Your Natural Home
Creating a cozy hearth for the family


5 Eco-Friendly Home Maintenance Tips for Fall

As the leaves change color and the year begins to wrap up, many people take the time to prepare their homes and gardens to withstand the harsh winter months. However, autumn maintenance is also a great opportunity to make your home a little greener for the winter. Consider implementing the following eco-friendly tips into your fall chores to reduce your carbon footprint, save energy, and even cut down on your utility bill.

fall leaves
Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash

1. Start a Compost Pile

Fallen leaves are plentiful this time of year, which means there’s no better time to start a compost pile than in the fall! In fact, you can secure most if not all of the materials you’ll need for free in your own yard, neighborhood, and/or local park. In addition to leaves, you may want to gather lawn clippings and leftover vegetables from your autumn lawn and garden cleanup to include in your compost pile. Fall decorations that would otherwise end up in the trashcan when the season comes to a close, such as straw bales, pumpkins, and corn stalks, will also make great additions to your pile.

To successfully compost fall waste, first chop up the leaves, grass clippings, and other leftovers using a mulcher or shears. This will make it much easier for the materials to break down and speed up the decomposition and composting process. Moisten the pile slightly, and then just let it be. Turn the pile once every month or so to keep things moving.

white house in fall
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

2. Do an Outside House Check

It’s a good idea to check the outside of your house for any areas that might need attention, particularly windows and doors, in the fall before it gets too chilly. That way you won’t have to worry about repairing leaks or cracks in the middle of winter, and you’ll ensure that cold air stays out of your home and hot air stays in, which prevents you from turning up your thermostat and saves energy.

two rakes in yard
Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira on Unsplash

3. Use Human-Powered Tools

Fall chores tend to bring out several machines, such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and rototillers. While these tools may save a bit of time, they also release hazardous emissions and use up a significant amount of energy. In fact, garden equipment engines account for 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution, with gasoline powered lawn mowers topping the list. Make the environmentally friendly choice (and get a nice workout in!) by taking care of your autumn yard work with human-powered tools, such as push mowers and rakes, instead.

4. Inspect Your Heating System

Because your heating system will likely be used for the duration of the cold winter season, take advantage of these autumn months to ensure your heater is ready to go. If you haven’t already had a professional come out to inspect your heater at some point during the year, consider hiring one to ensure that the system is performing optimally or diagnose and fix any potential problems. Additionally, take the time to replace the filter in your furnace and clean your ducts to improve your heating system’s efficiency and save energy.

5. Clean with Eco-Friendly Products

Before the winter cold confines you inside, where the air can be up to five times more polluted than outside air, clean your house from top to bottom using non-toxic, eco-friendly products. There are several safe cleaners that you can purchase or make at home; for example, a mix of baking soda and warm water can be used as an all-purpose cleaner. Further, you can help keep air pollutants in your house to a minimum by cleaning with natural products all winter long.


A proponent of renewable energy and green living, Sarah Hancock enjoys writing about sustainability and manages the solar energy blog on BestCompany.com. You can also find her work on Twitter.

When A Bathroom Remodel Turns Into Something Else Entirely

Large scale house renovations are not for the faint hearted. It’s hard to avoid some interruption to ‘normal’ life, even if it’s just the tradesman’s dusty size 11’s trampling up and down the stair carpet. Or the ubiquitous builders’ radio. Or the doors left constantly open. Most especially in winter. If you really want to up the ante, tackle the kitchen or the bathroom, the most disruptive projects of all. And if that’s still not enough adrenaline to satisfy the ultimate decorative thrill seeker, take on all of the above in an ancient house.

Pic 5 Bathroom remodel
The Bathroom. The old ceiling turned out to be too weak and had to be removed. At this point, ‘first fix’ plumbing had just begunPhoto by rusty duck

But for all of its stresses and strains, for me anyway, old house renovation is exciting. It’s all about the discovery. The peeling back of the layers. Think about it. If a house is 500 years old, just how much has changed since the way we lived back then? And as their lives became increasingly sophisticated, successive generations added their own modifications to the basic structure of the house. Partitioning of rooms to fulfill different functions, the addition of fireplaces and ranges for cooking and, ultimately, the incorporation of ‘modern’ conveniences like water, drainage and electricity.

