Meet the Mobile, Off-Grid Tiny Solar House Traveling Across America

 

What happens when a passion for solar energy gets combined with enthusiasm for traveling, facilitated by the small-house movement? Enter the Tiny Solar House, a mobile marketing campaign that gives people a first-hand example of the practicability of living in a home powered by solar.

The Tiny Solar House has been on a surprisingly big tour of America the past 6 months, sharing experiences and inspiration of a solar-powered lifestyle. Logging over 10,000 miles since departing from Austin, Texas, in May, the journey has made stops in 15 states and 10 National Parks.

This 210-square-foot off-grid house on wheels is essentially an RV with a different look. The base of the home is a dual-axle trailer atop a structure was framed, insulated, and enclosed.

The Tiny Solar House features a multifunctional living room/office/art studio, kitchen with full-sized fridge, double sink, and propane oven, shower, toilet, and upstairs sleeping loft big enough for a queen-sized mattress.

 

But the true beauty of the Tiny Solar House comes from the outside. 6 photovoltaic, 280-watt SolarWorld solar panels adorn the roof and send solar energy to a small metal box above the tongue of the trailer. Inside the box there are 6 deep-cycle batteries wired for 750 amp-hours at 12 volts, a Midnite Solar charge controller, and a clever Xantrex inverter with capability to plug into an RV electrical hookup if needed.

This special feature came in handy recently when stopped at a tiny house community on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.

“We were hit with back to back to back cloudy days which depleted our battery bank and forced us to hook up to grid power,” said  Michael Chance, owner of the Tiny Solar House. “It was a sad day, and the first time in six months that we had to rely on non-solar electricity,” he added.

The Tiny Solar House is one of 19 tiny houses currently parked at Austin Live|Work, one of the largest tiny house communities in the nation. This 10-acre, alternative housing community is drawing like-minded individuals together for a number of reasons. Some tenants have chosen the tiny lifestyle to decrease their carbon footprints and get more in-touch with the land, while others see it as a path to financial independence and an escape from rapidly increasing cost of living, longer work hours, and frustrating commutes.

According to Chance, “There’s been lots of interest in solar pretty much everywhere I’ve been. At National Parks, the RVers will walk up and ask about the solar panels, and at the tiny house community a number of people have solar and many of the others have plans to incorporate it down the line.”

The Tiny Solar house will soon head west, traveling through New Mexico and Arizona before stopping in Southern California for the winter.

 

“Since the house is fully solar electric, I couldn’t incorporate heating or air conditioning into the battery bank that was installed. So my travels correlate with the seasons, and I rely on fans, windows, and good insulation to maintain comfortable temperatures,” he added.

 

After visiting California, Chance plans to take the tiny house north with stops in Oregon and Washington State.

Follow the Tiny Solar House journey on Instagram, Facebook, and the Blog for the latest news, photos, and updates.

Michael Chance is a self-proclaimed “solar enthusiast” and has been involved in the sales and marketing of solar to home and business owners for the past six years. Michael is the owner of Chance Marketing Group, an online marketing consultancy with specialties in content generation, search engine optimization, and company communications. His current project is the Tiny Solar House, a mobile, off-grid house on wheels which is traveling America to spread awareness about the reality of sustainable living powered by sunlight. Michael received his BBA in Marketing from the University of Georgia.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Choosing an Eco-Friendly Artificial Tree

Image 1

Let’s cut to the chase—there is no such thing as a 100 percent eco-friendly artificial tree, no matter how you slice it or dice it. Though these trees are reusable year after year, if you want to upgrade your artificial tree, decide you don’t like its size or shape, or its lights go out and stop working, it cannot be recycled.

For me, this is a conundrum. My daughter is allergic to real Christmas trees. She touched one when she was two and we ended up in the ER because her hands and feet became so swollen. Real Christmas trees can carry over 50 types of mold and trigger allergic reactions, making the holidays a drag for those with allergies and asthma. Having a daughter who’s allergic to different types of Christmas trees and mold means a real tree is not an option for my family.

If you are in the same boat, it’s okay. You can’t choose a totally eco-friendly artificial tree, but you can make some wiser choices that will lessen your environmental impact. Here’s how.

IMage 2

Choose a PE Plastic Tree

Theses artificial trees have branches are made from injected mold polyethylene instead of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC off-gases volatile organic compounds and is made from non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic. Many artificial trees made from PVC also test positive for lead. This means you need to shop for a tree that claims to be 100 percent PVC free.

Shop Used

If you cannot afford a PVC-free tree, consider saving an older artificial tree. Not only will you be keeping the tree from ending up in the landfill, but you won’t have to worry about the PVC off-gassing, as that only lasts a few days to a few weeks.

