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Section 2:
Natural Living

 "As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves." – M.K. Gandhi

Chapter 4

Take The First Step

Start today, right now. Seem like a lot of new stuff to learn? Actually things seem pretty good in general. Maybe things will work out, they always have in the past. I am sure the people in power are looking out for us…hmm…well maybe not. No, if we don't do something, things will not change. It really is up to us, you and me, starting right now.

Where can we find the energy and inspiration to continue? Look for the light, that fire that burns in all of us, in all of nature. Find your inspiration in the constant rebirth of nature all around you. We must see again with new eyes. We must rebuild our thoughts on the foundation of truth. All the answers exist in nature, in our heritage, and in our technology. The answers are all out there. Everything we need to know has been figured out. All we need to do is take the first step.

Take the time to learn about your connection with nature by stopping to watch the sunrise or sunset. Be aware of the true causes of problems in the world. Be skeptical of anyone who says it is impossible. Even the best among us may be mired in cynicism, wrapped up in ego, or thinking too conventionally. Keep in mind that we may be misinformed. Don't be deceived by one-sided reporting on issues. Know that there is more to life than the money it costs to buy something. The things of daily life are wonderful things that we should take care to do with all our heart. You know what is right. Do what is right.

How do I know this? When I ask myself, "What is the purpose of my life?" The simple answer comes back, the life of my children. It is the same as it has always been and it always will be. It is the same as for bacteria, plants, insects, birds and all other forms of life. Our primary purpose is the creation, preservation, nurturing and propagation of life. The purpose of life is to live as well as we possibly can.

The first step, I propose, is to embark on a path that reduces the complexities to a level that we can understand. By focusing our attention on the essential purpose of life, we will recover our awareness of nature. The essential elements of life, even our complex modern one, are still the food we eat, the home that shelters us, the type of transportation we choose, and finally our life's work. In all of these we must consider how we can best serve the needs of our lives so that we may create a nurturing environment for our children and their children. In our choice of food, the homes we build, the cars we drive, and the work that pays the bills, we must ask ourselves, does this truly support our purpose? And if it does not, then we must choose to change our ways, creatively.

Some of the best things in life can be found in sharing food with family and friends, finding happiness by exploring natural places, having fun by playing in water, creating, loving and even just being. These things are the basis of a fulfilling life based on the purposes of creation. Many creatures in nature demonstrate these same traits.

I've learned to have fun and even laugh at myself in relation to the many things that I've changed in quiet contradiction to the norms all around me. I remain humble in the face of nature and people who every day teach me something new. But yes, the issues of preserving life on this planet are very serious. Given the grave consequences of ignoring the warning signs and knowing that our purpose is creating and preserving life and nature, surely you will agree we must act now. To this task I propose, based on my direct experience, learning from many mistakes, the following step-by-step process. These steps offer a fun, simple, and effective system for living sustainably as you apply it in your own creative way. These steps help us address the highest priority problems that we each have direct control over. These changes may seem substantial at first. Some of them are. But they are all acheivable and provide many benefits.

Stop everything!

Listen to silence. Find a quiet place and listen to the silence of nature, full of life, full of music. Take some time to think about who you are, what you are doing, and why. What is your purpose in life? What talent do you have that, when you do it, puts you into such deep focus and enjoyment, that you don't notice the passage of time?

Stop everything!

Plan to take next weekend off, completely off. Go for a walk in nature. Make it a long walk as deep into nature as you can. After walking into nature for several hours, away from other people, stop, listen, and look around. Don't think. Simply be aware of nature, life, rocks, leaves, sun, wind, wild flowers, leaves, grass, birds chirping and your heart beating . What value and beauty do you feel? Can you sense your connection to this force in nature that creates life? You can notice it when you tap into the harmonics of nature.

So maybe that seems a bit over the top. It worked for me when their seemed to be no other answers. Alone in nature I was re-awakened to a primitive driving force within me to nurture and preserve life. By feeling nature's pulse I found the energy and understanding I needed for the battles ahead.

Another way I like to connect to nature, one that may be more accessible to you on a regular basis, is to start by walking down to the local coffee shop. Buy your own reusable mug with a lid if you don't have one already. Select one of the organic coffees. If you can, sit outside in a sunny spot. If it is too cold, then simply sit near the window. Sip your coffee and observe, without thinking, without judging. Let the caffeine infuse your arteries with that positive energy boost (take care not to become addicted). Then simply be. Dream. Love what you see around you. You are connected to all of nature, the little weed in a crack on the sidewalk, yes the people, the cars, trucks, buses and even the small puddle with birds playing in it.

Stop everything!

More than anything it is a reconnection with nature. You are a part of the living earth. Take notice of it when you swim, through the plants you eat, in the warmth of the sun on your face, and when you hold someone, mother to son, father to daughter, and lover to lover. We are all one. We are all connected through time, space and matter as one in nature. Science proves this. You can sense it by thinking of how you were created and how you came to be. The intelligence of life, the creativity of ever diversifying life forms is intimately connected to everything else in the universe. Something in this nature we share connects everything to everything. Our goal must be to find these connections. Our perception of individuality is not real. We are both metaphorically and scientifically one with the broader context of nature as a whole. Two implications are: First, that the harm and destruction we inflict on nature injures us all as a whole. Second, that our actions towards the healing process individually will heal the whole of nature.

Stop everything! You need not do anything!

The first step is awareness. This means being aware of nature and your connection to everybody and everything else. Be more thoughtful about your actions. Connection to nature is easily felt by simply removing all thought and focusing on your breathing as your lungs make the connection with air which is connected to the infinite. Awareness provides you with the knowledge, intelligence, compassion, empathy and feelings needed to desire, through love, to protect your greater self, called nature.

This connection became clear to me during the birth of my children. This epiphany is the first step along the path of Natural Living. Without this first step the other steps may be too difficult since they are built on the foundation of awareness. Only with awareness of your connections, as you go about the process of living, can the rest of these steps continue to make sense.

Some essential features of all our daily lives include eating, sleeping in a home, getting to work, and the work we do to earn a living. These common activities are the most damaging to nature. This correlation makes sense. The activities that are common to all people create the largest stream of consumer activity. The main activities of our lives include providing a home for our families in which we share family meals. Eating food is essential for all life. These two natural activities are at the root of life, all life in one form or another. For humanity, however, two other major activities have been created by modern civilization. These modern activities include the need to work, to earn money, to pay for a home and food. Also, the majority of us must use some form of mechanical transportation, such as a car, motorcycle, truck, bus, train or plane now that there are so many of us living and working in different places.

Our so-called modern civilization, despite the many advances, has at its core the need to provide for the essentials of life. These are primarily the need for clean air, nutritious food, fresh water, solid shelter and some rest. As it turns out these ancient essential activities…given our vast billions in number…create the largest impact on nature. We can well do without popular consumer activities such as television, video games, and alcohol. However, we can never do without food to sustain us, a shelter of some kind, work to pay for it or transportation to get us from one to the other. That's why these activities are the most problematic activities. Since they are the root of the problem the greatest impact can be made by addressing them first. That doesn't mean doing without, but it does mean asking deep and hard questions about each and every aspect of these cornerstones of our lives.

That is why Natural Living revolves around these changes to the essential activities of daily life:

*              Food – Switch to organically grown natural healthy local varieties.

*              Home – Transform your home so that it uses energy efficiently, is created from natural renewable materials, and provides a healthy and inspiring place to live.

*              Transportation – Take the necessary steps to better use public transit. Whenever possible avoid the use of a car. If a car is required make the switch to an ultra low emissions vehicle or better with your next purchase.

*              Work – Do what you love to do. Ensure that this activity is life supportive. Make plans to change the work you do to be supportive of a sustainable society in the long run. Live near where your work.

In order to make these changes, it's necessary to change our mode of thinking. So much of what we do every day seems routine and common to everyone. Most of the systems that form the fabric of our societies support these common routines. These engrained systems aren't normally visible. We don't even consider them, since they seem so normal. Unfortunately many of the normal things of every day life have developed from the abnormal until they're perceived as normal. We need to break these linked systems in order to change the essential activities of our lives.

The glue that links together the essential activities of Natural Living includes four principle changes in the way we think. Actually, these aren't changes at all; they are more of a reawakening to the essentials of a life worth living. After all, it is a search for the good life, a life that creates and sustains life that is at the heart of Natural Living. In order to find the path, the life force that holds nature together for people, we must consciously adjust our way of thinking. Unlike most forms of life in nature, humanity has the responsibility of a brain as our niche survival trait. This brain has advanced so far that, combined with our large numbers, the machines we've created, and the new ways we transform nature, we have the power to destroy ourselves maybe even all of nature on earth. Of course that same brain, when applied creatively with a broad understanding of our connections to nature, has the power to be not only life-sustaining, but the greatest celebration of life through awareness of life itself.

That's why the four steps that bind together the activities of Natural Living revolve around the way we use our brains:

*              Awareness – Use your reasoning powers in order to get beyond your self, to move beyond self-awareness, into a universal awareness of your connection to nature. This evening, my daughter explained it to me this way: "We breathe in oxygen from the air and breathe out carbon dioxide for the plants to breathe in our carbon dioxide and then they breathe out oxygen for us to breathe in again." We as a species are symbiotic with the plants all around us. Think of it!

*              Plan –The power resides in each of us to take the first steps. We must plan to make changes in these essential aspects of our lives through these first steps, and all the remaining steps of our lives. Planning is our connection to the element of time—so relevant to life's trans-formative powers. Time only exists in this moment so make a plan now and get changing things now.

*              Choice – Make choices consciously in every moment, with a full awareness of your connection to nature. Making choices consciously breaks the binds of illusion built into the routines of daily life.

*              Creativity – In making the choices of daily life, apply the full depth and power of your creativity, to find the broad array of your connections. We need the power of creativity to help us find new answers or rediscover old answers.

These are the steps of Natural Living. Before getting into the details of these steps the next chapter provides you with a quick start guide. If you are like me you'll want to get started right away. The next chapter provides first a short term step by step summary of actions you can take along with their associated benefits. Then a long term step by step summary of actions are provided that enable you to make the deeper changes we all must make in order to create a sustainable world. These one page guides are designed to give you a quick reference to the most essential information on the steps of Natural Living to make it easy for you to review each day.

The Path Ahead

The main reason current lifestyles are not sustainable are manifest in the broad use of limited supplies of fossil fuels for:

*              Transportation (cars and trucks)

*              Energy production (coal and oil powered generating stations)

*              Agriculture (fertilizers and mechanization)

*              Plastic (fossil fuel based products)

Fossil fuels pollute nature with the rapid release of millions of years of stored carbon and energy originally captured by plants from the sun. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In fact, many types may be depleted within the next fifty to sixty years. Additionally, the large scale "waste" and inefficient use of water, organic matter and non-renewable resources are destroying forests, filling up land fill sites and contaminating nature. We need to find alternatives. We need creative ways to economize, reduce, and recycle, as in natural sustainable processes. Thus, the goal is a return to balance, as inspired by nature. The solutions are found by eliminating, significantly reducing or transforming the processes involved with the essential activities of our lives. The goals of Natural Living are:

  • Use sustainable non-polluting energy sources (primarily the sun and wind).
  • Select local organic food or grow your own food organically.
  • Choose to live within walking or biking distance of where you work and use public transit. 
  • Create or transform your home so that it is optimally oriented for solar heating and natural cooling ventilation, including natural renewable insulation materials to retain heating and cooling.
  • Where and whenever possible eliminate, or where required, change all appliances and lighting over time to be the most efficient, long lasting available while minimizing their use.
  • Construct your home and all products you choose in your home from natural renewable materials.
  • Recycle wastes and water back into nature using living machines, composting or other natural processes.
  • Reconnect to life energy, creativity, beauty and inspiration in nature.
  • Applying these goals to your daily life is a wonderful experience. The necessity of finding creative alternatives in order to reach these goals has enriched my own family's lives by bringing us closer to nature. These goals are designed to provide the most impact for addressing the highest priority activities of our consumer oriented lives. We certainly haven't achieved all of them, all of the time, but by having these front and center as we make our daily decisions and plans for the future we are changing the world, and the world that will be left for our children. Now it is up to you to make an even bigger impact. Tell others. Try out these ideas. Be prepared for both success and failure. Both are part of the process. You will find a more joyful, natural way to live your life.

    In order to express this new type of lifestyle we need new measures and frameworks for defining these terms. Many modern philosophers, scientists, designers, artists, musicians, doctors, and engineers are creating these new definitions. One such thinker is Deepak Chopra. Combining his knowledge as a medical doctor and of the ancient spiritual traditions, he has woven together a set of principles that redefine life with some of the deeper context that is at the heart of the new connection to nature that we need to make. The essentials of true wealth can be restated in terms of Natural Living, based on the principles expressed by Deepak Chopra, as the seven spiritual laws of success. We are fortunate to have many new creative options that are gaining in popularity as people begin to rethink their priorities in life:

    1.      Think about each action we take in our lives and ask what will be the effect on nature and our fellow human beings. If it is peaceful, loving, truthful and sustainable then it is the right action.

    2.      It is time we returned value to where it belonged. We must return to an understanding of value for the infinite creative potential of people and nature as the highest source of wealth. We must spend more time in nature, in quiet, and in openness to change.

    3.      Be prepared to share, give and receive a fair flow of essential life sustaining resources such as air, water and sunshine.

    4.      The infinite creativity in nature has provided all of the answers. We need only understand the intrinsic nature and value of anything. In nature things are as they should be. We must take responsibility for our place in nature. In nature time unfolds with least effort or maximum efficiency. We must learn to value this efficiency and intelligence and use it creatively and sustainably.

    5.      Make a concerted effort to focus your intentions on a sustainable and more fulfilling way of living, the Natural Living way, along with its principles. By maintaining a clean and healthy environment of air, water, earth, sunshine, family and community, and through a focus on this every day, in every moment, we can attain something natural and sustainable for all people.

    6.      Maintaining a detachment from the results allows us to be open to the creative solutions that exist in the process of trying to attain a natural lifestyle. The infinite potential of creativity means we must be open to change, open to the new and unusual answers that may appear along the path, even if those seem to contradict the conventional.

    7.      Finally, we each have a very important part to play. We each have a special purpose in life, a gift, something we love to do, that we must find and apply to this critical process of living naturally, living sustainably so that our children can enjoy the same infinite potential.

    The wealth of the majority in this respect already outstrips that of the "rich" few. We are on the right path. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "…life is about the search for truth, ahimsa, the process of living truthfully, with non-violence, simplicity, and harmony, and love." Modern society has lost its way through the worship of growth, profits, money and economics as wealth. The institutions of multi-national corporations and corporate sponsored government have lead to societies that are driven by profit and growth for the rich few at the terrible expense of all of us. And yet we can regain a meaningful life as simply as making a decision to do so. Create your own framework for living based on the laws of nature. Find the truth in the spiritual traditions, nature and science while searching for your own creative answers.

    Chapter 5

    Take Action

    The following tables provide a quick summary of the Natural Living action plan. The first column is a reference to the most significant consumer activities or "Life Activities" that are currently unsustainable. The second column, "Take Action", provides a simple list of priority first steps that will make a major impact. The third column, "Results and Benefits" summarizes some things you can expect to accomplish.

    First Steps, are simple and easy things we can all do to start along the path of Natural Living. The second table, Natural Living, is a list of priority steps that provide goals  which you can set your sights on achieving throughout your life. These represent the essential elements of Natural Living and will result in the vision outlined in the introduction. Ultimately Natural Living reverses the current trend towards the destruction of nature and moves us to a restoration of nature and our reestablishment of reverence for it.

    All it takes is for a few million of us to do these things, and those few million to encourage a few billion to join us, and that changes everything. Considering the so called "six degrees of separation", making this change happen globally isn't that hard to imagine. Through many projects in my own life, I've often heard, (as I am sure you have) that "it can't be won't work….it costs too much". And yet, in most of these cases those precise thoughts have been proven wrong. It can and must be done. "Can't", "won't" and "costs too much", are indications that creative solutions exist waiting to be discovered. Change for most of us is difficult to deal with emotionally since it means confronting the unknown. The wonderful part is that once we confront this fear we are rewarded with the creative energy to continue.

    Take action today by cutting out the First Steps table. Post it on the fridge at home or in your office, and try to make progress each day towards achieving some of these changes. When you've achieved some success with the first steps, then begin to focus on the Natural Living steps in the second table. As you achieve these steps celebrate the many benefits you and nature will reap. It took me years to take a few of the First Steps. The bigger steps outlined in the Natural Living table took more than ten years to achieve.

    Review these tables and keep them in mind each day. Then you can return to the following chapter to find specifics and details on ways you can achieve Natural Living. Or, after reviewing these tables you may want to skip to section three, which records the experiences of my family, and learn about our journey. It can be done. We all can do it.

    What to Expect

    If you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the changes that are necessary, consider taking some simple small steps to get started. As friends have told me, "you can't expect everyone to jump in like you've done." Some of our first steps, which helped ease us towards the steps of Natural Living included:

    *              Beginning to purchase some organic foods from our local super market

    *              Reviewing the local recycling program guides to be more accurate and thorough in our recycling practices

    *              Packing kids lunches in re-usable containers

    *              Purchasing a coffee mug at work to reduce the use of paper cups

    *              Purchasing natural and biodegradable dish washing soap

    *              Planning a new solar powered dream home (dreaming and planning is free)

    *              Downsizing our home in order to save for a solar powered home

    *              Beginning to select products based on efficiency and quality even if that meant paying more.