Pic 6 Bathroom remodel
Smoke blackened beams and thatch. Photo by rusty duck

In the course of renovating an old house we open up a window onto what has gone before. Taking down our bathroom ceiling opened a window on a completely different world. The original cottage would have been little more than a single room with a basic hearth in the center of the floor: a fire to provide warmth and a means of cooking away from the worst of the winter wet. No chimney, just maybe a small opening in the roof to let out some of the smoke. But we can see how murky the room must have been from the soot deposits still remaining on the inside of our roof.

Simple living, medieval style. And thank goodness we don’t have to go to quite those extremes to get back to basics today. It couldn’t have been very healthy!  

Pic 7 Bathroom remodel
Pipe City. Photo by rusty duck

In keeping with tradition I’d like to think we’re making some improvements of our own. When radiator central heating was originally installed the then owners took the path of least resistance and bolted the plumbing to the surfaces of the walls. With careful placement they managed to hide the majority of it behind heavy drapes. But if you favor a simpler window treatment, like roman shades, what do you do? Pipe City, as it became ‘affectionately’ known, would have to go.

Pic 8 Bathroom remodel
Hiding the central heating pipes. Photo by rusty duck

Not only would it have to go, it would have to go now. As luck would have it, or not, the new bathroom sits right above the heart of Pipe City. Work to reroute the plumbing, channeling it into the walls and underneath the floorboards, would have to run concurrently—because once that bathroom floor is tiled it ain’t never coming up.

The decibel level raised exponentially. Along with the mess. In the two main living rooms large furniture now lies hidden beneath dust sheets, everything else dispersed across every other room. And was that the end of it? Of course not.

Husband’s study floor was the next to come up. An electrician on a treasure hunt in pursuit of a single wire. And there’s no longer a hand basin in the downstairs restroom. Why is there no longer a hand basin in the downstairs restroom? Because someone in her infinite wisdom decided to use the toilet and basin which were coming out of the bathroom in the downstairs room because they were so much nicer than what was already there. Only then to discover that the bathroom basin didn’t quite fit...millimeters can be significant, believe me.

Six weeks in and a whole house in chaos. All for a ‘simple’ bathroom makeover. Just the kitchen remains unscathed. And only then because I’ve bolted the door!

Pic 9 Bathroom remodel
The bathroom last week. It may look like a bunker. But it’s progress. Kinda. Photo by rusty duck

Onwards.


Jessica shares with us her first-hand experience of moving to a simpler life in rural South West England, renovating a 500 year old thatched cottage and restoring an overgrown garden. She also authors the rusty duck blog, a lighthearted diary chronicling the ups and downs along the way. You have to laugh or else you’d cry. After all, as Murphy’s Law states: If It Can Go Wrong, It Will.. 

5 Essential Design Tips for Houseplants

Incorporating nature to the interior of your home is essential for those wanting to create a peaceful and replenishing space. There are many houseplants that homeowners use to infuse an essence of nature into the overall look within their home. Check out these must try design tips for cultivating a flourishing array of houseplants throughout your home.

houseplants
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

1. Macrame Hangers

These cloth plant hangers are making a comeback in home interiors. Not only are they a great spot for plants but also offer the ability to maximize the use of vertical space within the home. Macramé hangers can come in a wide variety of styles, colors, and fabrics and are a great addition to any home or patio that is tight on space. Virtually any potted plant that won’t get too tall can be placed in a macramé hanger. Good options include succulents, ferns, and plants that cascade or have vines.

2. Fast-Growing Plants

Knowing your plant varieties is important when bringing plants inside your home. Fast growing plants need a lot of space and should be carefully monitored to make sure that they aren’t impeding on other plant’s share of light. Most fast growing plants, like aloe, enjoy full sunlight near a window while others only need a small amount of sunlight to grow well. Make sure that your fast-growing plant is placed in an area that is not only big enough for them but also in a planter that will adequately hold the full size of the plant once it matures.