Shop with Longevity in Mind

Whatever you choose to buy, think long-term. If you buy a new tree, make sure it’s an investment that you’ll keep for a very long time and will match your decor for years to come.

Choose LED Pre-Lit Trees

Choosing an artificial tree with LED lights will save more energy than traditional lights, so you can feel good about that choice.

Think Safety

If you do end up purchasing a PVC plastic tree, be sure to set your tree up in a place that is well ventilated. If possible, set your new tree up in the garage and give it at least two weeks before decorating to allow for the off-gassing. In addition, avoid letting children touch PVC trees, as they sometimes have lead contamination.

Consider a Non-Traditional Tree

It seems unfathomable, but you can still celebrate without a traditional Christmas tree! If you have a fireplace, you can decorate the mantel and have that be your focal point for the gifts and celebrating. Or, decorate an outdoor tree with lights and homemade ornaments for the birds instead. You may even consider making your own type of tree out of books or ornaments, or a cardboard tree that can be recycled.

Whatever tree you choose, do your research, ask questions and seek out a PE plastic tree if possible. If not, have fun coming up with a non-traditional tree idea and start a new trend!

Green and Clean Mom Sommer Poquette writes often for The Home Depot on lifestyle topics and green choices. If you are also in need of an artificial Christmas tree this year, you can find a wide selection online at Home Depot.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Small-House Kitchen Design Ideas

If you’re the one who cooks and your partner is the one who washes and builds, be sure to let it be known that you want a fully function small-house kitchen. You want track lights to focus on the work-space, a vent fan to remove vapors, have several ways to cook, a full-size refrigerator and freezer, and of course the kitchen window is above the sink. In a small-house kitchen you have the convenience of doing every task standing in one spot, or within one or two steps.

Kitchen Wall w text

Draw your kitchen floor plan and then envision the details when looking face-on, rather than from the top-down, and draw a wall plan that shows the height of the drawers and countertops, the distance from the lighting, window position and dimensions, etc. Small-house design is very much dictated by wall space. 

Sink Counter w text

Compactness is achieved by using pull-out or fold-out work counters. The utility of ways to make things fold and/or slide must be weighed against the frequency of use, e.g. how often are you willing to deploy and stow a board that covers the sink for a temporary work surface. A better choice would be a built-in, pull-out counter board, adjacent to the sink.

Referigerator w text

A classic opportunity is to locate the refrigerator under the staircase and use the remaining wedge of space for pantry shelves, which can be accessed both through the stairs and from the front. Another opportunity is to have a roll-around box that doubles as a mobile island, with an out-of-the-way place to park it.

Oven w text

Oven options can be on-grid electric, propane, wood, or even a solar oven built into the kitchen wall (reflectors facing south). I happen to use a wood stove and added the oven box, hot water coils, and snow melt tank.  It requires a space of 6 feet by 6 feet from floor to ceiling.

Shelves w text

Wall shelving just above head-height is reachable even in the midst of cooking or dish washing. Shelving material that is a grid work instead of a solid will allow you to better see through the shelves to spot items above. Higher shelves are reachable with the aid of a folding step ladder that stows behind a door.

Happy Building and Bon Appétit!

In addition to basic building ability to put up shelves, cabinetry skills are needed to build hinged, sliding, and roll-around features. The materials can be decorative, but they must be functional including water-, heat-, and scratch-proof. Plumbing and electrical skills are needed to install hot and cold water, a sink drain, power outlets, lighting, and exhaust fan.

So, if you’re the one who builds, think about the saucy lasagna that will soon be cooking in your new small house kitchen.

More ideas for your homestead and small house are in Christopher James Marshall’s holistic guide, Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here including his articles Dual-Mode Hot Water System Heated with Solar and Wood, Six Things You Can Repurpose into Homestead Mojo, and Livable Space Design for Tiny Homes. Read all of Christopher’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Importance of Insulation

A few years ago, we rented a charming house on stilts that was situated on a hillside, with a large wraparound porch/balcony. We had a breathtaking view of the valley below, complete privacy and enough space to garden and raise some livestock, and the landlord boasted of the house being eco-friendly. We soon had the chance to test this last claim when the rubber hit the road.

It was true that the house had a greywater recycling system, which was awesome. It also had many large windows to capture light, which was a great mood-booster for me, as I’m really a sunshine kind of person (I’m lucky to be living in Israel). However, those windows were the weak point of the house insulation-wise – not only were they single-paned, the frames were badly fitted and air could get in through them. Furthermore, the house itself was built from construction panels plastered on the interior, without any additional insulation in between. It was cold and drafty in winter, and if you’re thinking this isn’t a big issue around here, let me tell you that it can get pretty chilly up in the hills, and a poorly insulated house means that when it’s close to freezing point outside, it isn’t much better inside.

