Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tiny Solar Solutions

By Hannah West

As we are better learning to harness the vast supply of energy that beams down on us every day, a wider range of solar powered products are becoming available. This is exciting news both for those who can’t afford a full solar power system in their home and those who already have one but are looking for additional solar solutions—basically for anyone passionate about conserving energy. As an added bonus, solar powered products are great for when you’re out and about, roadtripping, camping, or for when someone’s already claimed the last plug outlet at your favorite coffee shop. Here are a few that we at Modernize are particularly excited about:

Device Charger

A dead phone battery is merely inconvenient in some situations, but it can be dangerous in others. Whether you’re running errands or exploring wilderness, a solar charger is an amazing solution that almost feels too easy. That’s the beauty of solar power! There are plenty of solar chargers out there—like the Gomadic SunVolt above—that can power up a number of electronic devices, so do your research before settling on one that just charges your phone or laptop.


Solar ovens could not be more perfect for camping. Instead of hovering over food while it’s cooking on the fire, you can set it in the oven and let it sit for hours while you’re busy doing other fun activities. Solar ovens are portable and so simple that you can easily make your own.

Outdoor Lights

Because solar lights don’t need electrical wiring, you can put them anywhere you want on your property. Just make sure they’re in an optimum spot to soak up the sunlight so they can illuminate your yard at night.


A backpack with a built-in lightweight solar panel and USB connections will prevent you from ever fearing that red battery signal again. Whether you’re a student or a world traveler, a solar powered backpack will take away the stumbling block of running out of juice in a fast-paced world.


Yet another solution to the pervasive problem of getting power into our portable devices, the solar tent will allow campers to use camping gear and devices without worrying about proximity to electrical hookups. While solar tents are not yet widely available, there’s no doubt they’ll be popular with the festival-going crowds as soon as they hit the markets!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

I have heard one hundred times that I must not run the water while I brush my teeth. But my tooth brushing technique involves constant rinsing so that I always have a cold, fresh toothbrush to work with. And the cold tap is on my right, and I brush right handed, so there is really no way my left hand can help at all. I have sincerely tried to brush my teeth with the water off and I hate it. I try to pretend I am camping, but I am not camping. I have tried using a cup of water, but they don't get clean so I just have to brush them over using running water.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Garden Oysters

Do you remember the buzz these two Berkeley kids created by selling a box of coffee grounds that will grow tasty mushrooms? When our box gave up its last oysters, I took the mycelium and inoculated our garden with it. This year, I'm being rewarded with some new oyster mushrooms!

Adding mushrooms to a raised bed garden is simple. do a little research and learn what sort of stuff your desired mushroom grows upon (oysters: oak, maple) and stuff some of the host material into the moist corners of your garden. Prep it well (make it good and wet, in most cases). Buy plugs, or look for living mycelia. Inoculate the host matter... and then wait. In a year or less you might have a new, renewable source of mushrooms!

BTW, did you notice how low effort this is?

What Makes Small and Tiny Homes Sustainable

Not all Small and Tiny homes are sustainable; they actually range in a broad spectrum from achieving high sustainability to not being sustainable at all… Many are sustainable because they use recycled, upcycled and minimal amounts of building material; with small space comes a smaller internal envelope, making heating and cooling less energy intensive; and by living the Small-Space lifestyle occupants generally consume and waste less store-bought products, further helping to reduce the planet’s overall carbon footprint. Sustainability in Small and Tiny home culture is a spectrum of principles and ethics based on the idea being mindful in how we interact with our personal and global environments’, which hopefully carries forward to our interactions with others.

The issues that work against Small and Tiny home design is that the Small-Space lifestyle does not suit people who have a lot of stuff, or are not in a financial position to make life changes, it is not reasonable to ask or expect people get rid of stuff or change their psyche to live in a small space. Additionally the cost of permits to legalize Trailer (Tiny) homes and Shipping container homes by California building codes is so expensive that the investment building these places is usually not worth the return. Other states are different and have more permissive building codes. For people who want to live mindfully of environmental issues not everyone needs to live in a small space. There are numerous options in larger types of architecture that allow an occupant to live by sustainability principles.

However, building-out small and tiny livable space can be a labor of love! To work with steel and convert an old shipping container into an appealing, attractive industrial looking guest room; to craft wood and colorfully paint a delightful Tiny home on a trailer frame; or construct an endearing artsy cottage from cob, cord wood, glass, or earth bags, these buildings have a charm and value separate than improving property values and wholly separate than living by ethics of environmental mindfulness, rather they can evoke a sense of artistic pleasure and are a form of interactive art that inspires awareness of how we relate to our surroundings.