3. Vine Plants

Indoor houseplants that have vines are great for adding vertical interest to a home. One of the most popular spots for a vine plant is in the small amount of dead space on top of kitchen cabinets. Vine plants flourish when they are placed near the end of the cabinets and have the chance to hang down without being in the way. Other good options for vine plants include any high areas of your home that get a fair amount of sunlight and offer enough space for the vines to grow and cascade down towards the living area. Consider training vines that are getting out of hand with tie downs in order to teach the plant where to grow.

large potted tree indoors
Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

4. Potted Plants

Any kind of plant in a pot is a great addition to a home. Consider placing more large potted plants near walkways or outside doors to bring elements of nature as a point of interest into the home. You can also incorporate nature by using smaller potted plants on top of counters, in window sills, or as decoration in bathrooms. There are many types of plants that don’t need a lot of maintenance, like succulents, which make them a great option to have within a busy home. Make sure that potted plants have a drain pan though to ensure that your indoor flooring and countertops stay dry.

5. Larger Trees

Indoor plants that are on the larger size create dramatic and instant interest inside a home. The amount of fresh color that a large potted tree adds to a home is breathtaking. Consider placing larger trees like fiddle leaf or palm trees in areas where they can grow vertically without being in the way. Good options for placement include corners of rooms, entryways, or near other pieces of tall furniture that will complement the tree’s overall height. Allow a large tree enough room to grow and flourish and be sure to trim the tree if it becomes too large for the space. Other options would include moving the tree to a new spot inside in order to let it grow, as well.

Bringing nature indoors is a great way to increase spatial qualities of air circulation as well as color and interest to a home. Consider these essential design tips when considering adding houseplants to your home.


Cat Murphy is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. She enjoys cooking for family and friends and going on long hikes anywhere and everywhere in nature.

Celebrating 100 Years of the American Rabbit

In March of 1918 the American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. recognized the American rabbit with an official standard. Lewis Salisbury of Pasadena, California developed the American Blue the previous year, and the breed immediately became enormously popular, with a breeding age doe priced at an unheard of $25. Accounting for inflation that would be over $520 today!

“It peaked in popularity around 1950 and was in danger of being dropped as a breed not too long ago,” Jennifer Tiemann president of the Breeders of the American Rabbit National Specialty Club (BARNSC) says. “We are still a rare breed, but our numbers are climbing due to a dedicated group of breeders around the country. The more members we have the more we can do to promote the breed.”

Tiemann, owner of 3T's Rabbitry in southern Indiana, has been with the club for over eight years and has raised Americans for twelve years. Her son loves the blues, while her daughter fell in love with the white fur. Her daughter has one rabbit that will accept being scratched like a dog.

white american rabbit
Photo courtesy Callene Rapp

“Americans are very versatile not only for show but can produce meat for the freezer. But unlike some breeds they are much easier to handle, have amazing inquisitive personalities and love to be at the cage for scratches. We have found they tolerate heat and cold with ease and are wonderful first time moms where some breeds we have maybe will get it on their third strike.”

According to The Livestock Conservancy the American rabbit is not only unique but restricted to North America. After it’s fall in the 50s the American has become the rarest of rabbit breeds in America. It is currently listed as threatened by The Livestock Conservancy.

“The goal of BARNSC is to help promote the breed and being part of the national club you’re a part of a network of breeders of the American rabbit all over the country that love the breed,” Tiemann explains. “We have a newsletter that goes out to members a few times a year, an exclusive Facebook group of club members and a breeders map on our website listing current members.”

Tiemann also says that the club receives questions regarding the breed, which is relayed to members across the country to better serve the public’s regional questions. If someone is interested in raising Americans, they look at the membership list to help get them started.

“We also sponsor awards for the National show, extra awards at the ARBA Convention and the annual sweepstakes awards,” Tiemann says.  “Like many people raising a rare breed we may be few in numbers, but we are dedicated to not only increasing the numbers of the breed but improving the type while keeping the “non-judgable” characteristics that made many of us fall in love with this heritage breed in the first place.”

prize-winning rabbit
Photo courtesy Jennifer Tiemann

She adds that attributes to the American include good temperament, good mothering, large litters, and heat tolerance.

The pelts were highly prized as being one of the darkest blue colors at the time. Tiemann invites breeders to carefully look at your rabbits’ fur.

“When the American was in danger of extinction a lot of things changed and we still see rabbits to this day with a very long fur, almost rollback fur. The correct fur for an American is flyback, not the rollback fur as you see on a Beveren or Flemish Giant. Also, we are seeing a lighter blue in some of the rabbits being shown; the deep clear, dark, slate blue with color as far down the shaft as possible is ideal.”