In the summer, of course, the house would turn into a furnace, as all those lovely panoramic windows didn’t have adequate shades or screens. We invested in curtains, but this wasn’t enough. We had to keep the air conditioner turned on almost 24/7 to make the conditions somewhat livable. Bottom line: not a very energy-efficient, eco-friendly house after all.

Later on, in the house where we currently live, we had what you could call an insulation horror story. The people who had built this house used glass wool for insulation. Now, glass wool makes great insulating material, but because the builders didn’t use any sheathing, just stuffed exposed glass wool between the outer walls and the inner wood paneling, the glass wool eventually began to disintegrate and leak through tiny cracks in the paneling. For a couple of months we experienced persistent coughing and other symptoms of respiratory system irritation without even knowing why. Once the problem was detected, we solved it by plastering the walls.

insulation

Plastering walls to stop glass wool leakage

When building our own cabin, we learned from other people’s mistakes: we wanted a well-insulated, energy-efficient home, and we wanted to do it right. So we used glass wool, but wrapped layers of it in plastic sheaths and only then used it for insulating the walls and ceiling. We opted to have fewer windows than we would have chosen from a purely aesthetic point of view, and put in just enough to give us plenty of light, making sure the frames fit well. We look forward to moving in and testing out the result of our labors.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Small-House Kitchen

Enjoying Hearty Home-Cooked Meals

If you’re the one who cooks and your partner is the one who washes and builds, be sure to let it be known that you want a fully function small-house kitchen.  You want track lights to focus on the work-space, a vent fan to remove vapors, have several ways to cook, a full-size refrigerator and freezer, and of course the kitchen window is above the sink.  In a small house kitchen you have the convenience of doing every task standing in one spot, or within one or two steps.

Kitchen Wall w text

Draw your kitchen floor plan and then envision the details when looking face-on, rather than from the top-down, and draw a wall plan that shows the height of the drawers and countertops, the distance from the lighting, window position and dimensions, etc.  Small-house design is very much dictated by wall space. 

Sink Counter w text

Compactness is achieved by using pull-out or fold-out work counters.  The utility of ways to make things fold and/or slide must be weighed against the frequency of use, e.g. how often are you willing to deploy and stow a board that covers the sink for a temporary work surface.  A better choice would be a built-in, pull-out counter board, adjacent to the sink.

Referigerator w text

A classic opportunity is to locate the refrigerator under the staircase and use the remaining wedge of space for pantry shelves, which can be accessed both through the stairs and from the front.  Another opportunity is to have a roll-around box that doubles as a mobile island, with an out-of-the-way place to park it.

Oven w text

Oven options can be on-grid electric, propane, wood, or even a solar oven built into the kitchen wall (reflectors facing south).  I happen to use a wood stove and added the oven box, hot water coils, and snow melt tank.  It requires a space of 6’ x 6’ from floor to ceiling. 

Shelves w text

Wall shelving just above head-height is reachable even in the midst of cooking or dish washing.  Shelving material that is a grid work instead of a solid will allow you to better see through the shelves to spot items above.  Higher shelves are reachable with the aid of a folding step ladder that stows behind a door.

Happy Building and Bon Appétit!

In addition to basic building ability to put up shelves, cabinetry skills are needed to build hinged, sliding, and roll-around features.  The materials can be decorative, but they must be functional including water-, heat-, and scratch- proof.  Plumbing and electrical skills are needed to install hot and cold water, a sink drain, power outlets, lighting, and exhaust fan. 

So, if you’re the one who builds, think about the saucy lasagna that will soon be cooking in your new small house kitchen.

More ideas for your homestead and small house are in Christopher James Marshall’s holistic guide, Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here including his articles Dual-Mode Hot Water System Heated with Solar and Wood, Six Things You Can Repurpose into Homestead Mojo, and Livable Space Design for Tiny Homes.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Ways to Help Your Smart Home Heat and Cool More Efficiently

Image 1

Motorized shades can work with your smart home to reduce solar gain in your home.

I recently wrote about how smart home technology can help your home save energy. Chief among these energy-saving tips was installing a smart thermostat. A Wi-Fi-connected programmable thermostat can save you as much as 30 percent on your HVAC’s energy use. However, the potential to save money on your heating and cooling doesn’t end there. One of the biggest benefits of smart devices and the Internet of Things is the potential for integration. When these devices work together, you can create a smart home that actively and intelligently works to help you save energy.

