Four useful and beautiful salvages

EcoGo - Wing House - David Hertz Architect

Human ingenuity never ceases to amaze us, especially when salvaging items for new buildings. While there are many clever re-uses of materials, EcoGo sought elegant structures primarily built from salvage. After casting a wide candidate net, we selected four dream places. They are useful and beautiful salvage structures you won’t soon forget.

1. Airplane transformation

What would you do with an old 747 airplane? One ambitious soul envisioned a hillside California home. Airplane wings became roofs with cool lines, windowed sections turned into interior decor, and the fuselage served as art studio. See more.

EcoGo - Bottles Temple - Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew

2. Beer bottle beauty

Thai monks at the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew monastery created a stunning temple from green Heineken and brown Chang beer bottles. To date, they have used 1.5 million bottles in different building projects, all open for adventurous sightseers. See more.

EcoGo - Ashdod Harbor Office - Potash Architects

3. Shipping port containers

An Israeli shipping port, in Ashdod Harbor, needed an operational office and recreational center for employees. The elegant 3,500 sq. ft. result was constructed from recycled and renovated containers, including one serving as a cool staircase. See more.

EcoGo - Infiniski Manifesto - James Mau Arquitectura

4. Understated re-usable elements

In a Chilean home, three re-used shipping containers were incorporated without the typical look of a modern metal edifice. While new glass walls got installed, one side was clad in movable, re-used wood pallets to control temperatures. See more.

Getting sustainable, cob style

EcoGo - Cob House - Thomas Hardy Birthplace - 6-2-15

Cob is one of the oldest styles of construction, and EcoGo covets its simple lines and thatched roofs. Check out English author Thomas Hardy’s birthplace (above), a classic example protected by the U.K- based National Trust. We love these Devon area cob homes!

Introducing the cob

Cob structures follow passive solar principles and get built with natural, wet clay. We understand cob may have evolved from one of two medieval construction methods.

  • Wattle and daub — Builders plastered the framework of wood stakes and woven branches (wattle) with mud or clay (daub). When the wood decayed, the mud kept these buildings sound.
  • Stone — Builders relied on mud or clay for both mortar and cavity filling. If the stone was removed or fell away, the mud structures would remain standing.

Cob construction became very popular in England around the 13th century and remained so through the 15th century, when brick could be made and transported cheaply. It has also been used around the globe, including places like the Ukraine, the African Sahel, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, India, China and the American Southwest. See some stunning examples here.

Cob lasts a long time, and there are many full-functional examples dating back hundreds of years. They aren’t earthquake proof, but one Nelson, New Zealand cob mansion (1855) has survived two major earthquakes without a crack. Meanwhile, the surrounding town got destroyed!

How cobs get built

Cob buildings rely on soils that are, ideally, found in their local areas. The cob mixture consists of three to 20 percent clay together with water — and straw, sand, shale or flint may be added, too.

While every place seems to have its own local recipe, the building basics remain the same. The wet mixture gets created and shoveled into place on a stone or dry foundation, tramped down to about 18 inches and then left to dry for a few weeks. While waiting, structures get trimmed and plumbed. Then more layers are added, with lintels used for door openings or else carved out (doors, window) after the cob settles. Roofs are frequently thatched and get replaced over time.

With the advent of cement mixers, spray hoses and large fans to speed up the drying process, builders may now construct a cob house in a few months as opposed to a whole season. Projects still rely on architectural plans, material procurement, decent weather, drying time and careful assembly of the structure.

Try a cob workshop

EcoGo always tries to think outside the box about eco-related travel opportunities. How about attending a cob workshop to learn all-things cob? Here are two places which might interest you.

  • US workshop — This Cob House offers a hands-on session from August 3rd -7th in Parrotsville, Tennessee. Stay at the lovely Meadow Creek, which offers lodge, cabin, RV and tent options. Healthy meals are provided as part of workshop fees. (Act before June 20th and pay $490, a $100 savings.)
  • UK workshops — Edwards & Eve Cob Building offers single and four-day sessions (introdates, contact) in Norfolk England. Learn to build a pizza oven or a full cob building! There are camping and RV sites nearby, or B&B’s within several miles. (Costs 120 pounds for oven, 480 pounds for full course.)

