Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for April, 2008


You Can Hand Sculpt Your Own HomeTHE COB BUILDERS HANDBOOK, by Becky Bee is an excellent resource for those wanting to build a warm, energy efficient, natural home, without a lot of money. You can build a home for as little as $5 / sq. ft. A healthy home with no chemicals, built of local materials with low embodied energy, is available to those willing to expend a bit of sweat equity. This book explains it all, from foundation to rook. We highly recommend it!


More from the Energy Fair

Some of the interesting things we saw at the fair was the Martin’s Oil Press, for pressing vegetable oil from seed crops, a pelletizer for making pellets from grass, wood shavings, and soon, seedcake from the oil press. Pellet stoves for buring those pellets were also on display. I’ll be posting website addresses for these devices as I get them. A reminder to those who talked with us at the show, our newsletter signup is at

One outfit was showing Insulated Concrete Forms that make it easy for the homeowner to build foundations and walls for the house. We spoke with TRD Design, a dealer for IntegraSpec.




Back from the Energy Fair

Pearl Steam EngineWe just returned from the North Country Sustainable Energy Fair, where we taught classes on DIY Wind Turbine design and DIY Solar installation. We saw a number of really neat things there, and will be showcasing them here over the next few days. The one we want to talk about today is the Pearl Steam Engine. Pearl Steam Engines are a natural and superior power source for generators. The Pearl Single Cylinder Engine will easily produce 1 kilowatt. The Pearl Twin Cylinder Engine will easily provide 2 kilowatts.

    Utilizing the exhaust’s heat allows for co-generation. This raises overall efficiency even further. We highly suggest you take a look.


ENERGY SAVERS — practical ways individuals and businesses can save energy.

  • 4/22 – GREEN-CENTIVES.    Companies offering workers a bonus to buy hy-brids, solar panels, and other measures to save energy.  Good for the environment AND business, because it attracts top employees.
  • 4/23 – CARBON OFFSETS.   You hear the term ‘carbon offsets’ used a lot these days.  This piece explains how people can buy “offsets” in order to subsidize businesses that turn waste into energy.   
  • 4/24 – CLUBS.    New clubs help neighbors reduce energy consumption.  Like Weight Watchers, the groups meet to compare energy bills and share tips for savings.

Getting Paid to Drive Green:

Learning About Emissions From Business:

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint:


Methane Fuel From Manure

This video gives a light hearted explanation of the process.

For the real “scoop”, see


Having an Environmentally and Resource Friendly Yard

So many Americans dump thousands of gallons of water on their yards every years, and many pounds of chemical fertilizers, trying to keep the “green”. These yards are not green, they are chemical facsimiles of nature.

The Texas Commission On Environmental Quality offers the following points (and associated solutions) in their “Green Guide to Yard Care“:

Every year more than 5 million tons of yard trimmings and other organic materials end up in Texas landfills instead of building up the soil.

Millions of gallons of city treated water are used to irrigate landscapes where native vegetation once grew in naturally mulched soil, sustained by rainfall.

Much of that water runs off the land, eroding depleted and unprotected soils that are unable to absorb it. The excess sediment from your lawn and many other yards can smother aquatic life in the receiving bodies of water. Excess sediment can also increase the cost of operating water supply reservoirs.

Costly synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are applied to compensate for the loss of nutrients and protection once provided by organic debris and rich soil life. Surprising as it may seem, residential users apply more pounds per acre of these chemicals than farmers do—often to the point of disrupting beneficial soil life.

As your soil loses its organic matter, it allows more of these chemicals to run off and wash through it—contributing to the pollution of lakes, streams, and underground water. In excess, these pollutants can harm aquatic life or contaminate the food chain.


Building with Cob

Cob is an ancient and simple building material. Made of soil, sand, straw and water, it can last for decades, sometimes centuries, and is an inexpensive, local, green building material.

The Cob Builders Handbook says,

“The three most common forms of earth buildings are adobe, rammed earth and cob. In the southwestern United States, the five hundred year old Taos Pueblo, as well as many homes and churches, are made of adobe. Adobe is a form of building using unfired earth. Dirt, straw and water – the same ingredients as in cob – are made into bricks which are then sun dried and built into walls with a “cob-like” mortar. Some very old Native American structures like the Casa Grande ruin in Arizona are made out of cob. These are described locally as being built of “puddled or coursed adobe”.”

This spring, Green-Trust will be building a generator and wood boiler shed with cob, in preparation for building a few homes as well.



Defining the Conservation Technology Market

We all know that conservation techniques save energy, and we all know that solar, wind, and other sustainable methods of energy are better for us, but do we know how much energy is conserved, how much benefit we are getting?

There are meters and gauges that show power consumption, collection, and storage, but a comprehensive view of a complete system, with all the inputs and outputs being monitored, logged, and compared has been lacking.

Not any more.

Now a comprehensive monitoring system is available that can measure the impact of the green technologies the homeowner has invested in.

Agilewaves’ flagship product, the Resource Monitor, constantly monitors electric, gas, and water consumption of a home or office and reports consumption and carbon footprint through a built-in touchscreen interface or a password protected web page

The system measures the ecological footprint of a property in real time. It monitors each electrical circuit, water line, and the main gas line, as well as temperature in key locations throughout the building. In addition to the overall footprint, it tracks the performance of major appliances and calculates the resource consumption by room or floor. Current and time-series information is displayed and stored for future reference, allowing the user to compare data with any past period.

Agilewaves‘ Resource Monitor has been deployed in Hillsborough, CA’s LEED Gold Nueva School, and will monitor gas, electricity and water output, solar input and the conditions of the Rana Creek living roofs, including storm water retention and filtration. In addition, the UI will be incorporated into the school’s curriculum.

This is a great new twist, bringing life into the classroom, so that the kids are made aware of energy use, and conservation, in a real life example they can get their hands on, and heads around. Change doesn’t happen until the impact is felt, and the philosophy is bought into, by head and heart.


Agile Waves Resource Monitor


North Country Sustainable Energy Fair – Canton NY, April 25-27

The 13th annual North Country Sustainable Energy Fair, upstate New York’s largest and longest running community energy fair, is April 25-27, 2008 at the SUNY Canton Campus Center, Canton, NY. Last year thousands of people attended the Fair from as far away as Rochester, Ithaca, Buffalo, Canada and New England.

This year, by popular request, the Fair will expand to both Saturday and Sunday, and will be our most varied and in depth so far.

Steve Spence and Jim Juczak will be presenting a workshop on Building your own Wind Turbine, and Steve will be presenting on Installing your own Solar Power System.


Electric Lawn Tractors

A reader on our 12v group brought up this topic, and it started the idea engine. There were a few models available in the past, of lawn and garden tractors, that used electric motors instead of fuel driven engines. Quieter, easier on the environment and your lungs, and arguably, on your wallet, it’s apparent that they are attempting a comeback. Appropriate on a off-grid homestead like ours, we are researching the availability, and possibility of converting our Sears mower to electric. See the following resources:

Please let me know if you find more of these units available or even DIY conversions.