Matthew Nistico

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since Nov 20, 2010
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Recent posts by Matthew Nistico

That is some high quality "urbanite" in that first pic.  Very useful for creating flagstone patios and pathways.  I have several such on my property of mixed urbanite, natural flat stones, and chunks of reclaimed brickwork.
Also, Dave, I had several questions.  I can't tell from your pics how you fastened the 8x8 cross beams to the header plates atop your steel I-beams?  Particularly the 8x8s on the two side spans that don't sit square onto the header.  Did you just drill through?  I don't see hurricane clips or similar fasteners in any of your pics.

For another question, those 8x8s must have been pricey.  Particularly since you implied they were custom cut for you.  I imagine that you also considered engineered lumber or pre-fabricated joists.  Why did you choose to go with the hefty dimensional lumber instead?  I can see that even unusually shallow joists would have added a lot of height to your ceilings, and they're not aesthetically suited to an exposed application like yours.  But engineered lumber might work.  I used it in two key spans on my own home design.

Finally, still wondering where all of those sandbags will be used...?  Inquiring minds want to know! : )

Dave Lotte wrote:Had an interesting conversation with a fellow the other day.
I mentioned how this is not exactly a "green building" and so far, the materials used have alot of embodied energy in them.

The surprise came, when he disagreed with me.
He then went on to point out that all regular houses are not built to last - you will have to replace or rebuild them sooner or later - compared to this building, which is a solid, simple structure - all materials are protected from the sun, and the freeze/thaw cycle which really degrades building surfaces - siding, roof...
Add to that the protection from wind storm damage, hail damage, tornadoes - the odds of having to replace parts and add more embodied energy to the structure are greatly reduced compared to a regular house.
He then continued on to point out that a regular house uses up to 40 % of its yearly energy on A/C.  So every summer that i live in this house - protected and cooled by the earthen roof - i am actually SAVING energy since i do not require A/C.
As a side note, he laughed and pointed out that i would never have to deal with severe storm damage, or dealing with insurance companies.
That last one is worth it all !! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

First of all, Dave, I just discovered your thread and have greatly enjoyed following along with your progress.  Thanks, good luck, and keep posting more pics! : )

Second, as a "green" owner/builder myself, I agree with your "fellow" completely.  Why would you think that your Hobbit Home is not a green building?!  For sure, it is not a "natural materials" building, in the common usage of the phrase, but that is only one way to be green.  In my own case, I decided on an approach that leveraged practicality, smart design, and a mix of "natural materials" techniques and conventional construction techniques.  I'm not finished yet, and gods know I've made mistakes along the way, but I'm confident the results will be 10x greener than the typical North American home.  Certainly my results will be no less green for the number of conventional materials and techniques that I used, so long as I chose them well to support the overall design objectives and to allow me to actually get the job done, including get it approved by my building official!

Here's how I see it...  A successful green home, like any building, must achieve a balance of design parameters that suits the overall design objectives.  The design objectives include the particular home owner's personal ideals and values, desired lifestyle, budget, sense of aesthetics, local climate and environment, local regulations, desired degree of self-sufficiency vs grid reliance, etc.

Just off the top of my head, I'd include among the list of typical design parameters for a green home, in no particular order: momentary energy usage (which is important, for instance, if you are a home energy generator), total lifetime energy usage (should be important to everyone), embodied energy, comfort level, optimal size, durability (you've definitely got this one covered!), maintenance and upkeep requirements, environmental toxicity, sustainability/renewability of materials, sustainability/renewability of inputs (like energy and water), local availability of materials, and practicality of construction.  I'm sure we could come up with more.

Note that embodied energy, which you mentioned above, is only one of many factors to be balanced here.  Personally, I think it is an overrated one.  All of the green building books harp on it endlessly, urging you to minimize embodied energy but failing to offer a perspective on its importance relative to all of the other parameters.  For one thing, using the "greenest" materials and techniques with zero embodied energy is meaningless if you can't find workers who can use them, if you can't use them in a cost-effective way (it's all about man-hours!), or if you can't get your design approved while using them.

For another thing - and I think this is the most important consideration in order to keep things in the proper perspective - I have read that the average building's construction cost = only 11% of its total cost.

I read this years ago, and my notes indicate that I got it from "G.A.L.," but I've forgotten which source these initials stand for : (  But I do know that this statistic represents all structures, residential and commercial.  And obviously this statistic is expressed in $.  But for our conversation, I think a building's total $ cost is a reasonable corollary for its consumption of energy and human effort, and by extension its total impact.