    First Steps

    Life Activity

    Take Action

    Results and Benefits

    Transportation by Cars and Light Trucks

    Use public transit or car pool once per week. Purchase an efficient vehicle that meets your needs. Avoid trucks and truck-like vehicles such as SUV's.

    Lowers your transportation costs. Reduces pollution. Sends a message to two of the worlds largest and most destructive industries, car and oil companies.

    Meat and Poultry Food Consumption

    Eat vegetarian one day a week. This results in a 10% reduction in meat consumption.

    Eating one less hamburger a week could potentially be saving over two-and-a-half thousand square feet of rainforest, while preventing an additional 26,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Also, the decrease in meat in your diet substantially reduces your consumption of pesticides, hormones, and animal antibiotics. Pesticides alone accumulate in meat at 9 times greater levels than in vegetables and grains. Less meat is better for your health. (Your Heart Your Planet)

    Fruit, Vegetables and Grains Food Consumption

    Purchase and eat organic carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, bananas, cereals and apple sauce. These are readily available at most large super markets.

    Organic vegetables taste better. Eliminating most fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides will improve your family's health and that of the agricultural environment where these foods are grown. Organic farming practices ensure improved soil conditions rather than the loss of soil related to conventional farming.

    Home Heating, Hot Water and Air Conditioning

    Insulate and/or better ventilate your home in order to reduce your heating and cooling energy requirements.

    Reduces the use of fossil fuels that generate carbon emissions at the heart of global warming. Done on a large scale, these changes significantly reduce the amount of polluting emissions created by these processes.

    Household Appliances and Lighting

    When purchasing new appliances, especially your refrigerator, select the most efficient model available. Check the "EnerGuide" ratings for energy usage and expected savings.

    The reduced energy usage will save you some money. The reduced electricity demand will mean less pollution from the power plants and less wasted energy in the gigantic power grid. Your refrigerator is most important because it is running all the time.

    Home Construction

    Select natural renewable materials to furnish your home. Try using recycled furniture, improve insulation levels, and improve the use of passive solar design including better insulating windows if renovations are required.

    The use of renewable materials or recycled materials dramatically reduces the need to extract these materials from the earth. Reduced pollution and less waste will be created. Insulation and passive solar features in a home will significantly reduce the energy requirements reducing the pollution and costs.

    Household Water and Sewage

    Install low flow shower heads and taps. Make sure that all toilets require no more than 6 liters of water for each flush. Transform your garden into a naturalized landscape that requires little or no watering.

    Water waste will be reduced leaving this precious resource in a cleaner state. By naturalizing your garden, far less water will be wasted on plants that aren't native to your local area. Also, by eliminating the need to use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer in the naturalized garden, less water will be contaminated by these substances.

    Natural Living

    Life Activity

    Take Action

    Results and Benefits

    Transportation by Cars and Light Trucks

    Use public transit to get to work. If possible eliminate the need for a car. If a car is required purchase a hybrid or better car that reduces pollution by 90% compared to conventional cars today. Get a non-polluting fuel cell or better car once available. Walk, roller blade, skateboard or ride a bicycle for local travel whenever possible.

    Reduced pollution levels will be significant enough to potentially reduce the dangers of global warming. Reduced transportation costs will provide more alternatives for different lifestyle choices including more time with family, increased enjoyment of nature, or investment of savings in solar power generation that further reduces long term expenses and pollution.

    Meat and Poultry Food Consumption

    Go vegetarian one day per week, and gradually turn more days into vegetarian ones by trying more vegetarian recipes. Try to limit meat and poultry to special occasions.

    Health improvements from reduced consumption of meat will reduce overall health costs. Increased efficiency of food production through the use of agricultural land for vegetable, fruit and grains for human consumption rather than for animals.

    Fruit, Vegetables and Grains Food Consumption

    Grow your own fruits and vegetables organically as much as possible. Purchase organic foods exclusively. Try to shop for local fruits, vegetables and grains whenever possible. Eat fresh raw vegetables and fruits daily.

    The transformation of agricultural systems will occur in response to the demand, reducing prices, and reducing the destruction of soils and water with the elimination of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The massive reduction in transportation pollution will also improve the local air quality while at the same time lowering the cost. Improved health is associated with the consumption of fruits, vegetables and grains. Improved health saves money in health care costs which can be used for preventative health care.

    Home Heating, Hot Water and Air Conditioning

    Install a solar hot water heater for water and home heating. Replace your air conditioner with a home renovation or new home that is entirely naturally cooled with natural ventilation, green roofing, trees, and shading. Insulate your home with straw bale or better natural insulating materials to retain heat in the winter and coolness in the summer.

    Improved indoor air quality will provide a better, healthier living environment reducing health problems. Large scale reduction in the requirements of central fossil fuel power plants also means significantly reduced pollution. The move to solar and natural cooling systems will make it possible to invest in independent solar power systems sufficient for all power requirements.

    Household Appliances and Lighting

    Convert to solar, wind and non-polluting renewable energy sources. Select only the most essential appliances and ensure they are the most efficient available. Eliminate any appliances that are not needed or that are inefficient. Find all "phantom loads" and eliminate them since they are like a leaky water faucet.

    The reduction in power requirements will allow nuclear and fossil fuel power plants to be decommissioned while lowering the cost of renewable energy sources. Currently fossil fuel power plants are major contributors to global warming. Nuclear power is expensive, complex, risky and has no known means of safely disposing of the waste produced.

    Home Construction

    Use natural renewable building products like straw bale, cob, hemp, rice bales, bamboo, and other renewable materials. Optimize the orientation of your home for passive solar heating, natural cooling, ventilation, and reuse of local materials.

    The massive and rapid destruction of forests world-wide will be halted. Reduced energy requirements will allow renewable energy sources to be sufficient to supply the majority of energy requirements.

    Household Water and Sewage

    Collect rain water and use it exclusively. Process sewage in a composting toilet system or a living machine based waste treatment system.

    Water quality and availability will be maintained. Local soil will be improved by compost material.

    Natural Living Big Steps

    After about ten years of developing our awareness and concern we started to eat more and more organic foods to the point where we make a conscious effort to, whenever possible, select them exclusively. We consciously make choices to select products that are the most efficient or locally made.  After starting to use public transportation more frequently and saving for a hybrid car, we began to use our creative powers to imagine and develop alternatives to daily activities that were centered around nature – like spending more time working on projects designed to support a natural lifestyle, while getting involved with experts in order to plan our sun powered home. Finally, we took the giant step of building a home with straw bales. So far, achieving Natural Living, for us has meant:

    R Using public transit without exception other than in emergencies

    R Planning for our next car to be hybrid gas/electric (we got the Toyota Prius in 2004)

    R Replacing meat with vegetable based alternatives more and more and selecting primarily organic or free range meats from our local organic grocer

    R Planting an organic vegetable garden, fertilized with organic compost generated from our food and garden waste

    R Composting all of our food, reducing our waste

    R Allowing the landscape to naturalize, planting local wild flowers rather than grass around the house.

    Now that we've taken a peek at things it is time to take a look under the covers. In the next chapters in this section we will review in detail the key concepts of Natural Living.

    Chapter 6

    Natural Living Steps

    The following are specific actions, decisions, products, and solutions to implement in order to create a lifestyle that is in harmony with nature. These steps are driven by the power of the sun. All life is powered by the energy of the sun. Pick a few steps to start with. I find writing them down and keeping them with me helps remind me. Make these the starting point for achieving your own personal goals for Natural Living.

    Step 1: Awareness

    Reminder: We are the environment.

    *              Connection – Know that you share nature with plants by the fact that you need the oxygen they produce while they need the carbon dioxide you supply in a symbiotic relationship. Remind yourself of this connection each time you see a plant or tree. Think of this as you take time to stop everything in order to simply become aware of your breathing. Change the way you view your relationship with nature from self in nature to self as a part of nature. The next time you are able to go swimming in a lake or the sea, take a deep breath, submerge yourself, and feel the water all around you.

    *              Give Thanks – Respect your connection to nature which means respecting and giving rights to other people, plants, animals, the soil, rocks, air and sand. Next time you feel the need to squash a bug in your house, stop, observe the little creature, get a tissue, gently pick it up, take an even closer look, and then let it go free outside. Have compassion for every aspect of nature since it provides you with everything you need. Take a moment at your next family gathering to thank the natural world for all that it has provided, for you and those you love. Give thanks silently for the next Sun Rise.

    *              Love and Truth – Do what you know is right. Start making changes consciously with your newfound awareness. Seek the truth. Search more deeply, more passionately, and with greater critical thinking into the most important issues affecting your life and those of your children. Remain tolerant and non-violent in your fight for freedom, justice and the truth. Fight injustice by making it visible with compassion. Always be prepared to forgive. Know that the only answer to the most difficult injustices against which we must fight is love. Love all of life no matter the circumstances. Remember that the way of peace, harmony and good always triumphs in nature. Conflict and war, ignorance, and self are temporary states of being, illusions, that will disappear in the mists of time. Find justice and harmony for nature. Where you see disturbances to the harmony, work to restore it.

    *              Laugh – Have a sense of humor. In the midst of all the chaos and seeming futility, remember that the storm will break, and on the destruction laid bare , the sun will  shine again to bring a smile to your face.

    *              Passion – Do what you love doing. Keep the purpose of your life ever present in your mind and live by it. Look for your purpose, your natural gift, nurture it, and do it. Find your passion and live it. Find inspiration in the wild creatures and wilderness all around you. Let the power of the wild give you the energy to take the next step.

    *              Humility – Trust in nature. Go back into nature alone, listen, and reconnect in order to feel what always, without fail, nurtures and cares for you. Be humble given your place in nature. Through humility you will gain the respect of the larger whole.

    *              Responsibility – Take responsibility for your connections to nature. In everything that you do, think of how it will impact nature, which sustains you and connects you to all others.

    *              Enlightenment – True wealth in nature comes from awareness, not money. Nature is true wealth while money is an illusion.

    *              This Moment – Now, each moment is the only reality in which you can actually do something. Do something now that your awareness in this moment says will create a sustainable world. Seize the day!

    Step 2: Food

    Reminder: You are what you eat.

    *              Appreciation – Without food and water all life dies quickly. Without water, most life dies in days. Treat every drop of water as the most precious resource on earth.

    *              Eat Organically– Think very carefully about everything you eat: Where did it come from? How was it grown? Be conscious of the nutritional value, sources of nutrients, and methods used to grow it to ensure that it has been done organically. Take joy and thankfulness in every morsel of food that nature blesses you with. As you eat, take the time to think how precious each morsel is and how it will become a part of you. Keep in mind that "you are what you eat", so eat good, healthy, fresh, sweet, varieties of naturally grown food. Buy local fresh foods as much as possible. Get to know where you can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. Choose the freshest, organic, local varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Try to buy only locally grown organic food.

    *              Compost –. Keep a composting bin in your kitchen in order to store your organic waste through the week and then empty it into your outdoor composting unit on the weekends. Compost all of the food waste that you can. Use compost as an organic fertilizer in your new vegetable garden. Think of the magical part you are playing in nature's creative process.

    *              Think Vegetables – Try to have a "vegetarian" day once a week or more or, if you can, become a vegetarian. The move to a vegetarian diet can be challenging but the rewards in terms of health for you and the planet are well worth it.

    *              Grow Your Own – Start trying to grow your own food. Grow herbs in your kitchen. Try basil and dill. Growing your own food makes the connection to nature more real and produces better tasting food. Start your own, ten feet by ten feet, organic vegetable garden. Begin to grow your own food organically. Take your time. Enjoy the process of creatively cooking, eating, growing and cleaning up after meals. Involve your children, family and friends in the process of planting, tending, and harvesting the bounty of your garden, preparing the freshly cut vegetables and herbs, and cooking these especially tasty meals from your own garden. The food of life is one of our sacred connections to nature. Be aware each day as you eat, and be thankful for this life energy that sustains you. Maintaining an appreciation for the miracle of life in the food we eat ensures that we are mindful of our place in nature.

    Organic, fresh, locally grown foods represent the healthiest, tastiest, most natural way to eat. By starting to grow some of your own vegetables or herbs both indoors and outdoors you will get some wonderful food. You will also re-establish your connection to the miracle of nature. After water, which we must take care to use consciously and carefully, food is our most basic necessity. Food is one of the most basic connections we can make to nature and our survival.

    In our family, eating has become something we try to make the special ritual it ought to be. Growing vegetables in our garden has deepened our awareness of what food really means. Each meal that we prepare reminds us that the tomatoes come from the seeds we planted last spring, the potatoes are the ones we nurtured through the hot dry summer.

    If all of these steps seem too overwhelming, remember that for us, it all started with just a few organic vegetables from our local super market ten years ago. Try out the organic fruits and vegetables for your baby since they will have no chemical pesticides or herbicides to wash off. Put organically grown carrots in your kids' lunch. Let it grow from these simple first steps.

    Step 3: Plan

    Reminder: Failure to plan is planning to fail.

    *              Start Small – Review your current situation to see how you might be able to save money by applying the ideas for Natural Living. Start by recycling more than you do now or by selecting a few organic food products.

    *              Principles – Establish your principles for making changes to your lifestyle so that you have a reference that supports your choices based on a well thought out review of your values, purpose in life, and awareness. Planning is a powerful process for achieving your goals but remember that this is a process that must be constrained by nature's principles.

    *              Establish Objectives – Determine the specific objectives of your plans especially as they relate to the Natural Living steps,

    §  Allow time for awareness, review and reflection;

    §  Set goals and objectives for the move towards more vegetarianism days and organic food you share with family and when you can start to grow vegetables yourself;

    §  Review life choices you have in terms of where you live, your work, the vacations you take and find ways to align them with your principles;

    §  Make plans to avoid the use of your car wherever possible, and think about making your next transportation purchase a bicycle or hybrid vehicle;

    §  Begin to apply your creative abilities in order to find ways of achieving Natural Living;

    §  Think of ways you can transform your home,

    §  Make your life's work the process of Natural Living.

    *              Take Action – Apply the principles of Natural Living to the process of setting your goals and to each step towards achieving your plans. Let these principles be a challenge to your powers of creativity.

    *              How? Yes. – Set goals that are measurable with specific deadlines. Celebrate achievement of these specific goals. It is better to have tried, through planning, and failed than to never have tried at all. Failure should be celebrated as a part of the process of creation. The process of establishing a plan sets in motion a set of potential events that would not necessarily occur without this plan. Remember that the answer to "how?" is YES (from the book by Peter Block). In other words it can be done. Have faith, a positive attitude, a set of natural principles, a reasonable map, and the universe will align to support you.

    *              Trust Yourself – Some people will encourage and support you, others will insist that you are crazy, that it can't be done, that it is pointless, that you are stupid. Take the power of those that help you, listen for the reasonable in all that you are told, and always be ready to prove the skeptics and cynics wrong.

    The best way to achieve Natural Living is to visualize what it means for you. That means taking the time to write down your purpose, your goals, and vision. This is the process of planning for Natural Living.

    Through every step of the process of creating your new natural lifestyle it is very helpful to maintain and adhere to a set of principles. These principles should be referred to as you make the major decisions at each step of your plan. These principles can evolve depending on your specific projects. Create your own principles for building a new home, selecting your next job, selecting the foods you will eat, and buying a car. The following principles were developed and applied in the process of building our new lifestyle that now includes a solar/wind powered home, organic vegetable garden, and a business venture (Natural Life Network) that we can operate from our home. For more ideas for establishing principles try reading through The Earth Charter in Appendix B.

    1. Obtain all energy requirements from solar sources. No fossil fuels may be used in the supply of energy.
    2. Use only renewable, non-toxic, natural materials.
    3. Compost all organic wastes.
    4. As much as possible, use the resources in the local area efficiently.
    5. Grow as much of our own food organically and select only organic foods from local food stores.
    6. Use local renewable sources of water.
    7. Invest in our home for the long term. Invest in the solar infrastructure rather than expensive finishing. Be prepared to realize the investment returns over a twenty year period. Keep in mind that it will pay for itself in this twenty year period in pure dollar terms, while at the same time providing the model for restoring nature once the majority of us do the same.
    8. Observe our natural surroundings to find resources that can be used.

    The benefit of adhering to a set of principles provides a new basis on which to evaluate the decisions you'll have to make along the way. Allowing the powerful forces of government, market economics, advertising, and convention dominate our decision making, without consciously applying our own criteria has gotten us a long way but at what cost?

    The systems that surround us have come to dominate our "way of life". But do they provide us with a better quality of life, more happiness, or greater health? We purchase fossil fuel based energy despite the fact that this form of energy produces waste that poisons our air and water. We accept fossil fuel generated energy because it is subsidized to the point where we think it is less expensive than solar or wind generation but at what cost ultimately?

