Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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Although it may seem counterintuitive, indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. As energy-efficient homes become tighter and tighter with less air infiltration, indoor air quality deteriorates without proper ventilation and mindfulness. With numerous sources of indoor air pollution found within the home, it’s important to minimize them while boosting healthy practices. Thankfully, there are many simple actions you can do for cleaner air.

Indoor Air Quality 

1. Use Natural Fragrances

Although you may associate pine, lemon or botanical scents with cleanliness, synthetic fragrances can emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate or off-gas into the air at room temperature. Some of these compounds are known to be toxic or hazardous. One fragrance can contain a couple hundred chemicals. Conventional laundry products, cleaning supplies, air fresheners and personal-care products may contain numerous toxins, although it might merely be listed as “fragrance” on the label.

To reduce your exposure, use mild cleaners that don’t contain fragrances or make your own with essential oils. Avoid using products that have fragrances in the list of ingredients, and be aware that some products labeled unscented even contain fragrance (so read the ingredients list). For healthier personal-care products, refer to the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database, and use baking soda, essential oils or ventilation to remove unwanted odors.

2. Prevent Mold and Moisture

Molds can produce allergens, aggravate asthma symptoms and, in some cases, produce toxic chemicals. They can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, regardless of whether the person is allergic to mold or not. Wet surfaces can start growing mold in just 24 to 48 hours.

Moisture is the most important factor impacting mold growth. Look for mold growth around leaky plumbing fixtures, around the foundation, and near windows and sinks. Common sources of water include leaks from floods, the roof, plumbing fixtures, humidification systems and sprinklers. Stop the source of moisture entering your home, clean mold where possible, or replace items that cannot be properly cleaned such as carpeting, ceiling tiles or furniture. Avoid breathing in mold when making repairs. For severe water damage, consult an expert.

3. Install a Home-Ventilation System

Some of the super energy-efficient homes of the 1970s were so airtight they developed indoor air quality issues. Stale air and moisture couldn’t exit the home, and fresh air wasn’t coming in. “One thing that a lot of people got wrong when building super tight houses was not ventilating them well,” says Brian Hughes, a carpenter for GO Logic who lives in a virtually airtight home at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage with a Zehnder ventilation system.“It might not be intuitive that [airtight] homes need to be ventilated.” Hughes believes that heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems have revolutionized high-performance homes because they allow a constant stream of fresh air while not compromising energy efficiency.

HRV systems extract stale air from the home and supply preconditioned fresh air from outside. In warm weather, Zehnder HRV systems pre-cool the intake air using the exhaust air, without the two streams mixing. In cold weather, the heat from the exhaust air is transferred to the intake air. These systems are up to 95 percent efficient. ERVs transfer both heat and humidity and ERV systems help maintain comfortable moisture levels within the home.These ventilation systems boost indoor air quality by removing moist air, odors, smoke, and fumes and replacingstale airwith fresh, filtered air.

4. Use Low-Emission Products

Many of the goods we use in our homes release VOCs. Many dry cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene (PERC), which can damage the brain and central nervous system and is a likely carcinogen. Formaldehyde is found in numerous home products, including particle board, plywood, paints, adhesives and vehicle exhaust, and is a human carcinogen. “It’s the smell in new houses, and it’s in cosmetics like nail polish,” says Otis Brawley, doctor and chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. “All a reasonable person can do is manage their exposure and decrease it to as little as possible. It’s everywhere.”

To avoid exposure to PERC, look for cleaning businesses that use CO2 or wet-cleaning methods, alternatives that are safe for most clothes or air out recently dry-cleaned clothes before bringing them into your home. To reduce your exposure to formaldehyde and other VOCs, be mindful of the products that you bring into your home. Unwrap and let new furniture and carpeting off-gas in a garage for a few days before bringing it inside. Use solid wood products, or ensure that pressed wood products are sealed on all sides. Use no- or low-VOC paints and adhesives, and increase ventilation during painting projects. Potentially hazardous products often contain warning labels stating to use the product in a well-ventilated area. Whenever possible, find safer alternatives or use such products outdoors and allow projects to dry before bringing them indoors.

