We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Audre Lorde
The world has changed so much since I was 20. I am not only speaking about the internet and gay marriage, which are good things, but rather how it seems harder to find your way socially and economically. The road to economic security far more bumpy. Alienation is rampant. Workplaces are often dehumanizing and many people hate their jobs. There are many causes of this breakdown in our culture, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, a weakened labor movement, unbridled capitalism, systemic systems of oppression, government cutback of social services, unsustainable and consumer driven lifestyles. My generation (I graduated high school in 1981) did not do enough to build communal spirit and tackle key problems. We gave greed and materialism a pass.
I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that had access to higher education that was affordable. Unlike many of today’s graduates, I did not graduate from college in huge debt. I could choose meaningful work even if it did not pay well. I could travel and choose to live alternatively. Currently, student debt is crippling and thus limits choices after graduation. From the get go, you have to make money to pay off your school debt. This is the beginning of the golden handcuffs that force people to work for money rather than to have meaningful occupations.
I am not surprised when I meet people in their 20’s (which I do quite frequently since I have a 24 year old daughter) that they are frustrated with their lack of prospects and are often not sure what to do with their lives. Given my generation’s failure to usher in a world with better prospects, I hesitate to give advice. Nonetheless, this is what I think: Pursue paths that teach you how to think and live differently. If you can learn one thing, it would be how to radically share resources. This solves many problems including alienation and economic instability. Millennials are already choosing to live communally out of necessity.
Egalitarian income sharing communities are models for radical sharing and living in non-hierarchical ways that offer a way of life that gets us away from competition and the scarcity mentality and instead offers a way to learn skills that build cooperative culture.
No one really knows how life will change as the planet heats up, but we do know that we cannot and will not be living in the same unsustainable way we live now. At the very least, we can predict that we will be living with scarcer resources and less mobility. People will have to work together and share more. In the future it will be helpful for people to know how to grow their own food and conserve water People simply cannot be so wasteful. Conservation and community building will be the key to your happiness. It will be important to learn to live simply and by that I mean learning to be happy with what you have and getting out of the more is better mentality. Learning to find joy in connecting with others, sitting around having good conversations and working side by side will be the best way forward.
What are the tools for building this way of life? This is a complicated question that is explored in Maikwe Ludwig’s upcoming book “Together Resilient” (soon to be released).
College is no longer the only way forward. I am not even sure it is the best way forward. (A comical perspective on this assumption.) Sadly our education system with its emphasis on test scores and competition does not emphasize cooperative culture skills.or the skills needed for a post climate-change world. Many people leave college having never really learned the skills required for building community the heart of which is cultivating a sense of interdependence and problem solving. I am not saying everyone should abandon college aspirations, but I do want to offer another way for those who can’t afford or are not drawn to academia. The life lessons one learns when building and living in community are lessons that are transportable and don’t leave you in a mountain of debt. For more information on income sharing egalitarian communities check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.
Aurora DeMarco lives and works as a member of Ganas, an intentional community in New York City. She is also looking to join an FEC community down in Louisa Virginia. She is 54 years old and a mother of two daughters.
We at LEF have had some interesting experiences with local and global media in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, we spoke with representatives from BBC, Discovery Channel, and Netflix about their desires to do shows about off-grid living. BBC said they wanted to do a show about a group of people living off-grid. I told them about LEF, as well as several other projects around the U.S. with similar goals. (Possibility Alliance in Missouri, a Neo-Christian group in Iowa called Brotherhood of Christ, a small group in Harrisonburg VA called the Downstream Project.) I suggested that by looking at groups who had been working on this idea for years, they would get a great picture of what life can really be like without fossil fuel. They said that they were not interested in my idea. They intended to drop 50 people with no experience living off grid in the Australian Outback and film what happened for the first year. That sounded pretty grim. We declined to participate.
Discovery sent a couple producers out. They looked over our project. Then they informed me that they had found a couple living in a bedraggled cabin on the Eastern Shore. The couple was struggling to manage livestock, build their buildings, and deal with all the necessities of homesteading. They then offered me a few thousand dollars to hire a crew, buy building materials, and go build them a barn or a composting toilet so their show could look like rustic home make-over heroes (I guess…). Seeing my blank look the producer responded “there’s not much money in television.” They were not particularly interested in LEF either.