    So, you need a set of principles that are built upon knowledge of the complete requirements for a healthy, loving, and harmonious life. These principles then provide justification for paying a little more for energy sources, products, food, and the fundamentals of life in the short term while providing an eternity of pay back. These principles fill the value gap that is missing in an economic system that does not include the true costs of production, clean-up, health effects, and wars.

    The way to achieve a natural lifestyle is through a process designed to achieve these changes. This process requires that you write down the following information as it relates to you and your life:

    1.      Self Analysis

    a.      Personal inventory – determine what you love doing, what you really have, determine what problems you have the power to solve

    b.     Prioritization of problems – develop a list of the things that you can do; draw from the action plans provided in this book, and use some of the key steps outlined to help you find your path; then list these in priority order

    c.      Priority Action Plan – in this book, identify the first three things you are going to do; start consuming organic foods, work hard to eliminate waste, create an efficient home that uses the power of the sun

    2.      Life Plan

    a.      Goals – should be measurable and specific, and include a specific date or time frame within which you plan to achieve them so that you can measure your progress; include short and long term goals

    b.     Values – review your own values, develop your understanding of truth, and continue to apply these throughout the process

    c.      Principles – achieving your goals may not be worth it if you don't do so within the constraints of your personal principles, develop your own, or take some of the key principles outlined for Natural Living and customize them to make them your own

    d.     Process – start at a high level, identify some the key tasks and activities that will be required to achieve your goals; look at specific steps like writing down what you want, listing the principles that you plan to adhere to, figuring out your financing, looking for people and groups that can assist you, developing designs, detailing plans and timelines, getting approvals, enlisting the help of professionals, getting materials, reviewing reference material, talking to people with experience, and finally physically doing it

    e.      Scope – keep an eye on the specific things you expect to achieve; write down the most important ones; set aside the rest for now; you want to maintain focus on the essential elements of your life plan, rather than be distracted or side-tracked by less important tasks

    f.      Resources (people, money, nature) – research all of the necessary people, products, services, financing, regulations, support facilities and resources you have, along with their costs, benefits, advantages and disadvantages; read section three of this book to see how we found the resources to achieve Natural Living and copy us or others like us

    g.      Schedule – prepare a timeline with specific dates for each major task; identify the person responsible for each major task; try to group tasks into sets of physical deliverables; be prepared to update the schedule as required when things change, as they always do, so that you can see the impact on the other items in your schedule

    h.     Deliverables – know specifically what the end product will look like; specifically, create descriptions of the home, job, types of food, and kind of car that you're going to achieve with your plans; check these against your principles before accepting them

    3.      Design – develop the designs for your new life by writing down your own personal essential steps, copy the essential elements of Natural Living in your own words:

    a.      Awareness – connection to nature informs design

    b.     Food – life revolves around the necessity of energy

    c.      Plan – determine what it will do to achieve your goals

    d.     Home – create a new lifestyle by transforming your home

    e.      Choice – make the choices informed by nature

    f.      Transportation – integrate all aspects of your life to minimize transportation 

    g.      Creativity – apply your own creative powers with a knowledge of place

    h.     Work – transform all that you do to be restorative and symbiotic with nature

    4.      Development – build the detailed collection of information, services and products you need to follow as you develop your life plan; Bear in mind that these development processes apply just as well to building a home, buying a car, selecting food, or finding your life's work:

    a.      Approval – Work with your family to develop and review your plans, principles, and designs. Get everyone's approval, and prepare a partnership agreement in order to proceed with the dramatic changes you are about to undertake.

    b.     Foundation – Start with some of the essential elements of your life that you can change and build upon these.

    c.      Framework – Once some of the essential, simple elements of your life have begun to make the transition, start filling the gaps, constructing a fuller picture of the complete transformation you envision. Ideally, make these transformations within the design framework developed during the design phase. Use the eight steps of the Natural Living process as a starting point for developing your own life framework.

    d.     Interior – It is critical to make the changes first in yourself. You need to take the first step towards awareness of your connection to nature. Getting your mind to consider all of the critical choices you have in this relationship, being much more creative with your new-found love of nature, and taking concrete steps to reinforce your new connections, are ongoing processes that will show outwardly in time.

    e.      Exterior – Take some big steps to demonstrate your new connection to nature. By physically making the changes you will reinforce the inner changes you are making and provide the inspiration necessary to inspire the millions and billions of others to follow in your footsteps. Transform the food, home, work and transportation that form some of the essential exterior aspects of your life.

    5.      Review and Enhancement – Be prepared to review your accomplishments with a view to improving on the process and results as you tackle each new aspect of your plan. Know that there will be many difficult challenges to overcome—some failures, and a great many successes to celebrate. Enjoy the process, as it is the process of life.

    Step 4: Home

    Reminder: Home is where the heart is.

    *              Increase Efficiency – The most powerful weapon towards achieving efficiency is not needing the resource in the first place. Insulate your home and seal cracks to reduce home heating and cooling requirements. Minimizing waste is critical to the process of creating a natural shelter and home for your family. Select the most efficient appliances by their "EnerGuide" ratings, which will end up paying for the potentially higher purchase price over time. Take the opportunity to minimize or eliminate their use where possible. Transform your home with florescent or low voltage lighting which are more efficient, reduces your energy costs, provides superior lighting, and lasts longer, plus allows you to get creative with all the new bulbs and fixtures. Light is a precious magical resource the use of which requires respect, care and efficiency.

    *              Natural Materials – Use natural renewable materials that are locally available such as: sisal, birch, organically grown hemp, straw, straw board, organic cotton, bamboo and wool. These natural materials will not off-gas toxic chemical, provide closer connections to the natural world, and reduce the impact on nature from production processes. If you can renovate or build a new home with straw bale insulation throughout, this marvelous material can provide insulation values of between R40 and R60. It's easy and safe to work with, requires little skill, has proven itself over hundreds of years, and is highly available and renewable in one form or another in almost every part of the world. Don't let your preconceived ideas about alternative materials cloud your judgment of their value. Make use of natural renewable materials locally available in the construction or renovation of your home. Look at your yard and see if you can take advantage of any natural features to provide shading, increase light, supply wood, or a cooling pond for instance.

    *              Location – Choose a home that is close to work, food stores, and parks so that you can travel most often by walking, roller blade, skateboard, scooter or bike. You'll save considerably over a long period of time in reduced fuel and transportation costs especially if you can get rid of your car altogether.

    *              Renewable Energy – Use the power of the sun for the energy requirements of your home, by adding high quality (double or triple pane with argon or krypton gas filled) windows to the south (or north if you are south of the equator), add a solar water heater, get some solar panels, and install a wind turbine (these devices can be installed and maintained easily by a local supplier). These changes to your home have a payback although this ranges from five to twenty five years and depends upon the price of electricity and fossil fuels over that time.

    *              Garden Naturalization – Naturalize your garden by allowing native plants to return as a replacement for your lawn and flower garden. Include a vegetable garden in which your family, friends and neighbors can share the chores that reconnect your home with nature. Try using bees' wax candles or vegetable candles, going without any electrical lights for a wonderful romantic dinner or "special" family dinner occasion. The  flickering flame reminds us of our primitive instincts towards worship for the energy of the sun. Make your home a natural indoor garden by growing fresh herbs, tomatoes, and other vegetables. These fresh, organic supplements to your food creations will improve the taste and reconnect you to the source of your food.

    *              Sustainable Community – Look for communities that foster a natural flow of energy, travel, food production, education, and life supporting work. Select your community with care or transform it if you can. The current massive development of houses that are sterile, garage dominated, lifeless, polluted, low quality, wasteful, poorly oriented, disposable, and far from centers of work must be replaced by a solar powered, community oriented, healthy, well built, ecologically designed home that fits within the natural world.

    Your home offers some of the most powerful choices you have to make your connection with nature–so necessary for your family's continued health. So much of what goes into making your home must be supplied by nature. Here is your chance to make a major impact towards creating a sustainable world. The following steps provide a guide for creating a new home, or transforming your existing home, so that it exists in greater harmony with nature. These steps may take many years to accomplish, if not an entire lifetime. The rewards are many and worthwhile. The improved health of your family can be dramatic. Reduced energy costs over the long term may significantly improve your financial situation. Finally, reduced requirement for materials significantly minimizes the short and long term affects of providing shelter.

    These major systems should be reviewed as you strive towards achieving a natural home:

    • Design
    • Heating & Cooling
    • Energy
    • Construction
    • Water
    • Sewage & Waste
    • Restoration
    • Work & Travel
    • Site
    • Landscaping

    Step 5: Choice

    Reminder: To be human is to have a choice.

    *              Selective – Now that you have awareness and a plan, now that you are connected to nature through the wonder of life sustaining food, you have choices to make every day of your life. Before your purchase anything think about whether you really need it and, if you do, what the consequences of this purchase will be on nature. Take the time, when making choices, to use your own creativity to find other choices. Many times we may select different products that reduce the impact on nature.

    *              Decide for Yourself – Don't accept the choices of others. Question everything, including the choices of others. Remember that you have been programmed since an early age by advertising that does not represent your own thinking. Force yourself to overcome any programming or conventions that don't conform to your principles.

    *              Laugh – Maintain a sense of humor and know that you will not always make choices that are perfect. Instead remember that the more important thing is to try to maintain the awareness of your ability to make choices in every moment.

    *              Question – Ask questions so that you understand the implications of your choices and all of the options. Many times, with a little research, you will find a wide variety of options that minimize the impact on nature.

    *              Remember – Think about your purpose in life and whether the choices you make each moment support that purpose. Returning to our purpose, goals, and principles as we make our choices ensures that we remind ourselves of the real natural constraints within which we live.

    *              Vigilance – Making choices means being informed of the constituents, contents, connections and issues related to the choices you make. The laws of nature require us to be aware of these connections so that we don't make choices in ignorance.

    As human beings we have a choice. The most important element required in order to make the transformations required of Natural Living is to make the connection with nature and people who are of nature. These people are the ones who make choices based on the awareness of connection to nature. Find opportunities to talk to other people who have achieved the vision of a natural lifestyle, whether precisely or in part. More than any other factor, it is people that have been the driving force between achieving or failing to achieve. Specifically, when I asked people in "EcoVillage" communities the common theme was that it is our relationship with each other that we must overcome, well above the financial, logistical, technical and creative barriers. People are at the heart of the partnership based models that are required. This is not the easier model but along with the extra effort and demands is a far more satisfying result.

    Early on in my search for some of the fundamental answers to questions I faced I came upon the story of Mahatma Gandhi and his experiments with truth. Gandhi was a true leader of his people, a man of the people and for the people, despite the fact that he never held any elected position. Rather he led by his every action, by his every word, by his every choice and by his every thought. Gandhi found the most creative answers to the most difficult problems of his time in the face of the greatest possible adversity. For me, his living example of brilliantly shining the light of truth on injustice, poverty, peace and equality, were only equaled by his dedication to finding solutions to these critical problems.

    The light Gandhi illuminated for me, and that this book is dedicated to, is the idea that once we know of the injustice, it is our duty to develop creative solutions, even at the risk of losing our own lives. Then, as Gandhi taught we must put these creative solutions to work in our own life, to be the change, to be the shining example for others, this is the only answer to those most difficult problems we all face.

    Mahatma Gandhi

    Perhaps more than any other, Mahatma Gandhi, best represents the true nature of what it means to be human for me. I found it illuminating and encouraging that Time magazine determined that Albert Einstein was the most important person of the century, if not the millennium. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were close competitors for this title according to Time. It encouraged me to see that the main stream media could not deny the incredible truth, and the impact of that truth, on the world, of a simple individual, Mahatma Gandhi.

    For me, however, what was indicative of the current world view, was the choice of Albert Einstein as "the" person of the century because of his brilliant thinking that has changed our understanding of the universe. These brilliant discoveries can not be seen as anything but the most important discoveries of explanations for problems. What, for me, makes the discoveries of Gandhi so important was his responsibility for his ideas and his desire to practice and apply his ideas to real life, to have failed and tried again. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Gandhi realized that the search for truth leads to the need to live what you believe, to apply the infinite creativity of nature, to go beyond a mathematical or scientific understanding, beyond the engineering disciplines application of solutions, to have people be all of these. The terrible problems of poverty and inequality were of primary importance to Gandhi. To these he brought answers that the United Nations, multi-national corporations, and local governments have ignored only to find these problems get worse. The answers he left us with include:

    R Truth above all,

    R Non-violence,

    R Civil disobedience with non-violence in order to change institutionalized programs of injustice,

    R Ashram communities which feature diversity, self-sufficiency, harmony, vegetarianism, and sharing,

    R The natural right to life sustaining nutrients from salt, land for agriculture, and water,

    R The necessity, no matter the dangers, to fight for the truth, against even the most powerful and seemingly insurmountable, using nothing but non-violent direct action, inspiring communication, and leadership,

    R In every moment you must live according to the principles you believe and make every decision based on those principles, with a spirit of good will towards all, with honesty and directness, and a sense of humor reflecting the fun available no matter the circumstance in nature,

    R The need to search for the difficult solutions, applying knowledge with the deepest possible understanding. Where Albert Einstein may have made the brilliant creative leap into understanding energy, nature's patterns, relativity and quantum mechanics, Gandhi has applied these adding the complexity of a broader understanding of their interactions and there implications for humanity and our earth through time,

    R Forgive all the evil in the world, be prepared to suffer injustice and make right any wrongs,

    R Love your brothers, sisters and your enemies.

    The greater task of Gandhi's search for truth, greater than the fight to overthrow British rule, was the vision of an India ruled by many thousands of independent villages. He called this movement Swadeshi, or home economy. He said that "The true India is to be found not in its few cities but in it's 700,000 villages."

    "Gandhi's vision of a free India was not a nation-state but a confederation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people living in village communities, deriving their right livelihood from the products of their homesteads. Maximum economic and political power—including the power to decide what could be imported into or exported from the village—would remain in the hands of the village assemblies." (Only Connect:, pg. 172)

    The general principles of Swadeshi state that the products of the village should be used first and foremost in the village by the members of the community. Trading between villages should be undertaken as only a secondary option and in general should be minimized.

    "Swadeshi avoids economic dependence on external market forces that could make the village community vulnerable. It also avoids unnecessary, unhealthy, wasteful, and therefore environmentally destructive, transportation. The village must build a strong economic base to satisfy most of its needs, and all members of the village community should give priority to local goods and services." (Only Connect, pg.  175)

    These citizens of the village ought to keep busy at the work of creating for the needs of the village community. Gandhi said, "It is a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given us by God. Millions cannot keep fit by games and athletics; and why should they exchange the useful, productive, hardy occupations for the useless, unproductive and expensive sports and games?" The local village based economy takes care of itself, the families look after each other, and land is cared for by present and future needs. The way we choose to live is ours to make in every moment.

    "Gandhi knew that, with the globalization of the economy, every nation would wish to export more and import less to keep the balance of payments in its favour. There would be perpetual economic crisis, perpetual unemployment, and perpetually discontented and disgruntled human beings." (Only Connect, pg. 174)

    He was right…that is exactly what we have achieved. These problems are the ones that get worse with the passage of time and the further the current global economic consumer oriented society develops. As Gandhi said, "A certain degree of physical comfort is necessary but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help; therefore, the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and a trap. The satisfaction of one's physical needs must come at a certain point to a dead stop before it degenerates into physical decadence. Europeans will have to remodel their outlook if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves." Simply stated he said, "People have to live in village communities and simple homes rather than desire to live in palaces." We have a choice to create these types of communities. Unfortunately we have been brain washed into the "European" or western capitalist model. As Gandhi says we've become slaves to a system that was not of our making. It is time now to rise up and fight this injustice using the tools, practices, principles, and inspiration that Gandhi has left us

    Beyond this point, once desire takes hold, once the idea of the palace for everyone becomes the dream, then greed sets in. The greed has set in motion our delusional attraction to the idea of endless growth and endless consumption. This system simply doesn't work because at a certain point enough is enough. From the book Only Connect, in the article "All Hands to Work" by Satish Kumar we are left with the list of Gandhi's Seven Social Sins which provides an excellent starting point for the daily reminders of how our solar villages, solar homes and solar powered lifestyles must be governed. We must make choices based on these principles. In other words, restated in terms of Natural Living principles to live by, we must practice the following:

    1. Politics with principles
    2. Wealth with work
    3. Commerce with morality
    4. Education with character
    5. Pleasure with conscience
    6. Science with nature and humanity
    7. Worship with sacrifice

    We have choices to make each and every moment of every day. We need to build a culture that has a set of principles that make choice an inherently sustainable practice. These are natural principles in harmony with nature's laws. The city-state and corporation are tools created by the rich and powerful to maintain control and limit our choices. Independent village communities will naturally evolve as the essential glue the transforms culture in the long run. Communities, even within big cities, are those villages within that work because the people know each other and their natural surroundings intimately. Despite the façade of city-state and corporate control as this evolution towards independence occurs, the choices made to live in villages according to Gandhi's social principles will lead to a sustainable world. As Gandhi would tell us a few corporate leaders and their puppet governments simply can't control the billions of us if we choose not to let them. It is our choice.

    Step 6: Transportation

    Reminder: The greatest journeys are those within our own mind.

    *              Learn from Nature – Everything in nature is in constant motion in one form or another. We can learn from the modes of transportation used in nature to find ways that have less impact.