5. Grow Indoor Plants

It’s common knowledge that plants add oxygen to the air, but did you know they also remove numerous toxins, including formaldehyde, benzene (found in glue, paint and auto fumes) and trichloroethylene (found in paint stripper and spot remover)? A study by the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, found that indoor plants reduce anger by 44 percent, depression by 58 percent, fatigue by 38 percent and anxiety by 37 percent.

Most common houseplants have been shown to boost indoor air quality. Aloe vera clears benzene and formaldehyde; spider plants remove smog, formaldehyde, benzene and xylene; and snake plants clean smog, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. Aloe vera and snake plants are also ideal for the bedroom because they release oxygen at night.

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.


Even the most environmentally-conscious among us sometimes need to make upgrades in our home, whether it’s renovating the kitchen in a mid-century house or adding an extra bedroom for an expanding family. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the environmental impact of your remodel and even improve energy savings with your changes.

green remodeling
Photo by Fotolia/iofoto

See What You Can Sell/Donate

If your remodel requires you to get rid of certain appliances or items like your old dishwasher or cabinet doors, try selling them or offering them for free on a site like Craigslist, or donate them to an organization like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, rather than just throwing them out.

If you’re unable to sell or donate certain items, check with the local waste management department to see if they have a recycling program for appliances.

Assess Your Floor Plan

Thinking of adding a new room to your home? First consider whether you have enough existing space to add that room without adding any square footage.

For example, you might be able to add a wall to create a small kid’s bedroom out of part of an L-shaped living room, or you could add a partial wall to a living room to create a separate dining room area. If you want to add a front entryway or mud room, you might be able to pull space from your existing kitchen. If you do need to make an addition, think about how you can add enough square footage to meet your needs without going overboard.

Call in an Energy Auditor

Before you start renovations, have an energy auditor assess your home. A professional energy auditor will check things such as insulation, ductwork, your furnace, doors, and windows to determine how much energy your home uses and whether it can be more efficient.

Once you have these recommendations, you’ll be able to incorporate energy saving changes into your remodel. These changes can save you money, reduce your emissions, and make home maintenance easier, so there’s no reason not to make them.

Work with Reclaimed Materials

Reclaimed wood is becoming an increasingly popular choice in home remodels thanks to its many benefits. Since it’s recycled, it has a minimal environmental impact, and it’s also tougher and more durable than wood taken from first-generation forests. Many homeowners also appreciate the aged, weathered look of the wood and choose to use it for exposed beams or even a kitchen island.

Of course, wood isn’t the only type of recycled material you can incorporate into your remodel. Natural or recycled stones can also be a good choice because they absorb the temperature around them, improving energy efficiency as a result. On top of that, stones are a visually appealing element that can be incorporated into many different areas of the home.

Make the Most of Natural Light

Whether certain rooms in your home get good natural light will depend largely on their location, angle, and the outside environment, but if you’re remodeling a room that already has great natural light, you should use that to your advantage. Strategically place windows, or even consider adding full-length windows in order to let more light in and reduce your need to use electric lighting in the room.

To maximize your light even further, consider adding soffits (ornamental ledges) above the windows, as these help transfer light into the room. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you might even consider adding a sky light.

Do Your Research

Be sure to do your research before you start any green renovation project. Talk with a contractor who specializes in green building, and check with your local utility company to see if your green remodel will qualify you for any incentives or rebates. By taking the time to do your homework, you should be able to reduce costs and find new ways to save energy that you might not have initially anticipated.

Juliana Weiss RoesslerJuliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and mom who co-owns the business Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband. She frequently writes about how to minimize your impact on the environment.