Flyback fur is a coat that lies smooth over the body and when stroked from tail to head, “flys’ back to the original position very rapidly. The length of coat, density and condition will all affect this characteristic. Rollback fur, also lies smooth over the body, but when stroked from tail to head will return to its position gradually.

Adult bucks weigh 9 to 11 pounds and does between 10 to 12 pounds. They are a hardy breed and produce large litters. Fryers make marketable weight quickly and can be kept on wire bottom hutches. The blue variety is the deepest blue color of any of the recognized breeds in America.

newborn baby bunnies
Photo courtesy Jennifer Tiemann

“Rabbits are a great addition to the homestead”, Callene Rapp, owner of The Rare Hare Barn from Leon, Kansas says.

“We have always been invested and interested in heritage breeds, and it seemed natural to continue to focus on them when we began. Eric, my husband, had been around rabbits since he was a kid learning from his grandfather, and several of the heritage breeds that were the most in need of conservation he remembered his grandfather having.”

We've always loved the Americans. The blues are quite striking, and the whites, even though their color is not as popular, are great meat rabbits, possibly even a little more consistent than the blues. Both have good dispositions, and are nice to work with.

5 Eco-Friendly Backyard Upgrades

Having a yard doesn’t always mean that your outdoor living space is considered to be green landscaping. There can be many parts of your yard that aren’t supporting the environment and can actually cost you more money in the long run. Consider these eco-friendly yard upgrades to do for your outdoor living space that will help to create a more sustainable environment.

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Source: Flickr

1. Install a Rain Barrel

Installing a rain barrel is an easy choice when wanting to help support the local environment. Collect rain that comes during hot summer thunderstorms and automatically reduce your water bill every month. Put the rainwater to good use instead of allowing it to run off your property by collecting in a rain barrel. Use the rain that would normally go into the drains to water your garden plants and grass all summer long. Simply install a rain barrel system at the end of a gutter, or consider creating your own by reusing a large water container and a hose.

2. Reduce Concrete

As the normal choice for many outdoor hardscapes, concrete does offer a polished look but comes at a cost. Concrete is not very environmentally friendly and soaks up a lot of heat during the summer months. Consider removing some of the concrete in your yard and choose other more sustainable options like grass paving, wood planks, or mulch. Adding these options will not only beautify your space, but will also not crack and need expensive replacing like concrete.

3. Compost, Compost, Compost

An easy way to upgrade the look of your yard, without having to buy bags of fertilizer, is to create a compost pile. These great additions to natural yard care take the things that you would normally throw away, like grass clippings and dead leaves, and instead uses heat and some help from worms to create a nutritious and natural fertilizer for your yard. Consider choosing some composting systems that are widely available or build your own using some wood and leftover materials. Having a compost pile is a sustainable option in that is reuses natural parts of your yard to create good additions for future plants.

4. Upgrade to Native

Choosing native plants that naturally thrive in your region is an upgrade that will help to sustain the local environment, as well as provide natural beauty. Xeriscaping is a form of gardening that takes into consideration plants that are naturally part of the local environment. These plants usually don’t need a lot of extra watering and are made for the conditions that already exist in your neighborhood. Using native plants provides interest and is an economical option for saving water use as well as maintenance.

5. Add Bugs Instead of Chemicals

Not all bugs are bad for your garden. There are many types of bugs that are essential to sustaining a healthy garden as well as keeping pests at bay. Consider tossing the chemicals that you would normally use to deter critters and encourage some natural pest defenders to stick around. Ladybugs are a great addition to any garden and are a natural predator to pests that can quickly wipe out a garden. Other benefits of not spraying plants with chemicals are that it allows natural bugs, like grasshoppers and spiders, to stay in your garden to ward off pests.

There are plenty of ways to make your yard more eco-friendly. Choosing to install sustainable options like rain barrels, mulch instead of concrete, and native plants can all help to support the environment. Consider making your garden attractive to bugs that will help to deter pests as well as create a compost pile for easy fertilizer. All of these options are great when trying to make your yard more beneficial to the environment.

Environmentally Friendly Housing Options

House hunting can be a challenge for anyone looking to purchase a new home. This is doubly true for those looking for an eco-friendly home. Should you look for a new apartment? Smart home? Tiny home?

Below we highlight some of the more eco-friendly options out there so you can make an informed decision on which might be best for yourself, your family, and Mother Nature.