    *              Food Power – Life, with the energy provided by food, has the choice of where and how to transport itself. We need to make the choice to minimize our use of fossil fuel driven modes of transportation through the use of our ability to walk, rollerblade, or bicycle. The best mode of transportation whenever possible is walking, which requires only the steps of Natural Living. Walking through the natural world returns our connections to it, improves our health, and uplifts our spirit.

    *              Magic – Motion requires the transformation of energy from one form to another, which plainly is a magical gift of nature that should be used with due respect for its limits. You can't exceed the energy supplied by the sun, in the long term. We should all try to understand the magic of transportation. We need to use our awareness to remind ourselves that, food is our energy for transportation. Our power of choices about how we will travel comes through wisdom since that is the facility that nature has given us to manage this magic. Current transportation systems are not acceptable given their primitive and unnatural limitation of relying on limited reserves of fossil fuels that are polluting our environment as we use them.

    *              Home and Work – We should try to eliminate car travel through changes in workplace, proximity to public transit systems, or the use of highly efficient hybrid vehicles when car travel is required. If you must have a car for transportation make it the most efficient, least polluting one you can afford. Live near where you work, work where you live, love where you are. Every place on earth has natural potential that we need only find.

    *              Mind Travel – Stop, don't do anything, and try to remember that one choice that must always be considered is the option of not going anywhere. Much of what we look for "out there" can be found right here at home, without going anywhere. Remember that in all the world there is nothing new that you can't discover right where you are now. Consider the options of contemplating, connecting, and building your relationships to family and nature right where you are at any given moment. Travelers of the mind have gone much further than any astronaut. Travel through space and time in your mind. Write down your journey, read the journey of others, and be thankful for the journeys you've already enjoyed.

    *              Limit Use – By limiting your transportation to the principle requirements of life, that energy will be directed usefully back to nature.

    *              Restoration – The natural need to travel where required to work, to support the activities of growing food, and the construction of healthy natural solar powered homes all make necessary a transportation system that is solar powered and non-polluting. The endless paved cities, towns and homes should, as much as possible, be returned to the trees, bushes, and natural grasses that once flourished in the natural soil.

    We must try to do without cars by the selecting a location for our home, work and community that makes this possible. When a car is required it must be one of the few that provides "ultra" low emissions. Other alternatives, such as bicycles or walking will be the primary means of transportation. For longer trips transit systems are the only way to travel. Some ideas for changing transportation systems include:

    *              Car use eliminated through walkways, bicycle paths, locally available necessities.

    *              Own cars that get better than 60 mpg or are non-polluting. The minimum mileage will be increased each year based on the best available technology. Older cars must meet these minimums within 5 years or be recycled. At least a 90% reduction in pre-2000 pollution levels must be achieved.

    *              Local high speed network facilities provide ideal conditions for working from home or shared office facilities in your local community.

    *              For some purposes electric vehicles may provide convenient and efficient local neighborhood travel if bicycle or walking are not practical.

    *              Walk to the local corner store. If local food stores and cafes don't exist within walking distance work with neighbors to create them so that car and public transit travel is not required for these trips.

    *              Create local shared vegetable gardens that produce food for all to share within walking distances of your home.

    *              Work with neighbor to create a community center within walking distance if one does not exist.

    *              Transform busy roads by planting trees that force cars to slow down. Implement traffic calming techniques such as speed bumps. Create urban walkways as replacements for main streets in the city/town/village you call home by eliminating car traffic.

    *              Rather than flying off to the tropics, take a vacation by hiking your local trails to become more familiar with your own country.

    *              Support the development of mass transit systems that are wisely conceived to reduce car traffic.

    *              Use alternative transportation such as car pools and car sharing .

     The effects of transportation systems on our neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities have been dramatically destructive in general. The requirements for vast amounts of fossil fuels to power the ever growing number of cars has created one of the largest sources of pollution. The terrible cost of the military force used to try and protect fossil fuel reserves is in the trillions of dollars…money that if applied directly to the problems of poverty, pollution, and environmental destruction would be vastly more constructive and profitable.

    Your choice has large impacts. Make your travel choices carefully and creatively.

    Step 7: Creativity

    Reminder: If we can dream it we can achieve it.

    *              Dream – In all that you do consider the creative alternatives that you can think of or that are offered by others. It has all been done before. Sometimes all we have to do is look a little deeper into nature, a little further abroad, or a little further back in our history. All the answers are out there.

    *              Take Time – Take the time to dream. Create some new answers to the problems of the world.

    *              Love Nature – Whether in art or real life, create with a passionate love of nature. The process of creation has the potential to answer all of the questions and problems that surround us. We can find the answers. Creativity is inherent in the diversity of life. There are some things that we can never know, but through creation we may catch a glimpse of the answers. Always look for that opportunity when there seem to be no acceptable answers. No problem is insurmountable. Through creation there is always hope.

    *              Children – Children are the most inspirational connections to nature. They are the pure love that teaches the higher things of nature, they are the pure white light that shines bright; they are the continuing flash of brilliance that was the creation of the universe. Learn from them, be as creative as they are, and be creative in their name, for their sake. Remind yourself that creation is the purpose of life, create children, nurture them with all your powers of goodness and with as much knowledge of truth as you can find. In all that you do create for them a world that will sustain them and their children.

    *              Knowledge – Knowing the problems is half the battle. Be creative in analyzing the connections and interdependencies, and then be creative in pinpointing, through this process, new answers to the old problems.

    *              Truth – Create new life, create a new life style, create a community on the principles of natural living, create food to share, create the truth in all that you do and see. Create words, pictures, paintings, poems, drawings, and stories that express your love of life. Create new answers, combine things in a new way, bring a new perspective that demonstrates the truth in nature. Don't accept that it is impossible since creation is the overcoming of the seemingly impossible.

    If ever a human being embodied the creative spirit and a deep love and connection with nature and humanity, then it must be Vincent Van Gogh. Like so many of the inspiring people who have discovered the truth in nature, Vincent, time and time again, the deeper he looked, found that nature and that white light, are the eternal answers we all seek, and which do exist.

    The following are my favorite quotes that have inspired me throughout this journey toward Natural Living. Take them and frame them next to some prints of his Sower, Reaper, Fields of Wheat, Straw Bales, trees, people's faces, and Sun Flowers that express true nature, creativity, and feeling inherent in nature itself. Whenever you feel melancholy, as Vincent did at times, remember that we all have had those days, but that there will be a beautiful sunrise to lift our spirits if we maintain our faith in nature. It does not matter whether we live a longer or shorter life. Instead, let us live a life worth living and, if we can, leave something worthwhile such as a canvas with a picture, paper with inspiring words, a loved child or a straw bale house each made with the creative passion that dwells within our hearts.

    Think of the life Vincent lived so desperately, so passionately. He had but little and spent most of his time working at his passion for ten years, sometimes with no food. He traveled mainly on foot, spent day after day deeply observing nature and people, reading in search of the truth, writing letters to his brother whom he loved with all his heart about all that he was becoming aware of, and living his life as passionately as  humanly possible. Vincent had a vision, created a plan, and lived by his principles, goals, and love for ten years. His life is an inspiration. Find inspiration, creativity and awareness, as I have, by reading his words of truth and find the essence of nature and people through his paintings that are the energy and life of nature.

    Words of Truth by Vincent

    "I will try to fight the good fight."

    "Give peace to poor creatures."

    "If only one can remember what one has seen one is never lonely."

    "As molting time, when they change their feathers, is for birds, so adversity or misfortune is the difficult time for us human beings. One can stay in it, or one can also emerge renewed."

    "Do our inner thoughts ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it."

    "Love many things."

    "My life and my love are one."

    "If I could only express what I feel."

    "At present money is what the right of the strongest used to be."

    "Which is worse, danger or the fear of danger, personally I prefer the danger itself."

    "The laws of color are utterly beautiful just because they are not accidental. In the same way that people nowadays no longer believe in fantastic miracles, no longer believe in a god who capriciously and despotically flies from one thing to another, but begin to feel more respect and admiration for and faith in nature."

    "This white light and that I seek it and only this do I consider simplicity."

    "Every day I am more convinced that people who do not first wrestle with nature never succeed. I personally know no other way than to wrestle with nature long enough for her to tell me her secret. I have no other wish than to live deep, deep in the heart of the country and to paint rural life."

    Step 8: Work

    Reminder: Do what you love to do.

    *              Close to Home – If you can, work from home or at least within walking distance. Eliminate the need to drive to work in a car. Take public transit to get to work.

    *              Live Your Dreams – Select or plan to make a career change that supports a natural way of life. Work to live your dreams.

    *              Compassion – Fight injustice wherever you see it. Take care of your fellow workers and the beneficiaries of your work.

    *              Work is Life – Work means those activities that support our survival. Work is a life that is symbiotic with the natural world. Remind yourself that work ultimately must service nature and humanity, rather than profits for shareholders. Apply the principles of Natural Living to your work. Make choices to ensure that the work you do is life affirming. Creating shelter, putting food on the table, enabling required travel, and supporting the principles of the family and community must change. The purpose of work is the sustenance of life, which means the sustenance of nature.

    The use of your house, a local office or local shared office space makes the most sense for solving many problems related to getting to work. The office space itself must be as healthy and natural as the house we described.

    Office Space

    *              Local shared office space eliminates the need to commute in a car.

    *              Open concept design in the home and shared office allows for the modification of spaces as the business changes.

    *              Additional work space may be constructed near the house as, when and if required rather than over-sizing now.

    *              As a consultant it is quite reasonable to work from the house with standard communication equipment such as a phone system and internet connectivity.

    *              Get local businesses to provide other required services such as accounting, supplies and consulting.

    *              All office facilities should minimize heating, hot water, air conditioning, appliances, lighting, construction, sewage and water requirements by using the same construction techniques as used for the homes.

    *              By using the house for work we leverage the investment in these features.


    *              Investments represent a major opportunity for the expression of support for companies which support the principles, goals and solutions presented here. Be sure that the company you work for takes responsibility for the environment.

    *              Stock portfolio holdings should include companies that provide fundamental support for the concepts of natural living.

    *              Put your money into investments that support the lifestyle you are adopting.

    *              Pick stocks, mutual funds and other investments that support companies that put the environment first, that are leading the development of environmental products and services.

    *              Only pick fixed income investments such as municipal bonds, corporate bonds or the like if you believe these organizations are using the money you lend them to support a sustainable solar powered future.


    *              Do not work for environmentally irresponsible companies.

    *              If your company does not already enforce recycling then try to make sure that you do your best to change it.

    *              Working for oil companies that currently mask their environmental destructive mission would be like working for a cigarette company over the past twenty years.

    Many of the principles that we apply to our lives must be applied to the work we do to pay for our lifestyles. Your job is something that you will spend a large portion of your adult life doing. It can have a positive or negative impact on nature. Look to make a positive impact wherever and whenever possible.

    In Summary

    These are the eight steps in your life where you can make the largest beneficial impact. They also provide a natural, step-by-step process that you can review each day, in order to achieve a natural sustainable lifestyle. Rather than trying to find new technological solutions, let's consider a new combination of what we have in the natural world, and what we can use today to help us find new or improved solutions. Most of the conventional systems that support our modern way of life must now be recognized as too limited. They were established during a time of primitive technology development, often by small rich elites, and supported by a system of unlimited growth. All of these modern systems must be resolved within a new, richer, smarter, and broader context. Often this will mean using a more complex and creative symbiotic approach, where in the past a simple brute force technique neglected any deep understanding of flow.

    Chapter 7

    Organic Food

    Taking pleasure in the food we eat makes sense given the number of times we need to do it every day. The food we eat given our numbers has a massive impact on our shared environment. This includes the vast amount of land used for the purpose, the chemicals and energy used to grow it, jobs, transportation to markets, packaging, super markets, processing plants, waste processing and advertising. Despite the fact that we grow more food than we need to feed all people, many do not get enough to sustain life and die of starvation. Chemicals required to support farming practices in marginal growing areas are wreaking havoc with wildlife, water systems and human health.

    It doesn't have to be this way. Growing food organically, minimizing our consumption of meat, and transforming consumptions patterns towards localization is occurring because it makes so much sense. Organic foods have entered the mainstream in a big way in recent years. Profits for organic growers are proving better and more sustainable. Quality and standards have improved to the point where consistency and availability of organic foods has increase steadily. Here is a simple way to make one of the biggest impacts towards a sustainable future.

    As we've seen, the Union of Concerned scientist make clear that our consumption of fruits, vegetables and meats are on the top six list of consumer activities that we must transform in order to become sustainable. Fortunately, there are many benefits and reasons to move towards local organic foods.

    Healthier Safer Choice

    One of the most shocking realizations I've become aware of is the high level of toxic chemical accumulation that comes from eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. It had been my understanding that these toxins could concentrate in animal meats including fish, chicken, beef and other meats since these were at the top of the food chain. What is even more disturbing is the potential for us humans to concentrate these toxins as we consume more and more chemicals in the fruits and vegetables we eat. Despite cleaning with prescribed levels of determination, the chemical residues or absorbed toxin are still present. Since we are at the top of the food chain, we accumulate these toxins in our bodies. Even trace amounts of some like lead can be deadly. Choosing to eat organics largely eliminates this danger. In terms of reduced health risk we would all be well advised to select organics where and whenever possible. These problems can be even more significant for our growing and developing children. For their sakes we need to provide them with the least toxic food as the potential dangers for growing and developing bodies can be even more severe.

    Your baby is perhaps the most vulnerable of all. If you have a baby or are planning to have one, do what we did many years ago now, start buying organic vegetables and fruits, learn how to process them. This is a great way to get to know organic brands, local organic markets, and more about the different options. Even within organics you'll need to take responsibility for reading the labels to determine the level of organics used, quality and nutritional levels. Even if it costs a little more isn't your growing baby worth it?

    Additional concerns are now arising from the use of genetic modification. Genetics are being used to produce varieties that would not occur naturally. These genetic modifications once made, however, have been found capable of being transferred to crops outside their own fields. The potential dangers are unknown. Tampering with nature has pretty much always proven a bad idea. We simply don't know enough to understand the potential problems. Our mistakes litter the planet. Perhaps the best known was our use of DDT and its continued use in developing countries. In our local area the release of Asian lady bugs (actually beetles) to control Afids has resulted in their wide spread growth out of control since they don't appear to have any natural enemies.

    Better Taste

    Once you start to get used to eating organics you can't go back. You may be tempted by slightly lower prices of conventionally grown foods, but your taste buds will tell you the extra cost is worth it. That better, fresher, more natural, full flavor should tell you something is very right about organics. For cooking, locally grown, fresh organics make meals a delight.

    More Nutritious

    The variety and nutrients in organic are better for you as well. Chemically grown produce simply does not have the variety of nutrients common to naturally grown organic foods. The reduced levels of processing and chemical in organics will also be much better for you.

    Organic Growth

    There has been a great deal of growth in the organic foods sector. In our local supermarket the powerful "Presidents Choice" brand has made major moves with a new organics option. Our continued support and demand for these products will continue to broaden the options available. Supporting our local farmers is where it starts. Organic farmers deserve our support as their methods significantly reduce impact on land, reduce chemical buildup in our environments in the most direct way. Obviously supporting them will also help to build their industry, increase competition and increase public awareness of the benefits their local organic farm produce provides.

    Both new organic specialty grocers and markets that have long offered organics exist. In our local area organics are available at several roadside locations. Many exist in the suburbs. Even downtown markets offer specialty organic vendors. In our local village center there is Harmony Whole Foods that offers organic and natural food products exclusively. At Zehrs, our ultra-large major grocery store, you'll find the new organic brand products. We've learned to find the best values at each.

    Grow Your Own

    The best thing is to grow your own vegetables and herbs organically. By growing your own you'll not only learn about the connections to nature and benefits and ease of organic growing, you'll get the freshest and best tasting produce you could ever imagine. Producing your own vegetables and fruits from native varieties also helps to maintain the genetic variety that may be so key in the future for organic growers. With diversity and native varieties we will find ways to grow better tasting food without the dangers of monoculture, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuel fertilizers and water contamination.

    Clothing and Fabrics

    Starting looking for organic clothes. At our local Mountain Equipment Coop, we can now find a complete set of organic clothes. More and more you'll find that organic sheets and towels are becoming available.

    Chapter 8


    Looking at your place with new eyes. Whether you are looking for a new property on which to build or at renovating your existing place some of the easiest and long lasting opportunities exist for reducing your impact. See where natural resources come for free. The sun, rain, wind, woods, flowers, and garden. How can you mimic nature in order to satisfy your requirements for home, food, work and transportation? These are the fundamentals of Natural Living. Many of them derive from a very careful look at place, site, area, landscape, environment, climate and community.

    Place is a something we may take for granted. And yet, as in nature, we see that every little nook and cranny offers different opportunities and challenges. Sometimes finding and seeing these takes a new way of thinking. How would a Beaver construct things if this area was suitable habitat for them? What do the plants do to survive? Can we learn and work with the natural elements to find the best way to blend with each space.

