Your Natural Home
Creating a cozy hearth for the family

Building Sustainable Barns and Other Farming Structures

The definition of homesteading has evolved significantly since the implementation (and subsequent repeal) of 1862’s Homesteading Act. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that outbuildings are a big deal in the homesteading world. For a self-sufficient homestead to truly function, you need a greenhouse as well as a barn or other type of farming structure.

Photo by Pexels

The good news for DIY homesteaders is that building sustainable barns and greenhouses is easier than ever. There are myriad possibilities in the realm of sustainable barn design, and it starts with your personal needs. What is the barn or farm structure’s primary purpose? If your barn will be used to store tractors and other types of farming equipment, your design blueprints will differ greatly from those intended for a barn that houses horses and other farm animals.

No matter the size or function of your homestead, building a sustainable structure on your own is a lofty but achievable goal. Here are some points to consider when constructing eco-friendly barns and outbuildings.

Sustainability Issues on the Homestead

Many homesteaders are passionate about alternative power and dedicated to energy efficiency best practices. At the start of your sustainable barn project, do some research about your homestead’s location to determine the best alternative energy source for your property. In the Great Plains, for example, wind capacity is high, so a DIY wind turbine may be the best choice for optimal energy efficiency.

Where solar power is concerned, ample peak sun-hours are the key to maximum efficiency. Peak sun-hours are sunlight hours that provide at least 1,000 watts of photovoltaic power per square meter. Typically, the closer to the equator you are, the more peak sun-hours you will experience. Arizona, Nevada, and California top the list of U.S. states with the highest average amount of peak sun-hours.

Another aspect of sustainable outbuilding construction is paint choice. The majority of traditional interior and exterior paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as acetate, benzene, ethanol, and formaldehyde. VOCs negatively impact indoor air quality and are widely known to cause cancer, respiratory issues, and other health problems; thus, they are far from sustainable.

When shopping for eco-friendly paint, skip brands with VOCs and opt for paint made from natural ingredients such as iron oxide pigment, milk casein, and lime.

Building with Sustainable and Upcycled Materials

VOCs may also be present in building materials, so you may need to think outside the box when you’re constructing a sustainable barn or outbuilding.

When it comes to a farming structure’s floor, you have myriad options. Many people choose concrete for barn floors as the material is inexpensive and relatively durable, but the downside to a concrete floor is the fact that it’s not eco-friendly. In fact, the main material used to make concrete is cement, which is a notoriously hazardous material.

In lieu of concrete, homesteaders have several eco-friendly flooring choices. For instance, bamboo floors are a great option in regards to both sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Bamboo is sustainable due to its fast rate of growth, especially when compared to hardwood trees.

Professionals estimate that bamboo flooring typically renews itself in about 5-7 years, while hardwood takes at least 30 years to re-grow completely. Further, your out-of-pocket cost for bamboo flooring will only come to between $3-$5 per square foot on average.

Insulation is another consideration in every sustainable outbuilding project. Many homesteaders want to avoid fiberglass insulation, for good reason. Fiberglass, which is used in about 90 percent of construction projects nationwide, is a man-made vitreous fiber that contains possible human carcinogens, also known as cancer causing agents. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, fiberglass can also cause skin and eye irritation, as well as respiratory problems.

Fortunately for homesteaders, there are several viable alternatives to fiberglass insulation. You can upcycle old denim, use natural wool or soy-based foam insulation, or try out “hempcrete.” The hemp-based insulation alternative is hypoallergenic, as well as resistant to insect and fire damage, U.S. News and World Report data indicates.

Material choice is a vital aspect of sustainable building practices. Whether you’re building a barn or a larger outbuilding structure, shop around for sustainable materials such as bamboo flooring, mineral-based paint, and recycled denim insulation. Determine if your homestead’s location is more suited for a wind turbine or solar panel array, and start living a more eco-friendly life.

A Preview of Today’s Kitchen of the Future

Envisioning the kitchen of the future has become a perennial pastime since Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, when suffragist Mary Lease predicted that within a century, women would be freed from the drudgery of the kitchen by a meal pill that would eliminate the need for cooking. The fair also featured more realistic kitchen inventions, including Aunt Jemima pancake mix and the world’s first automatic dishwasher. Four decades later, the 1933 World’s Fair returned to Chicago to showcase Homes of Tomorrow, which included more sophisticated dishwashers and other time-saving kitchen appliances. In 1956, General Motors took a spin at the kitchen of tomorrow in its promotional video “Design for Dreaming,” where a cake could be baked by simply inserting a card into a slot to see a preview of the finished product and watch the ingredients automatically start on an assembly line.

