Living Sustainably

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Wild Elephants Hold Eery Vigil

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7? Known for his unique ability to calm traumatized elephants, Anthony had become a legend. He is the author of three books, Baghdad Ark, detailing his efforts to rescue the animals at Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, the forthcoming The Last Rhinos, and his bestselling The Elephant Whisperer.

There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after Anthony’s death.“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other.

A line of elephants approaching the Anthony house, but these are wild elephants in the 21st century, not some Rudyard Kipling novel.

So, how after Anthony’s death, did the reserve’s elephants — grazing miles away in distant parts of the park — know?
“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings,’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”


A New View of Energy Efficiency:

How the “Hybrid Home Guy” Uses Andersen Windows to Change the Conversation about Green Building

Adam Bearup was finished. After years of pushing architectural envelopes to encourage more people to change the way they were living to more earth-friendly practices, the “Hybrid Home Guy” recognized his own energy inefficiency: rather than pursuing a truly revolutionary style of building that would not only earn attention but also have less impact on the planet, Bearup was chasing projects to help keep people employed.

Yet as he began planning a sabbatical to re-focus his energies, fate intervened – and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The project would become known as Earth Shelter Michigan; a grouping of five underground domes designed to function completely off the grid. Bearup said “no” four times. There were serious budget and location concerns. But when the owner came back a fifth time, he recognized this was the envelope he had to push and said yes to a career-changing project.

Earth Shelter is comprised of a campus of domes to help the family live as self-sustaining as possible. The five domes each have a purpose: a main house dome where the owners will live; a greenhouse to grow produce; a small “parents’ quarters” dome; another dome with walk-in freezer and pantry space; and a 72-foot-long barn dome that will include stalls for animals living there. The square footage adds up to 12,000 including the barn. Yet with a 48-volt battery bank that is charged by solar panels and a back up generator — and owners willing to carefully budget their energy consumption — the entire campus will run off the grid.

The domes are all underground — some spots measuring 35 feet below the surface – while one end is strategically positioned for passive solar exposure. But Bearup designed each dome to feel as though it’s sitting above ground. With a creative layout and use of paint colors, Bearup and his team helped natural light streaming through the windows on each façade reach back into the farthest points of the domes.

From the perspective of building science, windows are the most important part of a building’s shell for Bearup. Solving that issue in an environmentally friendly way was key.

“Windows have an incredibly important job to do at Earth Shelter, but it’s the same for any house: create, capture and contain energy,” said Bearup. “If we use the right windows and exterior envelope, we can keep each dome at Earth Shelter a few degrees within the 70 degree range without running the heating or cooling system.”

For Bearup and his team, Andersen Windows was his solution to the weather found in Northern Michigan: wind-driven rain, hot summers, bone chilling winter temperatures, all elements that can take their toll on a structure.

“We’ve used Andersen 400 Series in other houses, so based on our knowledge of its performance standards, along with blower door tests and various industry certifications, we knew these windows really performed,” Bearup explained. “The flashing components of the 400 Series really impressed us, and their construction is so tight, the homeowners won’t have to worry about maintenance and there’s virtually no chance of rot on the frame.”

A total of 26 windows and four outswing French doors were installed throughout the domes.

In addition to its building attributes, Bearup also ordered the windows to have a good degree of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood content. Andersen has FSC Chain of Custody certification, which Bearup said was also important in choosing the windows. He liked that Andersen heats and cools its manufacturing facility by burning its own wood byproducts in a steam generating facility and even is converting some of its trucking fleet to run on compressed natural gas, which lowers emissions.

“Not only did we want to put in a great product from a company that’s been around a long time, but we wanted to make sure the products aren’t destroying the environment through their creation,” said Bearup. “We were very impressed with how similar our thoughts on this were, and what Andersen does to really respect and nurture the wood they use and the environment they work within to only make it better.”

As work wraps up on Earth Shelter, Bearup can see how his views of environmental homebuilding have changed for the better. And that’s started conversations with others who want to create their own Earth Shelters and, Bearup hopes, shift their views of a home’s 21st century utility.

“Houses can function as part of a larger system that works together,” Bearup explained. “It complements a healthy lifestyle in the way the home breathes and lives. Earth Shelter is a living, breathing entity. And what I hope to show everyone out there is how – rather than being a repository of things – a home can encourage you to live. To let in the things we need to help us grow and thrive, like the light shining through the windows, to be aware of what’s around you. If it helps introduce a mindfulness that I believe is missing among so many homes today, then we have changed the world for the better.”


Wood Stove Safety

Our recent house fire has put my mind in a safety mode, and I wanted to share some info on safely heating your home with a woodstove. Maintain proper clearances, take care with chimney installation and cleaning, and especially dispose of ashes properly (use a metal can and dispose far away from building in a non combustible space).


What’s Wrong with Air Conditioning (and Heat Pumps)

Let’s look at the typical Central Air Conditioner. You have an air handler and heat exchanger indoors, and a condenser sitting outside. Your house is hot, and you want to cool it down. The air conditioner pumps the heat from your hot house to the outdoors. But wait a minute. Why is your house hot? Because it’s hot outside! So why does the outside want the heat from your house when it’s already hot?

Let’s look at the typical air source heat pump. Looks like an air conditioner. It is, but it’s reversible. If it’s cold indoors, it pumps heat from the outside into the house. But wait a minute. Why is your house cold? Because it’s cold outside. Where is the heat going to come from? Many manufacturers put electric resistance heat strips in their units to make them more effective. And you thought this was going to save you money?