    When we look to build for our home or dig the land to grow food there are many ways we can retain the local dynamics of the area. First of all we can try to minimize any impact at all by leaving as much as possible as is. When trees and land are transformed it may be possible to restore or reuse these material. Green roofing and passive solar provide opportunities for this type of restoration of the local landscape. Using the material for parts of the construction or returning them to their natural state can help significantly towards helping the site return to a state of health. When we build we must realize that we are wounding the space and may need to help return it to health.

    Natural site features to look for:

    • Southern exposure
    • Trees, earth or other houses on north, east, west
    • Top of hill
    • Not prime farmland
    • Near community and essential services (hospitals, schools, organic food store, community parks)
    • Transit nearby

    Depending on where you live different sustainable building systems may be more suitable.

    • Renovation
    • Straw bale
    • Earth ship
    • Earth-sheltered
    • Rammed earth
    • Cave
    • Hybrid
    • R2000

    Chapter 9


    Not needing something can be the most efficient form of conservation. Higher levels of insulation, better windows, sealed cracks, and reduced levels of demand for energy are where renewable energy starts. This is also the cost effective way to be sustainable. It also may be one of the harder areas as the concept of less, invisible savings are hard for some people to grasp. In my own case the exciting concepts of solar panels and wind turbines actively producing renewable energy intrigues me. In reality, the power of efficiency is the key to holding the holistic concepts of sustainable living together. Without thinking efficiently as nature does we are doomed to fail.

    It starts with the amount of space you need. Keep it as small as possible. Rethink every element and wherever possible try to work towards as small of a space for what you really need. The benefits of this type of thinking result in cost saving in every other aspect of your life. The flexibility and opportunities provided by minimizing your footprint at this basic level when applied over the long term are the most powerful. Like investing, the sooner you start, the more you put in at the beginning, the better the long term returns. With efficiency this is the formula. However, the difficulty is in that the investment is in reducing, optimizing and eliminating. This kind of thinking is something we find difficult in our culture of consumption and wanting forever more.

    Something we will find very hard is to change our ways of thinking. Efficiency is a natural way built into the universe. It is something that we are only starting to grasp but that has long been a part of spiritual traditions and ancient cultures. It has been the recent revolutions in energy usage patterns, innovations in mechanics, and chemical innovation that has allowed us to go well beyond natural limits. This can't be sustained. The key is conserving wherever possible, insulating, reducing materials, using renewable materials, and organic products.

    Using every means possible to reduce leaks, improve insulation levels, and retain heat naturally collected through passive solar means a direct reduction in what we need to produce to maintain comfort levels. Much of this type of efficiency is not sexy or all that visible but it provides far greater value over the long run.

    Text Box: Ü	Start by changing all your light bulbs to compact fluorescents. They last ten times longer and can reduce energy consumption by up to 80% less energy. Imagine your savings when you change all the bulbs in your home!Once we turn to the active systems like lighting, appliances and heating system these too should be the most efficient and properly sized for the job. Over the long term the more efficient systems will pay for any additional cost that may be involved. Reduced levels of maintenance will typically be an added bonus. Also, efficiency comes part and parcel with quality. Quality is something that people will feel and sense. That feeling of security and comfort will also provide peace of mind and security, such valuable, although difficult to quantify benefits.

    Efficiency occurs in natural systems due to real competition. In Europe where energy prices have been higher for longer the use of in-line water heaters is nearly universal. Rather than maintain hot water in a large tank, these systems heat precisely the quantity of water required for specific purposes on demand. These systems are  usually fueled by natural gas or propane, however, the efficiency ratings are dramatically better than other tank based systems. Electric in-line hot water heating systems also exist.

    Chapter 10

    Passive Solar Heating and Natural Cooling

    Perhaps the oldest, simplest, and most effective heating system, passive solar, directly converts sunlight into heat. The heat is most frequently stored in a thick floor or similarly effective storage medium. This is the most direct form of solar energy usage. Passive solar combines to also provide natural cooling so as not to overheat.

    Creating a passive solar home starts by selecting the right site that should include access to plenty of sunlight to the south, a wind break to the north, and effective insulation for the home.  The passive solar effect works naturally since the sun is much lower in the sky in the winter, and so high in the summer. This combines to increase heat storage in the winter when need and reduce heating in the summer. By combining passive solar with natural cooling techniques the home can achieve a natural balance that eliminates the need for a fossil fuel based furnace or air conditioner. This leads to substantial cost saving especially when considered over the lifetime of the home. The reductions in carbon emissions and other pollutants related to the energy required for air conditioning are staggering. These two elements represent nearly fifty percent of the average home's annual energy usage. Using passive solar and natural cooling  reduces pollution by as much as 90%. Of course all of these numbers are dependent on the area in which you live, level of effectiveness in the passive solar/natural cooling systems, and level of supplemental heating required in the form of a wood burning stove and/or hydronic in-floor heating/cooling system.

    Text Box: Ü	Energy savings can reach 90% with passive solar.Passive Solar

    Layout Elements

    (reverse in southern hemisphere)

    • Use site trees and berms  to block winds to north
    • Face true south within 10°
    • More levels to south to capture more heat
    • Reduced levels to north
    • Living areas south
    • Sleeping, utility areas north
    • Green roof provides additional insulation in the winter

    Key Features

    • Insulating windows south primarily (north in the southern hemisphere)
    • High insulation in foundation, walls (straw bale), and roof
    • Thermal mass to store heat or cold, typically concrete floors, approximately six inches thick, heat is released at night in the winter and coolness is released at night during the summer
    • Shading for summer cooling when sun is high in the sky
    • Hydronic heating to supplement storage and distribution of heated or cooled water
    • Natural cooling or passive cooling, through ventilation, shading, and stack effect that draws cool air from the basement and draws it out of the skylight in the roof
    • Provides extensive natural lighting throughout the home reducing the need for electrically powered lights
    • Potential heating and cooling energy saving can exceed 60%
    • Eliminates need for costly duct work of conventional heating system and prevents molds, mildews and dust produced and distributed by forced air heating and air conditioning systems

    Natural Cooling

    Layout Elements

    • Basement area in order to store and maintain cool air in the summer
    • High levels of insulation in order to keep heat out and maintain the coolness inside
    • Internal ventilation that allows cool air to be drawn up through the home when the sky lights venting window is opened in the summer
    • Small windows low on the north side, in the basement primarily to allow outside air to be drown from the cooler low - lying areas into the home.
    • A green roof provides significant additional benefits in terms of reducing heating by as much as 30-40% in the summer.
    • Windows that allow for cross ventilation in various directions

    Key Features

    • Shading on the south to prevent sun from entering the home in the summer
    • Green roof to provide reduced heating in the summer
    • Large thermal mass in flooring and walls in order to store coolness
    • Sahara type venting skylight in order to draw cool air from lower areas displacing the warmer air that rises naturally
    • Hydronic tubing in the concrete mass to allow cool water to provide additional cooling
    • Trees and native plants that can provide shading in the summer while allowing solar heating in the winter

    For a more in-depth review of passive solar principles see Appendix C.

    Chapter 11

    Straw Bale Construction

    Building with straw bale changes everything. This natural renewable insulation material is superior to conventional insulation. If you are thinking of building, renovating or doing an addition on your home then make sure you include some straw bale. If you are like me, it will sound strange at first, but once you read more, work with straw and begin to realize how much sense it makes, you will be forever transformed.

    Before you begin any work read this entire article. Some of the tasks require substantial preparation. Other tasks should be practiced or experimented with in advance of the actual construction days. These instructions are best supplemented with hands on workshop experience or volunteering for a straw bale home building project, and books on the topic. For more information see the Products and Services section at the end of this article.


    First of all, you need to get comfortable with the idea of building with straw. I know when I first heard about the concept I was exceptionally skeptical despite a strong desire to build sustainably. My gut instinct told me that perhaps it would rot or catch on fire too easily. I have a family, and despite my strong desire to create a sustainable future for my children, it would not be worth taking additional risks. So I began to read every book I could find on the subject.

    Surely the three little pigs taught us that straw was not the right material to use. It would just blow away, rot or burn…wouldn't it?

    Is straw bale strong enough? Yes, in fact it's stronger than most other building techniques since it has some "give". Rather than crumbling in an earthquake, for instance, the system, like a tree, is able to dampen the shock, bend, while not being rigid and crumbling. It won't blow away because the simple construction system sews the bales into place, weaving natural fibers together with steel wire fencing, and rock solid posts and beams. In fact these homes have proven capable of lasting almost a hundred years even in difficult climates like Nebraska. Even in the humid southern state of Alabama, a large straw bale mansion has withstood the test of time since the fifties.

    Also keep in mind that straw bale and straw/mud homes are still built and used all over the world. They are a sensible design that has evolved over thousands of years of trial and error. Although we may be less familiar with the comfort, safety and longevity of these wonderful homes, people all over the world are building with straw bales, relearning ancient techniques and combining them with modern tools, materials and designs. As my wife Leigh says, keep an open mind.

    So what is so great about straw bale? Where to start? There are so many things about building with straw bale that I've learned and that have convinced me that it is one of the most sensible, cost effective and sustainable systems ever to have evolved. The benefits also exist at all levels from design flexibility, ease of construction, health, safety and sustainability.

    First of all, straw is in general an inexpensive, renewable building/insulation material available in pretty much all parts of the world in one form or another. Being a local and renewable building material that is inexpensive makes it worth a good hard look. There are different types of straw such as wheat-based or rice-based. Similar to straw is hemp, another potential renewable building/ insulation material. Cob is another farm product that can be used to build in a similar way. The beauty of these materials is that they grow back each year so we aren't cutting down old growth forests or using up large amounts of fossil fuel based energy supplies to create conventional insulation materials like fiber glass or "Roxul" (volcanic rock with steel slag). Also, the cost of straw insulation is less than commercial insulation materials while the insulation values are better.

    Text Box: Ü	Breathing walls improve indoor air quality. Conventionally sealed homes can lock in toxic chemical and cause molds and mildew buildup on vapor barriers (in the summer).The other critical benefit of straw bale walls is their ability the "breathe". This ability, despite superior insulation levels, provides improved air quality. You've no doubt heard about "sick building" syndrome. You're probably aware of the molds, mildews and fungus growing in homes. Well, incorporating breathing walls can prevent all of this. Breathing walls also react to changes in climate much better than modern methods of sealing a home and then trying to mechanically ventilate it, not to mention the additional energy costs to do so.

    Just imagine our modern homes, R2000, or conventional housing development homes built to Canadian "standards". These home are essentially sealed up in plastic and then a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) tries to mechanically refresh the air from the outdoors at a specific rate.

    Unfortunately these systems don't work that well. In most such sealed homes there is a very real and common problem of molds, mildews and fungus growing in your walls. This is most frequently caused by the condensation of water on the inside of the vapor barriers, mandated by R2000 or general building codes. So the sealed home works well in the winter by insulating and preventing air from blowing into the home. However, this design does not react well to warm humid summers. Instead, in the summer especially, these conventional homes will be susceptible to condensation. Combined with air conditioning and forced air type heating systems, these homes are like sealed bottles of toxic chemicals.


    Text Box: Ü	Straw bale construction is an ancient technique. Some straw bale houses in Nebraska that are more than 100 years old are still being lived in. Okay then, but doesn't it cost more? Actually no. Straw bale construction probably costs about the same as conventional construction techniques, although it could cost a fair bit less if you did the work entirely yourself or with volunteers. Over the long run, however, the superior insulation levels provided by straw bale will save you money in reduced heating/cooling costs. Depending on the source of your straw, the cost may be significantly less that conventional insulation. As the cost of energy goes up, so will the cost of conventional insulation, which requires relatively large amounts of energy to produce.

    Some of the other major concerns people have include:

    ·       Fire – Tests have proven that the straw bales don't burn; instead they may smolder a little but make actual flames unlikely, and certainly less likely to burn than convention 2x4 framed stud walls. The three layers of stucco, and the borax sprayed on the bales before the stucco is applied, all work to prevent even the possibility of fires. Also, the lack of spaces for air makes the spread of fire less likely. During construction is the only time that fire should be a major concern. Since the straw bales will be divided, trimmed, slice and diced, the loose straw that blows around the construction site becomes a fire hazard if not cleaned up regularly. Take special care to make sure people aren't smoking or burning anywhere near the work site. Also, it is critical that you maintain a work site clear of loose straw to minimize this danger.

    ·       Pests – Again the compressed nature of straw bales, lack of anything worth eating, and lack of moisture makes poor homes for pests. In general, the vast majority of experience with straw bale has proven it to be less susceptible to rodents, bugs or other pests, partly because of the three layers of stucco, tight sealing and again the compact nature of the straw bales.

    ·       Building Codes – Most countries actually support straw bale construction in some form or another. The United States, and certain states in particular, have support including fire code testing. In Canada, the six thousand square foot straw bale home we worked on in the city of Mississauga (near Toronto), went to the building code committee for review. This review took about a year but has resulted in a very clear ruling in support of straw bales. The ruling required that the architects and engineers involved in the project back up claims that this natural fiber insulating material met the building codes principles for quality construction standards, including susceptibility to fire, strength and other building criteria. Keep in mind that you still may need to relate to your local building inspectors these cases and even some of the technical back ground of this system in order to get them on board.

    The other thing you learn about straw bale is that two design types are possible. Actually there are perhaps hundreds of different ways or variations on these techniques, but in general, there are two popular techniques. First, you can build using post and beam construction techniques familiar to many builders and very common all over the world. In this configuration the straw bales are primarily for insulation although the walls themselves are substantially stronger than conventional walls. The second design technique is a "load bearing" straw bale design. This system does use the incredible strength of the straw, compressed, to actually bear the weight of the roof.

    Most building codes now support post and beam based (non load bearing) straw bale construction. Some areas also support load bearing straw bale (for instance in Quebec, Canada). Always make sure to check with local building codes before getting too far down the path with straw bale.

    You might be thinking, won't that straw just rot when it gets wet? Sure, if you leave it soaking in water it will eventually. However, a key part of straw bale design is allowing the straw to stay dry. A roof with extensive overhangs to prevent water from reaching the walls accomplishes this.

    This chapter focuses on the basics of a post and beam technique for straw bale construction. For details on post and beam or load bearing straw bale construction consult one of the many excellent books on the subject, for example, Straw Bale Building by Chris Magwood and Peter Mack.

    Straw Bale Advantages

    • R50-60 insulation
    • Renewable
    • Inexpensive
    • Breathing walls, healthier
    • Do it yourself, potentially lowers cost, broadens availability
    • Volunteers (lowers cost of labor)
    • Thousands built, proven building system
    • Lasts in some cases longer than eighty years
    • No pests, no fire concerns
    • Building code supported in many areas

    Planning and Design

    Text Box: Ü	Learn how to build with straw bale by volunteering over a weekend or two to help others. That is all it takes to learn how to build with straw bales.The general layout of your structure can essentially follow conventional rules for post and beam construction. For simple structures it is easy to draw up plans yourself. Drawings should include the site layout so that you can determine placement of windows, posts, bales, doors, stairs and other important features of your structure. Knowing in advance where everything is going and where you are going to place everything is critical. Without this you will no doubt build things that need to get reworked because you forgot to consider requirements of this feature. If you are planning a larger, more complex structure, home, workshop, community center or multi-story building you should work with an experienced architect. There are not many architects who are familiar with straw bale construction. One of the best in the world is Martin Liefhebber, who designed our home. For large, complex structures, it is essential to get an expert at eco-design. For a simple home, or once you've consulted with an architect, you may be able to manage the final design and construction yourself.

    The basic design technique follows the principles of post and beam design. The straw bales essentially act as an insulation material and the stucco provides a flexible, strong, and "breathing" wall. Some key design elements to make sure you include for straw bale insulation include:

    ·       Plates (or curb on top of the foundation): Approximately 18"  (this is completely dependent upon the straw bales you get…so find out your source for these and make sure you know their average dimensions) top and bottom plates on which to place and secure the straw bale.
    Bottom Plate (or curb): Use 2x4's nailed or glued to the floor. Fill in the area between each side of the 2x4 platform with about 2" thick insulating Styrofoam that matches the thickness of the 2x4. This ensures that the high insulation levels are maintained at the bottom of the bale walls. The 2x4's curb provides a base on which the bales can be placed and a surface for stapling the chicken wire to each side of the wall at the bottom.
    Top Plate: Cut a .5" to .75" plywood to provide a top plate towards which the bales will be stacked. This top plate should butt up against the ceiling/roof structure. It should be the same width as the base plate.

    ·       Keep in mind that the walls will vary in thickness and have typically rounded corners.

    ·       Wall thickness can be varied by placing the bales on end, rather than flat, so that the thickness of the walls can be reduced by approximately 3" to 6". Of course the insulation levels will be reduced as well but for a shed or other structure that does not require as much insulation this may give you the additional inside floor space you want.

    ·       The additional layers of chicken wire and two to three layers of stucco on both sides will add to the final thickness of the walls. Plan for an additional inch or two on each side. In other words about twenty inch wide walls rather than seven or eight for conventional walls. Keep in mind that your walls will insulate at levels of R30-50 as compared to around R11 for conventionally insulated walls, so this extra thickness really pays off.

