Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making Eco Efficient Space In A Rural Cabin

These are the very first steps to making my eco mecca, tiny cabin, chemical free, healthy home a place where I can not only grow my own food, have animals and be in the woods - but also have a functioning earth friendly home to sleep, cook, bathe and blog in. The little 432 sq foot cabin I am moving to doesn't have a bathroom, so yesterday I spent some time pretending to be a architecturally savvy woman and drew the totally 80's art deco looking floor plan above! I am sooo proud of it.
I am changing the open kitchen area (pictured above where the oval rug is) around to be more efficient in a small space while including a bathroom. Now anyone with even slight chemical sensativities or allergies knows renovations are about the yuckiest thing to have to do, and planning these to be utterly chemical free & healthy to breathe can baffle the best of us - but I have finally gotten to a point where I have found there is a way to do nearly everything without causing off gas problems into your home.

Caulk is a big yuck-o no no for many sensitive people, so I went ahead and eliminated the need for caulk in the bathroom by choosing a clawfoot tub, stand up pedestal sink, and a composting toilet which only needs to be bolted into the floor. (I found the tub for cheap in the local classifieds and the composting toilet is from Nature's Head.)

Flooring can be a huge challenge too, but for me I try to uncomplicate it by always choosing hardwood floors for every room. No matter what, even the bathroom. I decided against tile because the grout in the past out gassed hardcore and would make me dizzy. For this cabin I am putting in (super on sale cheap as sin) locally milled hickory wide plank floors that have no finish on them, and are nailed in (no gluing required!) The finish I will be putting on myself will be a mixutre of mostly walnut oil and beeswax. Heavy on the walnut oil more then the wax, which will be melted in a small quantity.

Size matters, when it comes to a house - the smaller your house the less of any kind of material you'll have to buy. This would help people avoid the toxic cheap stuff and purchase the better eco friendly stuff for renovations... although I have found that nearly everything you need can be found through craigslist or on sale locally. I also found an eco friendly fire retardant free insulation that is SUPER cheap and easy to install... check out Innovative Insulation Inc. here! My first choice would be sheeps wool insulation, but the expense is really intense... so radiant barrier insulation is a good chemical free alternative.

Plumbing can be a big challenge too, many people still believe they have to use PVC and plumbing glue - both of which are toxic. PVC stays carcinogenic for the entire life span of the pipe, so like who wants to drink that water??? Ways to avoid plumbing glue and PVC plastic are to use copper pipe and/or the piping called PEX. Pex uses clamps to connect pipes and doesnt crack during winter freezes like PVC does... no glue, less repair = better health and more money saved long term.
My drinking and bathing water is spring water that is gravity fed, down into the house. Since the poop will be composted by the composting toilet, there is only a need for a grey water system to catch the sink & tub water. I don't use soaps of any kind, so my system will be very pure.

Leftovers can be used to make other things around the house. For instance, there is always left over wood flooring, which can be used to make shelves, repair walls, make a kitchen counter top, or bathroom shelf for holding my toothbrush.

The space in the kitchen will basically be divided in such a way that instead of spreading out across the whole area, the back 6 feet will become a tiny bathroom, then the new wall (made only of wood) for the bathroom will allow for the kitchen to be made into a smaller 'V' or 'L' shape fitting into the corner of the wall, and storage space can sprawl upward instead of outward.

Suppppper Exciting.

Anyone have any other ideas, suggestions, or links to pictures of tiny spaces made more efficient? I need all the visual help I can get.

PS- if ya' eva' want to get paint for your home, make sure it's 100% chemical free Milk Paint!



Gretta said...

I heart a claw foot tub. But be careful, I have read that those old porcelain tubs usually have lead in them.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Hey Gretta!

I lucked out majorly with the clawfoot tub, cause i found a really nice lady who had one re-finished over a year ago to put in her house, but never did and now she is moving and just wanted to be rid of it - sold it for awesomely cheap(the same amount i would have paid for an old one)!
Makes me feel super lucky. :)

No worries about the lead in the paint thank gawd.

Erik said...

This looks great!