Producers from Netflix interviewed us, and then dropped the idea without much explanation. Fox News has also done its part to contribute to the image of living without fossil fuel as a Grim Specter, though in that case it had nothing to do with LEF. If you haven’t seen Gaslands I & II, they are excellent, low-budget documentaries about fracking. The original Gaslands caused enough trouble for the fracking industry that they counter-attacked. Fox News ran a “story” about “debunking” Gaslands in which the commentator listed the “falsehoods” in the documentary with a backdrop of film from an African famine playing behind the commentator, who then concluded with a comment about what life would be like without fossil fuel. (It’s on youtube.)
There have been numerous stories published about LEF. (There is a list at end of this article.) These stories have been a welcome avenue to reach people. The most recent Atlantic article portrayed off-grid living as a hardship, and then closed with a comment about how solar energy is “expensive.” Several other writers have commented about how solar energy is “too expensive.” Funny thing is, they didn’t ask me how much it cost to build our infrastructure at LEF.
Truth is, if you do anything alone, then you can’t do much. If you live in the city and tried to pave the 50 feet of roadway in front of your house, that could be rather difficult and expensive. Societal choices determine the cost of most of the infrastructure we share. LEFers often travel by train. It is shocking how cheap cars seem compared to the train, when obviously the train is much, much more efficient. But automobile travel is largely socialized via the various federal and state Departments of Transportation.
The State bears the cost. At LEF, we say over and over again that our most important technology is community. It is only by the cooperative use of resources that we have any hope of undertaking projects of any complexity and reducing our ecological footprint. It is by focusing on the individual pitted against the wilderness that one can make life without fossil fuel look miserable.
So how much does it cost to live without fossil fuel? And is there any truth to the image of the Grim Specter of misery in the absence of fossil fuel? Our buildings at LEF were informed by a strawbale insulated, solar-heated cooperative house in Charlottesille that Alexis built prior to LEF. At last measure, that house used 91% less energy on a per-capita basis than the American average. The formidable cost? About $14,500 on a per-capita basis, including the purchase price of the land. (Incidentally, there is no solar electricity on that house, which belies the focus we have developed for grid-tie solar electricity.)
Last night it was 15 degrees F. Yesterday it was partly cloudy with a howling cold wind. Forgive me if this is “too much information,” but last night I slept naked with a sheet and one blanket over me. I can’t remember the last time we built a fire for heat. Six weeks ago? The build-out cost of our zero fossil fuel house, kitchen and attached infrastructure at LEF is about $10,000 per capita. (Not including the purchase price of the whole farm property.) It’s really quite simple. We have fewer square feet per person (by far the biggest cost difference), we don’t have to pay for a heat pump, boiler, or furnace. Our solar hot water heaters and solar space heating equipment is comparable to the cost of conventional equipment we didn’t install. We have fewer bathrooms (mostly by dividing the functions of a bathroom) and one kitchen. A strawbale wall cost less than a “normal” wall because strawbale is ideally suited to unskilled labor, but the strawbale wall has four times as much insulation. The final cost of a LEF model self-sufficient house is less than most people pay for housing in the industrial world. Energy self-sufficient communities are cheaper, not more expensive. So why the recurring Grim Specter of chaos in the outback? Why the recurring theme that a self-sufficient lifestyle is “too expensive”? One can only presume that it relieves the discomfort of the viewer or reader of commercial media stories to know that such outlandish alternatives really are impractical.
It is a profound irony that so many would imagine life without fossil fuel to be a sacrifice. The world we inherited involves terrible sacrifice. So many people work so hard, taking out 30 year mortgages to pay for their houses (which are, statistically speaking, three-times larger per capita than two generations ago) and to pay for the cars to drive to work. But our culture sets our values, so we have normalized the sacrifices that support the industrial consumerist economy. We have developed a lifestyle that is expensive, and leaves each individual or family to fend for themselves. That has become a cultural value, and like so many other cultural values, we hold to it, defending our beliefs with ideological vigor and fiction as necessary.
