Tiny Tuesday: The Shelter Pioneer

Lloyd Kahn is one of America’s great builders. His career spans five decades of developing efficient and inventive uses of materials, space, and energy. More than just prescient, he established many principles of green building that are now mainstream.

Lloyd pioneered many geodesic dome homes in the 1960s and published early versions of today’s tiny houses in the 1970s. He founded Shelter Publications and penned many books on homebuilding, including the natural-materials bible, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. Now 80, he continues to accept speaking engagements and writes almost daily.

I’ve taken to telling people I’m not the tiny homes guy, I’m the build-it-yourself guy, and that the important thing about the tiny home “movement” is not that all people should be living in tiny homes, but that the size of new homes should be getting smaller, rather than continuing to grow in size.
-Lloyd Kahn

Check out The Shelter Blog, which complements Lloyd’s business much as Engineer Unplugged complements mine. In it, Lloyd and his partners discourse on various examples of architecture they’ve found, with a definite emphasis on the small and unique. I love it.


Last night, in addition to a heck of a lunar eclipse, was the beginning of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. The goal of the holiday is to construct a temporary outdoor shelter, or sukkah, and spend as much time as possible inside it over the next eight days. For a carpenter and outdoor enthusiast, it’s basically the coolest holiday ever. I finally have a yard of my own this year and I jumped at the chance to build something.

For the corner posts of my 6-foot-by-6-foot sukkah, Jas lent me four tree trunks he’d cut to use as fence posts. I stabilized the posts and framed the open ceiling using an oft-overlooked construction material: cross-country skis. They’re slender, stiff, and super strong in flexure. I lashed the skis to the posts with rope, following the method I learned in Scouting: wrap thrice, frap twice.

The only thing I purchased for the project was a package of zip ties, which I used to secure tarps to the corner posts and ceiling frame on three sides. At ground level I weighed the tarps down with rocks and a tent stake. They’re not completely taut, so when the wind blows my walls move in and out, as if the sukkah is breathing.

The tarps keep direct sun and wind out, and the roof is great for stargazing!
The tarps keep direct sun and wind out, and the roof is great for stargazing!

The roof needs to be partially, but not entirely, covered with a material that was once alive. I collected about 20 sticks of appropriate length from the woods and laid them across the ceiling frame, then tied them down with a couple more ropes. It’s a delightful spot. I aim to eat my meals here for the duration of the holiday, sleep here at least once (Vermont fall means lots of frosty nights but I’ll watch the weather), and work from the sukkah as much as I can. Including this blog entry!

The finished sukkah and surroundings.
The finished sukkah and surroundings.

Tiny Tuesday: Mushroom Insulation

Ecovative is an Albany-based company that manufactures products from agricultural waste and mycelium, a mushroom that acts like a natural glue. The mycelium digest the agricultural products and grow around them to form rigid shapes. Today most of Ecovative’s business comes from packaging products – they’re as light as Styrofoam and cost about the same, yet they’re natural and biodegradable and thus much easier on the planet. But the company has its sights on another mycelium product that could rock the building industry: insulation.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ecovative engineer Sam Harrington at Yestermorrow Design/Build School two years ago. He brought a prototype house on wheels built with their mushroom insulation. It has an R-value comparable to dense-packed cellulose. Best of all, it’s a living organism, and regrows itself to fill every space in the wall cavity. I’m excited to see where this product goes.

Click here to learn more about Ecovative.

Mushroom House at Yestermorrow. (picture from ecovativedesign.com)
Mushroom House at Yestermorrow. (picture from ecovativedesign.com)