Building A Cob House – It is not what you think

When I first saw the headline of this next site, I thought: can this be? I had heard of actual corn cob houses in rural America. They are basically slatted walls filled in with corn cobs and then finished inside and out. They are sort of a variation of hay bale houses. But this is way different.

Building a Cob House

By Off Grid Ebert

In a time in which we are increasingly hearing scary statistics about the fate of our planet, the way forward in the field of sustainable, green building may just be to go backward.  This is certainly the case for people demonstrating a growing interest in building earthen homes and structures using an ancient method known as cobwork or cobbing.  Cobbing, believed to have originated in the Maghreb as early as the 11th century, spread into wide usage across many parts of the rest of Europe as the main building style for homes.  The name of this style of building comes from the word cob, which is the name of the building material itself, formed of a mixture of earth (such as clay, sand, and other soil), straw, and water.  Despite what the materials may imply, this substance, when dried, is fireproof.  It is also inexpensive, and naturally cool in the summer heat and relatively easy to heat in the winter.

Many homes built of this material centuries ago still stand and remain in use.  Pictured here to the left is a cob house in England, believed to have been built in the late 1700s. (Photo by Tim Green, These homes typically have thatched roofs, while small but efficient fireplaces with chimneys provide warmth when the weather is cold.

The appearance and texture of cob varies from region to region, depending on the available natural resources and their characteristics.  As such, cob is one of the most versatile building materials on earth.  It can be molded and shaped into whatever form is framed by the builder.


Go there and read. More tomorrow.


Insulate Your Basement – Even in an already built home

Yes, you can get a backhoe and dig a trench around your house for relatively cheap but, it really is a waste of time. Parging the walls first pretty much means coating the walls to make sure moisture does not get behind the insulation that you are going to put up. I suggest using a modern basement epoxy of some sort and I recommend rigid insulation after you have done that. Rigid is easier to work with and you can make the whole project into an adhesive affair where you adhere the furring strips to the epoxied walls and then you adhere the foam board (or whatever) to the furring strips. Boom, you are done unless you need to paint them for someone else in the house that hates the color of the “naked” board. You know who I mean. Like the article says as far as the vapor barrier placement you have to call your local building code people cause I got no idea,

Exterior wall insulation inside the walls

Insulating outside your exterior walls is often too expensive or impractical in existing homes. You can insulate the inside of your basement walls but you may exacerbate the problems associated with moisture if you don’t do the job correctly.

Parging: If moisture is seeping into your walls, parge the masonry walls to seal any cracks and strengthen any weak or porous masonry. This will help prevent water from seeping in from outside.

Vapor barrier: Vapor barrier should be outside the insulation if you are in a hot climate and only cool your home; it should be on the inside if you are in a cold climate and are mainly heating your home. Consult your local city building permits department to find out what are the suggested or mandated insulation and vapor barrier configurations for energy efficient basements in your area.

Framing: If possible, leave a gap between your framing and the exterior walls, to prevent moisture from the masonry from causing wood rot in your framing. Use small spacers behind 2×3 studs, rather than 2×4 studs against the outside wall, and you’ll still have room to install the standard insulation for 2×4, 16-inch-stud construction.

Insulation: If there is any likelihood of moisture getting into your basement, use a rigid foam insulation rather than batt or other fiber-based insulation. Moisture seeping through exterior walls will dampen the insulation and reduce its R value significantly within a few years, so you’ll start with an energy efficient basement and in a few years be losing as much heat to outside as before the renovation. Moisture will not have much effect on the R value of foam insulation. Buy the highest R value insulation you can – you can get an R value of 6 per inch in some insulating foam sheets. If you want both insulation and waterproofing, you could consider having Icynene insulation applied to exterior walls after framing but before drywall is installed.

Other places you should insulate

A couple of other important things to consider about basement insulation:

  • In an older house, where a shower stall is already installed against an outside wall, check the insulation level behind the shower. A prior owner or contractor may have installed the shower without adequate insulation. If you are remodelling or can access the wall space behind it, inject foam insulation or otherwise upgrade the insulation. You’ll have more comfortable showers and you’ll cut down on overall heat loss.
  • Insulate the perimeter of your basement ceiling (an area called the ‘rim joists’), from the outside walls to about 16″ to 24″ from the outside walls, to prevent moisture from creeping in between the upstairs


In this case, go there and read a bunch. More tomorrow.