Enter the Ground Source Heat Pump. This expensive piece of machinery does a couple of things. When it’s hot indoors, it pumps the indoor heat into the relatively cooler ground. When it’s cold indoors, it pumps the heat from the relatively warmer ground indoors. The ground is always cooler than hot outdoor summer air, or warmer than cool outdoor winter air. This greatly increases the efficiency of the process, and no more electrical heating strips. A common secondary byproduct is domestic hot water.



Urban Self Sufficiency – The Urban Homestead

There’s a lot of books out there to help one find a piece of land, grow your own veggies, and cut your own wood. The resources for the urban dweller looking to find ways to be more self sufficient, and get by in these hard times, are less available. This resource is designed for you city dwellers. You too can grown your own food, recycle, create worm compost and more. We recommend this resource!

The Urban Homestead is the essential handbook for a fast-growing new movement: urbanites are becoming gardeners and farmers. Rejecting both end-times hand wringing and dewy-eyed faith that technology will save us from ourselves, urban homesteaders choose instead to act. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, they are planting seeds for the future of our cities.

If you would like to harvest your own vegetables, raise city chickens, or convert to solar energy, this practical, hands-on book is full of step-by-step projects that will get you started homesteading immediately, whether you live in an apartment or a house. It is also a guidebook to the larger movement and will point you to the best books and Internet resources on self-sufficiency topics.

Projects include:

* How to grow food on a patio or balcony
* How to clean your house without toxins
* How to preserve food
* How to cook with solar energy
* How to divert your grey water to your garden
* How to choose the best homestead for you

Written by city dwellers for city dwellers, this illustrated, smartly designed, two-color instruction book proposes a paradigm shift that will improve our lives, our community, and our planet. Authors Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen happily farm in Los Angeles and run the urban homestead blog


Home Energy PowerCost Monitor

The PowerCost monitor comes in two parts. The first, a sensor, is attached to your electricity meter. It works on all standard residential meters and is easily installed (no electrician required). The sensor sends a wireless signal to a small display unit. You can put this anywhere in the house.

The unit can be configured with your local electricity rates (it can even cope with differing billing systems, including tiered rate and peak/off-peak rates) to show you the amount of money your energy use is costing you at any one time. Watch it get cheaper as you turn off the unwanted items around the house…and that’s how you save.


Terra Blog


Installing Solar at

Jim Juczak’s power system was damaged by their recent house fire. A group of us went to help them rebuild various aspects from sheetrock to applying primer. My son Matt and I tackled upgrading and repairing the power system. Jim had built wooden frames for the 12 new solar panels. These panels are a bit different than the usual ones we run across. Each panel is a 45 watt, 98 volt open circuit amorphous panel. Matt and I built combiner boxes and wiring whips so that each frame will hold 4 panels wired in parallel, and a master combiner box that parallels the 3 frames, feeding the Outback MX-60 in the house. The house contains a 24 volt Trojan L16 battery pack.

Each frame has a small combiner box connecting the 4 panels with 12 gauge cable to a 10 gauge uplink to the master combiner box. The master combiner uplinks to the house with 6 gauge. See pics at

They bought a 40′ shipping container to put belongings in while the house is being finished, so we put a temporary pv system on that as well for internal lighting.

We go back next weekend to fix the wind turbine and install some ground lines for the panels.


Refrigeration: Out with the propane, in with the electric

After 4 years off-grid with propane refrigeration, we have our power system built to the point where we can afford the electric to power a fridge. OK, it’s not all us, refrigeration technology is advancing, efficiency is increasing, and the prices are dropping. For less than half the price of the propane fridge, we picked up a Kenmore 9.5 cu. ft. (Model 62912 – $350) that uses less electricity than a 100 watt light bulb, 75 watts running to be exact (750w startup surge, as reported by our Kill-A-Watt kWh Meter, for a total of .7 kWh / day with interior temps of 75F – 85F)*. Propane is common in off-grid homes because the power systems tend to be small, and some devices, like refrigeration, cooking, water heating, and drying, are not appropriate to be driven from a limited power source. Propane is the necessary evil. Now that we have moved to a energy efficient electric unit that’s within our generation capacity, our propane usage will drop, as well as the additional (but minor) maintenance that the propane units require. This is a big plus for us, as the electronic control module on our Norcold unit has died twice, and although a warranty repair, no local Norcold dealer will make a house call, the warranty is a depot repair only (parts & labor), and even though we have offered to pay for the house call, Neither Norcold nor the local dealers will oblige. We are done with Norcold.

* See the new P4460 Kill-A-Watt with builtin battery backup so memory is not lost during power outages or moving the meter. It also allows you to enter your “per kWh charge” to track usage costs.


Solar Battery Charger

Every house has a myriad of small electronics devices that take batteries. From remotes, to digital cameras, wireless mice and keyboards, to handheld video games. Our landfills are filling up with toxic waste from used batteries. We have switched to NiMH AA and AAA replacements. They last for years, and charge nicely in the car, from our off-grid energy system (or your wall outlet), or even with their own solar panel. Our friends at Silicon Solar have a compact Sun Powered travel charger that charges AA batteries quite nicely. We think this makes the perfect companion to the LED Headlamp.


Dharam arrives with his skoolie!

Last night our friend Dharam arrived with his school bus. We are helping him convert it to an RV, and will be converting the diesel to run on Used Fryer Oil (UFO). Dharam is a house washer by trade, so hopefully, weather permitting, Green-Trust will get a fresh coat of paint, and look a bit more presentable. Pictures of the bus and conversion will be posted as the project progresses. We hope to take Dharam down to Woodhenge to pick up a set of used deep cycle batteries as a house bank for his bus.

Dharam obtained his bus from a friend of ours, Greg Archambault, from Greg is bringing us a bus next month for our church.