Making cob a reality

In the United States, existing building codes are mostly based on the ICC (International Construction Code) and IRC (International Residential Code) requirements. While there’s no specific code for cobs, they aren’t legally prohibited.

If you’re thinking seriously about a cob project, then go ahead and develop a set of building, engineering and site plans which comply with today’s codes about houses, room sizes and utilities — and then review them with city officials. After some time, your project may get permitted fully or as an exception.

We’re excited about the green building possibilities for new homes, guest houses, lodges and alternative uses in the U.S. and globally. What do you like most about cob?

Strawbales make a comeback

Straw Bale House Construction

“Let us direct our desire for a better world into the earth itself,” says poet Carol L. MacKay. Maybe living in a shelter made from natural grains and mud fulfills that desire. Or it could simply be an affordable and earth-friendly way to live.

Straw bale construction definitely passes the sustainability test and is structurally sound. Like any building method, it requires design, planning, artistic and construction chops. The modern versions look very nice, especially for stucco fans.

Starting with bales

Rice, wheat, barley, oat or rye grains work well for construction. The straw should be baled at a moisture content of less than 20 percent, dried to prevent mold. If it rains, then be prepared to create holes and re-dry the straw. Here are key assembly steps:

  • Use two or three strings to cinch up the bales
  • Stack the bales really tightly, creating walls
  • Place mesh reinforcement on bale sides
  • Apply clay, plaster, lime or cement-lime
  • Install wood framed windows and roof

Straw bale structures do well in four-season climates due to natural, thick insulation. There are some variations depending on where a person lives and his/her preferences. We often see other materials, like wood, used in different areas of these homes.

Making a comeback

What’s old is new again. When settlers arrived on the U.S. plains, they lacked trees and built homes from straw bales. Josiah Leeds of Indiana received a patent (1880) for his load-bearing straw bale building system, made possible with the invention of baling machines. This load-bearing design still gets used today.

For a long time, straw bales were out of vogue. If you could transport building materials by train or truck, then why use these old fashioned methods? As it turns out, our pioneer thinking has been making a comeback precisely because we value local, sustainable materials on hand.

Since the 1980’s, the appeal has grown due to the aesthetics, building ease by owners and cost. Straw bales homes are well-insulated and work in four-season climates. In 2008, a teeny cottage was built inside the U.S. Botanical Garden, Washington, D.C.  — and we encourage you to watch its entertaining video.

Joining the mainstream

Straw bale construction has been acknowledged by construction elders. Official guidelines were adopted by the International Building Code (Oct 2013) and soon by the International Residential Code (July 2015). Since most U.S. municipalities adopt the IRC, they would accept this straw bale appendix (PDF).

Straw bales are slowly getting legitimized within architecture and engineering communities, local planning and building departments, and insurance and financial industries. We look forward to the day when straw bale homes and other buildings aren’t considered a novelty!

Eye opening ways to eco-lodge

EcoGo - Self Contained Emergency House - CF Architects - 4-1-15

Eco-Lodging structures can be ingenious

We see news all the time about different ways to “eco-lodge” while visiting natural places. Some of the most unusual housing is worth checking out, since these structures will likely influence our built world in the future. See four eye-opening sustainable housing options, which we unearthed through Inhabitat’s virtual collection.