And now our political system is twirling ever more into madness because the corporate powers that supply our fossil fueled addictions are also buying our political system via their own private propaganda “news” programs. History is painfully clear, economic concentration leads inexorably to the concentration of political power. Protests and expressions of indignity will not reverse that process. Economically empowered, sustainable communities can. As much as I understand the visceral reaction we have to immediate circumstance, we do not have to keep losing to civic decay. We simply have to decide that a long term, realistic plan is more important than having enemies. And we have to choose our culture, from the bottom up.
We are all going to live without fossil fuel eventually. If we work on it now, we can improve our lives. If we wait for the money system and food production to destabilize, it’s going to be much, much more difficult. Think that’s not going to happen? The temperature oscillation we are experiencing as I write these words is going to hit our food production on the east coast, just like it did last year. We are at the beginning of a 100,000 year curve. That’s how long it takes to wash the carbon out of the atmosphere. We are headed for change. We need a longer term focus. Can’t afford it? We cannot afford to live an individualized, consumer lifestyle AND stack gobs of “renewable” energy on top of it. Total per-capita electricity production at LEF is less than 200 watts. We can afford that, if we can choose our own cultural values. We pay for what we really want. It’s time to want a livable world for our children. It’s not somebody else’s responsibility. It’s yours.
Expanding the LEF Model
For the most part, the mechanical side of LEF is working really well. We said from the beginning that we would not be a technology development center, that we would simply use technologies other people have developed. It hasn’t worked out that way. We are having to innovate quite a bit. That takes time, but it’s coming along. We will improve things, but even now, our life is very comfortable.
Now it’s time to build a movement of economically empowered, sustainable communities. We stuck our toes in with drilling a well in Bindura, Kenya, but the communication has not been adequate to support further work there. The silver lining is that we went looking for others who might be able to get involved, and we found some folks. One of those folks is Katherine Heitz (Kate). She has worked for numerous non-profit organizations helping people around the world. Frustrated with the bureaucracy of the bigger organizations, Kate started her own group to drill wells in Africa called Groundswell. (Website) Her family is based near LEF. We had numerous meetings with her before she left for Lebanon (where she is now working with an organization that removes land mines). In about a month, she will be back in Kenya. She has worked with a clinic there that is hauling their water with donkeys, and does not have reliable lighting. We believe we can use LEF’s approach to help the clinic, and hopefully plant a seed of sensible off-grid living in Kenya in the process.
We have also had three meetings in the last few years with members of the Board of Directors of Ekal Vidyalaya, a very large organization in India who runs literacy programs in 60,000 Indian villages. They are hoping to provide rural economic support so the children they educate will have better opportunities. They have done work with solar energy, but unfortunately they have relied on solar contractors who use the poorly conceived American design of using lead-acid batteries, inverters, and AC equipment. Those systems fall apart in a few years. A few board members suggested that we may be able to help them apply an LEF-style design to their efforts. We’re still just having the conversation, but it is promising.
The primary root of global ecological problems lies in the industrial world, in the U.S. in particular. We lead the world in financial and military power, and as well as cultural models, like our poorly conceived solar energy systems. As the modern economy goes through its inevitable convulsions, more people will end up on our doorstep at LEF. For LEF to be a viable seed that can grow as replacement for the consumer economy, we need more LEFs. Today I am going to order a couple more DC motors for our shop. That is really easy right now. As these inevitable economic convulsions arrive, that might get much harder. The more we can do now, the more viable the idea is in the long run. LEF has some connections with the Intentional Communities (IC) movement. The hardest part of transitioning to living in an LEF-style community for the average American would be giving up control over so much private space (house and automobile). For people in ICs, the most difficult transition has already been made. We will keep trying to promote our ideas there as elsewhere.
That’s where you come in. We have had some generous donations to the Living Energy Global Initiative fund. But it makes no sense for us to try to build LEF-style communities for people who don’t want to live in them. We need to find people who want to live this way, where ever they are. We have a great crew at LEF now. But our bubble of ecological purity, if that’s what it is, doesn’t help anyone until we can figure out how to transplant the model. We need your help with that now. Our biggest need now, indeed the only way we can address the larger ecological crisis, is to de-stigmatize the cooperative use of resources. The only way to accomplish that is to have more people doing it and promoting it.
