to drive you crazy with smells and chemicals.  This is a time to let out your inner child.  Have some fun and experiment.  You never know what you might come up with.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Homestead Green Building: Interior Floors

This week starts a bit more of the fun and flexible side of building your own homestead.  Well, in all honesty, this whole process is fun, in my opinion.  We are now entering the final few weeks of this series.  We've looked at temporary housing, alternative energy, and green building styles.  Those are the basics, the building blocks upon which everything else is based.  They are the foundation necessities that come inherently with building a homestead.  Now we get into the more ornamental aspects.  Necessity becomes a relative term.  So let's get going with a look at types of flooring.

A normal floor in a traditional home would generally include a concrete slab, a plywood substrate, and then either carpet, tile, linoleum, wood, or some mix of the above.  Well, green alternatives aren't that much different.  Now, if you are going so far as to build in a green manner, utilize alternative energy, and for all intents and purposes are building a homestead with a desire to be simple, healthy, and green, it only makes sense that you would want the interior of your home to also be created with those same intentions.  After all, why build a healthy green home only to fill it with materials containing synthetics, chemicals, petroleum, or who knows what else?  So what are your options for remaining simple and green?

By far, the simplest, and least costly option would be adobe floors.  If you can build a cob home, you can lay an adobe floor.  The ingredients are the same: sand, clay, water, and straw.  The amounts of each will change as you put down layers.  It will have to be done in sections, and then in layers (generally 2 - 3).  A good substrate is important.  While you will need some sort of moisture barrier and insulation, you won't have to have concrete or even plywood laying beneath your floors.  I will include links at the bottom of this post with detailed instructions of how to go about laying an adobe floor.  This is definitely a great option, especially if you are on a tight budget.  And please, don't for one second think that you are going to be living with dingy, dirty floors.  Adobe floors can be quite beautiful, and they are very strong and durable.

Your next option is, believe it or not, carpet.  Yes, you can have comfy, soft, warm carpet in a green home.  And you can have it without chemicals and synthetic dyes.  And, yes, you can have wall to wall carpeting, or throw rugs.  The most common forms of natural carpeting are wool and hemp.  Both are extremely durable and readily available.  You can also find natural carpets and rugs made from sea grass, jute or coir (coconut hull).  The trick here is to do your research.  Just because the carpet is made from a natural material, that doesn't automatically mean that it's green.  Double check with your supplier to ensure that there have been no chemicals added, whether it be dyes, stain retardants, fire retardants, or whatever else.  And don't forget the backing.  A really good supplier will also offer a natural, non-toxic backing/padding for your carpet.

Next up is wood.  I'm not talking about your typical hardwood floors, although those are beautiful, and if made from sustainable timber, are an option.  No, what I'm referring to here is cork, bamboo, cordwood, pallet wood, and so on.  Pallets are a great way to create your own hardwood floors from wood that might otherwise be scrapped.  So long as it contains no chemicals in it, you are good to go with your green flooring.  Cordwood floors generally are the random butt ends of logs.  They can be varying sizes, varying types of wood.  It makes for an interesting and lovely alternative.  Cork is the bark of a tree known as the cork oak.  The wonderful thing about cork is that while it is wood,  it is soft and gives slightly underfoot, making an excellent option for anyone who might want or need a little extra padding or give as they stand.  The downside is that it can be on the expensive side.  Finally, I'm including bamboo here, because although it is a grass, it is as hard as wood.  It's attractive and durable.  You can even grow your own, just as you could if building a bamboo home, so long as you take the same time, care, and precautions for it that you would for the walls of your home.  Maintenance on any of these will likely be similar, depending on how you choose to seal it.

Now if you like the look and ease of linoleum, you can even get that in the form of "marmoleum".  According to this site, marmoleum is "a compound of linseed oil, rosins, cork flour, limestone, and wood flour that's adhered to a nontoxic jute backing".  Quite frankly, I've read from several sources that "real" linoleum is actually that exact same recipe.  Sadly, most linoleum on the market is synthetic or vinyl.  So, if you can find real linoleum, you are getting the benefits of linoleum and still being green.  Who knew?

Finally, there are resin floors.  Yes, I know: resin?  Believe it or not, yes.  While most resins are petroleum based products, there are natural resins available that are just as good and durable.  They are generally mixed and poured the same way as petroleum based resins, but are, obviously, much better for the environment.  If you choose resin, it can be poured over wood, stone, gravel, glass, tile, or whatever else your creative mind may desire to use.  If it's a breathable resin, it can even be poured over adobe.  If you are feeling really creative, you can even do an adobe floor, use a natural paint (which I'll cover next week), and then seal it with a natural resin.

So there you have some amazing green flooring ideas.  You can easily keep your home green and healthy while also having gorgeous floors at a minimal price.  And bonus, you can get marvelously creative in the process.  Above all, have fun and enjoy the process.

