Jay Shafer

Photo by Jack Journey, copyright of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company 2008

Jay Shafer will make you a house smaller than most people’s closets. It will have a sleeping space, a living space, a kitchenette, and a bathroom…all in as little as 65 sq. ft. It will provide light, warmth, energy efficiency, and good proportion and, Jay says, it will be more luxurious than any mansion. Such is the mission of his business, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, founded in 2000. Tired of vacuuming and dusting big spaces and concerned about the impact of larger homes on the environment, Jay began creating blueprints for a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle. The first house, called Tumbleweed, was 89 sq ft. and he has since expanded his plans to almost 9 times that size.

Jay believes that Americans have an overwhelming habit of “going big”, living in homes on average 4 times as large as the international norm. As a result, we pay high mortgages for space we rarely use, go into lasting debt and contribute 18 tons of greenhouse gases each year from our houses alone. Jay says:

For decades we’ve been duped into buying more house than we really need. It’s more clear now than ever that our housing system is failing. Even worse, we are all paying for this mistake in the form of government bailouts.

Jay thinks of our excessively big homes as “debtors’ prisons” (I love that) and claims that living in small houses has allowed him to reinvent his life:

Living small is really a luxury in the sense that I have a lot of time now that I didn’t have before. I can focus now on other things I want to do in my life rather than just paying a mortgage and taking care of a house.

One of the things he’s found most interesting in his work is the legal backlash against small buildings. Housing codes, which are often developed by the housing industry, mandate a minimum of 220 sq. ft. for living purposes. That makes living full-time in his smaller homes illegal! But why prohibit people from reducing their consumption and occupying homes they can actually afford if that’s what they want to do?

So far, Jay is still working on transforming these rules and hopes that the laws will change as more people embrace smaller lifestyles. Currently, taking into account the average American’s spending practices, only 5 out of every 100 people will retire financially secure. As more people get fed up with chasing the American Dream (and failing) by traditional methods, perhaps more will try out these tinier homes. I know I sure don’t want a large house to worry about! Visit Jay’s site to learn more about his homes- you can see pictures and layouts of all the different models and purchase plans or homes pre-assembled!

Here’s a tour of his tiny house:

Categories: California, Jay Shafer | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Casey Anderson

Casey Anderson is a Montana-born naturalist and bear expert, who has spent the past 7 years raising a bear named Brutus from birth. Brutus was born in an overpopulated wildlife park and was subject to euthanasia when Casey rescued him. Casey built a sanctuary to house Brutus in Bozeman, Montana, that has since taken in 5 more bears from harmful captivity situations. The sanctuary, called Montana Grizzly Encounter, is used by Casey to promote bear conservation and public education. He seeks to instill bear appreciation among visitors as well as teach them about bear safety.

Casey believes that public involvement is a necessary part of bear conservation. Bears are now found in only 2% of their former territory in the continental U.S. and are threatened by climate change, which has killed off 50% of one of their main food sources, white bark pine. Casey says:

More and more each year, the island that this population lives on shrinks. Along with this shrinking habitat, global warming is eliminating some of the grizzly bears’ important food sources at a drastic rate. White bark pine, cut worm moths, and other populations that grizzly bears depend on are greatly affected. Without a stop to these events, it could lead to extinction; but most certainly to hardship, that in time will only lead to more bear/human conflict. I feel that education and awareness toward these issues is a major front on combating these issues. Most people don’t even realize it is happening, so we need to spread the word, develop an understanding, and ultimately generate a passion to do something to help the grizzly bear.

Misconceptions about bears and improper approach is another threat that Casey is combating:

There are a few bad bears like there are bad humans, but 99 percent of these animals have no interest in harming humans. Over 85 percent of attacks are when a mother feels threatened and is trying to protect her cubs. They are not much different than us…In its flight or flight response at close proximity, it often chooses fight. But the intention is not to kill and eat, but to beat up and try to make the threat go away…These conflicts can be avoided; the bear does not want to not have these interactions as much as the people don’t. Proper etiquette and behavior in grizzly country can lead to a very enjoyable experience for both species.

One of Casey’s suggestions is the use of bear pepper spray, which is designed to confuse the bear and inflict temporary pain so it will change course. Casey believes that if everyone hiking in bear areas carried such spray and used it on sight of a bear, it would condition bears to avoid humans, especially as female bears passed on such knowledge to their cubs. After all, he says, “firearms don’t work… A dead bear can not pass on this learned behavior”.

Casey feels that it is very important for people to understand the value of protecting bears:

Grizzly bears are very similar to humans. They posses a great amount of emotion and thought…They are each as individual as people in their personalities. This combination of intelligence, emotion, power, and speed is simply awe inspiring.

Twice Casey has seen Brutus cry tears of appreciation and he gives Brutus credit for saving his life: “He gave me purpose, and the inspiration to try and make a difference in the world.  He has always been the symbol of what we are fighting for.” Casey decries the United States’ general treatment of wildlife and the environment, which has an overall focus on possession and a lack of respect for animal species:

The United States has always stood for democracy and fairness across the world. Our country has helped millions across the planet liberate themselves and live a life of freedom. Yet, we will not do that very thing for the All-American animals that we share this wonderful place with. We as humans have the ability to adapt and change better than any other species on earth. We can coexist with the wildlife we love…

We have forced most animals in the world to adapt to their threshold. Now it is our turn to do our part. Through simple thought and innovation, education and application, we can save the lives of bears and humans alike. If we want to share this earth with the wild things we love, we must change. It is time to coexist, and hold up our side of that bargain.

Photo: one of the sanctuary’s bears, courtesy of Montana Grizzly Encounter

Categories: Casey Anderson, Montana | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Portsmouth Abbey School

The Portsmouth Abbey School is a coed Benedictine high school founded in 1926 next to Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. The school was constructed in the manner of the time, with little concern for lasting efficiency in a future changing world. It was created in a period before climate change even became a term shaping our functional decisions. But because of rising energy costs and the importance of representing Benedictine principles of stewardship, Portsmouth Abbey School has taken a lead in embracing sustainability in the 21st century.

The school has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by focusing on alternative energy sources, “green” construction, and reduced waste. In 2006, Portsmouth Abbey erected the state’s  first industrial-scale wind turbine on campus to supply over 1/3 of the school’s energy needs. In 2007, it opened a new girls dormitory with solar-heated hot water, renewable and recycled wood materials, and low-flow water features. This year the Abbey will unveil a comparable boys dorm. Other sustainable features include electrical security cars, composted dining waste, collected waste cooking oil for biodiesel, a community garden and two new energy-efficient faculty houses with 70%-lower energy bills.

Portsmouth Abbey Headmaster Jim DeVecchi says:

Stewardship is a value which, like hospitality, captures the essence of Benedictine life, and the Benedictine stewardship that guides our School sees beauty and sustainability as deeply interconnected.

In the case of the new Blu Homes faculty houses, Operations Director Paul Jestings agrees that:

It has never been more important for us to push the limits of technology to find innovative ways to build efficient, green homes that will have minimal impact on our environment.

What Portsmouth Abbey School is doing is something that all schools (especially private ones) could be practicing right now. Schools use a lot of energy and produce a great amount of waste and yet are supposed to be models for the community. Espousing sustainable values sets a great example for students and their families and has potential to reduce long-term costs for the school. Sustainable schools are more viable and enduring in this new unpredictable century and I find the Portsmouth Abbey School to be pretty exciting! As a steward of children, it is fulfilling its responsibility to ensure the students’ future- and that includes improving their environment.

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