Today, some of these ideas remain wishful thinking, while others are already a reality. Meanwhile, some of today’s realities have surpassed anything past futurists imagined. Here’s a look at what the kitchen of the future looks like today, and how it might look in the near future.

robotic kitchen arm
Photo by Shutterstock

The Connected Kitchen

An outstanding feature of today’s futuristic kitchen is connectivity to the Internet of Things. One promise the connected kitchen is on the verge of delivering is guided cooking. This year’s Consumer Electronic Show and Kitchen and Bath International Show featured smart appliance systems designed to let you choose a recipe based on your available ingredients, send the ingredients to the over for preheating and use videos to guide you through unfamiliar cooking steps. For instance, Whirlpool announced that its smart ovens will now integrate with the Yummly app, which uses image recognition technology to take an image of your available food, follow integrated cooking tutorials and videos, and send instructions to your connected over or microwave.

But today’s connected kitchen isn’t limited to smart cooking appliances and apps. LG’s ThinQ smart fridge that includes a built-in touchscreen, a webOS operating system, Alexa integration and built-in speakers to stream music wirelessly. You can also connect your kitchen appliances to a high-definition camera surveillance system so you can check on your children and pets while you’re cooking, or confirm that your appliances are turned off in other parts of your home.

Automated Indoor Gardening

The kitchen of the future also offers new ways to bring food to your table, including automated indoor gardening. One of today’s most popular indoor gardening methods is hydroponics, which replaces traditional soil with a mineral nutrient solution that directly nourishes plants, either through unsupported roots or through roots supported by a medium such as perlite. Hydroponics systems may also be suspended in the air and misted (aeroponics), or even combined with aquaculture systems to support edible fish and aquatic animals (aquaponics).

The latest innovations combine hydroponics with automated indoor gardening systems. For instance, the CityCrop intelligent indoor garden combines hydroponics with automated climate control, smart nutrient dosing systems and LED grow lights tailored to plant needs, all controlled by an app that lets you monitor your garden’s growth. Indoor gardening kits such as Click and Grow are also available that simplify the set-up process.

Kitchen Robots

Robots are also moving into the kitchen to make common household chores easier. Moley Robotics is scheduled to release a robot chef this year. The robot can download a recipe from a library of thousands of meals and use its robotic arms to prepare the meal following the same procedures a master chef would use. While a bit pricey at an estimated $18,000, once this type of technology becomes mainstream, prices should drop to more affordable levels.

Robots are also helping make it easier to clean up your kitchen. Robot vacuums such as the Neato Botvac can do your sweeping for you. When it’s time to mop your floor, floor mopping robots such as the iRobot Braava jet can do the cleaning for you.

The future of today’s kitchen is connected, with appliances integrated with the internet and mobile phones as well as appliances and electronics in other parts of the home. Tomorrow’s kitchen will also use automated indoor gardening to grow fresh food right in your home. Kitchen robots are ready to start doing your cooking, as well as clean up your floors. The kitchen of tomorrow will make it easier to cook, bring food to your table, clean up and relax as you enjoy a good meal.

Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance writer who helps select clients write quality content to reach business and technology audiences. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies and bestselling authors. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing, and career planning.

7 Tips for Styling Your Bedroom for Better Sleep

Our bedrooms are our oasis for sleep, relaxation, and rest after long, stressful days. Your bedroom should be the most personal room in your house, especially because you spend one third of your life sleeping.

When it comes to styling your interiors, never neglect the importance of your bedroom. Be intentional with your decisions and create a space that can optimize your sleep to help contribute to a happier, healthier life.

relaxing bedroom
Photo by Unsplash

1. Clear Out the Clutter

A cluttered space is proven to lead to increased stress levels. When you start decorating your room, don’t overdo it. The more opportunities you create to add clutter and mess, the more susceptible you are to end up piling things around. Leave the knick-knacks and the extra chairs out of the bedroom and save them for your living room or den.

2. Start with the Right Bed

Your bed has the biggest impact on the quality of sleep you have, and unfortunately, a lot of people are sleeping on the wrong bed. A recent consumer preference survey found that while 45 percent of Americans are sleeping on an innerspring bed, only 12.6 percent are satisfied with this type of mattress. Don’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed every morning. Do the research necessary to find the best bed for your needs.

3. Be Smart with Your Theme Colors

When it comes to color, don’t worry about unleashing your creativity here, but stay away from intense colors like reds, purples, or oranges. The best colors for sleep are cool tones that help you feel relaxed. Try out light shades of blue when adding color to your sleep haven.