Products such as connected thermostats, blinds and lighting can team up to automatically adjust your smart home system to achieve optimal energy efficiency. Here are a few options you can implement in your own home.

Install Motorized Blinds

On their own, motorized blinds are a simple way to cut down on the energy used to heat and cool a home. The convenience of being able to press a button and have all your shades close or open to cut down on solar gain or welcome in the warmth of the sun makes it more likely you’ll do it on a regular basis and thereby use less energy, keeping your home comfortable.

With the advent of the smart home, however, motorized blinds can be programmed to automatically adjust themselves even when you’re not there. Set the south-facing window coverings to open and close based on time of day, and you won’t even have to think about it. Plus, by having all your shades shut at sunset, you don’t have to worry about the day’s heat escaping through the exposed glass.

Connect your motorized blinds to a smart thermostat and the thermostat can actually tell them when to open and close based on the ambient temperature of the room and the weather outside. That way, it won’t need to turn your HVAC on, and the shades can do some of the hard work without burning unnecessary energy.

Image 2

Wi-Fi-connected fans can work with your HVAC system to improve its efficiency while keeping you comfortable.

Use Smart Fans

A smart fan can connect to smart thermostats and help control the temperature in your home. For example, a Haiku fan with SenseME technology paired with a Nest Thermostat can adjust automatically, switching between its seasonal settings based on the temperature sent from the thermostat. It can also adjust its speed as temperatures rise, allowing you to increase your thermostat set point and still feel just as cool. During winter months, the fan can switch direction to slowly push warm air down from your ceiling, reducing your heater’s workload without creating a draft.

Image 3

Consider Smart Vents

Smart vents have built-in sensors that wirelessly communicate to each other and your smart thermostat to regulate and redirect airflow to where it’s needed so your HVAC system doesn’t overwork. They also act as room sensors (see below) that tell your thermostat if you’ve left the house, letting it safely reduce its energy use.

Image 4a

Temperature and occupancy sensors can tell your thermostat where you are and if the room is at the right temperature.

Use Sensors to Control Energy Use

Some smart thermostats can work with external sensors to adjust the temperature so that one room isn’t left too cold or too hot. For example, the Ecobee3 thermostat comes with a sensor that you can place in a room that has temperature fluctuations to help even out the temperature of the whole home. You can also use the sensors’ built-in occupancy detectors to avoid overcooling or overheating your house. The sensors “follow you” throughout the home, making sure that the room you are in is the one that’s at the optimal temperature.

Image 5a

Want the heating to turn off when you leave the house? Connect your smartphone to your smart thermostat and let geolocation and IoT do the rest.

Sync Your Smartphone with Your Thermostat

With a smart home hub such as Wink or Samsung’s Smart Things in your home, you can connect your smartphone to your thermostat and have it automatically set to an energy saving temperature when you leave, then turn back to a more comfortable one when you come back home. You simply connect your phone to your hub, then it uses geolocation to determine if you are home or away and adjusts the thermostat’s temperature respectively. A few smart thermostats including Nest, Ecobee3 and Honeywell’s Lyric, can do this on their own without the need for a separate hub.

Smart Makes Sense

Bringing smart technology into your home can increase the convenience of everyday life. In the case of controlling energy in the home, this type of convenience can also cut out waste, allowing us to tread with a lighter footprint on our planet each and every day.

An award-winning freelance journalist, Jennifer Tuohy has 15 years’ experience in newspapers, magazines, marketing and online content. She writes on a variety of subjects, but her passion lies with technology, sustainability and the intersection of the two. Jennifer began her career at London’s Daily Telegraph and has written for a number of lifestyle publications and newspapers. For more information on  window treatments that can impact energy savings, visit HomeDepot.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Harvesting Civic Culture in a Neglected Filbert Grove

My first blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS were about my quarter-acre suburban property. For 16 years, I have been creating a suburban permaculture landmark in the Northwest — grass to garden, reclaimed automobile space, passive-solar retrofits, edible landscaping all over, energy-saving investments, 6,500-gallon rainwater catchment system. See www.SuburbanPermaculture.org for more info and photos.

Graphic of a transformed suburban property using permaculture techniques

Vision for Sustainable Communities

During the same 16 years, the growing threat posed by a changing climate has stimulated interest in technology that is more planet friendly: solar electric, windmills, passive house, electric cars, etc.