So what does this imply?  That 89% of a building's impact is actually represented by its lifetime operation (overwhelmingly heating and cooling), repair, and maintenance.  So, 89% of its total impact has nothing to do with the embodied energy of its materials.  Embodied energy is only one factor contributing to the 11% portion associated with construction.

It would certainly seem that, if you've done your homework, your design should provide excellent durability while requiring a bare minimum of energy inputs, all while providing very reasonable comfort.  I don't care if you use concrete to achieve those results, Dave, you're plenty green! : )

Alina Green wrote:I switched to using soap nuts in a bag for my laundry a couple years back and see no reason to change...

If you are the type, however, that cares how clean your clothes look, they might not work as well.

Hmmm, not exactly a stellar endorsement.

I'm all for using as simple and natural a product (or process) as is available.  But first and foremost it has to work well.  If it doesn't work well for the job at hand, then there's not much point, no matter how lovely it all sounds on paper.
2 months ago

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Unfortunately, heat pumps are being sold aggressively in deep cold climates where they are not effective, leaving homeowners holding the bag. In the milder coastal areas of Canada, they work brilliantly and are absolutely the right choice.

Very true!

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Cattle/dairy farmers in cold regions create straw packs for their cattle to lay on outside. The straw (carbon) is refreshed daily, to keep the animals clean and dry. Their indiscriminate peeing and pooping turns the straw pack into a hot anaerobic compost heap, which in part is why the cattle want to bed down on it. Some farmers bury poly piping in the straw pack as a radiator and pump fluid through it, providing a heat source for buildings. On this scale, it works -- there's enough energy available to harvest in a practical way.

Do a search here on for "Jean Pain heater."  : )
2 months ago

Hank Fletcher wrote:In my previous 'room' I wrapped the whole room in aluminum foil.  This time, I'm looking at repurposing soda/beer cans.  I have probably over 200 I've collected thus far from the roads around where I live.  I keep picking up more all the time.  I figure cut the tops and bottoms off. Cut them open and lay them out flat and then glue them together into sheets to put up on the walls.  They will reflect both, heat and light.  Cuts back on the lighting needs as well.  No electricity needed to do it.  The aluminum cans will be much harder to tear or anything else.  Heck I could even use the sheets for roofing material, seriously planning on it if I can get enough cans, 3-4,000 by the time next spring rolls around.  I need the new roof and they would work quite nicely.

That will make for a very unique aesthetic in your room.

BTW, the name for the concept you are exploring is "radiant barrier."  This is what makes foil emergency blankets work, for one example.

For new construction, you can buy building materials with a radiant barrier built in, such as 4'x8' OSB with aluminum foil on one face, which are marginally more expensive than plain OSB sheets.  This way you can incorporate a radiant barrier into your structure without adding even 1 minute to your build time.  You can also buy rolls of radiant barrier for retrofit.  Typically these are plastic bubble wrap with foil on one side, which you can install just about anywhere.

Important note: you must always install any radiant barrier with the foil side facing an air gap, or else physics dictates that it won't function.  I have been amazed at how many professional builders who use these materials routinely don't understand that.

Your idea of flattening aluminum cans for use as roofing tiles has been done!  Do a search on YouTube.  It's a pretty neat concept, though I must wonder how durable a roof would result.  Don't think I would trust my home to such a technique, but would be all about experimenting with a small shack or some temporary structure.
2 months ago

Hank Fletcher wrote:I did get the photos taken last night, but not sure if there is a way other than through an alternative site for putting them up. I don't have any photo account site from which to link to.

FYI, there are multiple free photo-hosting sites you can use.  Just do a quick Google search and create a free account with one of them.  But I have found a very convenient alternative for whenever I want to post a pic to - which as you pointed out, can only link to online pics; you cannot upload directly to  My solution is to post a pic to my own Facebook page, which is quick, easy, and secure.  With every new post you create, Facebook asks you to whom you'd like to share the post.  For these photo-hosting posts, I set to share with "me only."
2 months ago

Lina Joana wrote:I think there is a lot of romanticism about gift economies. I donโ€™t know a ton, but what I have read about gift economies suggests to me that they came with strong societal norms. A gift was not โ€œfreeโ€, any more than it usually is in our society. It came with an obligation to pass it on/gift in return. Maybe this would be a better system in small groups where you can keep track. It also can chafe.

I once studied gift economies - or at least one historical example thereof - in an anthropology course.  At least according to that one perspective, you are absolutely correct.  The societal norms that governed the economy were very strong.  By extravagant and conspicuous generosity, you earned social status at the expense of your recipients.  They would, of course, yearn for an opportunity to "return the favor" when their fortunes happened to be higher and yours happened to be lower.   Then, they could earn back social status at your expense by gifting to you.