Often, when people learn that I live in a tiny house, their first question is “did you build it yourself?” This always gives me pause. How can I communicate that yes, I did, but it was also built by Hammerstone School carpentry courses, and by Maria Klemperer-Johnson, Hammerstone's owner? And by my brother, who put up my loft ceiling one February day, and my parents, who were conscripted to simple tasks every time they visited, and by my friends, who walked my dog on long work days, and fed me, and looked at all forty paint tabs I brought to every social gathering in 2013. One of the first things I was reminded of when I started the process of building my tiny house was that nobody does anything alone.

Building a Community

While my connection with Hammerstone School set my project in motion, it was only the first of myriad relationships that developed throughout my build. As soon as we committed to building my tiny house as a class project, I was ready to buy a trailer. One can purchase a high quality trailer, custom-made for building a tiny house; I didn't take that route. Instead, I asked my friend Donn at Northland Sheep Dairy about the old camper he and Maryrose had by their garage. Knowing Donn, that camper was his next major project, and would soon be converted into a horse-powered implement on his farm; I had to act quickly. Next thing I knew, I was the owner of a title-less 1987 Shasta pull-behind camper, covered in graffiti, the least offensive being a large “POOP” scrawled under a window.

Old Camper
Photo courtesy Liz Coakley

“Well,” I thought. “I'll borrow a truck and pull my camper home to demolish it.” I had pulled some trailers around before for farm purposes, but an unregistered 22-foot camper parked at the top of a snowy hill was another story. Who would be willing to lend a rookie trailer-driver their truck in such a situation? A friend I hardly knew at the time, but who became a regular and generous source of support throughout the build (and who also happens to be the partner of Hammerstone School's owner), offered to tow the Shasta for me. Only the youngest of their six children came along, a cheerful two-year-old singing to himself in his car seat. By the time we arrived, wrestled the sunken trailer onto the hitch, rocked it back and forth until it was loose from the ice, maneuvered it through a tight turn-around, and drove it the hour and a half back home in the dark without a license plate, I realized it was not a task I could have accomplished alone. Not even close.

And where did we park it? At Interbrook Farm, on the land of other generous friends, who were unconcerned at having a demolition project occur in the front yard of their newly purchased farm. In fact, Andrew offered me access to any tools I might need from his shop, and pulled his dump truck up next to the Shasta so I could toss my refuse right in.

Tearing Down
Photo by Liz Coakley

The demolition was surprisingly easy. With only a cordless drill, a crow bar, and a mediocre dust mask, I set forth. I wouldn't say pulling apart soggy fiberglass insulation and rotten composite boards was fun, but it was satisfying. I appreciated starting my build with a task that would be hard to mess up. Once I pulled off the laminate walls and got the heavy refrigerator and broken windows free, the rest came apart easily. The deck of the trailer was the most solid part, and my brother happened into town just in time to finish that with me. Interbrook Farm then sported a pile of scrap metal (much of which went into building a chicken coop and pig hutches), a pile of burnable wood, and a dump truck full of trash. Oh, and if you looked carefully, you'd notice a rusty chassis on the side—my diamond in the rough.

The process of getting that chassis ready for the build involved yet more assistance from my community: borrowed trucks, phone calls and emails soliciting ideas and advice, consults and journeys to welders, sandblasters, garages, and farmers with truck scales. A few weeks later, I had a registered and inspected trailer, painted shiny black and complete with legitimate brakes, a new license plate, and a working set of lights.

Photo by Sara Worden

When people say they built their own house, they often mean they hired architects, contractors and crews to build the structure. When I tell people I built my own house, I mean that I built my own house. I measured and cut boards, spent sweaty days covered in shreds of foam insulation, sanded and finished the floor and the trim. But everything is relative. Maria acted as my architect and contractor, and Hammerstone students as the crew. Friends and neighbors lent me their knowledge, excitement, skill, and resources. As Maria and I prepared for the first day of class, I realized that the preparation of my trailer was insignificant compared to the building of a community that supports me in my endeavors. Admiring my new trailer, I did my best to remain calm as Maria jokingly painted “poop” on it in an inconspicuous spot, just so we wouldn't forget our beginnings.

