Off the Grid – Inside the Movement

“I traveled around America meeting these extraordinary people and writing about their lives. Above all I wanted to find out WHY they live off the grid. This film includes interviews with some of the characters (including author Carolyn Chute) from my book – OFF THE GRID – INSIDE THE MOVEMENT FOR MORE SPACE, LESS GOVERNMENT, AND TRUE INDEPENDENCE IN MODERN AMERICA (Penguin, August 2010).”


Off the Grid – Inside the Movement is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Burnt Adobe Homes

Burnt adobe walls

Burnt adobe walls

“Tucson, in Pima County Arizona, has about 15% of all the burnt adobe homes built in the US from the 1960s through the 80s.

Basically, burnt adobe homes are bricks made out of mud that are much thicker and larger than typical bricks. The concept behind building with adobe is that adobe walls have enough thermal mass to absorb heat during the day and release it at night thus keeping the home at a fairly stable temperature year round.

Although the bricks will outlast you or me – it is important to care for them just as you would a wood or stucco home. Tucson has several companies that specialize in repairing adobe that is neglected and also those that treat and maintain the bricks with a special coating to maintain its beauty and keep the bricks intact.”

More at the source: Active Rain
566 burnt adobe house pics at Houzz (sign up required)

Burnt Adobe Homes is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Message from the Mountain

December 2034: An Interview with the Mayor of Burnaby

Burnaby News, December 1st, 2034

Journalist: Mayor Julia Alexander, it is a privilege to be interviewing you here on the mountain on the 20th anniversary of the Burnaby Mountain arrests. As we all know, those days played an important part in subsequent events. Do you have any thoughts that you’d like to share?

Mayor: I was young at the time, and we’d been camping on the mountain for several months, often in very cold and wet conditions.  I remember feeling completely defeated when the drilling started, thinking it was all in vain. At the time, I didn’t understand quite how determined Canada’s climate activists were, or that we were just one pressure-point among thousands.

Journalist: Now that you are the Mayor of Burnaby, would you say that your actions on the mountain were an important factor in the changes that have happened since?

Mayor: They were probably a factor, but it’s not about taking credit. What inspires me is how so many went on to become engaged in the community. There’s a group of us who still meet regularly, so I know what they’re all up to.

Take Karen Mazumder, for instance. She started the Burnaby Cycling Alliance, whose members took the lead in promoting the Burnaby Complete Streets Plan. If I feel pride in the fact that most of Burnaby’s streets are now safe, secure spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders, as well as cars, it’s Karen and her fellow cyclists who made it possible.

All Burnaby Businesses to be Benefit Corporations by 2040

Then there’s Mai Tran, one of our city councilors. After the mountain she went on to convert her restaurant on Kingsway into a Benefit Corporation, giving it a legal duty to serve the community and the environment as well as to make a financial return. When she became a city councilor she sold the restaurant to its workers, who turned it into a workers’ coop, and now she is leading the drive to persuade all of Burnaby’s businesses to become Benefit Corporations by 2040. She was also instrumental in leading the drive for a $15 minimum wage, and establishing the Burnaby Cooperatives Network, which provides support and business services to the hundred or so coops we have in the city.

There’s also Jim Townsend, another city councilor. He came down off the mountain determined to do what he could to make Burnaby’s transportation operate without oil. It was hypocritical, he said, to be campaigning to stop an oil pipeline when almost everyone in Burnaby depended on oil to get around. He’s been our city’s climate conscience.

It was Jim who got people excited about making Burnaby a global leader in cycling, walking, transit, ridesharing and carsharing, as well as electric vehicles. He worked with Adam Bass, another mountain activist, to form the Burnaby Transit Riders Association, and he got himself appointed to the board of TransLink, where he led the drive to electrify every city bus, saving TransLink millions of dollars a year. Now it’s normal, of course, but Metro Vancouver was the first city in the world to have 100% electric transit.