We are all going to live without fossil fuel eventually. The inherent instability of the rapidly changing modern industrial system, with its financial system leveraged on thin air, might bring instability sooner. Or perhaps the inherent ecological instability of geometric growth on a finite Earth will take some decades to play out. Either way, we will all live without fossil fuel eventually. The solution to that problem is the same as the long-term solution to civic and political ossification — sustainable, empowered
communities. You could help us organize a conference about long-term solutions, entitled You Know What You Oppose, Do You Know What You Support? If you have skills, you could take Eddie’s place as a technical intern when he leaves at the end of April. You could look around, in the U.S. or abroad, and help us find people for whom a shared economy based on renewable energy would be a welcome addition to their lives. It’s time for you to help us figure out how to plant new seeds, in the U.S. and abroad. We look forward to hearing from you.
Living Energy Farm is a project to build a demonstration farm, community, and education center in Louisa County that uses no fossil fuels. For more information see our website, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Living Energy Farm, 1022 Bibb Store Rd, Louisa VA, 23093. Donations to the Living Energy Farm Education Fund are tax deductible.
The Nickel-Iron (NiFe) battery testing has been all but miraculous. The marriage of old technologies (NiFe batteries) and new technologies (modern DC LEDs and photovoltaic electricity) is absolutely amazing. We had used lead-acid batteries until we could get the NiFes hooked up. Output from lead-acid batteries is like a river headed for a waterfall. As long as you are at the top, life is good. When the voltage collapses, you’re done.
The NiFes are very different. The NiFes are expensive, bulky, and heavy. Their nominal output (rated in amp-hours) is poor compared to lead-acid. But actual performance could not be more different. Our goal in testing the NiFes is to see how many houses in a village (or how many rooms in a cooperative house) we could light up with LEDs, and how many cell phones we could charge. We had a set of 500 watt panels charging the lead-acid batteries. We didn’t have a charge controller large enough to handle the output of those panels. So we brought a smaller set of PV panels we had been using for irrigation pumps up to the house and tied them to a smaller charge controller and the NiFe batteries. The problem was that we did all that in the early fall. All of our permanently mounted PV panels are up high so they don’t get shaded. But as the sun has fallen toward the horizon this winter, these “new” panels ended up in the shade. By December, the charge meter said we were only putting about 10 amp-hours into the batteries. Converting that to incandescent light-bulbs, we were collecting enough electricity to light up two 60 watt bulbs for one hour. That’s all. I sighed, expecting the NiFes to discharge, and made plans for what to do next. We have been lighting the house and the kitchen, and charging cell phones and personal devices without restriction. And then the miracle. The Nifes didn’t discharge. They discharge current in a whole different way than lead-acid batteries. We have never seen voltages below 12.2 V coming from the NiFes, even with weak input. The LEDs are good down to 9 volts. The discharge current from the NiFes is steady and strong, each decimal down. No waterfall.
Now we have swapped equipment around again, and are now charging the NiFes from a panel on the roof. We have learned a few things. A very modest (100 amp-hour) NiFe set will power a lot of LED’s. A modest PV panel is all that is needed to keep them charged. We still don’t know the maximum output of a 100 amp-hour NiFe set because we are so far away from actually “maxing out” the current system. It is clear that we can support numerous houses in a village with DC LEDs, a couple hundred watts input, and a modest set of NiFe batteries. Somewhere between “numerous” and dozens. We’ll see.
Our DC Economy Continues To Grow
We have been enormously pleased at our ability to do all manner of work with high-voltage, direct-drive DC power. We added two new DC tools this month, electrifying our grain grinder and setting up a compressor with a DC motor. We run these tools when the sun is out — no inverters, no fancy electronics.
December 12, 2016 was a momentous day at Living Energy Farm. We have been living and earning our living without fossil fuel for a while now, with the exception of the gasoline tractor that is the backbone of our farming operation. On December 12th, we finally started driving around the tractor on woodgas! That was an exciting event for us. I have wanted to set up woodgas since I was a child.
I had dreams about tractors that night. That was fun.
The following days were less fun. An engine under full load uses a lot more energy, and fuel, than a engine just puttering about. We hooked the bush hog to the tractor and took it into the cover crop from last summer. That stuff needs to be mowed before spring, and the bush hog loads the tractor engine down hard, so it seemed like a good time to power test the gasifier. We had done some work early on with homemade gasifiers, and then spent several thousand dollars on a manufactured gasifier. We spoke at length with the supplier, and they were sure their gasifier would handle our 35 horsepower tractor. When we power tested it, the gasifier heated up quite a bit. After cool-down, we checked it over. There’s no pretty way to say it. We melted it. Not the whole thing mind you, but the stainless reactor in the bottom of the gasifier was all but gone.