Blown Insulation – My pick for retrofits

It is a pain in the behind to cut blow holes in walls to blow in insulation. It is also tricky to work around windows and other internal factors like headers and footers,but if you are not tearing out the interior walls and are environmentally concerned, I still think it is the best bet. Here is a great article about it.

Fill your Walls & Ceilings, Not our Landfills!
We use blown-in cellulose for most of our insulation jobs, (except for crawl spaces, where moisture and the lack of hollow walls won’t allow it.) Blown cellulose is less expensive, safer to you as well as the environment and more effective and energy efficient than its leading competitor – fiberglass.

Cellulose fills walls and ceilings and stops air infiltration better!
The fibers of cellulose insulation are much finer than fiberglass. When cellulose is blown or dense-packed into your walls and ceilings, it takes on almost liquid-like properties that let it flow into cavities and around obstructions to completely fill walls and seal every crack and seam. No fiberglass or rock wool material duplicates this action. Liquid-applied foam plastics do, but they cost much more than cellulose.

In new construction cellulose insulation can be installed in walls using a spray process or several different dense-pack dry techniques that are also effective at sealing homes against air infiltration.

Cellulose is a naturally recycled product…

Cellulose insulation is made from recycled wood fiber, primarily newspaper. One hundred pounds of cellulose insulation contains 80 to 85 pounds of recycled newsprint. The remainder is made up of Borax and Boric acid, both non-toxic fire retardants.

Today more and more communities are addressing the challenge of waste disposal through “curbside recycling” and similar conservation programs. These efforts work only if there is demand for recycled products.

The federal government is attempting to create demand through such measures as the Environmental Protection Agency’s comprehensive procurement guideline for products containing recovered materials. Cellulose unquestionably meets all requirements for insulation specified by the guideline.

When you choose cellulose insulation you help solve the waste disposal problem and help fight air pollution. This may help your community hold down taxes or refuse disposal charges. It certainly contributes to a cleaner environment.

Paper that is not recycled ends up in landfills, where it may contribute to environmental pollution, or at incinerators where energy is wasted reducing it to ashes, soot, and smoke.

…And a responsible use of resources
Even if waste paper did not create a disposal problem, most people believe we have an obligation to make maximum use of the resources we consume.

Cellulose insulation does not “save trees,” but it makes maximum use of the trees we have already harvested.


I am no hmtl warrior and their fonts to not transfer well, so go there and read. More tomorrow.


Energy Improvements To Your Home – The conventional approach

Not much to say about this today. In most of the country it is too cold to do anything about it anyway.

The top energy-saving home improvements
By Laura A. Bruce •

These are the top single-family home energy-efficiency improvements that reduce energy bills. The return on investment (ROI) is annual, based on 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Example: A homeowner spends $500 to insulate an attic that has no insulation, and saves $25 per month on energy bills. $500 divided by $25 per month equals 20 months. This means the investment paid for itself in 20 months and, for the next 30 years, gives monthly dividends of $25 per month in lower energy bills. The $25 grows each time there is a rate increase.

Return on investment estimates for household energy efficiency improvements
Months Modification ROI Kwh savings/unit Cost per kwh Annual savings Cost per unit
3 High efficiency showerhead 400% 400 $0.08 $32 $8
13 Fireplace pillow-stops air leakage up chimney 91% 400 $0.08 $32 $35
14 Bathroom faucet aerator 84% 21 $0.08 $1.68 $2
17 Attic insulation
(R-0 to R-38)
69% 5.6 $0.08 $0.45 $0.65
23 Compact fluorescent bulb 53% 60 $0.08 $4.80 $9
23 Kitchen faucet aerator 51% 32 $0.08 $2.56 $5
25 Wrap 15′ hot and cold water heater pipes 48% 60 $0.08 $4.80 $10
38 Replace incandescent porch light fixture with CFL bulb 32% 160 $0.08 $12.80 $40
43 Attic insulation (average) 28% 2 $0.08 $0.16 $0.57
44 Duct insulation and sealing 27% 12 $0.08 $0.96 $3.50
68 Wall insulation
(R-0 to R-25)
18% 2.2 $0.08 $0.18 $1
88 Floor insulation
(R-0 to R-13)
14% 1.7 $0.08 $0.14 $1
Source: Portland General Electric

— Updated: April 17, 2003



Go there and read. More tomorrow.