Free parking for EVs anywhere in the city

And there’s Cheyenne Trinidad, who co-founded the Burnaby Electric Vehicles Association (BEVA). It was Cheyenne and her fellow EV owners who set the goal that every car and light truck in Burnaby should be electric by 2030, which Burnaby Council endorsed. Every weekend they invited Burnaby residents to try an EV for free, getting people comfortable with the change. It was BEVA which persuaded the city to allow free parking for EVs anywhere in the city for three years, as an incentive to make the shift.

Then there’s Kate George, who worked with the BC Sustainable Energy Association to make Metro Vancouver a 100% Renewable Energy Region, including the heat we use in our buildings as well as the energy we use for transportation and electricity.

The electricity was easy, since a year or so after we came down off the mountain BC Hydro announced that it would close BC’s few remaining gas-fired generation plants, expand BC’s wind power generation, support the solar revolution, make a major increase in their commitment to energy conservation and launch the BC Geothermal Partnership, providing shared funding for the expensive test drills that are needed to locate the best spots for geothermal energy. FortisBC followed suit, so now the entire province is generating 100% renewable electricity.

For every NO we needed twenty YESes

Journalist: So the events on the mountain did more than contribute to stopping the pipeline expansion…

Mayor: Absolutely. We developed a clear understanding that for every “NO” we needed twenty “YESes.” People want to feel confident, not defeated, and that meant being confident about a future without fossil fuels. We also wanted to bring climate justice home, to be sure that the changes would be socially just and equitable. We wanted to build a new kind of green, cooperative economy, although we didn’t know what all the pieces would be.

Journalist: How much have you been able to achieve towards building that new economy?

Mayor: That’s a big question—how long do you have? We have made good progress in supporting business start-ups and new coops, and persuading Burnaby’s businesses to become Benefit Corporations. The local food economy is booming, with loads of community gardens, and we followed Simon Fraser University’s lead in divesting all of our city funds from fossil fuels. We are currently pushing a big drive for Green Business Certification, following the model established by Vancouver Island Green Business Certification. The Burnaby Board of Trade has been very pro-active in championing an innovative, sustainable, socially responsible business community, and they have taken the lead on many things including the Burnaby Youth Enterprise Centre, the Burnaby Women’s Enterprise Centre, the initiative to develop the $15 minimum wage, recently increased to $22 to keep up with inflation, and the business support partnerships with the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

Speaking of which, have you seen the new Centre for the Ancestors that the Tsleil-Waututh have built on the site of the old Chevron Burnaby Refinery? It’s amazing to get such a good understanding of the 15,000 years of First Nations settlement and culture before the arrival of the white people. Half the building is about the past, and half about the Ancestors of the Future. SFU and BCIT have both embraced the need to build a green, entrepreneurial, cooperative economy, as part of that future and they are working with the Tsleil-Waututh to link the green economy to training and degree programs. It’s very inspiring: you can walk into the Centre as a curious observer, and walk out with a concrete plan for your future in your hands.

Journalist: What would you say have been the most important factors behind your success here in Burnaby? You have just been elected to your second term as Mayor, and the Burnaby Citizens’ Association team has once again won all the seats on council, signaling strong support for your platform. 

Mayor: Well, I’ve got to credit my predecessors on council for showing what real leadership was like in their clear opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, twenty years ago. They showed how one small municipality could roar like a lion. It was Mayor Corrigan and his fellow councilors who encouraged us to get involved in civic affairs, when we came down off the mountain.

It was one of the city councilors at the time who encouraged me to run for council, even though I was a single mother. So overall, I would say yes, it was the activists’ commitment to civic engagement that made the biggest difference. We had a really powerful weekend retreat at the Shadbolt Centre a month after we came down off the mountain, when we met to process what had happened, and plan for the future. That was when the Mayor spoke to us and suggested that we make a real commitment to civic engagement, to put our principles and ideals into practice right here in Burnaby to make a better world for our kids and grand-kids. I remember so vividly the moment when we stood in a circle joining hands and pledging to build a better world, wherever we lived.

Leaving 80% of the Fossil Fuels in the Ground

Journalist: You’ve spoken about transportation and electricity — can you tell our readers about the work you’ve been doing with Burnaby’s buildings?