Overall, these technologies fall short. They are still products of mainstream economic thinking. For the most part, they are still supply sided, meaning, they are still intended to support a growing demand — automobiles (eco/social footprint of a car is far more than simply carbon), energy-intensive food system, homes that are still too large (kudos to tiny houses). Advertising that claims a product to be green does not necessarily make it so.

This writer believes consumer culture, even the emerging greener version, does not honestly address the deepening trends. Mainstream “green” strategies still take too much from planet Earth. A very different set of goals and culture is called for.

Green technologies and home scale permaculture are urgently needed, but to address climate change, damage to the natural world and economic malpractice; the goal should be to trade consumer culture for a culture where humans fit within their ecological and economic means. In simple terms: to use and buy less, to live closer to home, to consume far less meat and animal products, to trade “stuff” for social uplift and human relationships.

Notably and importantly, the positive values and ideals for an eco-logical culture are the same as values advocated by the world’s great spiritual traditions – service to the community, care for the natural world, uplift of the spirit and modesty of lifestyle. A society, economy, and culture based on living within our means would addresses almost every social and environmental challenge of our time.

Over the coming several months, this writer’s blog will describe and explain a variety of real-ife examples of people who are pioneers, taking initiatives that provide a preview of what fitting in might look like. Fitting in can take place at home, work, play, anywhere — rural, urban and suburban. Most of these stories take place at the neighborhood scale. They typically involve multiple civic entities working together. The goal, to create green and resilient homes, neighborhoods, economy and culture.

Civic Culture Sparked in a Neglected Filbert Grove

The first story comes from my neighborhood here in Eugene.

The east side of our neighborhood for almost two miles is the Willamette River which includes a greenway park along both sides of the river featuring beautiful urban bike paths that go for miles. There are no cars in the greenway.

Eight blocks from my home is a 65-tree filbert (hazelnut) grove in the greenway. Planted in the 1940s, the grove predates the greenway by decades. Until six years ago, the trees were covered with a tangle of blackberries and English ivy. I passed by the grove on the bike path for years.

Finally, after close to 10 years of inaction, I realized we could do something with the grove. I found that the city of Eugene had a program to empower people in the community to take on projects on public property. The city would actually help organize work parties, provide tools and even offer snacks for the volunteers.

Early work party in the filbert grove.

So we started to restore the grove. People from the neighborhood helped. Over the years, fraternities and Chinese student groups from the U of Oregon helped. A church youth group helped two times and feasted on pizza after work.

The work parties were fun, the site is beautiful, along the river, no cars, bike path. We did cut out the black berries, did a lot of pruning, we fertilized, mowed, coordinated with the city.

Church youth group helps in the filbert grove.

The filbert grove project offers a preview of a greener future where citizens take on more responsibility for the well being of their neighborhoods and community. People learn new skills and make friends at the work parties, but perhaps most important, they learn the idea of “civic culture,” a very desirable condition where people actively participate in making where they live a better place. Civic culture is strong on building social skills, that put people and planet friendly values and ideals into action for creating green and resilient communities.

At the work parties, participants hear the story about citizen-city collaboration, the ideas of local food security, citizen initiative, greening the neighborhood and reducing our eco footprint. Our neighborhood association has been helpful. The grove is one of four areas in our neighborhood along the greenway where citizen volunteers have agreements with the city to look after public property. These are all elements of local civic culture, taking on responsibility and taking action for the good of friends, neighbors and the environment.

Most cities do not have time or money to do this kind of work and community building but it should be “regular” people stepping up anyway. A thoughtful look, even at familiar places, can reveal surprising opportunities for citizens to take initiative.

The citizen projects in the greenway have all built a trust and relationships with the city. We now have agreements with the city where we help remove invasive species by hand rather than the city using herbicides.

We have more ideas for future collaborations. These lessons and actions will only become more important as time goes on for creating more green and resilient homes, neighborhoods, economy and culture.

This past fall was the best filbert harvest in decades for the grove. I saw many people out collecting nuts. Its come one, come all.

Almost any neighborhood, suburban, rural, urban, has places people can “repair” — a stream, open space, underused buildings, community need. Upcoming blog posts will profile other places building civic culture. If you know of projects that deserve some recognition, please contact me. Finally, I have a new poster – Creating Green and Resent Homes, Neighborhoods, Economy and Culture. Here’s a link to see the poster.

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home, including food, energy, water, and culture. Read a draft preface for his forthcoming book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier at www.SuburbanPermaculture.org. He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Find his contact info, CV and more topics he can address on his website, and click here to read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts. 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Harvest Civic Culture in the Filbert Grove

My first blogs for Mother Earth News were about my quarter acre suburban property. For sixteen years, I have been creating a suburban permaculture landmark in the Northwest – grass to garden, reclaimed automobile space, passive solar retrofits, edible landscaping all over, energy saving investments, 6500 gallon rain water catchment system. See www.suburbanpermaculture.org for more info and photos.