There is a yahoo woodgas list. Consulting the various opinions, we have come to the conclusion that the gasifier we spent so much time and money on simply cannot handle a 35 hp engine under load. Our plan has been to have two tractors on the farm. The 35 hp tractor to handle the heavy tillage, and a little one-row tractor to do the planting and cultivating. The cultivating tractor is half the horsepower of our “big” 35 hp tractor (which is very small by modern standards). So now we have rebuilt the melted reactor and we are putting the gasifier on the small cultivating tractor. We can, if we have to, run the whole farm with just the small cultivating tractor.
With our simple experiments thus far, it is clear that woodgas has its headaches. Just getting decent sized chips without an industrial chipper is slow. So far it takes us close to an hour to process fuel to run the tractor for an hour. There are numerous designs for homemade “chunkers” to make woodgas chips. We may build one of those. The whole question of what level of technology is actually sustainable is a complex one. The reality is, for all the idealistic banter around various kinds of farming, we all live on industrial grains. We are trying to produce such grains on a modest scale with sustainable technologies. As with all forms of renewable energy, decreasing demand is by far the biggest issue. Given that our tillage needs are modest, even an annoying fuel source is probably worth it so we don’t need fossil fuels. In the coming months, we will see how that comes together, and just how much annoyance is involved….
Enjoying the Warmth of a Solar House
Though our woodgas clearly needs some development, other aspects of the project are going fantastically well. The glory of a solar house is truly fantastic. The hum of the 180 volt solar blowers during the day is such a comforting sound. We know it means we
don’t have to cut firewood, blow a lot of wood smoke into the air, or pay a utility bill! When the sun shines, the house is comfortable even in bitter cold temperatures. We build fires when it is cold and cloudy for days on end. The amount of firewood we burn for heating is very small, so we do not need to invest in expensive wood burning equipment. The house is also not complete. It is clear that most of our heat loss at this point is out the doors and windows. Once we get thermal curtains on them, the thermal performance will likely be much better.
We have been working a bit on the solar boiler as well. Not much to say about it just yet, other than we have set a few pieces of paper on fire in front of our large satellite dish that we set up to use as a collector. We have started experimenting with solar troughs as well (not starting from scratch, mostly using other people’s designs). In thinking about taking LEF’s ideas around the world, we realized that a setup with a trough instead of a dish might be easier and cheaper. Our warm-climate trough design is MUCH simpler than the cold-climate design. No tracking, no pumps (maybe). Stay tuned.
The holiday season is a time for making charitable requests, so this is mine. I want to ask you to support the Fellowship for Intentional Community, which supports the larger network of intentional communities, mostly in the US. The FIC has all manner of lovely and useful programs (Directory, Magazine,Bookstore, Resources). They are the organization best positioned to accelerate the development of intentional communities, amplify the impact they have on society, and foster collaboration between intentional communities and the larger movement towards cooperation, sustainability, and social justice.
But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why intentional communities matter and why they matter especially now.
Mental Health: People are going crazy, and not in a good way. The stress on many people since the election has been incredible. Fear and anxiety in people who are part of oppressed groups is understandably incapacitating them in some cases and traumatizing them in many more. Add to this a spike in hate crime and the tremendous uncertainty of the time ahead and you have a recipe for some serious psychosis.
One of the things we know from our work with academics is that living in community improves your mental health. In some ways this is completely unsurprising. Whatever services and support a community supplies, the stress on its members is decreased. Whatever support and affection members of communities provide one another, this is more joy and security in our lives. If we are looking at tough times it is wise to look to the people we trust and care for most and build community with them, intentionally.
Climate Effect: The Secretary of State (SoS) select was blocked from perhaps the largest deal in history by the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. This 1/2 trillion dollar plan for Exxon and Rosneft to drill the Arctic will curse our grandchildren to a wasted planet.