Mayor: Yes. When we made the commitment to become a 100% renewable energy region it was with full awareness of how difficult it would be to phase out the use of gas and oil to heat our buildings. But both are fossil fuels, and if we were to leave 80% of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground, as the climate scientists and many others insisted was essential—including, I should add, Mark Carney, the Canadian Governor of the Bank of England—we needed to phase out natural gas as well as oil. The government of the day was obsessed with exporting liquefied natural gas, but they never talked about the environmental cost of all the fracking that would be involved, or the true climate impact of natural gas. It was not until a new government finally embraced the promise of a green economy, helped by the new publicly owned Bank of British Columbia, that the jobs began to flow.

Sorry—I got distracted there. You were asking about our progress with green buildings. Several of the Burnaby Mountain activists were either builders, or were attracted to becoming builders, so they worked with the Cascadia Green Building Council and the staff at BCIT’s School of Sustainable Construction Technology to form the Burnaby Green Building Team. Technically, the path to zero-carbon buildings involves a lot of insulation, heat pumps, heat recovery ventilators, triple-glazed windows and district heat systems fueled by a combination of waste heat, water-source heat from the Fraser, sewage-source heat, and ground-source heat from under Burnaby’s streets and car parks.

The challenge was to unlock the financial puzzle, so that homeowners, landlords, condo strata councils and commercial building owners could borrow the money for a retrofit with the cost being financed by the savings. I’m very proud of the Finance for the Future partnership we helped establish with Vancity, BC Hydro and the province, who agreed to guarantee all loans under the program.

So the process of upgrade is going very well. Almost every new building follows the Passive House standard these days. That reduces heating needs by 90%, and makes it easy to supply the rest with a small heat pump. And the Burnaby Solar Cooperative has played a major role in getting so many rooftop installations. It’s incredible how low the price of solar has fallen. These days, if you’ve installed a solar roof you can be saving up to $1,000 a year. Some commercial building owners are saving as much as $10,000 a year. Have you seen the new solar skin on the roof of BC Place, and the solar charging station at SFU?

A Zero Carbon World

Journalist: This has been fascinating. Do you have any words for the younger generation, who are experiencing it as normal to live in a zero carbon world?

Mayor: How I wish that were true! Here in Burnaby we are almost zero-carbon. We still have some buildings to retrofit, and there are still some trucking companies whose owners have not yet invested in the new long-distance electric trucks, with their 500-kilometre range and rapid recharge, but the world as a whole still has a long way to go.

So please, I would say, continue to be passionate activists for the world as a whole. If the rest of the world fails to achieve the phase-out of fossil fuels that we so badly need, our efforts here won’t make a baby’s diaper of a difference. To stretch the analogy, we’ve become potty-trained here in Burnaby. We no longer dump fossil fuel emissions, but we’re still being dumped on by the rest of the world. So train! Build yourself a successful career in changing the world and making it a better place. Turn your activism into your life’s dream and fulfillment. That’s what I did, and I can say from experience that it works.



Average: 5 (1 vote)

Natural Building in Nicaragua

Nicaragua Pueblo Project, Liz Johndrow, Founder

Nicaragua Pueblo Project, Liz Johndrow, Founder

“This is an overview of the natural building work I am doing in rural Nicaragua, primarily with women and young people. This article shares the conditions, existing infrastructures and materials available, and some of the successes. Nothing has proven to be a failure, though the path has taken some turns! I will follow up with a series of articles deepening the exploration of each of these points.

I am preparing for my fourth building/teaching season in Nicaragua, working in rural communities. Spending most of my time in the northern region near the Honduran border. I am inspired by both the simple earthen adobe style houses and the warmth and generosity of the people I have met. In my time volunteering, and then being asked back as an instructor, I have worked with some great grassroots organizations doing important work, including Grupo Fenix of Sabana Grande and AMCC of Condega. Both of these groups champion for women’s advancement in non-traditional roles and practices that support both human potential and environmental awareness. They welcome building techniques that care for the environment and empower women and young people to create, participate and improve their homes.”

More at the source: The Last Straw
Nicaragua Pueblo Project

Natural Building in Nicaragua is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Site C: A Great Disappointment

December 16, 2014. 

The BC Sustainable Energy Association is disappointed by the government's approval of Site C.