  • The Self-Sustained Module is made for areas where heavy modifications and any permanent infrastructure is either physically impossible or economically unfeasible. This Cannata and Fernandes design may be used as a store front, a self-sustained home, or emergency housing in the case of a disaster. It can be moved easily and it uses solar energy. This module comes complete with a built-in foundation, structure, water, sewer and electrical systems.
  • Another similar design by Portugal’s Cannata and Fernandes is the Wooden Pod. It can be lifted as one single piece and left where needed. The designers feature solar panels on the roof and their basic structure allows for future green tech implementation.
  • The Chamfer Home, a new design by S-Archetype, is made for off the grid living. It can be left almost anywhere and is completely self-sufficient and created using recycled materials. When occupied, the home expands to 290 square feet.
  • How’s this for unique? DOM’UP tent is super lightweight and designed to be suspended between two trees. It leaves zero impact on the surrounding environment. While the platform can last decades, plan to replace ropes every five years and the tent every decade. Kudos to arboriculturist Bruno de Grunne and architect Nicas d’Urseoll (from TreesandPeople).

Eco-lodging structures come home

We also appreciate more practical efforts to design friendlier homes. Here are five innovative companies that focus on designing and building on the edge of green, sustainable, permanent housing.

  • Living Homes — A company that builds components of a home and then ships and assembles them on site. This kind of building produces less waste, and green components can be built right in.It uses a scorecard to show  how each model measures up to LEED’s standards of sustainability.
  • Connect Homes — A traditional home build can create about 8,000 lbs. of landfill waste. Connect:Homes claims to reduce building waste by 75%. It takes modular housing to a whole new level, with a streamlined shipping process that ships from Southern California.
  • Stillwater Homes — This company features layered wall construction that insulates the home so well that energy savings stay under your roof. Marmoleum flooring, recycled glass counter-tops and photo-voltaic hookups for solar conversion also make this a leader in green building.
  • Method Homes — These structures are almost entirely in the company’s Pacific Northwest factory. It doesn’t stop there! After your house is built, you may choose options like reclaimed materials, solar energy, gray water systems, radiant heat and gray water systems.
  • Sander Architects — This company defines prefab housing in a whole new custom way. You can have a home that is “prefab” with 30 foot ceilings and a custom look and feel.

Eco-lodging structures become reality

There are an increasing number of suppliers that build and sell abodes. With new companies competing for our dollars, we can look forward to more and more sustainable designs, and innovations that are finally affordable. Eventually we will ALL benefit from green design features built into our homes.

Although it seems like a few stereotypical home styles and visual elements are declared “green,” you aren’t limited to what gets shared or published frequently online. Use your discerning eye and gain knowledge about what sustainable features matter and, most importantly, how you move around and live within your own spaces.


Tiny houses, carbon usage stars

EcoGo - Tiny house with SIPs and reclaimed cypress - 3=20-15

Looks can be deceiving! Some tiny houses are built on wheels, and legally qualify as recreational vehicles. Towing them at nine miles per gallon isn’t the way to reduce carbon emissions, yet most tinies don’t travel much. Instead, they settle on properties where it’s otherwise illegal to construct small and permanent places.

These tinies offer attractive living opportunities. They may function as home offices, hobby locations, small businesses or vacation getaways. Others are used as part-time places for family members or (when permitted) full-time secondary dwelling units. Many people envision eco-travel villages, since they look like mini-cabins.

Tiny house RVs are getting their days in the sun. Mostly under 200 square feet, it takes 11 tinies to equal the square footage in an average American home! They naturally consume fewer resources to construct or live in.

Raising the walls

Typical tinies on wheels are stick-built, much like traditional cottages. They sit on trailer foundations, tied down to withstand forces of the road. Think about tornadoes and earthquakes, and you’ll understand why any tiny house is a construction marvel.

Art Cormier’s home (video tour) is different, as he used structural insulated panels (SIPs) to lighten the structure and to build/insulate in one step. Art also sheathed the home in reclaimed 100+ year old Cypress wood from an old building, which is naturally rot and insect repellent.

Insulation is a hot and cold topic. Professionals tend to use materials that off-gas but work well for the long term, and there are choices such as spray foam, fiberglass, rigid foam board, SIPs, sheep wool, stone wool, spray cellulose or even blue jeans. Your R-values, or insulation levels, may vary.