    Ordering Materials

    With designs completed you will need to get a building permit for anything larger than a shed. Check your local building code for permit requirements. Certainly on a larger structure like a barn, workshop, cottage, home or condo you'll need to ensure that your design is acceptable to the building department. In most places in the world, straw bale home construction has been approved, so this step should not be difficult. If concerns are raised there are many sources of information that you can provide to support your request to build with straw bales. In the case of a home in a suburb of Toronto, near where I live, the owners had to go to the building committee with engineers in order to get permission to build with straw bales. Their successful review puts their case in the building codebooks as a precedent. By referring to precedents like this – where engineers backed up claims that straw bale does provide a good building/insulation material, meets fire codes, provides proven levels of insulation, supports structure code requirements and will stand the test of time – you are treading on solid ground. It is possible that in your area you may need to be the ones to break down barriers. However, that process is becoming easier as more and more cases such as this are won.

    Now that your building plans have been approved and you are comfortable with all the details having been determined, you are ready to place your orders for materials. With the dimensions of your floor space and walls determined, you will be able to calculate your required quantities of materials. Keep in mind that with straw bale you should order 10-20% more bales than you think are required to ensure that you don't run out during construction. You will likely want to order the foundation, framework and roofing materials first, and complete that work before taking delivery of the straw bales. Once you have completed this stage you can take delivery of the bales and store them in the covered structure or under a waterproof tarp. It is important to keep the bales as dry as possible throughout the construction process and until they are covered with stucco.

    Materials List (Straw Bale Walls)

    ·       Chicken wire fencing rolls

    ·       Wire mesh for window/door corners

    ·       Stucco paper for around windows/doors

    ·       Portland cement bags

    ·       Vapor barrier

    ·       Tar paper (to isolate straw bales from foundation)

    ·       Lime bags

    ·       Wire of similar type and gauge as chicken wire

    ·       Straw bales

    ·       Staples

    ·       Nails

    Some Tools: Trowels, baling twine, wire, wire twist ties, and a twist tool.


    Tools Required

    ·       Stapler (ideally air powered)

    ·       Hammers

    ·       Large wooden mallet

    ·       Trowels

    ·       Buckets

    ·       Wheelbarrows

    ·       Cement mixer

    ·       Sewing needles (straw bale)

    ·       Wire cutters

    ·       Power tools (drill, circular saw etc.)

    ·       Chain saw (to trim the bails)

    Before you organize a group of volunteers to do the straw bale walls make sure you complete the preparation of all plates around the perimeter of the structure, top and bottom. For both our home and shed we used 2x4's to frame the based, with 2" blue Styrofoam insulation cut to size between the 2x4's. This creates a perfect platform on which to stack the bales and tack the chicken wire to each side of the wall. The top plate can be cut from plywood to size and tacked securely to the upper beams supporting the roof or between the posts. This top plate needs to be secure as the forces to be placed on it by the wall and adjustments with a wooden mallet will be significant. As well, the long-term viability of the wall may be compromised if it is not well secured.


    Once you have your materials, you need to complete all of the foundation, framing, posts and beams. In most cases it is best to also complete the roof so that you have a covered area to store the bales and so that the bales will be covered once the walls are completed. Keeping bales dry is important to ensuring their long-term viability. If they get wet without drying properly they will eventually begin to rot. Straw bales should have less than 20% humidity. Devices are available to measure levels of humidity within the bales. In general, as long as you and the farmer have kept the bales from getting soaked by rain the bale should be sufficiently dry for use in your project.

    Bottom plates  curb prepared.

    Each door and window should be framed with 2x6 or 2x8 lumber "bucks" for placement within the bale wall at the right levels. The doorframe can be secured before bale stacking begins. Once all of the framework, posts, beams and frames are ready, and all materials for construction of the bale walls ready, the construction of the walls can begin.

    Top Plate Details with a steel rod cross bar for extra strength on high walls.

    It may be easier to staple the chicken wire fencing (usual supplied in rolls) to the outside plates before starting the bale stacking (see photo right). Cut the chicken wire with wire cutters so that it can be attached to the top, then bottom plate. Staple the top and then the bottom of the chicken wire strips. Leave openings in the chicken wire for doors and windows allowing sufficient wire to wrap around to the frames. As each strip of chicken wire is added, overlap with the previous section by about an inch. Then sew the two strips together with steel wire.

    Vapor barrier for corners and edges.

    Corners and edges that are exposed to the outside side of the walls should be lined with a plastic membrane (vapor barrier). These should never be used throughout – only where the stucco will eventually make contact with the posts, beams, windows and doors. This will deter moisture from leaking through the walls and into the home at these edges. It is important that any moisture that does penetrate the wall eventually be able to evaporate and flow away from the wall. Make sure these small areas of vapour barrier do not have any cups that might trap water.

    Laying the Straw Bale Wall

    Now that you are ready to stack the bales it is important to have prepared some odd sized bales for corners and ends. Have a group of people prepare one third and two third bales by cutting the baling twine and re-tying the two parts. This turns whole bales into pairs of one-third and two-thirds bales. Make as many of these as you think may be required for the number of ends and corners in your structure (see pictures below).

    Lay the straw bales one layer at a time. Complete the first layer, stuff any unusual gaps with loose straw against the chicken wire to ensure no gaps exist. This is critical to ensuring a consistent level of insulation throughout the entire wall. Any gaps or air pockets will severely affect the insulation capacity of the walls. Don't leave any gaps between the bales. Once each row is properly filled you can begin the next row. Offset the next row by half a bale, just as a bricklayer would offset the bricks with each row. This ensures a stronger wall. With each row, ensure no gaps or cracks exist. Fill these with loose straw before continuing to the next level.

    As you stack bales around doors, windows and corner it may be necessary to insert one-third and two-thirds bales to ensure a good tight fit. Watch for bulges or bales stacked the wrong way as these will create areas of weakness, less insulation levels and unusual shapes. Keep in mind that it is possible to create and place artwork, shelves, tables and larger than normal window sills, stools, storage spaces and much more. Use your imagination with care though, as some ideas may not be what you want for the long term and changing things can be difficult.

    While stacking the first layer, the electrical outlet boxes should be attached to a piece of 2x8 lumber and laid on the bales before stacking the next layer. All electrical and plumbing work should have been planned well in advance and prepared so that it can go in, around or under the bales effectively.

    Chicken Wire

    Once all of the rows of bales are stacked, cracks filled and corners checked for gaps, it is time to staple the chicken wire fencing to the other side of the bales. Once again, cut the chicken wire fencing to fit the space from the top to the bottom of the wall. Cut to size with wire cutters, staple to the top plate, and then staple securely and tightly to the bottom plate. As each strip of chicken wire is added, overlap with the previous section by about an inch. Then sew the two strips together with steel wire. Special wire twists that can be used to secure the two pieces together quickly with a special hook tool are also available.

    If there are any wire bulges, you may want to create some wire "staples". Cut about twelve inches of wire and bend in the shape of a "U" or "V". These can then be inserted into the bales to secure the chicken wire to the bales.

    For windows ledges, sills, and doors, attach a finer steel mesh to create curved or sharp corners from the buck frame to the main wall. This additional steel mesh adds strength to these areas that will be impacted by people and objects as these areas are used frequently. Tar paper can also be inserted around and below the chicken wire/wire mesh in corners.


    While the corners are being finished the walls can be sewn together from each side. Baling twine spools and some straw bale sewing needles will be required. We made our own sewing needles using some steel rods about a quarter inch thick and two feel long, purchased from our local hardware store. On one end of each rod, we created a pointed end by sawing off the corners at a forty-five degree angle. Finally we drilled a hole big enough for the baling twine to fit through (about a quarter inch or half a centimeter). Be very careful with these tools around children, and make everyone aware of the danger of poking someone during the sewing or preparation process.

    With tools prepared the sewing can begin. Sewing requires pairs of people to work on each side of the straw bale walls, after the bales have been stacked and the chicken wire secured on both sides as well as top and bottom. The sewing process starts by measuring about ten meters of twine and threading it through the nose of the sewing needle hole. The other end of the twine is then tied to the chicken wire at the bottom of the wall. The sewing needle is then pushed carefully through the bale so that the person on the other side can pull it through completely (being careful not to impale anyone!). The second person "zigs" over about eight to twelve inches and up two to four inches, and pushes the needle back through from the other side. After pushing the needle back through, pull the remaining twine through, ensuring that each stitch is pulled taught. This continues until the top of the wall is reached or until the twine runs out at which point it is tied off on the chicken wire.

    Make sure that all of the chicken wire is pulled tight to the straw bales so that no gaps are left. The entire wall should stiffen up as more and more of the wall is stitched. Shifting over a foot or so, repeat the same process for the entire section of wall. Many pairs can work in parallel during this process in order to complete the job quickly – like a quilting bee! Make sure that holes and gaps are filled with straw around doors, windows and corners before sewing tight.

    Preparing for Stucco

    Use a large wooden mallet, like the hand-made model pictured below, to flatten and straighten the walls as desired. Make sure no gaps or weak spots exist. Trim all loose straw sticking out of the chicken wire with a "weed whacker". Spray a borax/water solution on the bale walls as a fire retardant. Check to make sure that all corners are well prepared with additional stucco mesh formed to the desired shape. Remember that entranceways, windowsills, and corners need to be able to resist many impacts without cracking or breaking.

    Depending upon the number of volunteers helping and the number and complexity of straw bale walls, this phase may take a full weekend to accomplish. In my own experience the two main phases, assuming a good number of volunteers (between ten and twenty people), the straw bale wall raising can be done through a single weekend. The stucco process usually then takes another weekend or two depending on weather and other factors.

    Stucco Plastering

    For larger jobs the major tasks in this phase of the construction should be specialized for different groups. One group should manage the plaster mixing while another does the stucco application to the walls. Each group needs to work in a coordinated manner so that as the stucco plaster is prepared it can be immediately applied to the walls. The first coat must dry to some extent before the next layer is applied. Also, the first rough coat may need substantially more stucco as this layer needs to fill all cracks and create an even surface. The first layer should also be scored with a rake before it dries. This scoring provides an important bonding surface for the next layer. Typically three layers are applied. The first layer should cover the entire surface of all walls and fill gaps. As it dries it should be scored with a rake. Any straw that sticks out should be clipped off at the first layer. Once the first layer dries a lighter layer should be applied to smooth out the entire surface. This may be used as the final surface. To make it a nice texture the second layer can be sponged with a wet sponge. This brings out the sand in the mixture created a smooth texture and minimizes lines created by trowelling. 

    A final third layer may be applied in order to pigment the final wall. This allows color to be added.

    In order to prepare large amounts of cement-based stucco, a cement mixer will be required. For the small shed that I built, I simply mixed the ingredients in my wheelbarrow. For larger homes, walls and buildings you will need a proper construction mixer. Building our home, we rented one for a weekend.

    The plaster mix we used was one part Portland cement, one part lime and five parts sand. Mix in water until the consistency changes to a thick mud. You'll know it is right once you try to apply it to the straw bale walls. In should stick and spread, maintaining its position and shape. Don't add too much water too fast. If you do though, you can add the ingredients in the same proportion to thicken things up again.

    Although other mixtures are possible, one part Portland cement, one part lime, and five parts sand provides a well-proven stucco mix. The parts can be mixed using a shovel or other tool as long as it is consistent in terms of the ratio of ingredients. If your particular ingredients don't produce the desired results, then experiment with adjustments to the ratios until you get one the produces the results you want.

    Each layer should be applied completely before starting the next layer or breaking for the day, in order to ensure consistency. The stucco is typically applied using a stucco platter to hold the mix. Then the stucco can be spread evenly with smooth consistent strokes using a trowel. Corners can be rounded or forced to a square edge. You may need to spray some water on each layer of stucco as it dries, in order to prevent cracking. This spray should be very fine so that the water does not run down the stucco. After each layer has been applied, review the work to make sure it meets your requirements. Once the stucco dries it is quite difficult to correct any problems.

    More Things We Learned

    ·       More than fifty straw bale homes have been built in Ontario.

    ·       The Ontario Building Code supports straw bale home construction that is non-load bearing.

    ·       Quebec and other provinces have permitted load bearing straw bale homes.

    Products and Services

    ·       Straw bale construction company: Camel's Back Construction, Chris Magwood, Peter Mack and Tina Therien,

    ·       Post and beam home construction: Colin Richards, Builder – e-mail

    ·       Martin Liefhebber, Architect, .

    ·       Fresh, holistic approach to community design with straw bale, Cheryl Bradbee, .

    ·       Hands-on straw bale workshops: Everdale - , Hockley Ecology Retreat Centre.  

    Straw Bale Books

    book coverStraw Bale Building: How to Plan, Design and Build with Straw

    By Chris Magwood and Peter Mack

    published by New Society Publishers, ISBN 0-86571-403-7

    280pp, illustrated, 8x9, $29.95 Can./$24.95 US

    Home Improvement & Construction / Ecological Design

    Straw Bale Building speaks to a part of us that insists that we should be able to build our own homes with our own hands. We look at pictures of a bale wall being raised and immediately think: I could do that! Straw bale houses can be easy and affordable to build, super energy efficient, environmentally friendly, attractive, and can be designed to match the builder's personal space needs, aesthetics and budget. It's no wonder that straw bale houses are growing in popularity.

    Now, with Straw Bale Building, this construction technique is explained in the fullest depth yet, enabling everyone who wants to build with bales to do so with confidence, safety and flair and to do so in compliance with local building codes.

    Straw Bale Building guides the reader through every stage of the design and building process and is heavily illustrated with both architectural quality drawings and photographs of on-the-job action. With its extensive listing of further resources, it provides all you need to plan and then create the building of your dreams!

    Straw Bale Details: A Manual for Designers and Builders

    By Chris Magwood and Chris Walker

    $47.95 US

    Straw Bale Details is the perfect companion for those who are serious about building with straw. It focuses entirely on the specific design theories and practices that result in well-built, long-lasting bale structures, and extends the range of books like Straw Bale Building through large, easy-to-read architectural drawings rendered for a wide variety of building options, including load-bearing and post-and-beam designs. A range of foundation, wall, door and window, and roof-plate scenarios are presented, along with explanatory notes and possible modifications. Also included is testing data from the most recent rounds of bale wall exploration, and interpretations of the data are given to help base designer and builder decisions on sound science.

    For more information or to order:


    Books to Build a New Society

    PO Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC Canada V0R 1X0

    Tel: 250-247-9737 Fax: 250-247-7471

    On the web:

    Case Study:
    Straw Bale in the City

    This home in the city of Mississauga features solar photo voltaic, solar hot water, in-floor hydronic heating, straw bale insulated walls, and a co-housing living arrangement. Three women have created this sustainable dream home in the conservative city-suburb of Mississauga, just twenty minutes from Toronto. Achieving this dream took a great deal of determination patience and will power.

    The genesis of this remarkable co-housing idea came from the needs of three independent, smart and creative women, Cheryl, Grace and Beth. Cheryl had learned about the concepts of co-housing in 1994. Cheryl was in her 30's and was concerned about her long-term economic future as a single woman.

    In 1997 She decided to talk to her friends Grace and Beth about the idea of working together to build a home that they could share . Grace had been looking for condos in Toronto. This would enable them to express their independence while supporting each other.

    Renovating at the time seemed like the best means to try out co-housing. However, with Beth's sensitivity to chemicals the houses they looked at didn't work as she reacted to them badly. At that point they began looking for properties in Toronto and Mississauga. The two criteria for Cheryl were shopping within walking distance and easy access to transit. The property in the town of Clarkson, near lake Ontario, in the south end of Mississauga fit the bill.

    Text Box: Ü	This 6,000 square foot straw bale home was built in the conservative large city of Mississauga, near Toronto. If you can build straw bale in Mississauga Ontario you can build with straw bale anywhere. They looked at five properties. The property cost $250,000. They purchased it in December 1998. Some concerns existed with the property as a honky tonk bar had been trying to get permission to start a business on the corner. Several developers had looked at the property but had not done anything. Other properties simply didn't have things like easy solar access. One, for instance, was in a valley near a swamp. There was also a desire to have enough space to grow food. This was, as it turned out, the last undeveloped property in Toronto.

    The day they closed on the property they met for a picnic lunch with Martin Leifhebber to start design on the site.  It  was critical that the design be done on the site, following the principles and ideas of  Christopher Alexander, especially the book "A Pattern Language, Towns-Buildings Construction". Most architecture schools disdain him because he is "too people oriented". Decisions are then made on the basis of what people  will live in the space, what God would do and based on the ideas of beauty. Beauty is, Alexander found, based on 15 things or patterns that were common to all people. Architects typically don't accept these ideas. Martin Liefhebber did however.

    Some of the more successful  ideas came through thinking through the Alexander ideas. This included the idea of thinking in terms of spaces instead of rooms. Also, the idea of always having windows on at least two sides of any space.

    The design process also become very interactive as Grace would update Martin's drawings according to her views on Alexander and how she felt the space on the site would work. Light played a big part as is common in architecture. Lots of windows and light of course were the result. People, now, as it turns out, always mention how much light there is in the home.

    The idea of using straw bale and solar had always been assumed. The primary goal was health, which very much included the health of the environment. So that both the materials and indoor air quality would be healthy. It is a natural fit to combine healthy materials with solar panels to ensure that the environment stays healthy.