Liz CoakleyLiz Coakley has been living and farming in the greater Ithaca, NY area since 2005. In the summer of 2013, her tiny house was built as a class project for Hammerstone School's Carpentry for Women program. Liz and 7 other budding women carpenters worked and learned alongside instructor Maria Klemperer-Johnson to bring this house to life. This blog is the second in a series on the process of building tiny.


Summertime in coastal Maine involves warm days, gentle ocean breezes, and lots of blueberries. My family and I are enjoying our first summer in a high-performance house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community with ultra-energy-efficient homes on 42 acres. The house performed well on windy winter days and during an extended five-day power outage, but now we are seeing how it fares during hot July afternoons without air conditioning.

Despite lots of south-facing windows, our home stays comfortable throughout the day if we close the windows and doors each morning. Considering that my two young children come and go from the house constantly, it isn’t an easy task. Because the summer sun is higher in the sky than in the winter, the southern orientation of the house does not cause it to warm up considerably, and we have curtains to curtail this. The cement slab and lots of insulation help us maintain cool daytime temperatures, even on hot days.

Photo by Jeffrey Mabee

“We really enjoy having lots of fresh air in our home,” says Hans Hellstrom, a neighbor and member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. “We open the windows every evening, and depending on the weather forecast, close them again mid-morning. Because the homes are so well insulated, we are very comfortable throughout the day.”

During the cool summer nights, we ventilate the home as much as possible—a feat made simpler by our Unilux windows and doors and Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system (HRV). By design, the windows and the kitchen door promote summer comfort. Our triple-pane windows and one of the doors can swing inward on two hinges or be hinged on the bottom and tilted inward to open at the top. This tilted position offers draft-free ventilation and rain protection and boosts safety for small children, thus allowing us to have the windows open when it might otherwise not be a good idea.

The HRV system brings a constant supply of fresh air into the bedrooms and vents stale air out of the bathroom and kitchen. When the windows are open, the system can run in exhaust-only mode so stale outgoing air is taken from the kitchen and bathroom and exits the home, thus encouraging air movement through the windows.

For optimum summer performance, Aubrey Gewehr, LEED AP, CPHC, Northeast Technical Sales Engineer for Zehnder America, recommends checking the HRV filters in the summer for pollen, which can restrict the flow of intake air. If the filters are covered, they need to be either vacuumed or replaced. In general, filters should be replaced twice a year.

The HRV system is highly efficient in the winter and transfers up to 90 percent of the heat from the outgoing air to the incoming air. This feature is bypassed in the summer under the right conditions to keep the home cooler. If it is too hot outside, the heat exchanger works to cool the incoming air. The HRV system allows the home to be airtight and ultra energy efficient, while maintaining high air quality.

Despite living in an all-electric home, our power bills have been very modest due to robust insulation, airtight construction, and a solar orientation. The cement slab is insulated and helps regulate the temperature in the home, providing a cooling effect on hot summer days.

Because we do not have an air conditioner or even fans, our summertime electric use is less than 350-kilowatt hours a month for our 900-square-foot home – including hot water heating and cooking. Our ultra-energy-efficient home uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating than a code-built home would, and our winter energy usage including heating is a mere 800-kilowatt hours per month.

solar panels
Photo by Sarah Lozanova

My husband recently installed a solar system on our home, and thus our monthly electric bills should not be greater than $9.74. Our house is now net zero (consuming as much power as the solar system generates over a 12-month period) with a 3.5-kilowatt solar system. By the end of the summer, 22 of the 36 the ecovillage homes will have solar systems and be near net zero. While the Maine power grid reaches peak demand on hot days when many homes consume large amounts of electricity to run air conditioning units, our solar system produces far more energy than we use in our high-performance house.

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.


When it comes to choosing the perfect windows for your home, vinyl and wood windows are among the first considerations. In recent years, however, fiberglass windows have inserted their way into the conversation. For “green” home enthusiasts, installing fiberglass windows is not only a wise investment for your rising energy bills, but also a significant step toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

Energy-Efficient Windows
During the summer, you’ll want to consider fiberglass windows to try and trap the cool inside while staving off any excessive stuffy hot air from the outside. Photo by Paul Kazlov.