Ace Is The Hardware Place – This post is mainly about filling cracks

If you are letting cold air in then you are wasting money. Calking is the quickest way to stop that.

The average house-even when well-insulated-contains cracks and gaps between building materials that add up to a hole about 14 inches square (see image below). In the winter, those gaps may make the house drafty and chilly. All year long, a leaky house not only wastes energy but can lead to water damage and provide a path for insects.

Inside this document you will find information about:

  • Weatherproofing Basics
  • Types of Caulking
  • Using Caulking
  • Types of Weatherstripping
  • Installing Weatherstripping


  • In all the discussion of insulation and R-values, don’t forget that poor weatherproofing is often a more important source of discomfort, as well as high heating and cooling bills.
  • Some air leakage can be prevented during construction by using housewrap or getting a tight fit between framing members, for example. Once the house is built, however, the remaining gaps must be sealed. Gaps around doors and window sashes should be weatherstripped, and gaps between permanent building materials sealed with caulking.


  • A number of factors must be considered when choosing caulking. They include durability, flexibility, whether the caulk can be painted and, of course, price.
  • The most expensive caulk is not always the best product for every job, so you should carefully consider which product is appropriate to your situation. Read product labels and manufacturers’ literature, and ask your salesperson for his or her recommendation.
  • Here is a list of common caulks and their characteristics. Different types of caulking are designed for different applications, and quality can vary among different brands of the same type because of different formulations used.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Oil-Base Painter’s Caulk (1-2 yr. life) – Not very elastic. Dries out easily. Paintable after curing. Lowest cost.
  • Latex (3-10 yr. life) – Use mostly indoors. Goes on easily. Low elasticity. Sticks to porous surfaces only. Easy water cleanup. Low in cost. Paintable.
  • Butyl Rubber (3-10 yr. life) – High elasticity. Sticks to most surfaces. High moisture resistance. Flexible when cured. Most difficult to work with as it is very sticky.
  • Acrylic Latex (10 yr. life) – Good elasticity. Sticks to most surfaces. Reasonable moisture resistance. Paintable. Good for around doors and windows. May not be used below freezing.
  • Silicon-Latex Blend (20+ yr. life) – Good elasticity. Excellent weathering ability. Medium shrinkage. Adheres to most surfaces. Some cannot be painted. May not be used below freezing.



This is a really long piece so go there and read that. More tomorrow.


Continuing To Take A Window Out Of Service – For about 2 bucks

Sometimes you run into something that you have never faced before. Oh, by the way the last 2 requests for links and posting their website or guest posting turned out to be bullshit. Sorry, I mean internet frauds of one sort or another. But I went into the bedroom to repair some tinfoil that I used to shut down a window and the tinfoil was hot! That has never happened to me before so I am further blocking off the two windows with a layer of styrofoam. I am trying to create a dead air space to act as an insulation zone. Speaking of fraud wait to you see this space here tomorrow. I plan on closing out the week by beating the stuffing out of ArcticPro. First here is the modern way to make your windows functional.