Sustainable Spectrum - Design Ideals for Small or Tiny homes

1) Uses an Independent energy source, solar, wind, geothermal, etc. (off the grid)
2) Has a high insulative total R- value, design has a low energy intensive foot print.
3) Lots of recycled and upcycled materials used. Minimal new building material used in construction and maintenance.
4) Any building materials used are non-toxic (or minimally toxic) to environment as they break down over time.
5) All materials used are locally built, manufactured and acquired. Materials used are manufactured with sustainable philosophies as much as possible. (No stuff manufactured in China)
6) Reduced square footage, which creates a low potential for occupants to consume large amounts of household products.
7) Waste water recapturing systems (grey water) and organic methods of processing black water.
8) Food garden, either indoor or outdoor integrated into the home’s design.
9) Positive feel and character, pleasing aesthetics, which creates a wholesome ambiance for the occupant when interacting with the living space.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Learning the Gentler Lifestyle ~ Dave

Learning the Gentler Lifestyle ~ Dave

           For over a year I have lived in a small 7’-6” x 20’, 150 sqft. shipping container on an acre of land. Prior to moving to my container I had a spacious 3 bedroom condo, a 10,000 sqft. warehouse and 1 acre of land. Two years ago, on this day Jan. 10, I lost it all in a sheriff’s raid (except my one acre) and although this painful catastrophe was difficult to work through, today I am grateful for my loss as it reset my lifestyle and rebooted my psyche on a path of gentler healthier living.
           Rewiring my brain from a lifestyle of financial spoil (having whatever I wanted) in my larger comfortable home, to a lifestyle of constant organization and minimalist living in my small steel box, has been a struggle and a joy as I agonized (and still do) over letting go of emotional attachments and a large volume of physical stuff that overwhelmed my environment. Suddenly I didn't need so much furniture, suddenly I didn't need so many cloths, 4 bicycles, a computer in every room and a 52” plasma TV; rather I needed the right furniture and the right clothing that fit in with my smaller living arrangement.
           The psychology of living in a large space is different than the psychology of living in a “Tiny Home”. Small home psychology has forced me to be poignantly aware of how one relates to the square footage one resides in and has helped me to contemplate sustainable architecture and how we interact with our surroundings; versus when living in a larger home with enough space to just throw stuff around the house, my environment didn't matter because there was always enough space to live large, stock pile stuff, and have junk everywhere! Living in a small space with less possessions has been difficult, but it has also caused me to practice better personal habits and live more gently.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

STUFF ~ Dave Harris

STUFF ~ Dave Harris

When you're home tonight take a moment to look around and check out your stuff… What do you see? If you’re like me maybe you see milk crates filled with 968.5 books, which only 101 or so of them you've actually read, but wouldn't dare get rid of any of them, because well you know, you want them around just in case you find some time to read 30 or 40 of’em some weekend off work with nothing else to do. Even though honestly, when you actually want to know about the information in them you will probably just Google it anyway (like the article below), but you keep these books, regardless of the clutter they create, to remind yourself the information is at your disposal, and yes they are neat to have around too because they make you look smart when friends come over…
This is the bane of having stuff. We love our stuff, we are inspired by our stuff, we are genetically wired to bring stuff back to our lair, store it and make it available when we need it, but there is a cost to all this stuff, it’s called environmental taxation. The hidden costs of objects we place around us in our personal and public lives that yield for us relatively little economic or emotional return for the expense they create. Expense that originates in mining raw material, processing materials into stuff to manufacture stuff with, marketing stuff to masses of people, delivering stuff to our homes and business, using stuff (often only once or twice), then paying storage fees to keep stuff around, and eventually if we’re psychologically able, like leaving a religion, we agonize over getting rid of the stuff we believe in...
            As we people of planet Earth increasingly become conscious of how we interact with our immediate and global environments, understanding the emotional connections we have to our stuff is paramount to sustaining wholesome living conditions. The following article is psychology research about people and their stuff. If you can identify yourself in this research how do you relate to your own stuff? What do you call clutter and what would you get rid of?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Human Powered Fun

I've become involved in the human powered kinetic sculpture world. Many of the billions of people on Earth use their muscles to meet their everyday needs for water, food, and shelter. I get to use my muscles to make strange vehicles move upon the face of the Earth. Above, the Whittaker, a pedal powered paddlewheel water taxi, seen here at Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. Below, the SemiSide, the world's first side-by-side semi recumbent sociable tandem bicycle, as Dave Harris and I learn how to ride it.

I'm capturing some of this work over at Three Feet of Air.

Introducing Dave Harris!

Welcome, Dave!

Dave Harris is a Contractor, Builder, Maker, Solutionist, and Sustainability enthusiast. Together, we just might rock the local Green Scene.

Why does Sonoma County need yet more info and exposure to how to live more gently on the planet? Don't you already follow Transition Town Sebastopol? Perhaps our perspective from keeping one foot in the coming age and one foot in the passing age will be entertaining.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

My New Nomadic Life

I share my days among the towns of Citrus Heights, Santa Rosa and Oakland as well as visiting a working vineyard near Clearlake. I'm connecting with old friends and making new friends.

