A Low Impact Woodland Home

Check this out. A little Hobbit home built over in the UK. Built for far less than the hundred’s of thousands being spent on homes like this in my area.

You are looking at pictures of a house I built for our family in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).

The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature. Being your own (have a go) architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass produced box designed for maximum profit and convenience of the construction industry. Building from natural materials does away with producers profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.

Some key points of the design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.

Main tools used: chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. Oh and by the way I am not a builder or carpenter, my experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around inbetween. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives. For example this house was made to house our family whilst we worked in the woodland surrounding the house doing ecological woodland management and setting up a forest garden, things that would have been impossible had we had to pay a regular rent or mortgage. To read more about why we did it and why this is an important option to meet the challenges of climate change and peak oil, click here.

Would you like to learn more about this sort of building and gain practical experience? Why not join us on another exciting building project. There will be opportunities for everyone of all abilities and areas of interest. Click here for more details.


Activists Detained For Taking Ash Spill Photographs

Original Post Here

Two environmental activists were detained by the Tennessee Valley Authority police for photographing the site of last weeks ash spill. While it does not appear that they will be charged with crimes, they were unable to document the ash spill’s effects on the area and its water supply.

The men, who are from the Knoxville based United Mountain Defense, say that TVA has yet to release the water toxicity results. They say they have the right to take their own measurements and photographs unless TVA shows their results. “This is an issue of national importance,” said David Cooper. “People need to know if the water is safe or not.”

The environmental disaster, which covered 400 acres in ash, has demonstrated the fragility of supposed ecological safeguards. It begs the question of whether or not we can trust the same people who created the problem to give us accurate information about the disaster’s clean up and aftermath. The activists said that they will take their water samples and run the required tests.

While the men were let go and forced to leave the premises after an hour of detainment, in some ways our collective rights were infringed upon. If we cannot simply gather data without being harassed by police, then what actions can we freely and safely take?

Ash Spill Update From Dave Cooper

Here’s the latest from Mountain Justice Volunteers in the field:
Greetings from Harriman TN, site of the spill
I brought 2 conductuvity meters for water testing down to the spill scene yesterday – along with Ph and dissolved oxygen testing equipment – I met up with United Mountain Defense members plus John Wathen of Riverkeepers (former chair of Citizens Coal Council)
We tried to drive back to the spill site but TVA became irate when we pulled off the road and tried to take some pictures – Matt and I were detained for almost an hour at a check point yesterday – TVA personnel appear to be under great strain, which is understandable but IMO they over-reacted.  All we were doing was taking photos.  This is a similar situation to what happened in Martin County – they block the roads for “public safety.”  Even the media is having trouble getting access now.
TVA completely underestimated the size of the spill, they are now saying 5.3 million cubic yards, thats 200 gallons per cubic yard so this is over 1 billion gallons in size.  Apparently the stuff was stacked over 50 feet high – as high as a 5 story building.
If a dump truck can hold 10 cubic yards, it will take 500,000 trips to haul away all the ash (they are taking it back to the power plant).  If they make one trip every 5 minutes, it will thus take 2.5 million minutes to clean up the spill – there are 525,000 minutes in a year so that means it would take 4.7 years to clean up the spill at these estimated rates.
Heres a great aerial video of the spill, best I have seen:
I have been working with National Public Radio, CNN, ABC World News Tonight and NY Times – there is a flotilla of water testers going out today on kayaks.

Please have news media call Chris in Knoxville at 865 257 4029 – we are at 317 435 0088

Dave Cooper

The Mountaintop Removal Road Show
608 Allen Ct.
Lexington KY 40505
(859) 299 5669

Update on Ash Spill From Mountain Justice Volunteers


Coming in from my friend Georgia Matt. They need help. Check out UMD’s website!:

Dear folks,

December 25, 2008

(Please post to any and all websites, blogs, and online news sources.)