    After the plans had been submitted it took more than six months before they got any kind of response. A huge frustration was the city of Mississauga, which rather than getting behind this positive, innovative project, tried to stop it. Mississagua eventually issued a permit to build in the spring of 1999 without straw bale. So the second floor got enclosed without straw bale while the fight with the Ontario Building Code Commission began. The straw bale was critical to Beth so this was an important fight to win so that she could have a clean air environment. Unfortunately the Commissions building was so hard on Beth she could only attend meetings for less than an hour.

    Mississauga realized that the house was a custom house in 1999. Martin had clearly documented the use of "cellulose" for insulation. At this meeting they finally asked what this meant. It meant straw bale.

    It took until December 1999 for the Ontario Building Code Commission to rule in their favor. Then Mississauga delayed until March 2000 before they issued the permit to allow for straw bale. Straw bale construction took place in May 2000.

    The cost of custom building this home, without the high-end finish would be comparable to conventional construction. The basic cost was approximately $150/square foot. However, this is much more of a house. Essentially the 6000 square feet are like five very different complex homes in one. This diversity and customization added substantially to the cost but also to the  uniqueness and artistry. Each unit was essentially a custom house . Each space that was not shared was done specific to each woman. Cheryl estimates that the city of Mississauga added $200,000 to the cost of building the home. The home has no air conditioning. None of the women like air conditioning. The yearly operating cost is estimated at about $15,000 per year of which about $10,000 is taxes and insurance. Geo thermal was originally what Cheryl had hoped to use. Martin was not comfortable with this so an ultra efficient natural gas water heater was used. Radiant floor heating was not what Mississauga wanted but they did agree in the end.

    The city wanted several other standard things. They wanted the driveway to be asphalt instead of gravel (that allows the water to naturally drain through the soil).

    The fight to build this home took a great deal of energy and effort but they knew it was worth it. Actually building it was quite easy compared to the fight with the city. Much of the difficulty was the city constantly delaying and asking for more changes.

    They found Martin Liefhebber as an architect through Grace who knew him. Martin looked at some of the houses they were interested in  renovating to get a sense of how they could transform it into a sustainable healthy home. Martin had won the CMHC Healthy Housing contest several years before.

    As Grace said many times this could have been a great partnership and showcase for the city. Instead it was an adversarial relationship that prevented many innovations. A key innovation that was not implemented was grey water recycling for the toilets and plants. This is very common in Europe and especially Germany where most homes do this.

    The in-floor heating system is powered primarily by a solar hot water heating system. The Solcan system (Phone 519-473-0501 or Web ) provides the majority of the water heating for the home. Solcan estimates that the system can reduce your hot water heating energy bill by 40%-60%. Considering hot water heating is one of the biggest energy hogs in any home this system may be considered in any home renovation or construction plans. The system is so reliable it can be expected to pay for itself several times over .

    The Solcan solar water heater system connects to the existing hot water system and preheats domestic water. The solar collectors are mounted on a roof facing south. Two pipes are connected to the collectors; one carries hot fluid to the solar storage tank while the other carries the cool fluid back to the collectors to gain more energy. The solar storage tank feeds into the bottom of the existing tank.

    Two main types of solar hot water heating system can be used. First, the closed loop system uses non-toxic antifreeze that circulates between the solar collectors and a heat exchanger which transfers the heat to the potable water in the solar tank, which feeds the existing water tank. This system turns on automatically whenever there is solar energy to be gained. The second, passive-systems is a seasonal application in our Canadian climate. It includes a solar collector with a water storage tank mounted directly above it. There is no pump or any moving parts; the natural circulation is driven by the sun.

    The gas boiler provides additional hot water heating when required during dull days in the middle of winter. The system is easy to install and relatively inexpensive

    compared to active solar system like photo voltaics. The system cost approximately $4,000.

    From an architectural perspective building this home has taught Cheryl a great deal about how people perceive their environment. The opportunity to custom build your own home forces you to learn and think about how you live in spaces and what you will be doing in space and how the different features will affect you. In our modern world, we mold ourselves to fit our cookie cutter homes. Instead, when we use our natural abilities to build our own shelter it changes our relationship with the spaces. The connection to the space and site becomes much more intimate. The space actually expresses your values. It is an expression of who we are. So, what does that mean if we all live in a cookie cutter home built by an engineer or designer completely disconnected from us and who we are?

    Building your own home puts you through a process that forces you to think deeply about how you live and what you do. Most architects and designers find it too difficult to accept this.

    The home incorporates unisolar, flexible photo voltaic materials on the roof that convert sunlight into electricity. The system was designed and installed by Pers Drew who had been the renewable energy standards person  for Ontario Hydro. The system is grid connected so that the electricity bills are reduced by the amount of energy generated by the solar photo voltaic system. The system also has a battery bank for emergency power.

     The passive solar features are a primary heating system . This includes the placement of windows primarily on the south face, the concrete mass floors for storing the heat from the sun that comes through the windows, and high quality fiberglass windows that insulate the heat that is captured. The feeling in the house is one of lots of light, fresh air, and simply beautiful comfort.

    Materials used throughout were non-toxic and non-off-gassing as Beth has severe reactions to chemicals. This meant using plaster on the walls rather than the drywall (the drywall compound has chemicals that Beth is sensitive to).

    Cheryl now works out of the house in her new landscape architecture business in which she applies her recent degree in the subject along with her experience building this sustainable healthy home. The home's landscape is a deep reflection of her desire to learn from nature. The plants are largely native plants that require little or no special remediation. Most are quite draught resistant. Even the garage roof is planted with native grasses that further increase the comfortable healthy feeling throughout the landscape. The water from the roof is collected and stored in the well that already existed on the property for using in the garden and landscape. All the plants are perennials and the combination is constantly growing, evolving and changing both naturally and as Cheryl becomes more familiar with the site, as she decides.

    More Things We Learned

    R more than fifty straw bale homes have been built in Ontario

    R the Ontario Building Code supports straw bale home construction that is non-load bearing

    R Quebec and other provinces have permitted load bearing straw bale homes

    Some books on vegetable gardening and landscape that Cheryl and Beth suggest:

    1) The Ruth Stuart No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stuart and Richard Clemence
    2) Four Season Harvest by Eliot Colement

    Products and Services

    R Solar Hot Water Heating System: Solcan Ltd., 126 Wychwood Park, London, ON N6G 1R7, Canada, Phone: 519-473-0501, Fax: (519) 474-1539, email:, web: .

    R Lyle Jory, hydronic in-floor heating system.

    R Martin Liefhebber, Architect, .

    R Per Drew, solar energy systems.

    R Fresh, holistic approach to community design, Cheryl Bradbee, .

    Text Box: ^ The hydronic in-floor heating system is heated primarily by a Solcan solar hot water heater. A ultra-efficient gas fired boiler heats the water when the solar hot water is insufficient to heat the home during the winter when there are cloudy days.
    Text Box: ^ The hydronic in-floor heating system is heated primarily by a Solcan solar hot water heater. A ultra-efficient gas fired boiler heats the water when the solar hot water is insufficient to heat the home during the winter when there are cloudy days. Text Box: ^ The copper tubing in the middle (covered with foam insulation) is the feed from the solar hot water panels on the roof. These supply heated liquid to the storage tank.




    ·       In-fill lot within walking distance of local transit including buses, commuter trains, and walking/biking trails.

    ·       Within walking distance of village style commercial area.

    ·       The 'L' shaped layout provides a 6000 square foot living space with some shared and some private areas for three people.

    ·       Deciduous trees provide extensive shading in the summer for cooling while allowing passive solar heating in the winter when leaves are shed.


    ·       Post and beam using paralam engineered wood product and site tree trunks

    ·       Non-load bearing straw bale walls finished with a sand, Portland cement, lime stucco mixture.


    ·       Hydronic heating system.

    ·       Appliances are high efficiency in general including Miele clothes washer and dryer.

    ·       The gas boiler is about 95% efficiency.

    Passive Solar

    ·       Windows are Inline fiberglass windows with krypton gas filling to increase insulation levels. Fiberglass also reduces gaps between the glass and frame due to expansion and contraction differences that are common when metals are used.

    ·       Concrete floors are engineered to store the sun's heat.

    Solar Hot Water System

    ·       Dual panel Solcan system is the primary domestic and in-floor heating system

    Active Solar

    ·       Uni-solar strips are laminated to the roof to provide up to one third of the electrical energy in the house. This is supported by 60 batteries.Grid connected.

    Wood stove

    ·       Woodstock Woodstoves

    ·       EPA rated to reduce emissions


    ·       Vegetable garden


    Chapter 12


    Text Box: Ü	More than 20% of homes in Germany have a green roof.Our cities, suburbs, and towns create local "heat islands". The level our impact on the local environment is so great that average temperatures in most places where people live have become several degrees warmer than would occur naturally in these locations. You can't pour concrete or lay asphalt and expect this not to happen. The only answer is to return the land to a more natural state such that the cooling effects of plants can do what is necessary to maintain a hospitable and healthy environment. That means putting the soil back and growing things on every possible inch of the land that we've currently covered.

    Of course corridors for roads and railway tracks will be with us, and need to be. A green roof can eliminate the need for an air conditioner while also providing addition insulation in the winter. On top of these money savers green roofs return local average temperatures in the community to natural lives. These roofing systems also last longer and don't need to be replace as often as conventional shingle system.


    R Reduces heating in summer
    by up to 40%

    R Additional insulation in

    R Reduces rain run-off


    R Typically a green roof needs to be engineered to hold the extra loads imposed by soil, snow, and water.

    R The roof needs to have a slope for water drainage. Keep in mind that too much slope may cause problems with erosion.

    R An EPDM (synthetic rubber) membrane on plywood provides the be base surface of the roof. The EPDM system is typically used for flat roofs and industrial buildings.

    R The edges of the roof need a layer of gravel and drainage pipe, much like the treatment around the foundation of the house. The gravel should cover the drainage pipe around the edges where drainage occurs.

    R On top of the EPDM, gravel and drainage pipe, a Delta (or similar) water membrane should be laid down and secured with soil (the next layer). This membrane has dimples for trapping water for the plants roots. This layer should be laid starting at the bottom, with each layer moving up the roof laid on top, overlapping by about a foot. This layering is the same process as shingling.

    R A drainage cloth (the type used for landscaping), should be laid on top of the Delta water membrane. This prevents soil from filling the cups in the Delta water membrane.

    R On top of the EPDM put a six inch layer of soil.

    R A layer of straw mats or other material may be required to reduce the effects of erosion where greater slopes exists.

    R Grow wild native grasses, berries, or alpine plants.

    Chapter 13

    Renewable Energy Systems

    Text Box: Ü	90% of homes in Cyprus have a solar hot water heating system.Now that we've looked at the essentials of organic food, place, efficiency, and the natural insulation of straw bales, we are ready to look at some of the more "active" renewable energy systems. These are covered in the following order because this is in general their typical effectiveness relative to cost. For this reason we start with solar hot water which has been in use for centuries. In countries like Cyprus over 90% of the homes have solar hot water heaters. This direct means of thermal heat transformation is one of the most direct and thus efficient. Photovoltaic solar panels transform sunlight into electricity. Wind turbines convert the mechanical power of wind into electricity using a turbine. Other renewable energy systems include water turbines, wave power, heat pumps, and geo thermal.

    Solar Hot Water

    One of the most prevalent and proven renewable energy systems for homes is the solar hot water heating system. Many proven models exist. Most of these systems have seen extensive use for many years in places like Cyprus, the Middle East, and other areas with similar climates like the Caribbean. These systems can be added to conventional hot water systems fairly easily.

    Typically solar hot water heating systems are composed of several major components. First are the solar panels that transform sunlight into heat. These panels come in a variety of configurations. Most are based on the idea of circulating glycol (to prevent freezing in colder climates and reduce problems related to minerals in water even in warmer climates) through tubes in the panels to transfer the heat from the panel into a storage tank where water can be heated. The storage tank provides an insulated area to maintain the heated water and a heat exchanger to heat the water required for domestic and home heating. Most systems are simple enough for people with some basic skills to set up the system themselves. However, qualified installers are available to ensure these systems are properly configured. (SolCan solar panel example)

    When it comes to the actual solar panels a variety of systems exist. There are thermosiphon based systems that drain the water from the panels in the event of cold that might freeze the water in the panel. Other systems that may be more effective in colder climates are based on vacuum tube based collectors in the panels. Since a vacuum provides an excellent insulation property these systems may prove more efficient and effective in colder climates where the temperatures outside may reduce the heating effects as the heat is transferred from the panel to the indoor storage tanks. (Schott solar panel examples)

    Electricity Generation from Solar Power

    The system plants use to convert sunlight into energy/food for growth is one of the great miracles of nature. Although we have not yet become as sophisticated as plants at this process, we've made some progress in the form of Photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines, wave turbines, geo thermal systems, heat pumps, and wind mills. Converting energy supplied by the sun which in turn drives the weather patterns on earth that create wind and waves, for instance, seems as natural as it comes. In fact we have been trying to mimic nature for thousands of years. When it comes to tapping into the mechanical energy embodied in wind and river water movement, innovations continue. The invention of turbines provided the more recent capability of transforming wind and running water into electricity. Turbines are the result of our recent understanding of the properties of electricity. We've learned to capture the energy in the wind and water by imposing a propeller into these environments that spinning wires tightly wrapped around metal posts, and magnets. Recently, in part due to the space program, there have been innovations in the form of silicon chips that allow sunlight to directly induce an electrical current.

    Photo Voltaic (PV) Solar Panels

    Generating electricity from sunlight is a fairly recent innovation that came out of the US space program. These systems use a property of silicon configured in a special way to convert sunlight into electricity. These solar panels are able to then transfer this electricity in direct current (DC) form (the type of electricity typical of batteries) for use by DC devices or to batteries for storage. In order to use the electricity with conventional alternating current (AC) appliances and devices an inverter is required. An inverter is an electronic device that is cable of converting DC current being generated or provided by solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines or other DC generators into AC electricity in real time, on demand. In situations where part of the goal is to supply excess electricity back into the electricity grid, the inverter provides the capability of matching the quality of AC power required. In addition, the inverter is a critical component in ensuring that power is not sent to the grid, in grid-tied environments, when the grid system fails. This protects the line workers that may be repairing the system from the dangers of potential electrocution. Inverters specifically certified for this grid-tied purpose are required. Other fail safe options exist with grid tied connects for manual disconnection from the grid.

    Wind Turbine Components

    • Wind turbine
    • Tower of typically 40-60 feet
    • Wiring to electrical system
    • Inverter to convert DC to AC ( some wind turbines generate AC at the tower)
    • Optional: Batteries for backup power

    PV Panel Components

    • Solar photovoltaic panels
    • Wiring to electrical system
    • Inverter to convert DC to AC
    • Optional: Batteries for backup power

    Other Renewable Energy Systems

    • Water turbine
    • Heat pump
    • Geo Thermal
    • Hybrid systems that combine any number of different renewable energy technologies


    Two types of system are available. Of course hybrids of these two may also be configured as well. The first and perhaps older system is that designed for "off-the-grid" uses. During the back to the land movement, in remote areas, and for those independently minded, off-the grid means no reliance or dependence on the electrical utility companies. Where utility grid access is unavailable or would be costly to connect, the off-the-grid options can be cost effective. Rural properties and some developing countries may benefit from this approach as installing grid infrastructure can range from ten to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Without the grid a large bank of eight to thirty two batteries may be required to store excess energy for use when large demand is required.

    Grid Connected

    Grid connected systems use the utility grid to provide access to additional power when required, rather than using batteries. In addition, grid connected systems can be configured to provide excess power generated into the grid, reducing utility bills. In some cases where more renewable energy is generated than is needed on-site, it may be possible to get paid for excess power provided to the grid. This option exists in some places in Europe and then United States.

    Case Study: Freedom Off-The-Grid

    Gaining your freedom off-the-grid takes a new kind of thinking. Leonard Allen lives and breathes that kind of thinking every day. Off-the-grid means generating your own electricity, storing it for usage during peak demand, and eliminating your electricity bills. Leonard is one of the few "solar" power people who "walks the talk." His company, Phantom Electron Corporation, is one of the most innovative renewable energy systems providers in Canada.

    Living off-the-grid does not require any radical lifestyle adjustments. The Allen family including Leonard, his wife Jolanda, their three year old son Weston, and dog Duke, live very comfortably in their large modern home. Like most families they enjoy the modern conveniences of a dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer. Their computers access the Internet through a high-speed satellite link. Their large screen television, stereo and electric guitar (Leonard plays in a band), all make everything appear quite remarkably the same as those living on-the-grid.

    Take a closer look, however, and there are some underlying differences that create the magic of freedom from utility bills. Out behind the house, mounted on a thirty plus foot steel pole are an array of photovoltaic solar panels that generate electricity. This solar array is actually mounted on an automatic "tracking" system that directs the panels as close to directly at the sun as possible all day. In the morning the panels point east, by mid-day they are pointed almost straight up into the sky, and finally by evening they end up facing west, constantly optimizing their transformation of sunlight into electricity.