1. Eco-Friendliness

Made with 60% glass, fiberglass is a lightweight window product well-known for its outstanding energy-efficiency and eco-friendliness. While other window products typically contain environmentally harmful fillers and additives, fiberglass windows are made from some of Mother Nature’s most abundant and easily accessible materials: silica sand. In addition to being 100% recyclable, fiberglass has very low embodied energy and consumes 39% less production energy than vinyl. Even in its most raw and undeveloped form, fiberglass windows offers the most green and sustainable choice for your home.

Fiberglass Windows
While mostly known for their energy efficient value, fiberglass windows can also complement the aesthetics of a room. Photo by Paul Kazlov.

2. Durability

Fiberglass is a frame material known for its strength, durability, and performance. Besides offering great insulation and generous energy deduction, fiberglass windows are 8 times more durable than vinyl and 3.5 times stronger than wood/vinyl composites. When compared to vinyl, fiberglass windows are said to last 5 times longer.

Additionally, fiberglass windows are weatherproof. The superior thermal tolerance found in these windows also makes them impervious to window expanding, rotting, warping, cracking, or splitting. As a result, homeowners who chose fiberglass windows can sit back and enjoy their windows for at least 20 years before worrying about any replacement or repair.

Empty Room
Going green at home can make a huge difference when it comes to pay your energy bills. Photo by Fotolia.

3. Effortless Upkeep

The durability and extensive lifespan of fiberglass windows is complemented by its demand for minimal maintenance. Fiberglass windows have the best low maintenance rating on the market. In fact, a simple wipe down with your preferred glass cleaner is all you need to keep your fiberglass windows looking like new. Fiberglass windows do not peel, fade or discolor for a very long period of time. Even if signs of wear begin to take place, the smooth surface of fiberglass windows will make painting and repainting extremely simple. And when it is time to dismiss your fiberglass windows after decades of faithful service, you can be assured that your long-lasting fiberglass windows are free of toxin and can be economically transported out of your home.

From its manufacturing process to its final retirement, fiberglass windows are the green solution for homeowners who are interested in furthering their sustainable lifestyle. Fiberglass windows are eco-friendly, durable, and require virtually no maintenance upkeep on your part. The low production energy process and the recyclable content found in fiberglass windows make these windows an even more appealing window solution for the savvy and environmentally mindful homeowners. You can easily help decrease the world’s energy consumption with fiberglass windows by cutting back on the natural resource your home uses.

Paul KazlovPaul Kazlov is a “green” home remodeling enthusiast and an industry pioneer for innovation in home renovation. Paul writes for the Global Home Improvement blog and strives to educate people about “green” products such as metal roofing and solar. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKazlov.


Reducing carbon footprint ultimately enables approximately six and a half billion people around the globe to achieve and maintain a sustainable lifestyle.  Putting in the effort to save Mother Earth may take some work; however, you’ll reap the fruits of your labor in the long run. Start by conducting a home check and regularly calculate your carbon footprint. Here are six more ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home.

Living Room
Photo by Fotolia/ostap25

Avoid Leftovers

Kids look up to you as their role models when it comes to conserving food during meals. In developed countries, each person wastes about 20 percent of the total food supply. This contributes to the growing food waste thus increasing the level of carbon footprint right inside your home. Take time to explain to your kids the value of conserving food.

Watch Your Diet

Reduce your red meat and cheese consumption, because these foods contain carbon intensity 10 times the amount of whole grains or fruit. Maintain healthy living for you and your family by eating healthy, sustainable food that helps the environment.

Transact Online

One way to help reduce your home’s carbon footprint is by using less paper and tree-made products. Transact your retail and other service bills online, using the paperless billing option. Help make Mother Earth a better place to live in by preserving trees that aid you in maintaining a sustainable life.