I recommend using more beeswax if you can, especially to buff in on top of the walnut oil & wax mixture.

Walnut oil is resistant to rancidity, but it will smell a little bit as it ages (in a bad way). The beeswax helps prevent that from happening.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Hey Erik -

What ratio do you recommend?
And what kind of bad smell - poopy?

Do you think heating the oil has an effect good or bad. I found when i stained wood with oil in the past cooking it kept it from being susceptible to molds... the wax probably helps too. One time I added vinegar to the recipe too to help with that. Maybe baking soda would be good?


Erik said...

I've just added as much wax as I can to the oil, to the point where it's tricky-but-not-impossible to apply. The more wax the better.

This may be impractical when doing large surface areas, in that case I'd still recommend using an 'as much wax as you can get' into the final coat mixture.

The smell is of rotting oil ... it turns rancid. Walnut oil does this much less than most other oils, but no natural oil is 100% immune. (Linseed oil is better than walnut oil, but I've found it to be unsafe to work with ... it oxidizes very very strongly, creating an unsafe reaction).

Boiling may help, I haven't tested that.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Thanks Erik for the tips, i will totally follow that.

I experimented with oils a few times - once with soy oil and sunflower oil on a wood floors with no cooking or wax - the cracks got mold in them.
The next time I experimented with cooking some soy oil & olive oil with vinegar, lemon squeeze, salt ect - i DID bring it to a boil.
The table i put it on never smelled at all, even after a few years. It got mold on it about 4 years later when the oil wore off and we had a wet moldy summer and the table sat next to a open window - but everything molded during that time (clothes and other belongings.)
I am thinking possibly the boiling kills anything "live" in the oil and may help with mold or smell.... but this is purely a speculation on my part.

Bort said...

dont disregard all caulk,it comes in a variety of colors.from pink caulk to black caulk.
just make sure you choose the best caulk thats right for you.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

i can't believe you didn't suggest pine pitch as a caulk alternative.
Only comes in black though.

I tried this once a long time ago, and i don't think it bothered me, but i dont want to deal with caulk at all....
there was an eco friendly caulk made by AFM safecoat.

Their paint didn't bother me after it was dry either, but their product called DYNO-Seal knocked me out, literally. I fainted. I think maybe it would have been OK once it dried, but I dont think all less toxic things are truly non toxic.
Milk paints and nature made stuff is best.

Wild Canary said...

Leslie, you are a really smart cookie...this is really good info. I researched all of this a number of times. I used a claw foot tub and we have one to install here when we are ready. The pedestal sink is waiting too. We have the copper to replace the pvc...seeing you getting ready to move on this is exciting. All the best to you.

Stephanie Rogers said...

I don't have any tips, since I'm a renter still in the dreaming phase, but I'll be really interested to see what you do with this adorable little cabin! Please give details on your grey water system, that's one thing I still haven't really figured out how I would do.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Wild Canary - thanks so much! Sounds like we are on the same non toxic home page :)

Stephanie - I will totally take pics and let ya know how all my eco experiments work out. For the gray water system, i plan on building the drainage that goes into a "bog", filtered by specific plants. I have seen that you can even use this for black water (aka poop water) but i am using a composting toilet for that part instead.
I can't wait to share these things! it's super exciting!

Radiant Barrier said...

I love your ambition to be a naturalist. You are ways ahead of the game, as many people are just starting to hear about these concepts. The only advice I can give, and I didn't see where the windows are in your home, is to take advantage of solar heat when you want it and keep it out when you want. This will better help control the climate inside your home making you more comfortable.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Thanks for the tip Radiant Barrier...
I would love to get more advice about that, although I guess just living somewhere a year and learning to follow the pattern of the sun can help with window placement.
The house has alot of windows and one skylight.


Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Hey Ya'll --->

Just wanted to share a good source for WOOL INSULATION, made from sheep's wool. They have a new location in the USA!

They seem to have batts for $1.20 a square foot, depending on the canadian exchange rate. That is not a bad price for alternative insulation at all! I might go ahead and put the sheeps wool in my walls and loft ceiling - and radiant barrier under the floor. :)