Daylighting Window Films – Taking Window Film Out of the Dark Ages


In the dark ages of window films consumers had to make a tough choice between two evils. Do they select a dark window film to block glare and heat, or do they have a mirror like window film installed? Either way; the Hobbesian Choice had a down side. Today’s window films like VISTA Window Film created a new dynamic and resulting solution for consumers. Superior glare rejection and heat blocking while providing visible light and optimum clarity. No longer the “dark days” or what we used to call “Scotch Gloom” , but rather a perfect balance. The advances made in the last few years in the area of thin films and nanotechnology have been the vehicle for these advances in performance. Here in the Tampa Bay area where we install Vista Safety and Security Films our clients are extremely aware of their home’s aesthetics. They specifically request low reflectivity films for interior as well as exterior views. There is an entire industry related to this concept known as daylighting. Daylighting or more accurately side-lighting is the concept of using the sun’s natural light to illuminate interior space rather than electric lighting. Researchers like the Berkely labs and the Lighting Collaborative have produced studies that define the psychological benefits of natural light. Natural light is already being designed into homes and offices via skylights and light solar tubes. Now the new nanotechnology and nano-ceramic window films allow for daylighting without the associated glare and heat gain that raised the thermostat and forced employees and homeowners to drop the blinds and shades. There are critical benefits associated with daylighting at retail stores where traffic increases when there is more natural light, and security issues at retail stores is addressed since law enforcement can have visibility into the store during the day or night. Just think of a “hold up robbery” Today’s window films provide numerous historic benefits with none of the downside. A new bright future for consumers who wish to save energy costs but don’t want to live in the dark!

Mike FeldmanAbout the Author:

Mike Feldman is the President of Advanced Film Solutions an exclusive Vista and FormulaOne High Performance Films provider in the Tampa Bay area. He was formerly with 3M (mmm) for 33 years holding numerous positions including National Sales Manager of 3M Window Film

More tomorrow.

Cool Your House Without AC – Everyone seems to agree on the same list of 10

Next week I am going to put up links with groups that have asked to be linked to CES. So to finish out the week, here is the last list of how to keep your house cool. New list the same as the old list, as Henry the 8th would say.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

10 Ways to Keep Cool Without an Air Conditioner

Anita Sands sent me this the other day.  This article is repeated all over the Internet.  I am not sure of the original place it appeared – if someone knows and tells me I’ll attribute it.  Here’s Anita’s Frugal Roo Page

10 ways to keep cool at home without A/C

Save energy this summer. It’s easy to keep your house cool without air conditioning. Employing a few basic environmentally friendly principals will help keep you cool and will help you save money.

1. Hot Air Out, Cool Air In

The most basic thing you can do to keep your house cooler without air conditioning is to keep as much sunlight out as possible and let cooler air in at night. During the day, keep windows, drapes, blinds, or shades
closed, especially on the southern and western sides of your home. If you have a porch, you can put up large plastic or bamboo shades to cut down on sunlight. Or put awnings on south/ west sides Use saplings or
tree branches that are fairly straight. Set in coffee cans of cement six feet from house. canvas or shade cloth goes from eaves to these poles with a cross beam on it. Use staple gun. Costs nearly nothing.

2. Windows

Use white or light colored window dressings to reflect light. You can also apply reflective slicks to windows to further cut down on light. At night, leave cabinets open as well, as they will store heat.

3. Be a Fan of the Fan

Moving air is cooler air. At night, place fans in windows to bring more cool air in. Ceiling fans can also make a big difference. In terms of cooling, even a one-mile-per-hour breeze will make you feel three to four degrees cooler. In terms of energy savings, if you run a ceiling fan full-blast for 12 hours, you will only spend about $10 a month in electricity. Ceiling fans have two settings, one to pull air up (for winter use), and the other to  push air down. Make sure your ceiling fan is blowing down.

4. Turn Your Fan Into an Air Conditioner

Another easy way to cool your home without air conditioning is to place a bowl of ice or a frozen milk jug With WATER! in front of one or more fans.

5. What’s Hot in Your Home?

It’s one thing to keep hot air and sunlight out; it’s another to identify the appliances in your home that generate heat. If you aren’t at home during the day, it is easier to simply shut off as many electric appliances as possible. If you spend more of your day at home, try to use heat-generating appliances only during the coolest part of the day.


Go there and read more. It is a really informative blog for those that like to save money.


More next week.


Residential Energy Services – The Green Home way

This site offers a lot of features. Most of the cover page is one of those fancy slick every changing happy pictures type power point presentations so I will spare you that, but they have a lot of really useful information so:

Save money and live more comfortably by increasing the energy efficiency of your home.

We make improvements to your entire home so you can:

  • Reduce your energy bills
  • Increase the comfort of your home
  • Breathe healthier air indoors
  • Help the environment!