It's a time of renewal for me.

At the global level, I believe this is the calm before the storm: in the next few months we will begin to feel the effects of Japan's calamity all over the world. Everywhere I go I am making mental catalogs of available resources, noting how resilient the locals are, and participating in conversations around helping those in need while also caring for ourselves.

I wasn't sure about whether any of this belonged on "The Home of the Future" but as I move into this new incarnation of the work I can see that it does.

Right now, today, I am eating these berries as I look at this broken swimming pool and imagine how to convert it to aquaculture using onsite materials.

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Monday, May 23, 2011


Cleaning out the refrigerator, I end up with a collection of bottles and containers formerly holding the last bits of condiments and food. Food stuffs I had already decided I would never finish eating.
A big part of sustainability is being careful what I buy at the store so that I have less stuff to throw away.
Tonight I removed about 20 pounds of compostible (food) waste from the kitchen and another 10 or so recyclable packaging.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Updated Template

There was nothing wrong with the old template. However, the comment system had been taken over and was going to cost me money. I successfully archived all the comments before changing over to Blogger's comment system.

Backyard Foraging

My neighbor Jess writes a nice article that includes how to make pesto from nasturtiums. She's pretty keen on something she's calling "weed gardening." It's a technique of noticing what is growing really well in the margins of your yard, and using that as food. She made a successful quiche from sow thistle, for example.

I've been eating wild radish for as long as I can recall. I discovered it when I was perhaps 8, exploring the wilds of Orange County. I'd pull up the ubiquitous plant and chew on the thin bit of root meat surrounding the woody core, enjoying its horseradish like quality.

My yard right now has several hybrids of wild radish and other brassicas. The particular plant in the picture above is making giant, juicy, crisp, flavorful seeds pods. I'm munching on them nearly daily. Soon they'll start to set seed and they won't be so pleasant.

Have a look around your yard! See if there are any edible feral flora growing near you. Start simply, adding petals to salads and that sort of thing. Educate yourself so you don't accidentally eat something harmful, but by all means experiment and find what's yummy in your unexpected places!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Benefits in Green Building

Guest post by Krista Peterson

Sure, everyone seems to be getting out and going “green” these days. From driving hybrid cars to living vegan lifestyles, many people are taking different steps towards better living throughout the world recently. In the area of green building, using these types of building materials can be not only beneficial in cost effectiveness and sustainability, but also in some more important areas. Minor substitutions and green materials used in the building process can be particularly beneficial in improving overall health and cutting down on the risk of disease for the future.

Paint is often one of the primary materials throughout a building or remodeling process. What many people are unaware of is that most common paints are high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) which present health risks and threats to air quality when constantly inhaled. Given the repeated exposure that would be likely during a remodeling or building process, the associated health risks with VOC’s are a possibility for builders and remodelers. The range of health problems can span from extremely minor to some more permanent and long term issues. Repeated exposure to VOC’s have been shown to sometimes lead to health risks such as fatigue, headaches and dizziness, as well as more dangerous risks like kidney or liver damage.

Alternatives for paint products are relatively easy to come by. Most common hardware stores carry great options for normal paint products that are usually high in volatile organic compounds. The best alternative is to look for organic and low-VOC paints. This will certainly reduce risk of exposure and health risk.

Insulation can also be a great way to replace potentially toxic products with green building materials, while reducing health risks in the process. Many older homes, up until the 1970’s and 1980’s were built using asbestos as a common material in insulation purposes for houses and buildings. Unfortunately, although being extremely versatile and trustworthy as a building material. Asbestos began to be known as one of the primary developers in health problems such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, respiratory problems and other minor issues such as fatigue and dizziness. While both of these may seem inconsequential as far as health problems, the other risks are not to be taken lightly. For example, mesothelioma life expectancy is usually only between eight and 14 months after diagnosis. Having older homes checked for asbestos in the insulation and looking for new alternatives can be a major step towards better overall health. Even in the case that asbestos may not be a problem for your individual house, insulation is a great option for green building because of its ability to increase a home’s sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint, while still being cost effective.

Green options in insulation present some of the best forms of sustainability in houses today. As previously mentioned, making the switch to these green options can certainly decrease possible health risks, but they can also be high in sustainability and extremely cost effective at the same time. Some of the options in green insulation include the use of cellulose and lycnene. Cellulose is usually the most popular form of green insulation. It’s made from 80 percent of recycled paper and parts of newspaper, and comes complete without the dangers of formaldehyde. It’s also one of the cheapest options of green insulation as well. Lycnene is a form of spray foam insulation that is often the most sustainable form. Because it’s sprayed into seeps and cracks, its ability to keep air trapped in the house is excellent.

Certainly there are other easy steps that can be taken to help out in green insulation, but these two are some great ones to look at, primarily because of their ability to replace products that may have health risks, while still adding to the overall sustainability of the home.