Enjoying the build

Making the place livable means answering questions: Live on-grid or off-grid? Seek a cook-top, oven, fridge or other appliance? Want longer showers? Prefer a flush or composting toilet? Heat with a stove, small electrical unit or ductless system? Install air conditioning? Sleep downstairs and/or in a loft? Crave stairs?

Tiny houses often reveal design choices which become affordable on a small scale. We have seen modern exteriors and huge windows, coupled with sleek urbane interiors. Stainless steel or butcher block looks even better in tiny counters. Hand-built Japanese or barn-type sliding doors become tiny house focal points. One old wine barrel transforms into a mini-tub with ease. It’s all been done.

Reaping the benefits

Anyone living in a tiny house will conserve energy. Tiny housers get thrilled about low utility costs, whether it’s from electricity, gas, water or sewage. In four-season temperate climates, heating could cost a dollar or two a day. It’s nearly a carbon-neutral proposition.

Perhaps the largest savings come after tiny houses settle down, near access to existing utilities. That happens when occupants reside on their own properties, park and pay rent to other homeowners, or get welcomed into trailer parks. We have heard of a couple hundred per month payments — an enormous savings versus home or apartment rental rates in more populated areas.

Another way to make money with tiny houses is to offer them to paying guests! Start by booking one of these eco-friendly tinies: Tumbleweeds in Olympia (WA) or Sonoma (CA); Wheelhaus cabins in Jackson Hole (WY); and Hobbitats, sans wheels, in Deep Creek Lake (MD).

Nine ways to live greener, at home

EcoGo - Farmers Market - Cornucopia - 3-20-15

Spring heralds the arrival of construction season, when you’re filled with good intentions about home and garden projects. At EcoGo, we also hear starry-eyed visions about reducing carbon footprints.

In practice, greener living isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition and happens gradually. You may even do some things already, without fully acknowledging them. At the annual MiaGreen conference, expert Pamela Lanier presented nine ways to live greener.

  1. Energy efficient lighting — Replace your old incandescent bulbs with the curly CFLs. Try some mercury-free LED strings or new fixtures. And consider the newest Finally bulbs. Compare them here.
  2. Locally sourced materials —  When you need anything for your home or personal use, make an effort to find or buy locally. Kudos for supporting lower fuel use, transportation costs and local business successes.
  3. Recycled and reused materials — Start using Craigslist, asking local online friends, going to moving sales, hitting recycling centers and visiting construction sites for deals. Buying new should be your last resort.
  4. Low VOC paints — Are you painting now? Remember to use no/low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, which keep off-gassing to a minimum. Learn more at Consumer Reports and Remodelista.
  5. Local food sourcing — Tune into the local edibles available at your stores or supermarkets. Make farmers markets part of your shopping routine. In a little garden spot, try growing some herbs or veggies.
  6. Extensive recycling — It starts with what you buy and use. Separate items for garbage pick-ups or dump drop-offs. Now focus on giving larger items away, donating to causes or using the Freecycle network.
  7. Water conservation efforts — Please reduce your landscape watering! Moving indoors, fill your washing machine and dishwasher before use. Try shorter showers and installing low-flush toilets.
  8. Grey water use in landscape — Whether from your kitchen, shower or laundry, consider installing a system that recycles water for your garden, lawn and landscape. See grey water info from Utah and California.
  9. Reforestation — Plant a tree for shade or beauty, and increase your property value. If you own land that has been harvested or used for crops, there’s a bit more homework ahead.

We appreciate these nine ways to live greener, at home. They do take time, intention, effort, elbow grease and (sometimes) money. By following or working on just a single idea, you’ll contribute to the common good — and should feel lighter on your carbon feet.

9th Annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference


The ninth annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference was held Wednesday April 30, 2014 in Rohnert Park at the green conscious and solar powered Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center. It brought together thought leaders from industry, academics, and environmental policy to present best practices and ideas to build a sustainable and equitable economy.