Graphic of a transformed suburban property.

During the same 16 years, the growing threat posed by a changing climate has stimulated interest in technology that is more planet friendly – solar electric, windmills, passive house, electric cars, etc.

Overall, these technologies fall short. They are still products of mainstream economic thinking. For the most part, they are still supply sided, meaning, they are still intended to support a growing demand – automobiles (eco/social footprint of a car is far more than simply carbon), energy intensive food system, homes that are still too large (kudos to tiny houses). Advertising that claims a product to be green does not necessarily make it so.

This writer believes consumer culture, even the emerging greener version, does not honestly address the deepening trends. Mainstream “green” strategies still take too much from planet Earth. A very different set of goals and culture is called for.

Green technologies and home scale permaculture are urgently needed, but to address climate change, damage to the natural world and economic malpractice; the goal should be to trade consumer culture for a culture where humans fit within their ecological and economic means. In simple terms – to use and buy less, to live closer to home, to consume far less meat and animal products, to trade “stuff” for social uplift and human relationships.

Notably and importantly, the positive values and ideals for an eco logical culture are the same as values advocated by the world’s great spiritual traditions – service to the community, care for the natural world, uplift of the spirit and modesty of lifestyle. A society, economy and culture based on living within our means would addresses almost every social and environmental challenge of our time.

Over the coming several months, this writer’s blog will describe and explain a variety of real life examples of people who are pioneers, taking initiatives that provide a preview of what fitting in might look like. Fitting in can take place at home, work, play, anywhere – rural, urban and suburban. Most of these stories take place at the neighborhood scale. They typically involve multiple civic entities working together. The goal, to create green and resilient homes, neighborhoods, economy and culture.

The first story comes from my neighborhood here in Eugene.

The east side of our neighborhood for almost two miles is the Willamette River which includes a greenway park along both sides of the river featuring beautiful urban bike paths that go for miles. There are no cars in the greenway.

Eight blocks from my home is a 65 tree filbert (hazelnut) grove in the greenway. Planted in the 1940’s, the grove predates the greenway by decades. Until six years ago, the trees were covered with a tangle of blackberries and English ivy. I passed by the grove on the bike path for years.

Finally, after close to 10 years, of inaction, I realized we could do something with the grove. I found that the city of Eugene had a program to empower people in the community to take on projects on public property. The city would actually help organize work parties, provide tools and even offer snacks for the volunteers.

Early work party in the filbert grove.

So we started to restore the grove. People from the neighborhood helped. Over the years, fraternities and Chinese student groups from the U of Oregon helped. A church youth group helped two times and feasted on pizza after work.

The work parties were fun, the site is beautiful, along the river, no cars, bike path. We did cut out the black berries, did a lot of pruning, we fertilized, mowed, coordinated with the city.

Church youth group helps in the filbert grove.

The filbert grove project offers a preview of a greener future where citizens take on more responsibility for the well being of their neighborhoods and community. People learn new skills and make friends at the work parties, but perhaps most important, they learn the idea of “civic culture,” a very desirable condition where people actively participate in making where they live a better place. Civic culture is strong on building social skills, that put people and planet friendly values and ideals into action for creating green and resilient communities.

At the work parties, participants hear the story about citizen – city collaboration, the ideas of local food security, citizen initiative, greening the neighborhood and reducing our eco footprint. Our neighborhood association has been helpful. The grove is one of four areas in our neighborhood along the greenway where citizen volunteers have agreements with the city to look after public property. These are all elements of local civic culture, taking on responsibility and taking action for the good of friends, neighbors and the environment.

Most cities do not have time or money to do this kind of work and community building but it should be “regular” people stepping up anyway. A thoughtful look, even at familiar places, can reveal surprising opportunities for citizens to take initiative.

The citizen projects in the greenway have all built a trust and relationships with the city. We now have agreements with the city where we help remove invasive species by hand rather than the city using herbicides.

We have more ideas for future collaborations. These lessons and actions will only become more important as time goes on for creating more green and resilient homes, neighborhoods, economy and culture.

This past fall was the best filbert harvest in decades for the grove. I saw many people out collecting nuts. Its come one, come all.

Almost any neighborhood, suburban, rural, urban, has places people can “repair,” – a stream, open space, underused buildings, community need. Upcoming blogs will profile other places building civic culture. If you know of projects that deserve some recognition, please contact me. Finally, I have a new poster – Creating Green and Resent Homes, Neighborhoods, Economy and Culture. Here’s a link to see the poster. www.suburbanpermaculture.org.