Keep Worms and Compost

Worms are able to easily compost large amounts of kitchen waste. Worms are known to be much quicker at composting waste than the traditional method of composting. Compost is useful in the garden and for some house plants.

Plastic Bags Do More Harm Than Good

It can take approximately 1,000 years to decompose a single plastic bag. Use reusable cloth bags, and if you can’t avoid using plastic bags, reuse them as many times as you can.

Grow Your Own Food

One of the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to grow your own food right in your backyard. Growing vegetables and fruits saves you money and you can be sure the food you are eating is free of harmful chemicals.

Remember, the amount of carbon footprint your household emits depends on how you maintain sustainability in your home. You can make a difference in your own carbon footprint by taking the initiative.

Aby LeagueAby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.


Throughout my twenties, I worked on farms in and around Ithaca, New York. Every morning I'd hop on my bike or into my car, or, in a few ideal situations, walk out my front door, and make my way to the farm. In the evenings, tired and dirty, with a bunch of Swiss chard or a few tomatoes in hand, I'd make my way back home.

Onion Leeks

Home. Home to an apartment or a shared house or a cabin in the woods. Home to a bedroom and a communal kitchen, a table on the back porch, a hand-pumped well by the front door, a row of peas in the yard, a clothesline. Home to roommates who cook dinner and chat, friends who want to bike to town for a game of cards at a local bar. Home to a roommate who is silent, who talks too much, who I secretly hope is always out. Home to solitude. Home to my patient dog.

2005-2013. Nine years. Twelve homes. Fifteen roommates with fourteen pets.

House Collage

Mostly, I found this fulfilling. I liked the change; I liked setting up in a new space, creating a dynamic with the people around me, discovering the closest swimming holes and coffee shops. But moving is exhausting, and although I didn't realize it, it was wearing me down. Packing, unpacking, finding the things I needed, storing once again the things I didn't really need. The last time I packed my belongings and shuffled boxes out the door without letting out my roommates' cats, I knew I was done with it. All I wanted was a space of my own.

Before the Build

After years of farming on other people's land—learning from experienced growers, arriving each morning to pull as many carrots as I could before the end of the day, or negotiating land rental agreements to grow out my own marketable crops—my long-term goal became to buy land to farm for myself. As I yearned for a living space of my own, I also knew that until I had corresponding land of my own, I wasn’t interested in the commitment of buying a house on a foundation. Maybe the process was backwards—to build a house and carry it along with me until I had my land—but a tiny house on wheels made a lot of sense to me.

So began the journey towards my tiny house. I wasn't a tiny house fanatic. I didn't know a lot about tiny houses, or spend hours on the Internet considering my options. I had seen pictures, listened to a friend talk about his tiny house as he built. I understood, without doing a lot of research, that I could afford to build a house like this on my farmer’s income.

My first step was to learn to build. I've built a few passable chicken coops in my day, but until I started my tiny house, I'd never held a circular saw or a power sander. I never considered the option of having a house built for me. Much of the allure of this project was the learning process, and the creation of my own home. From the start, I was excited that learning to build my home could make me a better farmer.

I quickly got on a waiting list for a weekend tiny house course in Boston, but I doubted that I could learn to build a house in two days. Long before I got off that waiting list, I bumped into a friendly acquaintance and local builder, Maria Klemperer-Johnson. As she picked out her vegetables at the winter CSA where I was working, I casually asked her about building a tiny house. At that very moment, Maria was contemplating creating a carpentry school for women, and offered to host my build as the project for her inaugural class. Through this serendipitous meeting, Hammerstone School Carpentry for Women was born. My tiny house build would take me through the following winter, but my first step was secure: I was building my relationship with Hammerstone School.

Liz CoakleyLiz Coakley has been living and farming in the greater Ithaca, NY area since 2005. In the summer of 2013, her tiny house was built as a class project for Hammerstone School's Carpentry for Women program. Liz and 7 other budding women carpenters worked and learned alongside instructor Maria Klemperer-Johnson to bring this house to life. This blog is the first in a series on the process of building tiny.

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