We are visiting our daughter Carrie, her husband Joseph, and their sons Moss and Alder. As you might guess from the names of the boys, they are very focused on living in harmony with the earth and minimizing their impact on the earth. I think the lifestyle they have chosen is interesting and admirable.
They live in a house they began building in 2004 and is still a work in progress. The house is a mixture of cob and straw bale construction. They designed the house themselves with no formal training other than a one week course in building cob houses. They did all the work themselves with help from friends as needed. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay, and some straw. You make a think mud mixture and shape it into a wall 18 to 36 inches thick and about 24 inches high. After the mud dries enough, you shave the sides to square them up. You continue to add height to the wall in 24 inch increments.
The north side of the house is built of straw bale to improve the insulation properties. In straw bale construction, you build a wall of straw bales about 18 inches thick and cover the inside and outside with a mud mixture similar to the cob mixture. The roof is metal with large wood pole rafters. The cob walls are load bearing and support the outside roof rafters. Cob structures have an indefinitely long life if properly maintained.
The house also has many interesting environmentally friendly features. All the electricity is provided by solar panels and the electrical energy is stored in a battery system. Most of the solar system and all the windows of the house are from salvage further reducing the environmental impact. They installed a grey water system where the drain water from the kitchen sink, tub, and washing machine is used to water their fruit trees. They have a solar oven which is used for baking. You put cake batter into the oven for 5-6 hours in the heat of the day, and you will have a perfectly baked cake for dinner using only solar energy.
The house is heated with a wood stove they call a rocket stove located in the entry hall/tub room. The flue gas from this stove passes under some stone stairs and through a stone bench before being exhausted through the roof. The flue gas thus heats these stones which hold heat and release it into the kitchen and living room. The efficiency of the system is demonstrated by the fact the exhaust flue pipe is always cool enough to touch. Due to the thickness and the large mass of the walls plus the fact some of the house is below grade, the house is inherently energy efficient. The design creates what is known as a thermal flywheel where the house is slow to change temperature inside despite a large change of temperature outside. The stone used in construction of the house was scrounged from the side of the road.
In addition since they have some land to work with, they are able to provide an estimated 75% of the food they eat from their crops, domestic animals, hunting, and foraging. They grow most of their fruits and vegetables in a green house and garden plots. They raise chickens, goats and sometimes turkeys. They get milk, cheese, oil, meat and compost from the goats. They have four bee hives for honey. The main things they buy from the grocery are grains, rice, beans, oils and coffee. They have a wood burning stove and cooktop which they use primarily in winter. They also have a propane stove/cooktop and water heater. All kitchen scraps are recycled to the chickens and goats.
Other environmentally friendly things are driving diesel powered cars and using biofuel whenever possible. They also homeschool their children.
They recognize that their lifestyle is not for everyone. They say their motivation is both ecological and to have more control of their own destiny. I for one really admire them for what they have accomplished and for doing what they can to make the earth a better place to live for future generations. I hope their example encourages all of us to do what we can to make the earth a better place.
The flue gas from the rocket stove passes through the steps on the right of the picture and through the bench before being vented to the atmosphere through the vertical pipe on the left of the picture. The kitchen is up the steps on the right.