The income-sharing intentional communities movement is demonstrating that you can live a middle class, lifestyle on below poverty level income. The radical sharing involved is not easy, but it is completely accessible. Intentional communities are at the front lines of this critical social experimentation.
Trust and Empathy Building: If we are going to depend more on our love ones and friends, if we are going to dare to try to live together, we need to recognize that our communication is flawed and we show up with baggage. We have to be able to name our biases and prejudices and be willing to work on them. We need to be able to clear the air of past hang ups and commit to building trust and empathy among each other. Communities are working on these tools.Clearness process, Transparency Tools, Nonviolent Communication, and more are at the center of the culture of many communities.
Intentional community is the laboratory for the practices and new cultures we need if we are going to weather these coming difficult times. Please supportthe best organization supporting these initiatives across the county.
I am working on my NASCO Institute presentation for this year, and came up with these figures. Enjoy!
The average American uses about 500 gallons per year.(1)
Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gas in 2007.
With an average population of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 175 gallons per person.
That is 65% less gas consumed!
The average American uses 11,000 kWh of Electricity per year.
Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007.
With an adult population on average of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 3,083 kWh per person.
that is 73% less electricity consumed!
The average resident in Virginia uses 767 therms of natural gas.(3)
Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007.
With an adult population on average of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 186 therms per person.
that is 76% less natural gas consumed!
This is a great example of the power of sharing.
Late summer finds us very busy at LEF. We want LEF to be a viable economic model. The economic backbone of our project is growing open-pollinated seeds. Such seeds grow plants that pollinate each other generation after generation, just like in nature. Open pollinated seeds are the counter-movement to the corporate control of food. At this point, about a dozen people have control over the entire industrial food production process, because they control the corporations that own the hybrid/ GMO seeds that now grow the vast majority of the food that humans eat. Such centralization of power is a bad omen for the future of democracy. People have asked us at times if we think organic farming with open-pollinated seeds could feed the world. An honest answer to that question is not easy to come by. Industrial agriculture is enormously productive (at a price), and we are utterly addicted to it.
This year at LEF we grew our biggest corn crop ever, a whopping half acre. We grew a corn called Florianni Red Flint, a beautiful corn that is clearly much closer to wild corn than the industrial stuff. In harvesting the corn by hand, ear by ear, you can see the variations and peculiarities that hearken back to the wild and diverse corns that grow in Mexico. You can also taste the difference. Florianni tastes much different than store-bought corn meal, with a much richer and interesting flavor. There are other open-pollinated corns that are more productive than Florianni. Our crop did well. (Though the deer enjoyed it too.) Seeing up close the productivity of organic, open pollinated seeds gives us hope that we can feed ourselves using sustainable methods.
We want to grow us much of our own food at LEF as we can manage. Preserving food without refrigeration has been coming together well. We can food in jars, as do many people. We have an Amish-made wood fired canner that is fantastic, and allows us to put away all of the tomato sauce we want, quickly and efficiently. Only acidic foods can be canned. Last year we tested our solar powered food drying system that re-directs heat from the heating system on the kitchen. This year we built more drying screens and we are are using that system full-tilt. The results are fantastic. With some of our seeds crops (tomatoes and peppers), we take the seed out AND eat the vegetable. We have been drying peppers, okra, eggplant, onions, sweet corn, squash, green beans, carrots, beets, and any kind of fruit we can get our hands on. This is a great way to store food. Dried foods often taste better and retain more nutrition than canned food because it has not been cooked. Once it is dried, it can sit for a long, long time without using energy (unlike refrigerated/frozen foods that consume energy in an ongoing fashion). Yum!
Our other big project these days is trying to finish our main house EarthHeart. That is coming along well. We conducted our strawbale workshops, and they went well. We put out a call for volunteers and we got a lot of help, including an enthusiastic, colorful crew called Grateful for Grace. We continue to be blessed with really sweet, idealistic and hard-working interns.
We packed all our walls with straw (and sweat). We use the cheapest, simplest kind of construction, which looks like the same 2 X 4 walls you would see in an ordinary house. The building inspectors like to see things with which they are familiar. Then we simply stack straw bales inside that wall, so the 4 inch wall becomes and 18 inch wall that insulates well. Our first layer of interior stucco is clay. Then we skim coat with sand/lime/cement stucco. The end result looks charmingly like a stone wall.