Adobe Floors

Natural Carpet



Natural Resin

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Homestead Green Building: Insulation

I hope that everyone had a safe and wonderful Christmas and new year celebration.  It was a nice, quiet time around here.

Before I get into this week's post, I would like to take just a quick look back.  For those who may not have been following along, several months ago, I decided to start a series on how to go off grid and build a homestead geared specifically for anyone who might not know the first thing about how to go about it.  I figured this would be a good series to do for the simple reason that I, myself, knew very little about homesteading before doing some in depth research.  So far, I've covered temporary housing, alternative/renewable energy sources, and green building styles that pretty much anyone can do.  In line with the green building styles, I've also covered foundations and roofs.  That catches us up to this week.  So, let's talk insulation.

Now, depending on the building style you choose to go with, and where you are building, your insulating needs are going to differ.  Most of the building styles we've looked at over the past few weeks, will not necessarily require any additional insulation beyond what is put into the wall itself as you are building.  You can always double a wall to add an insulating layer if you are choosing to go with a building style that focuses more on thermal mass than insulating properties.  But that's not an absolute must, as we have seen.  But you will need to have some sort of insulation, at the very least, in your foundation and roof.  Seems pretty obvious, right?  So, what are your options here?  It is something that may seem like an easy choice, but there are a lot of things to consider.  And it is important to have as much information and planning already in mind before you ever start building anything.  You don't want to get half way through your build only to find you've completely forgotten about something so important as insulation.

The most common types of insulation used today in traditional building is either fiberglass or polyurethane.  While it is very common, and on the less expensive side (particularly fiberglass), it is not exactly a healthy choice.  Neither of these options are sustainable or eco-friendly.  Fiberglass can irritate your skin and lungs.  Polyurethane is an oil based product.  Both are loaded with chemicals.  And there is a lot of debate out there as to whether there is off-gassing  once it has been put into place.  What is not in debate, however, is the vast number of people who have severe reactions to these products: from skin irritations, to asthma and other breathing issues.  Not exactly a glowing welcome for anyone who wants to go green.  But the good news is that there are options to those.

I'm sure you've probably already heard of using recycled denim as an insulation.  Well, truth be told, there are differing opinions as to how green that really is.  Supporters will say that it is great because it is not only recycling something that would otherwise go into a dump, and it is made of cotton, which is a very good insulator.  Opponents say that while it is recycling a good insulator, the cotton itself, if not organic, will still be loaded with chemicals that were sprayed onto the plant before it was ever even harvested.  And if you purchase denim that has already been prepared for a second life as insulation, it has more than likely also been treated with fire retardants, mold resistance, and who knows what else.  In the resource list at the end of this post, you will find links to both sides of that story.

But there is more than just denim on the market.  In my post on cordwood as a building style, we saw that one method of building is to include an insulating layer of sawdust or similar material.  And in my post on foundations, we saw a builder who utilized red lava rock.  There are many many more.  There are a lot of people out there looking for and testing green options for housing insulation.  Most of these are focused around some sort of plant fiber.  Hemp and kenaf are the two most common at the moment.  Plant fibers have a natural insulating quality to them.  It's just the nature of plants.  Not all plants will work, but many woody varieties will, to one extent or another.  The center of the plant is generally separated out and broken down into individual fibers, and then bound together to form sheets, spray, or a loose insulation.  If you choose to use one of these plant based insulators, keep in mind that while the main ingredient may be green, it may be mixed with not-so-green binders, retardants, etc.  So please do your research.

Cellulose is another alternative that you will likely hear a lot about.  It is, at it's most basic form, recycled paper, transformed into one form or another.  It can be a great insulator, but again, it is one with a lot of debate surrounding it.  Being that it is paper, should you ever have a water leak, you might be in for a nasty surprise.  There is also the concern of what type of paper has been used to create the cellulose.  Most modern papers made today utilize some form of chemical treatment.  That can be the case no matter if it's plain white paper, or a printed newspaper.  Again, do your research, especially if you are sensitive.

Wool, soybeans, and even aerogel are proposed alternatives for a greener insulation.  Ok, so aerogel isn't really "green", so to speak.  But I came across it as an alternative, so I decided to go ahead and throw it in there.  It does have some qualities I like in so much as being able to insulate windows without losing light.  But in all honesty, it's not all that green, and if not sealed up properly, can have just as many irritating effects as fiberglass.  So the pros on that one, for me at least, are definitely outweighed by the cons.

So there you have it.  There are some really good green alternatives to traditional insulation for your homestead.  What you use will be as personal a choice as any other aspect of your home.  Look around, do some research, weigh the pros and cons, and find what truly works the best for you.  Good luck, and happy researching!