For most of my life Christmas morning was a time of hanging out in my pajamas, opening presents, eating really good food, and spending time with my family.  This year was a little different.  I spent Christmas in the man-made disaster that used to surround TVA’s Kingston Coal Burning Power Plant.  Due to TVA’s negligence a HUGE coal ash pond exploded into the surrounding countryside dumping HUGE amounts of toxins into the local environment.  I awoke around 9am to begin the day’s work.  I was greeted by an online edition of a front page article in the New York Times which ran today covering this breaking news story.  I was happy to see the article listed on the front page but I was dismayed to see that the writer had missed some of the most important information that we had offered.  United Mountain Defense’s Volunteer Co-ordinator had spent nearly an hour on the phone yesterday getting the NYT up to speed on the issue and when I read the article there was no mention of United Mountain Defense or our Volunteer Co-ordinator.

The NYT got it wrong when they said, ” On Swan Pond Road, home to the residences nearest the plant, a group of environmental advocates went door to door telling residents that boiling their water, as officials had suggested, would not remove heavy metals.”  At no time did we tell people that their water had heavy metals in it as we have not done any laboratory testing and have not seen any test results that claim otherwise.  We merely suggested that other coal impacted citizens have had problems with their water and that heavy metals were found in other people’s water.  The info that we have been passing out to the people is pasted below and is found in the above attachments.

*******Please we want national, international, and intergalactic media coverage on this issue, but we want to keep the facts straight and we want United Mountain Defense to get credit for the work that we are doing.***************

Just think if the NYT called GreenPeace, Rainforest Action Network, or Coal River Mountain Watch don’t you think the NYT would write the information correctly and give these groups written credit for their work.  What is the difference here?

So once I was able to lasso United Mountain Defense’s volunteer force away from their families during this holiday season we headed down to ground zero, Harriman TN.  The time was nearly 1pm.  TVA had promised everyone that they were so on top of it that they would continue to work through this holiday in order to fix the problem.  The work that we observed TVA doing today was continuing to work to clear the railroad track.  This is a necessity to TVA because if they can’t Continue reading

UPDATE: Huge Environmental Disaster in Tennessee

Read below for the full story. Here is an update from our friends at United Mountain Defense

“Dear folks,   (Please repost this email to blogs or news sites)
Members of United Mountain Defense traveled today down to Harriman, TN to learn more first hand about the impacts of the coal ash pond failure.  We traveled on Swan Pond Rd visiting local residents and passing out information about the chemicals that may be present in the drinking water.  Begining at 3pm Dec 23, 2008 TVA officials began to visit all of the houses just prior to our visit advising residents to boil their drinking water before consuming it for the next 5 days.  Unfortunately TVA did not inform anyone about the reasons for needing to boil the water and any chemicals that may be present in their water.  The city of Harriman was working 24 hours a day to install a new water pipe in order to provide these residents with cleaner water.  Their current water source was a large spring which may have been contaminated by the spill. 
We also met a man who had been vomitting for the past 12 hours after drinking a couple of pots of coffee made from the tainted water.  We advised him to go to the hospital.
The corporate media has been reporting that affected citizens were being housed in a local motel, but we met many citizens who had spent the last two nights without electricity or gas heat in 27 F weather.  A source shared information that TVA knew that the coal ash dam had been leaking for months now.  We visited approximately 40 households many of which had not recieved any information other than what they could figure out from the minute long television segments or an isolated phone call from the water or gas utility.  TVA police were limiting access to Swan Pond Rd as utility crews were actively working on the roadway. 
United Mountain Defense is actively creating a plan of action to deal with this issue.  We plan to go back down to Harriman tomorrow.  The work is seeming to fall into a few catagories at this point.
We want to get more video, get more water samples from wells, springs, faucets, and sludge puddles.  We are going to get more familiar with the local area and resources.  We want to meet more locals, pass out info, and set up protests.  Any suggestions that you have would be greatly appreciated.  If you are able to test water samples for heavy metals or other specilized water testing please let us know.  We also have an updated list of demands below for TVA since they have been so naughty.  
Check out the Santa Protest Videos  http://dirtycoaltva.blogspot.com/
Visit our website at www.unitedmountaindefense.org
Feel free to send checks for copies, paper, gas and general support funds to
United Mountain Defense
P.O. Box 20363
Knoxville, TN 37920
Or go to www. United Mountain Defense.org  to pay on the Paypal account
Or at the PayPal account @  https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=i7SeayH1xgHLmWLkgIXhg5z7CJJJan02PVOxEqHK_Af_MB9CZiWV-juGCcS&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f9fecf49521b3f5af727cc8f9db6c1fec0342a4f411eb2d06  
Thank you so much,  matt landon full time volunteer staff person United Mountain Defense “