“Before making its decision on Site C, the government should have ordered BC Hydro to update its Integrated Resource Plan and submitted it to the BC Utilities Commission for a thorough public review,” said Nigel Protter, Executive Director of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. “Technologies like wind and solar power are developing rapidly and dropping in cost. They could still be cost effective alternatives that don’t flood valley bottom agricultural land.”

BCSEA believes the government is being financially imprudent in proceeding with Site C without an independent financial review. The dam is already 5.5% more expensive than BC Hydro’s previous estimate.

“It is financially imprudent to proceed with Site C based on BC Hydro’s cost estimate,” said Tom Hackney, Policy Director of the Association. “Nine billion dollars is a lot of money to invest without the independent public scrutiny that the BC Utilities Commission can provide.”

 “There would be greater economic and social benefits from a number of smaller developments located in different areas of the province than with the Site C mega-project,” said Guy Dauncey, Communications Director of the Association. “These would provide more opportunities for partnerships and investment by First Nations and local communities.“

For a detailed assessment, see:


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The House That Started a Movement

Episode 1 of 4 – The strange tale of how I came to be living off the grid, and why everyone should try it at some time in their lives – possibly right now.

“The house inspired me to write a book, make a film and start a web site” –

I’m really enjoying some of the videos.

The House That Started a Movement is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Tiny Homes: Mortgage-Free and NO Utility Bills – Off The Grid, Self Sufficient Living!

“A tiny house is a great way to be mortgage free and stop paying utility bills every month. The tiny house movement is also a great way to become self sufficient and live off the grid. tiny home living!”


Tiny Homes: Mortgage-Free and NO Utility Bills – Off The Grid, Self Sufficient Living! is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Free Strawbale Building Ebook: Build it With Bales

Build it With Bales is now available as a free download.

Build it With Bales is now available as a free download.

This is a gift from the authors (Matts Myhrman and S.O. McDonald) to everyone in need of this basic information. Build it With Bales, Version Two is one of my all time favorite books. It’s become a classic in strawbale building.

The Last
Glad to see The Last Straw Journal back in print.

Free Strawbale Building Ebook: Build it With Bales is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Ikea kitchens help sell insulation to Dutch – and UK could be next | Environment | The Guardian

Here is some good news from Europe. Large-scale upgrading of social housing to help with Europes carbon goals.

Dutch consortia Energiesprong could give zero carbon retrofits to social homes across England, using innovative wrap-around insulated panels, if EU funding is approved

Ikea kitchens help sell insulation to Dutch – and UK could be next | Environment | The Guardian.Materials used for wall isolationin renovated houses by Dutch  Energiesprong in Arnhem


Low Cost Solar Irrigation

“Greenpeace Innovation Challenge Winner. The only solar pump that fulfilled all the design criteria and won 5 awards in this worldwide contest. Suntrolley is a 1 hp portable solar water pumping system which can replace diesel irrigation pumps for small farmers. It can lift well water 50 meters.”

Atom Solar Suntrolley on Facebook
(The cost appears to be around $1,600 and can pump up to 70,000 liters/day.)

Photovoltaic water pumping system by Ball Aerospace can lower pumping costs by 80%.

Photovoltaic water pumping system by Ball Aerospace can lower pumping costs by 80%.

“It has been an amazing process working with the team of engineers from Ball Aerospace, who have volunteered their time to successfully lower the cost of photovoltaic solar pumping by 80%. We will start the pilot tests at 10 locations in Gujarat, India with our partner Rajesh Shah and his organization, SAVE.

It will take nine months to fully evaluate the pilot test and incorporate what we’ve learned from our participating farmers into our business plan. We plan to raise approximately 1.5 million dollars for the commercial phase rollout, starting a year from now. I think these developments will not only transform solar pumping, but also provide electricity to off-grid rural villages.”

Paul Polak’s Summer 2014 Newsletter

Low Cost Solar Pumping System (less than $1,000 do-it-yourself system made with standard components that will irrigate ½ hectare for one year)
Solar Water Pump Installations in Rajisthan, India (explains how the government is helping install tens of thousands of these systems)

Low Cost Solar Irrigation is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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