Learn how we did it for 10,000 other families

Cash Incentives Available

We assist with all paperwork and help identify all applicable rebates

Learn more about government incentives

One Call… We Do It All!


More next week.


Beautiful Energy Conservation – This Company, Master Remodelers, is very nice

Look it is summer. It is 95 degrees out. I am a sailor in a calm. So yes I am kinda mailing this in. But in my defense this stuff has really turned interesting. So here is another installation of beautiful energy conservation.


Master Remodelers is committed to using “green” building science to maximize your energy savings and comfort and your home’s durability. Our green home remodeling efforts in Pittsburgh are on the forefront of our nation’s initiative to address climate change and lessen our dependence on foreign sources of energy. We will show you how your home remodeling project or home addition can be beautiful, energy efficient and a smart investment. That’s why we proudly say that we’re about “Advancing the Art and Science of Living.” 

Take a look at our 2010 award-winning kitchen as an example and our blog on the subject for more examples of green home remodeling in Pittsburgh.


We are one of only a handful of home remodeling contractors in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania dual-certified to deliver whole house energy savings for your remodel.


home energy audit shows air leaks

While your home remodeling can include new, renewable building materials that are beautiful, healthier and sustainable, our main focus is on energy conservation. This is best determined by a home energy audit. Done right, going green has many benefits:  much lower utility bills, lower mortgage rates, higher resale value… and you’ll enjoy a healthier home for you and your family. Learn more at

(right: Our infrared camera sees leaks that you can’t)



In the home remodeling Design and Planning process you make decisions about how green you want to go.  “Lite green” home remodeling could mean simply better insulation and doors and windows.  Or low flow showerheads and strategically planted shade trees. Maybe add bamboo floors, recycled-content counter tops, and low VOC paint. “Deep green” could mean solar, a geothermal heat pump or complete energy independence.

Home energy audits

A great place to start your decision-making is with a home energy audit to determine your home’s current energy efficiency.  We offer three different levels of audits plus other ancillary tests to choose from. For most homes, the greatest energy leaks are in floors, walls and ceilings.  Leaky ductwork follows, and then heating and cooling systems.


Today there are many benefits and incentives for you to go green.  Ask us about low interest loans, grants, tax credits and rebates, plus monthly utility savings.

Master_Remodelers_DifferenceCall 412-341-6585 today to set up an appointment to discuss green remodeling for your home. Or email us your questions.


More tomorrow.


Paul Krugman And Energy Policy – California and what can be accomplished

It is so basic – save money on energy and there is more to spend on other things.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Paul Krugman: Colorless Green Ideas

Now that the scientific debate over global warming is all but over, Paul Krugman looks at what we can do limit greenhouse gas emissions:

Colorless Green Ideas, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The factual debate about whether global warming is real is, or at least should be, over. The question now is what to do about it.

Aside from a few dead-enders on the political right, climate change skeptics seem to be making a seamless transition from denial to fatalism. In the past, they rejected the science. Now, with the scientific evidence pretty much irrefutable, they insist that it doesn’t matter because any serious attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions is politically and economically impossible.

Behind this claim lies the assumption, … that any substantial cut in energy use would require a drastic change in the way we live. To be fair, some people in the conservation movement seem to share that assumption.

But the assumption is false. Let me tell you about … an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

There’s nothing heroic about California’s energy policy… [T]he state has adopted … conservation measures that are … the kind of drab, colorless stuff that excites only real policy wonks. Yet the cumulative effect has been impressive…

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade’s energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled…

In California, by contrast, the state continued to push policies designed to encourage conservation, especially of electricity. And these policies worked.

People in California have always used a bit less energy … because of the mild climate. But the difference has grown much larger since the 1970s. Today, the average Californian uses about a third less total energy than the average American, uses less than 60 percent as much electricity, and … emit[s] only about 55 percent as much carbon dioxide.

How did the state do it? In some cases conservation was mandated directly, through energy efficiency standards for appliances and rules governing new construction. Also, regulated power companies were given new incentives to promote conservation…


More tomorrow.