On Monday, 12/22, a giant spill of coal ash slurry broke from a retention pond in Northern Tennessee. Read the post below from my friend Dana wrote. Worth checking out also is this video of the venerable RFK Jr. Talking about the evils of MTR. This spill is one of them. There’s no such thing as Clean Coal.




TVA’s Coal Ash Sludge Pond Bursts

Update (Thanks Dave Cooper): This Tennessee TVA spill is over 40-48 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, if local news accounts are correct.  This is a huge environmental disaster of epic proportions; approximately 500 million gallons of nasty black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River – the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We’re “lucky” it was sludgy and slow moving, or thousands could have died.  Click here to see an amazing aerial video of the spill – the big chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash.


Suprisingly, the industry still says that coal will be “clean” if we find out how to sequester the carbon– here is more terrible proof they are wrong. On Monday, 39 groups, including our friends with the Citizens Coal Council and The Alliance for Appalachia banded together to ask President-Elect Obama to overturn Bush’s recent attempts to de-regulate coal ash even more.

In some twist of grim irony, the night before these groups sent out their demand for increased regulation of coal ash, 4 to 6 feet of toxic coal ash and ice cold slurry burst out of a faulty TVA containment pond in Eastern Tennessee and destroyed 12 homes, 400 acres, and wrecked a train; you can read more about it in the Knoxville News Sentinel. This break isn’t the first terrible sludge dam disaster. It is a huge tragedy, and we won’t know for years how the mercury, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals like beryllium and cadmium commonly found in coal ash will have impacted the local community and wildlife.

Coal ash is what is leftover when you burn coal. Coal ash is an enormous problem throughout the US. It is more radioactive than nuclear waste, according to Scientific American and is under-regulated. It is made into concrete, drywall, and as a road building material. People living near coal ash dumps have been estimated to have up to 900 times the national cancer rates.

I might hazard a guess that that cancer figure just increased even more in eastern Tennessee.

Post-Race Nation? Not!

This article comes from The Nation. Telling the story of race war in New Orleans after Katrina. Racism is far from dead in America, and its up to all of us to continue to dismantle it, within ourselves, and withing those who surround us. Van Jones once said, if you are not racist in America, you will be after driving or walking around for two hours. From bilboards, to TV ads to radio talk, we are constantly bombarded by racist media, memes and thoughts constantly. We all have to constantly struggle to see the racism built into our system and culture, and to actively combat it. Happy Holy Days everyone!

Anti-Racist Action

Katrina’s Hidden Race War

by A.C. Thomas

The way Donnell Herrington tells it, there was no warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted.

It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. “I just hit the ground. I didn’t even know what happened,” recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.
The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington’s companions–his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. “I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck,” Alexander recalls. “I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again.” Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander’s back, arm and buttocks.

Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn’t even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, “Get him! Get that nigger!”

The attack occurred in Algiers Point. The Point, as locals call it, is a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a small cluster of ornate, immaculately maintained 150-year-old houses within the larger Algiers district. A nationally recognized historic area, Algiers Point is largely white, while the rest of Algiers is predominantly black. It’s a “white enclave” whose residents have “a kind of siege mentality,” says Tulane University historian Lance Hill, noting that some white New Orleanians “think of themselves as an oppressed minority.”
Continue reading