4. Eliminate Noise Distractions

The best way to eliminate sound from your bedroom is to customize your walls and windows. If you aren’t a big fixer upper, don’t worry: There are still ways to keep your bedroom quiet to prevent you from waking up during the night. The first step you can make is being wise about which room in your house you choose for your bedroom. Don’t choose a room that backs up to a busy road or sidewalk. You can also try using a white noise machine that will mask background noises.

lavender sprigs in glass vase
Photo by Unsplash

5. Appeal to Your Senses

Not only will you want your room to be visually pleasing, but you’ll also want it to smell and feel relaxing. An essential oil diffuser with scents like lavender or chamomile will help bring a calming aroma to your room.

Think about what makes you most comfortable. This can help you make decisions between carpet, hardwood flooring, or a rug. You can also customize your bed sheets to what appeals the most to you whether than be cotton, silk, or jersey sheets.

6. Keep It Cool

The optimal temperature for good sleep is between 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit, so consider ways that you can keep your bedroom cool for better sleep. A ceiling fan will help keep air circulating in your room, or a stand-up fan that rotates. Fans also provide a soothing white noise sound to help you sleep.

7. Dim the Lights

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) emit a harsh, bright light and blue light which will stimulate you, so when it comes to your lighting options, consider incandescent bulbs which give off a diffuse, warm light. Red light is also known to help with your melatonin production and sleep, so you may want to look into red bulbs for your lamps or red string lights.

You don’t have to be an expert interior designer to create the bedroom of your dreams. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have your own personal sleep oasis to cozy up in every night.

Fall Lawn Care Tips

After a busy summer growing season, many homeowners choose to do less lawn care once fall arrives. However, fall is the perfect time to prepare your lawn for next year to encourage fuller and healthier lawn growth. Consider these fall lawn care tips in order to make sure to help your lawn receives the nutrients that it needs.


Manage Leaves

There is a lot of discussion about falling leaves and if they are a good or bad thing for lawns. Dead leaves are a natural nutrient that is great for lawns but needs to be cared for in the proper way. Allowing whole dead leaves to pile up on the lawn can encourage moisture and damage the underlying grass. Make sure to use this natural food for lawns by mulching the leaves into smaller pieces. Mulching the leaves will cut them down into smaller pieces making them easier to spread and break down into the soil.

Continue Mowing

You probably won’t have to mow as often during the fall but make sure to keep an eye on the total height of your grass in order to know when to mow. Never take off more than 1/3 of the total grass height at a time in order to protect the grassroots from damage. Allowing grass to grow too long can encourage matting and cause fungi to grow. If you don’t have a leaf mulcher, mowing the lawn without a bag will help to use those leaves for fertilizer as well.

Protect from Thatch

Fall is a great time to aerate the soil in order to protect from thatch: the build-up of roots, stems, and debris that can seriously harm lawn growth. Thatch is a common lawn issue that blocks soil from important sunlight, water, and oxygen. A build-up of thatch in a lawn also interferes with nutrients that are important for lawn health. Make sure to aerate your lawn with either an aerator or special lawn shoes that will poke holes in the lawn. Doing so will allow all of those important elements to reach the root system of the grass.

Add Fall Fertilizer

Once you have aerated the lawn, consider adding a slow-release granular fertilizer in order to support the lawn over winter. Adding fertilizer will help to feed essential nutrients to the root system as well as help to sustain the roots in cold temperatures. Choosing a fertilizer that is heavy in nitrogen with some potassium will help protect the grass from disease as well as encourage root growth for a healthier lawn.

Consider Overseeding

The common practice of overseeding is a great way to help build up a lawn in the fall as well as discourage weeds from growing. Adding seed to areas of your lawn will help to fill in thin spots as well as help to support the overall lawn system. Spreading seed is not a one-time job though, as seeds will need more watering and special care in order to take hold before the cold weather arrives. Make sure to overseed in areas of your lawn that need a little boost of help as well as those that have become worn after a busy summer season.

Fall lawn care is especially crucial in order to keep it strong and healthy through the cooler weather. Consider adding fertilizer and seed to lawns in order to build up the lawn and prevent disease. Make sure to continue cutting the lawn when needed throughout the fall season as well as aerating the lawn to support the root system. Finally, enjoy those fallen leaves but make sure to mulch them into the lawn afterward to add important natural nutrients to the soil. Follow all of these fall lawn care tips in order to promote healthy growth and sustainability of your lawn this year.

Jackie Greene is a blogger, gardener, and nutrition enthusiast. She enjoys creating organic meals for family and friends using the fresh ingredients she produces from her backyard homestead.

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 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


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.

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.

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