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Apartments

While cabin living might be idyllic and seem like the greenest way to go, studies actually indicate that high-rise apartments in cities are far better for the environment.

Research performed by the United States Energy Information Administration indicates that apartment living might be much more eco-friendly than living in a single unit home. In 2009, 19 million people lived in apartment buildings with five or more units, but only accounted for 9 percent of home energy use during that time. That explains why New York City has the lowest per capita energy use in North America.

But not all high-density units are equally good for the environment. If you’re looking to lessen your carbon footprint with apartment living, it’s best to move into a newer unit with updated, energy-efficient appliances, new windows, good insulation, and other amenities that help to lessen energy use.

Tiny Homes

The tiny house movement has created a lot of hype for the past few years. Thousands of people across America have taken advantage of the perks of tiny homes, including a lower mortgage payment, mobile capabilities, and eco-friendly benefits, to become a part of the tiny house community.

Over the course of the past 20 years, neighborhoods have sprouted in Washington D.C., Austin, Sonoma, Olympia, Portland, San Francisco, and more. It looks like the trend is here to stay — but is it good for the environment?

Overall, yes. Tiny houses reduce environmental impact by a significant margin. Why is this?

The average tiny house size is 400 square feet or less, though there are ways to make that space larger depending on the build you choose. The size of the house alone reduces waste in a number of ways.

First, the use of fewer building materials, meaning trees are being saved, fuel is being saved for the transport of these materials, and fewer building resources are used overall. Since the houses are smaller, many of the building materials can be upcycled.

The size also allows owners to use more expensive, environmentally friendly materials in the construction of the home, such as bamboo, cork, palm, natural linoleum, natural paints, etc. Many also choose to make their homes solar powered. Since the roof size is significantly smaller than that of the average house, solar power is much more financially feasible.

Smart Homes

Smart homes have been notoriously touted for the ease of comfort they add to their homeowners’ lives. It’s that same ease of comfort that actually makes them more environmentally friendly.

Smart homes reduce the burden of the resources they require by using them as efficiently as possible. Smart homes have energy-efficient appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment systems, security, and surveillance systems that are interconnected and capable of communicating with each other based on a timed schedule. In essence, you can control any aspect of your house from any room in the house or from anywhere in the world where you have an internet or phone connection.

Naturally, these functions beget energy savings that not only save you money as a homeowner, but they also help save the planet.

Trying to find a place to live that lessens your footprint on the environment is no easy task. With new technology and an increased effort on sustainable housing, more options become available each and every day.

Tiny Home Inside Look, Black Mountain North Carolina

Located on a quaint suburban street within walking distance of the tiny, unique town of Black Mountain, you will find one of several “tiny” homes located in the Asheville area of North Carolina.  One home in particular lies tucked away among a lawn of tall field grass with a huge double wrap around porch and matching balcony.

tiny home exterior and yard
Photo by Kristy Severin

With 384 square feet of living space, this unique home has everything you need, including a roomy kitchen with handmade concrete countertops, a full-size refrigerator and stove, a living room, a dining area, a washer and dryer, full-size bathroom, a reading nook and a loft you can actually stand in thanks to the extra high ceilings. The natural light that flows in is beautiful, creating a sense of peace and calmness reflecting against the pine wood walls and poplar ceilings.

 loft area
Photo by Kristy Severin

aerial view of kitchen
Photo by Carolyn Severin

tiny home reading nook tiny home bathroom vanity small bookshelf area
Photos by Carolyn Severin

The home is filled with all sorts of natural trinkets that decorate the space, from rock crystals to indoor plants laying their leaves across a shelf, or cascading down out of a window sill high in the loft, several homemade tincture bottles, pine needle baskets, hand woven dream catchers made from grape vines and hemp string, and hand crafted pottery accentuates the space throughout as well, among many other decors. The owner, fills the space with things that make her feel at peace and has very little, maintaining a simple lifestyle. She feels that living this way creates less impact on the earth and also helps her to live a less hectic lifestyle because she is living in a home she can afford and is able to use any extra money for traveling, gardening, or making new things.

Living small is an eco-friendly way of living that can help in using less resources. This minimalist lifestyle has created much interest over the past several years as many people are finding living small and living with less makes way for finding peace and tranquility in owning and managing less things and spending more time outside and in nature.

For more information on this tiny house or to inquire about plans, please email Kristy.







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