Annual Sustainable Conference in Sonoma, CA

Amongst the topics focused upon was Sustainability in Business. Sheryl O’Loughlin, the former CEO of Clif Bar, shared her learning’s from leading and creating companies that have a core commitment to sustainability. Even small changes like using energy efficient lighting and performing energy audits, display why “It’s so important to just get started,” she said. “Those kind of small steps convince people that it can work and can be successful.”

“B Corporations-Building a Business to Do Good” detailed the burgeoning of B Corps of which there are now over 150 in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Don Simon, who helped craft the California Benefit Corporation Legislation, led a discussion addressing the legal aspects while others discussed the certification process.


Other topics included resilient investing, sustainability in the wine industry, electric vehicles, and the impact local government can have for climate action.

Well known speaker Jay Shafer, founder of Four Lights Tiny House Company, talked about the trends in tiny houses, “I believe people should be allowed to live as simply as they choose. Since the recent housing bust, bank bailouts, and subsequent economic downturn, there has been increasing demand for well-designed, affordable homes, and more sensible laws.”

Given the Sonoma County location, the topics soon came around to the bounty of food, wine, and recreational opportunities, which have made Sonoma County famous the world over. Sonoma County Tourism’s president Ken Fischang pointed out that the county attracts over 8 million visitors per year and that those tourists generate over $1.5 billion in tourism revenue. “We are so rich with experiential and ecotourism opportunities,” Fischang said. “We want to promote the number one reason why people come here, which is Sonoma County’s natural beauty.”

Indeed, ecotourism, agritourism, and sustainable wine production were the topics of one of the day’s most vibrant sessions. Dr. Robert Girling of Sonoma State University stated “We all know the effects tourism has had on the environment — the fuel used, the development that displaces local communities,” he said. “In recent years, there has been a shift toward ecotourism, which improves the well-being of local people.”

Sustainable tourism means that more revenue stays in the local economy and goes to small businesses and mom and pop operators, said Malia Everette, who founded Altruvistas, an international tour company and foundation that promotes social responsibility and philanthropy in the travel industry. “You can really see the transformational power of travel,” she said.

“More and more people want to travel to experience something.” Pamela Lanier author and founder of Friends of Sustainable Tourism International said as she discussed the growing interest in Agritourism. “They don’t just want to see something, they want to do and learn something, which they can put into practice once they get home. A car trunk full of veggies, eggs, honey, flowers, cheeses, and jams makes a memorable and delicious memento of the trip!”

Sustainability in San Pancho, Mexico

San Pancho Ocean View

While trendy Sayulita and ever popular Puerta Vallarta are in the limelight, it’s sleepy but hip little San Pancho (San Francisco) Nayarit Mexico around the point from Punta Mita one bay away from Sayulita and in the lee of the Sierra de Valajo that is leading the Mexican Riviera in sustainability efforts.

The town itself is small and charming. Powerful waves crash on the north end of the beach, but the furthermost southern cove is popular with swimmers although everywhere on this coast, one must be wary of the undertow.

Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, A.C.

In 1992, the Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, A.C. created the first marine turtle nursery for Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles on the coast to combat the pressure on the local marine turtle population from human impacts on their nesting habitat. Poaching, tourism, and development had reduced the population to two hundred nesting turtles on the beaches yearly, sparking concerns of potential extinction. The founders, along with volunteers, protect nests in the now several nurseries; many of those left behind are removed by poachers. Because of their efforts, poachers remove 6% of the nests, an impressive decrease from the 95% poaching rate of the 1980s. Since those first years of the project, the nesting turtles have dramatically increased in number, and the Group recorded 1,165 nests in 2013.

San Pancho is also home to entreamigos, a community learning center for local children and families. Entreamigos began as arts and crafts classes on the street in front of a store for local art, a one-woman operation by Nicole Swedlow. It now occupies a sustainably renovated warehouse and its offerings include a library, a computer lab, a recycling program, a re-sale shop, an organic community garden, eco-design workshops, arts, sports, and other community events and programs.

