Mother Earth News Homes: Guide To Affordable And Sustainable Building

by , May 1, 2008, 11:15 AM
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I bought the fifth annual homes-oriented special edition of Mother Earth News with the hopes of being inspired to put my money where my earthy-crunchy mouth is and tackle some home renovation projects with an eye toward what is good for the planet. I was not disappointed. The issue is full of all levels of projects, from the simple "I can do that, sure" to the truly intimidating, but awe-inspiring, major-lifestyle shifts (think solar water heater).

Earth Day might be over, but that doesn't mean those of us who know better can just blindly go back to our wasteful and often toxic ways. Take for example the big outdoor painting project my family will be tackling this summer. Sure, I'll admit to using vats of lethal smelling chemicals to strip paint in the past. But now, thanks to a very thorough article about how to properly prepare wood to take and hold paint, I'll be employing one of those newfangled strippers. I'm expecting to have to employ a little more elbow grease, but who knows, maybe the earth-friendly product will surprise me. The bottom line is, I can't with good conscience use the old stuff only to have the remnants washing off into the ground all the way around my garage.

The author of that article, Steve Maxwell, may be my new hero. He's a contributing editor for the magazine and wrote several interesting pieces for this issue. The one that had my mouth hanging open by the end was "A Handmade Debt-Free Home" where he details how he and his wife spent five years building their 2,500-square -oot house from scratch during the warm weather months while in the winter they lived with relatives and worked and saved money to fund the project. The house was completed in 1991 to the tune of an out-of-pocket cost of $35 per square foot. The Victorian-style house is drop-dead gorgeous and is often mistaken for an older house that has been sustainably renovated due to all of its old-world craftsmanship.

Not every article in the issue would necessarily appeal to everyone. There are five pages about riding mowers and eight pages about compact trailers I could do without, since I have a tiny postage stamp of a city lawn to mow and maintain. Renting a Rototiller from Home Depot is about as "heavy equipment" as I get. But for those with huge lots or farms, I know it's an important subject.

We city dwellers can instead devote our energy to the project to build a bookcase/window seat unit. It's charming and versatile and seems totally do-able. The "Country Lore" section where readers send in their tips is very readable. I really do want that aviary made of an old feed bin. It's so Martha, but in a green, re-use-it kind of way. And green is the new black, don't you know? (Or so the headlines seem to tout at every turn.)

While ultimately I don't have the chutzpah to undertake what Maxwell did in building an entire house from scratch, he definitely inspires me to think more creatively when it comes to a bathroom/bedroom add-on I've been fantasizing about tackling in my 90-year-old house. And we'll certainly look to this issue and back issues of the Mother Earth News homes editions for ideas and inspiration.


Published by: Ogden Publications Inc.

Frequency: Home edition is annual, regular magazine is bi-monthly

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