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Pringle Creek: A New and Improved Green-Living Option

As an organic gardener growing my own fruits and vegetables I keep a watchful eye on what others are doing across the U.S. On a recent trip to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Pringle Creek, a newer subdivision, seemed an unlikely place to find gardening inspiration. I found inspiration for organic gardening and a whole lot more.

Pringle Creek Community occupies what was once the Fairview Training Center, where for nearly 100 years the State of Oregon had a school for training developmentally disabled persons. With a vision of offering quality homes in a natural environment in 2006, Pringle Creek opened their doors selling lots on 32 acres of the former training center. One of the things that sets Pringle Creek Community apart from most urban subdivisions is their organic farm goods grown and raised onsite. Colleen Owen is Pringle Creek’s full-time Urban Gardener. Colleen is in charge of the fruit orchard, two vintage Lord and Burnham greenhouses, a chicken yard, and an acre of outdoor growing areas.

 Pringle creek greenhouses exterior

Pringle Creek greenhouses

Residents can buy eggs, fruit and vegetables produced onsite if they desire.  They can also grow their own fruits and veggies in a raised bed in the greenhouse or outdoor plots free of charge. Thus far several have claimed a plot or two and grown their own. The Salem climate is conducive to growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, but when a greenhouse is added to the equation, year-round growing becomes a reality. Imagine growing your own cold weather crops like cauliflower, broccoli, kale, chard, peas, and lettuce during the winter months in organic soils. Not to mention a timed watering system reduces the need for water monitoring for ease of gardening. Sounds like a winner to me. If you need help learning organic gardening, Colleen offers an 8-class series in the spring. This course covers most of what you need to know to grow your own organic veggies and cost $ 130.

But wait! What if you don’t want to grow your own? May be you just want access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables grown onsite? At Pringle Creek Community this garden of plenty offers membership for up to 25 members in their Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). If by some chance you don’t belong to the CSA, Colleen operates a farm stand to sell the excess fruits and veggies.

 Pringle Creeks gardener Colleen

Colleen, Pringle Creek’s Urban Gardener

Oregon is famous for fruits like cherries, apples, pears, peaches, blueberries and strawberries. All of these are available from Pringle Creeks’ orchards and berry patches. When these fruits are ripe, the community members are invited to come and pick what they want. Residents can make their own applesauce and can it for winter use. Plums, peaches and blueberries freeze well for winter storage, and what a feeling of satisfaction knowing your fruit came from your home turf!

Of course to make the most of this one has to live in Pringle Creek, so what about the rest of the picture? Homes can be custom built or choose from homes move-in ready. Choose from a selection of building lots, custom home plans, or newly constructed homes. Home prices are reasonable starting around $ 300,000 and above. Home sites start around $ 60,000. Environmentally friendly features are available like: solar panels, bamboo flooring, tankless water heating, energy star windows, recycled plastics made carpeting, high R-value insulation, and a drought-tolerant landscaped yard.

 Pringle Creek custom home

Custom home at Pringle Creek

At Pringle Creek you will find the first LEED Platinum community center building in the U.S. This building features a kitchen, plenty of room for events, gathering space, and a pool table. Jonathan Schachter, the community’s Director of Development who lives onsite, told me the homes are low-cost when it comes to heating and cooling. During last summer’s heatwave when temperatures hit 100 degrees or more for several days in a row his electric bill was a mere $ 50.

 Livability ranks high here. Neighbors can easily connect with one another naturally. With large front porches and walking trails it’s easy to get to know your neighbors. Walk among tall trees and  gurgling Pringle Creek in this urban refuge where it’s hard to tell you are in the middle of a capital city. During the development of infrastructure 80% of the existing trees were preserved. Twelve acres of open space include, towering sequoia and fir trees, parks, gardens, walking and bike trails. Pringle Creek Community offers urban home owners the best of both city living and the natural world while holding to some of the best green living standards of any subdivision in North America. Perhaps the rest of the developers in North America are taking notes and planning more of this type of green urban living? I certainly hope so.


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Women in Sustainable and Social-Impact Tech Companies

sustainability technology

I was recently interviewed by Joan Michelson of Green Connections Radio about my startup company www.VivaGreenHomes.com, Global data-driven platform for eco home listings. During the interview, I was asked about women and their role in tech and in sustainability.  As an entrepreneur and non-technical founder of a sustainable tech start-up this question was really fascinating to explore.

