A new study shows that current methods for producing pet food are worse for the environment than driving. This is devastating news for pet owners like me. Here's hoping this study will bring about sustainable pet food (that our pets will actually eat) so we can keep the furry friends, that we hold so dear, guilt-free!
In designing the perfect home for our household, I have been studying and exploring the different types of building materials available. Some are more eco-friendly than others. I'll share my findings with you.
First, your house is going to need walls and insulation. My top picks are:
SIP's "Structural Insulated Panels" - take care of the walls and the insulation in one step. SIP's can have an R-Value of up to 60 (1 foot thick.) Even at an inch of this insulation, you will be far better insulated than the "old pink fiberglass" style (about 11 R Value, if you are lucky enough to have it installed correctly.).
The walls work like I-beams and produce super strong structures- able to withstand hurricanes. They resemble foam core board and resist fire, insects, rodents, mold, and mildew, because of the compressed nature of the product. Some are made with straw in the foam mix. Generally pays for itself in savings in about 5 years.
Straw bale- A house built with straw bale will be comfortable year round. It has amazing R-Value of 30 when covered with stucco. Wider bales provide more insulation (and really really thick walls, but make neat window seats!) It is surprisingly fire resistant and rodents have a hard time getting into the straw if the stucco is done correctly. Water, however can pose a real problem for straw bale homes. The building must be constructed when all of the bales are DRY. What makes this appealing to me is the price! Straw is a waste material and can be purchased locally, nearly everywhere, for cheap. Construction goes fast when the bales and workers are ready to get it done!
Rammed Earth- These walls may be too "earthy" for some folks, but if you are trying to heat and cool with passive solar, they make a great thermal mass to absorb the sun. They are constructed with local dirt and clay mixed, and are pounded into form pnuematically.
Homes made of rammed earth use about 1/3 the energy of conventional homes. It makes for a healthy environment in the home. The walls control humidity(by absorbing water), are fireproof, soundproof, and rodent proof. They even show "rings" like a tree from the layers as they are done.
Wood frame and log homes come with a host of problems ranging from termites to shrinkage and cost much more than alternatives.
The majority of logging used to get woods to us is not done sustainably. If you want to use wood be sure to check for the "FSC" stamp to show you the lumber comes from a provider dedicated to sustainable practices, i.e. they plant what they tear down. However, it takes quite a while to grow back to maturity.
If you want the LOOK of a log home but with less wood used, and better insulation, take a look at ELogs The most environmentally friendly way to have a log home.
There are more options out there. These are just a few of my favorites.
Yes, that stuff we flatten and recycle. It really is a fascinating, completely recycled and recyclable material to work with.
Several years ago, when I was working for a company that dealt with many cardboard boxes every night (that had to be stacked for scanning to be sent out again) we used to get creative with the way we stacked them. Here is an example.
A couch, ottoman, lamp. We made other things with them as well over the long night shifts. That's me on the end- with the cup. We knew cardboard could also be furniture!
So tonight I was thumbing through all of the shows you can stream directly for Netflix for something interesting to watch and ran across Big Ideas for a Small Planet. This show is GREAT!
These guys have taken a version of that cardboard idea and ran with it. I'll admit I was dubious at first about some of the designs, but some of them are just plain fantastic!!
I LOVE that spiral case!!
Cardboard is cheap, easy to ship, collapsible, a blank slate for decoration, and incredibly strong when built to be.
May not be suitable for homes with cats with claws. (Well maybe the spiral storage case. Don't think they can reach that!) Exhibit A:
These guys have made entire offices out of nothing but cardboard. Simply amazing! I may make this my new office, too.
These folks below have a lot of great ideas. Like shelves, seating, tables, kid kits, and more. And this is the kind of furniture that would be fun to put together. No tools!
Here are cardboard file cabinets, shelves, and even a cardboard bed (without mattress)
This is a great way to build for the future.
Smarter not "disposable."
When I was in a sculpture class in college we were told to make things out of "found objects." We, went, as a class to a local "dumping ground" and found odds and ends to make five sculptures, each. It was one of the most fun projects I've done. I may delve into this once again, when I have workshop space. It's messy!
I ran across a Beta Test of a wonderful *FREE* program by Microsoft. It is called "Microsoft Hohm." Not only does it give you great tips that can reduce your power bills, but, by inputting your "history" with the gas and electric utilities, it generates charts and shows you how much you are spending each month/year/etc. on these bills.
Have you ever really sat down and looked at the power and gas bills as they come in? Do you just write a check and move on to next bill?
For example: My roomate and I- living in an 800 sq ft apartment- kept track of the statements from 3 years ago to present. By inputting the historical data, we can see how much we really are paying for these "utility privileges".
Yearly electric $983 Yearly gas $320 = Yearly power bill of $1303
Ouch! We've spent almost $10,000 in power bills since we moved into this apartment 7 years ago.
What was surprising to me was how much we pay for gas services on months we don't even use it. In my example the only thing, in the home, that uses gas is the furnace.
We have to pay a fee year-round for "Distribution and Service Charges"- even for a service we don't need 5 months out of the year.
Ex: For the months with 0 gas usage in 2008 we paid $7.37 (5 months out of the year) = $36.85
For the months with 0 gas usage in 2009 we pay $14.67 (5 months out of the year) = $73.35
That is $110.20 we spent over 2 years- for a service we didn't even use.
*And that is just the gas bill*
On to the electricity........
The bill tells us "Price to compare: in order for you to save money, a new supplier must offer you a price lower than *Our service provider*'s price of $47.08, or 7.8 cents per kWh, for the same usage that appears on this bill. You may contact *them* for a written explanation of the price-to-compare message."
It states our electricity usage as 604 kWh. Our Total Account Balance is= $74.45 for the month.
If we are paying 7.8 cents per kWh for 604 kWh the charge should be= $47.11
Yet our bill is $74.45. That is a difference of = $27.34 on this one bill ALONE.
Evidently we are also paying -- A Customer Charge of $4.25/mo. To be a customer?!? -- A Distribution Charge of $19.29 -- Transmission Related Charges of $4.70 -- And a Generation Rider of $3.83...........Every MONTH!
--That adds up to about $384.84 you pay in FEES to the Electric company each year.
Your actual kWh (when you account for all the fees) is = 12.3 cents per kWh
What they say you pay ---> 7.8 cents What you actually pay ---> 12.3 cents
My point is READ YOUR BILL. Figure it out, and see how much you are spending just for the right to get electric and gas to your home. Better yet plug it all in to Microsoft Hohm and let the them show you what is really going on.
We also figured up- that the money we put into rent and utilities -now-would be more than the payment we'd make to buy a piece of land, build a small energy efficient home with daylighting, and power it with renewable energy..At today's interest rate (4.5% fixed) and a 15 year mortgage- we would still pay over $100 LESS each month and we'd have it paid off in 15 years.
Rent (no value to me), +power bill, +gas bill
Own our own home, on our property, that provides its own energy and retire in 15 years?
At that- the quest for the perfect piece of land commences.
Good luck to you and feel free to update me with your results!!!
For a future that brings unity to communities and proportions to our lives. A future that measures the value of each process by its ecological footprint and energy efficiency rating. A future borne of responsibility.
I am working on a dream to build sustainable communities in my home town area and elsewhere. I have designed and drawn up several of these. I will follow these adventures in research through the blog and hopefully meet up with like-minded individuals along the way.