The good part of all this was that it created a built-in social safety net.  When hard times strike, the flurry of gift-giving from those eager to capitalize on the opportunity to amass social status points means that those at the bottom of the society, or those most badly struck by the current hard times, don't starve.  This safety net effect kicked in automatically, since generosity was inherent to the society's value system.  Whether or not it was generosity in the genuinely altruistic sense or in the opportunistic, social climbing sense... either way, the system functioned.

Whereas in contrast, in the history of Western societies it has often required a higher level of organization - either government or organized religion - to provide a universal social safety net.  Adequate bonds of neighborly obligation existed to provide for one another spontaneously in small, village-scale groups, but no larger than that.
4 months ago

Nina Jay wrote:Then there are many people on this forum who believe there is nothing inherently wrong with the current capitalistic system, all it needs is some adjusting so that it takes the environmental issues better into account. I respect this view too.

This statement caught my eye while skimming through the many contributions to this thread (so many! so much to read!).  I think it touches on something important, but misstates it slightly.

I don't actually believe that the capitalist system needs adjusting to take environmental issues better into account.  I think that capitalism works as intended just the way it is.  I believe instead that human beings need to re-educate themselves on environmental issues, thus developing different values to live by and teach to their children.  When that occurs, you will see them interacting with each other in different ways that reflect those changing values, and trends in the larger economy will naturally, inescapably follow suit.

The economy is typically discussed as if it were this massive, monolithic, inscrutable, and unstoppable force that just happens to people.  Like it were some massive object that falls onto us from out of the clear blue sky.  And while at times it may certainly feel that way, that isn't an accurate or particularly useful way to view it.  "The economy" merely represents the collective effect of billions of individual choices made by billions of individual people.  Most of the time, most of those people are going to make choices based on what they perceive as being best for themselves and/or for their immediate loyalty group.  This is simply human nature.  It is the product of millions of years of evolution and is not subject to change.  That is the strength of capitalism: it recognizes human nature for what it is and doesn't pretend to change it.

However, what a person views as "best for themselves" in any given economic encounter is subject to many factors and perspectives.  First of all, some people are just pathologically greedy, and sadly there's no way around that.  But most people are making choices more rationally than that, based on various factors as they perceive them.  Yes, they all want what's best for themselves, which phrase might seem to imply narrow self-interest and short-term thinking.  But it doesn't have to.

Longer-term thinking can and should also come into play.  Then, consideration of what is best for oneself also takes into account things like adhering to principles of fairness, whether according to internalized moral norms or the perceptions of others.  Things like adhering to the law, so to avoid censure or punishment.  Things like deferring immediate gain in favor of positive future outcomes.  Things like investing in the physical and social capital of one's community, from which one will inevitably benefit.

People often assume a false "selfish vs altruistic" dichotomy when it comes to economic choices.  But doing things that might be called altruistic often end up benefitting oneself in the long run.  All it takes is some longer-term thinking and a broader perspective.

Similarly, with enough education and awareness of environmental issues, a lot more people would come to realize that making economic choices that "are good for the environment" are also sound investments in one's own long-term wellbeing and economic success.  Thus, I don't see that capitalism is failing on the environmental front.  I see that few people from prior generations were taught to think of themselves as interactive participants in the larger environment.  Once they do see that, and they realize that the global economy is actually just a subset of the global ecosystem, I believe you will start to see economic patterns within the capitalist system shifting to the benefit of environmentally sustainable activities and away from destructive/extractive activities.  It's a bottom-up type of change.
4 months ago
I am going to hazard an answer to the original question posed in this thread and say that, no, it is not possible to live without money.  Without federal reserve notes?  Sure.  It may be difficult to do in the modern age, but definitely possible.  But without money of any kind?  No.

Any attempt to do so would require living without society, and human beings are inherently averse to that.  I mean, if you're talking Richard Proenneke living alone in the wilderness for decades, then perhaps yes.  (Although even he had occasional replenishments of supplies flown in, which implies that he purchased them!)  But 99.99% of humans refuse to live like that, and likely couldn't survive even if they tried.

Thus, to be realistic, you are talking about people living in societies.  In societies, to make production work, people require a means of exchange.  Direct barter will only get you so far.  It has inherent limits.  For efficiency, tokens of value are used to facilitate exchange.  Those could be paper currency, valued objects (such as precious metals), religious icons, IOU notes, seashells, acorns, whatever.  Some may have inherent value, others may have only symbolic value.  Regardless, once that value is agreed and they are used as a medium of exchange, they become currency.  And that means money.
4 months ago