Tech, without a doubt, is a male dominated industry. Some statistics of large tech companies show that typically 60-75% or even more of their employees are male, while CEOs of S&P 500 companies in 2015 are even more male dominated, coming in at 96%.  

While tech is clearly an important part of my start-up company, I look at it as a tool to advance the true mission and culture of the company, which is sustainability and social impact in the real estate industry.

And because sustainability is an emerging and growing market, the opportunities for women to become entrepreneurs, even in tech start-ups, are on a level that we have rarely seen before.

Tech Is the Manufacturing Industry of our Generation. From Rosie the Riveter to Tina the Techie

During WWII, women entered the manufacturing industry, the armed forces and many other male dominated fields on a large scale. According to History.com, in just 5 years between 1940 and 1945, nearly 6 million women joined the workforce, from 27% to 37% of all women, and this included 1 out of every 4 married women. This placed women front and center of a critical part of our economy and our workforce in fields dominated by men. Unfortunately once the war ended, much of that momentum was lost for women to stay in those industries as men returned to those positions. Technology has opened the door once again.

we can do it

Photo source www.history.com

Sustainability and Social-Impact Driven Companies can Use Tech as a Tool to Advance Their Mission

So how can women break into the tech industry even if they do not have a technical background? One way is by focusing on sustainability as the mission. Sustainability encompasses new (and up-cycled) technologies, creative solutions, and a fresh look at how our society functions every day, whether it’s in our home, family-life, commute, jobs, daily products, energy use and so on – there’s room for sustainability to improve all aspects of our lives.  Both sustainability and tech are upending traditional markets. And with women as half the population, we should definitely be shaping the future of our products, services and our companies.

Viva Green Homes: A Sustainable Tech Company with a Woman Founder

One example is VivaGreenHomes.com, which is a comprehensive multiple listing system (MLS) type of database for eco home listings. Viva Green Homes is working to provide more data-driven information to consumers prior to ever seeing the home; like energy efficiency scores, eco certifications, details about the home’s features, and soon information about cost savings of owning an eco-home on each listing. All the while giving a place for sellers of these homes to accurately market their premium sustainable features. Viva Green Homes is breaking real estate data barriers and hopefully disrupting traditional real estate as we know it through its outside the box thinking.

But while I’m a non-technical founder, I have taken steps to understand code, process and filling my tech gaps with mentors, friends, family and tech team members. I am also actively searching for a tech co-founder, which means that I will share the role for the technical vision of the company, a move that non-technical founders have to be open to.

I started Viva Green Homes because I care greatly about sustainability, but tech has been the tool to actually bring my vision to life. From proprietary algorithms to databases and metrics, VivaGreenHomes.com is definitely a tech company, but the result is a company that’s mission is to incorporate eco and energy efficient homes into the traditional real estate industry while encouraging consumers to choose these homes as their own.

Others recognize the value too for both Viva’s mission and its female entrepreneurship. Viva Green Homes is a winner in 2016 Cleantech Open’s Southeast region and a 2016 national finalist. As one of the few women that pitched in the competition, I received a lot of praise and encouragement for doing so. There’s a good deal of support out there for women to jump in. The company has gained momentum among other tech-based companies as a sustainable, social impact driven company and it’s received press in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and nationally syndicated columns, ActiveRain, ARLnow.com and more. 

Filling the Tech Gaps in your Team and building a Start-up Company

Finding tech mentors, adding tech-co founders and team members, and learning at least the basics of coding are all essential and so are building the foundation of a start-up company. So here are some tips on how to do it.

1. Read The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. This a very useful book for building the foundation for your startup responsibly.

2. Taking basic (and perhaps even more advanced) coding classes is a good first step. Many counties offer classes, and entities like General Assembly are very practical, cost effective and you can even take classes online. Startup incubators are extremely helpful with specific courses, panel discussions, networking and resources. Some even focus on sustainability. Here are just a few sustainable and social impact driven incubators; Mentor Capital Network, Bethesda Green, Cleantech Open, but there are many others across the country. Also, use networking to find team members like Meetups and online through Linkedin, Idealist.org and Angel List.

3. There are resources for women like FemaleEntrepreneurs.Institute and the Department of Labor, which have some great tips for women in sustainability careers.

The tech industry isn’t just about the newest gadget anymore, it’s where social impact and sustainability are the driving forces to meet our needs, and tech can help us achieve that.  This is exactly the time for women to apply their knowledge and skills and break into the male dominated tech industry while also making a huge difference in our global and environmental progress.

We can do it!

Kari Klaus, the Founder of VivaGreenHomes.com: Global data-driven platform for eco home listings.


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