San Pancho Street Photo

We love the Hotel Cielo Rojo, a charming boutique establishment that draws on the ecological and artistic sensibility of the town with antiques and traditional textiles. Hotel Cielo Rojo has a fabulous chef and has declared itself a non-GMO zone and innovator in serving wonderful locally sourced fruits, veggies, fish, and meats. Their sheltered patio restaurant, Bistro Organic, is the spot for the discerning to dine morning to night. The three restaurants on the beach at the foot of the main streets are quite good, and the huachinanago fried with mojo de aho fresh tortillas and beans is not to be missed.

So if a trip to old Mexico sounds appealing, be sure to check out San Pancho and its many charms.

Enjoy in a timeless paradise” – San Pancho slogan

Sustainable Tourism: A Small Business Handbook for Success

EcoGo Releases Its First Book!

Sustainable Tourism: A Small Business Handbook for SuccessEcoGo Founder Pamela Lanier is releasing her latest book entitled Sustainable Tourism: A Small Business Handbook for Success. The book provides a compact and thorough guide, presenting the principles for sustainable and responsible tourism business practices that protect natural resources and wildlife and contribute to the socioeconomic growth of local communities. The handbook also features helpful supplemental articles, written by a variety of experts on specific innovations and practices, including original case studies of exemplary ecolodges. While the book is addressed to ecotourism entrepreneurs (both current and aspiring), it is also suitable for teaching students in the fields of sustainable business, hospitality and tourism, and can be used in environmental studies. As such, the book is organized in convenient sections to facilitate use as a class text.

The book is currently available in print format from, Barnes&Noble, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and in various bookstores.

ISBN: 978-1489542236

EcoGo Founder Pamela Lanier with MiaGreen President Jose Garcia

EcoGo Presents on Sustainable Travel at MiaGreen

The 5th Edition MiaGreen Expo & Conference – The Green Convention of the Americas took place in Miami, Florida on January 31 and February 1, 2013. For the past five years, MiaGreen has provided a meeting grounds for green-minded leaders and entrepreneurs from the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and has become, according to their website, “the one-stop, all-inclusive, interactive conference and marketplace for SUSTAINABILITY, combining a major trade show with front edge extensive educational and networking programs.”

EcoGo Founder Pamela Lanier with MiaGreen President Jose GarciaFOSTI and were represented by Founder, Pamela Lanier. After delivering a well-received presentation titled, How Sustainable Travel Can Increase your Business and Destination Success, Pamela was honored to hear from the conference convener, Jose Garcia, “It was a gift to have you speak.” Jose has invited Pamela to speak again next year, and we really look forward to continuing to spread the word about sustainable travel.

Amongst the fascinating topics were LEED training courses for architects and LEED professionals, including Lessons from 200 LEED Projects and LEED Version 4 Preview, and an 8-hour Green Associate Training & Exam Prep. Other classes included Designing & Building Greener Americas by AIA Miami, How to Be Green and Profitable: New Thinking, Acting & Tools, Best Practices for Rooftop Solar, and Water Challenges in Sustainable Projects. It was especially a pleasure to meet the ladies from Emiliana Vineyard, one of the largest sustainable vineyards in the world located in Chile.

Another noteworthy attendee was Michael Pewther from Spirit Airlines, an airline company that is leading the way in the aviation industry. Some of Spirit Airline’s initiatives include developing the youngest fleet in the world, lowering the weight of each plane for maximum fuel efficiency, and designing a better seating configuration to optimize customer comfort and maximize seating capacity.

Miami Beach Mayer Matti Herrera Bower commented that Miami is an international hub of trade and culture. It’s exciting to have an event here providing a platform for companies around the Americas to network, educate themselves about the latest in green, renewable, and sustainable products and processes. MiaGreen 2013 was a wonderful experience to see the commitment of all the people who had come from around the US, South America and the Caribbean to preserve our environment.