    Beyond these solar panels you would never know that this family lives off-the-grid. There are no other unusual features of the actual home, garden, or windows that would indicate that this home works a little differently. To be sure the house is wonderfully bright with light because of the many windows. If you look closely the fridge, elegantly designed into the beautiful kitchen, is a SunFrost (reportedly the most efficient fridge in the world). If you look a little closer you'll also notice that the lights are all compact florescent of a wide variety of shapes, sizes and types.

    Leonard bought the property in 1987 before having a family. He made a decision not to get electricity from the grid during initial construction. He was able to run many small power tools for construction using an initial set of four solar photovoltaic panels, an inverter to convert the DC current to AC, and a small set of batteries to store excess power. The SunFrost refrigerator was ordered early on as the only means of significantly reducing the load typically required by a fridge. It was touted to be the most efficient in the world at the time. Since Leonard was the only one living in the house he was able to limit his use to 400 watts of solar power generation. Everything worked well. The garage was added and since it faced south he put an additional 300 watts of solar panels on the roof. The security systems business Leonard ran moved towards more and more solar powered systems and in fact has turned into primarily a renewable energy systems provider today. The original system was fine for about five years. The battery storage system has been expanded several times in order to allow the home to operate for longer periods of time without as much sunlight. This is especially important during the winter.

    The original 900 watt solar system, including the original battery system was then sold. That old system is still operating well for the people that Leonard sold the system to. He had no trouble selling the system as demand for solar is high. The battery system was expanded to three times the original size and is now able to store 50-60 Kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough to supply the home for the darker periods in the winter. There is a backup generator in case this is not enough.

    With the larger solar array and battery system a larger inverter was required. The new solar panels were put on a tower and tracker system, and mounted on a pole. The tracker automatically adjusts for variations in the sun's position during summer and winter, as well as throughout each day. The steep angle of the panels in the winter ensures that the snow does not accumulate on the panels (a problem when the panels were fix mounted on the garage). The current battery system is about ten years old. It should last another three years. The array is now up to 1500 watts and is on a higher pole than in the early days. The shading from trees required that they get it up even higher. They have more power than they need in the summer and the charger shuts down sometimes. There is still a deficiency in the winter. November in southern Ontario has many fewer daylight hours and may have no direct sun for days on end. The solar array could be bigger to make up the difference in the winter. In fact, engine-driven generators have been the biggest problem. They have been unreliable in general. They are strictly for backup power and aren't designed for longterm usage.

    The generator runs about 150 hours a year. The cost for gas on this is about $150.  This is a stop gap for now, says Leonard. Eventually he is hoping to store the summer excess power for later usage in the winter. Eventually he hopes to run on a fuel cell energy storage system when these units come down in price. This should be in two to three years. Leonard expects to be one of the first off-the-grid users of fuel cells in the country. The fuel cell unit would then be sized to store the annual requirement for kilowatts needed. The array would probably need to be about 20% greater than expected requirement, and then the fuel cells could be used to store excess for use during the winter.

    The home has lots of natural daylight so that electric lights don't need to be turned on during the day. During the recent renovations the changes to the overhangs on windows have significantly improved cooling in the summer. The home was originally a forced air gas furnace.  During the most recent renovation an in-floor hydronic heating system was put in on the 1200 sq.ft ground floor. Now no blowers, which were gobbling up lots of power with the old system, are required. The in-floor heating system is supplied with hot water by a propane in-line water heater. This same unit supplies all of the in-floor and domestic hot water required. By turning up the hot water temperature while the dish washer runs Leonard is able to ensure that the electric water heater in the dish washer doesn't turn on, significantly reducing the load on the electrical energy systems. The dishwasher needs to see at least 140°C to not need the energy boost. Before, the dishwasher was using about 1000 watts of power.

    Propane is used for water heating, cooking and the clothes dryer. They get a 1000 liter propane tank filled three times a year. They spend about $1,200 per year on propane. To some extent the extensive windows require this high level of heating. The wood stove also is used to supply an additional 20% of heating and only when it is especially cold outside. The cost of wood is about $300 per year. Triple glazed windows are something Leonard would do next time. Another idea Leonard has is using the wood stove for heating water used in the in-floor system.

    Being off-the-grid you must be cognizant of your energy usage. You may undergo an adjustment period initially. People are, in general, unconscious of their energy usage. When it is finite, in off-the-gird homes, it may take a few months, if not a year or two, to become familiar with how efficient and careful you can be with this resource.

    Despite this, there is zero maintenance on the system now that everything has been optimized and tuned. There are some monitors for viewing the percentage of power available on the batteries. This becomes useful for unusual events more than day-to-day operations. For something like parties where additional power will be required it is possible to generate supplemental power with the generator. Basically, after the first year you understand what each system will provide. Each year will be about the same once the system has been tuned.

    For Leonard the system has been working well as is for a few years now. Each solar panel is 85 watts and costs about $600.  He has 18 panels on the tracker. The skylights also provide lots of good day lighting. The garage has skylights for additional light. The solar array is about 75 feet from the house with an underground cable in PVC pipe. There are six pairs of conductors. The six pairs of wires come into a 60 amp circuit breaker and then into a charge regulator. The charge regulator is able to take the increased voltage that solar panels generate in the winter and improve charging current by 25%-30%. The charge regulator also displays a great deal of useful information about the amount of energy being generated. The power flows into a 250 amp breaker that is connected to the battery bank. The warmer the batteries are kept the better their capacity. So maintaining them in a warmer environment is better. The second breaker protects the DC systems from the AC inverter. There is a meter that monitors the level of charge in the batteries. The sine wave inverter converts the DC current generated by the solar panels to clean sine-wave AC for conventional appliances. The inverter is sized to convert 120 V AC sufficient for having all of the loads including all lights being turned on – 40 amps AC - 5,000-6,000 watts.  It takes a few days of sunny weather to charge the batteries to capacity again. However, with a properly designed system, the batteries should never get to the point of being totally depleted. It takes about a day and a half of sunny weather to charge the batteries to capacity again. For 240 volt appliances an additional inverter can be included. The Allen's 240 volt inverter unit is no longer used. Amazingly, since the recent renovations and system expansions, the generator hasn't been used since March and won't go on again until November.

    The water system starts with a 13 year old 1/3 horsepower pump. It is sized to be just enough for what they need. An ultra-violet sterilizer cleans the water and is DC based using less power than other units. The SunFrost fridge and water cleaner run on DC (12-48 volts) rather than AC. The preheat tank will eventually be fed by a solar thermal heating array (panels). Currently the Rinnai Model 2532 Continuum in-line water heater provides all the hot water required for both in-floor and domestic needs. The unit is efficient at adjusting the flame to optimize for high and low BTU usage. Small pumps push warmed water through the floors for heating. The four small pumps are 12 volt DC circulation pumps each drawing just 3.1 watts as compared to 40-60 watt AC pumps used normally. Again, the off-the-grid aspect dictates ultra-efficiency wherever possible. The whole system only uses as much as a 60 watt light bulb, which is uncommonly low. The old forced air furnace was a major electricity load that drained the batteries. The in-floor or radiator based systems are the "only way to go" according to Leonard when compared to big fans blowing hot air around.

    The appliances, washer and dryer are very efficient. The dryer is propane to reduce l. The washing machine has a high capacity for double loads. The theme of maximum efficiency, wherever possible, is the key. Other appliances are standard. The stove is propane.

    Leonard gave us a Kill A WattÔ device that lets you measure the electricity usage characteristics. This device showed Leonard that his satellite Internet connection and television system combined were constantly draining 60 watts even while turned off. By adding a power bar to these systems Leonard has been able to shut off this constant drain on his system. Killing all the phantom loads is essential when you live off-the-grid.

    Leonard Allen is the President of Phantom Electron Corporation, a major supplier of solar and renewable energy systems in Ontario. For more information about renewable energy systems products, installation and operation see .

    Off-The-Grid Reading

    Home Power

    For anyone who wants to get into the details of living with renewable energy this is the magazine for you. Each month this hands-on journal has off-the-grid and on-the-grid home owners tell their story in an easy to understand format. If you are into all of the technical details and comparing systems then this is the ultimate source of information. You can download a free copy off their web site each month in PDF format.

    Web Site:

    Natural Life

    This simple magazine covers a wide range of sustainable living topics. For ideas that we can all start using today this is the place to start. Each issue reaches far and wide for interesting stories with lots of ideas for living a more natural life style.

    Web Site:

    Private Power

    As the cost of electricity goes up this new magazine has been of great interest to the people in rural areas of Ontario. Capitalizing on the recent high profile initiatives announced by the government this magazine shows many different ways that Canadians can start to generate their own clean green renewable energy today.

    If you can get your hands on back issues look for the wonderful article by Peter Forint on our SunFest 2003. In it Peter describes the event in some detail for those who want to know what it is all about.

     This magazine has provided plenty of food for thought for those living in rural areas. The need for energy on farms can be quite high. With recent increases in the cost of this resource, farms have been looking for a publication like this which explains in simple terms how they can start to reduce their demand and even generate their own "Private Power" today. Beyond the magazine the people behind Private Power have offered conferences on topics such as Wind and Solar Power. Their recent trade show and conference attracted more than 3000 people. The complete set of videos from the conference teaching sessions is available from Private Power. In addition, the Canadian RE Handbook, by Bill Kemp is also being offered with special pricing on combination orders.

    Web Site: 

    Chapter 14


    As it turns out this may be the next big area where it is easy to make changes in your lifestyle. By getting out, doing some more walking, taking transit and if you need a car, looking at the new hybrids, you can make a big difference pretty quickly.


    Obviously this means we need to be walking as much as we can. This failure to use our natural means of locomotion has lead to the growing problem health problems related to being overweight. When you combine larger portions of fat infested food, watching more than several hours of television a day, and work that typically requires little more than sitting at a computer terminal all day, it is no wonder we are getting out of shape. Simply speaking we need to get up on our god given feet and walk.  I believe far more in the need for us to exercise this simple and useful capability than any kind of dietary changes. When we can walk we should…and we need to regain a joy in doing so.

    In the long run this will mean changing our communities…we need more walking paths, side walks, and connections between facilities that require us to walk. Combined with biking trails, shelters for walkers and bikers, we all need to make it a whole lot more appealing to get out and get there on our own two feet.


    Text Box: Ü	Transit can eliminate an hours worth of highway commuters.If, like me, you must commute to work then learn more about your local transit system. If you are lucky, the system will be as good as the one that services the area where I live. Of course the system could be a lot better. Make the break from driving your car. For the first year after living in our new home I was driving for more than an hour into downtown Toronto where I worked. This was partly because at the time Leigh, my wife, also worked downtown. So we would take turns going in early and coming home early or going in later and coming home late, so that one of us could pick up the kids. Fortunately Leigh ended up with a job in a suburb much closer to us. At this point I made a decision to take a commuter train. At first I feared that losing the flexibility of the car might be too much of a sacrifice. I have found the opposite. Knowing how the system works well I've lost no flexibility, while eliminating the worst part of my commute, out of the downtown core. Now, my only driving, in our wonderful Toyota Prius Hybrid, is on country roads. The train allows me to do work or catch up on some reading each day on my way to and from work, something obviously impossible while driving. Also, the reduced level of stress from driving is substantial.

    Cars and Trucks

    Not owning  a car, if you don't need one is a good thing. Having said that there are of course times when you have to have one in order to get certain things done. The other reality is that the freedom and flexibility for traveling large distances in almost any direction are without comparison. Trucks also, provide transportation capabilities that are incredibily flexible. Even once products have been moved by trains they often need trucks to get them to their final destination..

    The time for a massive change in this mode of transportation is long overdue. We now have the technologies to make all of these vehicles produce 90% less pollution while increasing fuel economy by more than fifty percent, without sacrificing anything. I base this on my own extensive use of the Toyota Prius Hybrid car. This amazing machine, complete with computer, rechargeable batteries, turbine for charging, electric motor, regenerative breaking system, and conventional gas engine works smarter in a wonderfully useful package, including lots of space for passengers, and a hatchback for plenty of cargo space. The car performs well on the highway, country roads and anywhere else you might choose to go. In the city and while driving slowly it is possible to rely entirely on the electric motor and battery system at times. When speed and extended acceleration and additional power are required the gas engine works smoothly  with the electric motor system to thrust you past others.

    >     Toyota Prius recently purchased by the Wilson family sitting in front of the Wilson Natural Home


    Chapter 15

    Value Connection

    "The human being is part of the whole, called by us 'The Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness this delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody's able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of a liberation and a foundation for inner security." – Albert Einstein

    Finding a connection with nature has the power to help us realize our greater selves. The way we live, the decisions we make, and what we make of our lives has a tremendous impact on our world, those near and dear to us, and an even greater impact on those far away, those poor billions, as we all suffer the destruction of the environment. This connection is very real and very direct although you would hardly know it if you didn't try to find it.. You are responsible: for the mother who is killed in a car crash every day, the child that dies of starvation in Haiti, the nuclear power plant meltdown that kills thousands, and the near slave labor which creates your shoes. These are the endless, non-stop, un-reported tragedies of everyday life on earth today. We must take responsibility for them as we find our awareness.

    In awareness there is a chance that we can change. Change can take place if we consciously make the effort through our choices, through the use of our creative capabilities for sustaining life, and our ability to visualize an alternative that can be achieved through a plan.

    Lifestyles today hide nature and our destructive way of living. The causes and effects of our lifestyles may be separated by large spans of time and large distances. We need to make the connections between the wars in the middle east and our fossil fuel driven economy even though the distances are great and the political complexities confounding. Then we must understand that the exhaust from our cars and trucks that burn fossil fuels are accumulating over a long period of time in the environment all around us. Also, each day that we live in a polluted environment increases the probability that we will be affected. The next time your oil fired furnace explodes into action, just think of all the pain and suffering caused in the many wars of our modern era and the terrible acid rain that will destroy the forests north, south, east and west of your home. In this light, we find the will, the desire to save ourselves, nature and our children from destruction.

    In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Freud explains the psychological basis for our beliefs, needs and desires. He states that "What is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes." (The Future of an Illusion, pg. 48) This critical point suggests that we must be very careful in our analysis and search for the truth. The power of illusions is partly maintained by the incredible power of our wishes and desires. In the search for a true way to live we must be prepared to question every aspect of human creation, including culture, government, religion, capitalism, economics and even democracy. These illusions are a reflection of our desires. We must base our desires, or in other words, the illusions we create, on the strongest possible foundations of truth. This means understanding nature. This awareness will link us to the responsibility we have for the illusions we live, and help us create the new visions that reflect our true connections to the infinite creativity of the universe.

    Our Values

    The heart of remaking our world is our ability to change ourselves. The changes we make must be based on a set of values that set priorities and direction based on our new understanding of the problems and potential solutions found in our connections to the rest of nature. These fundamental values should be our guiding lights for living a more natural sustainable life:


    *              The highest priority and principle upon which all others are built is truth; the endless search for the truth.

    *              This endless quest holds the foundation upon which we build and constantly question.

    *              Under the bright light of truth, each problem, solution, priority, desire, value and system is placed in the full understanding of humanity's true place in nature, the universe, and time.


    *              The deepest energy within, our humanity, our ability to love ourselves, our children, our family, the family of all humanity and the sustaining natural world with which we are symbiotic.

    *              Our highest priority is the application of love to the journey in search of truth.

    *              Through the continual application of principles of love and peace we can find a way of living that does not find benefit in selfishness, power, and evil.

    *              The only answer to the most difficult problems of our and all ages is the application of love against the powers of evil, hate, anger, lies, ignorance, murder, and war.

    *              Love is the only weapon in the arsenal of those who fight for the truth that can overcome the most difficult problems.

    *              Love is the ultimate reflection of true happiness.


    *              In nature we see the incredible power of symbiosis which is our own true nature.

    *              We find our place in nature by reconnecting to it, returning to a partnership pattern with nature and each other.

    *              The lure of power may try to corrupt us along this path but it has always failed in the end.

    *              Working together, we find our true place within nature. Together we search for the meaning in our lives through the application of our unique talents.

    *              It is only in relation to others and nature that we truly exist with any meaning.


    *              True peace is a symbiosis with nature, love of our fellow humanity through equality, and the opportunity to live freely.

    *              The search for peace is found in the defense and love of the weakest, the voiceless, the small, the few, the poor, the enemy and the true heart of love within us.

    *              Acts of hate, untruth and war are the solemn enemies of peace.

    *              Acts of peace, which must be every act of our lives, are a non-violent fight for truth, love, and partnership.

    *              We must make peace with our creator, that which sustains us and nurtures us through time, that which is nature.


    *              We must find the power to be the change that reconnects us to our love of nature.

    *              There can be no arrogance in this search, as true wisdom is beyond us all. But in the humble search we should be willing to apply the largest part of our energy and time in the attempt.

    *              The wise maintain a sense of humor, as does nature, but one that is pure and good, not negative, sarcastic, bitter or hurtful. Forgiveness through love has been the greatest answer to so many problems that seem insurmountable.

    *              We all return to the earth and so our reconnection will be established with nature no matter who we are.

    The process of finding our place, our unique way of applying these values is to find the meaning of our lives. This process is by no means complete, perfected or precisely the one I have followed. However, it does represent, as best I can describe it, the essential elements of what has worked for me and my family. I believe it will provide a guide that may help you create your own natural path.


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