Friday, September 25, 2020


Peddles are Optional

The peddle fell off 150 km from home, a kind farmer welded it back on, three hours later it clattered to the road, I lashed it back on with a bootlace. The next morning I made it to a hardware store and replaced the wobbly peddle with a five-inch long bolt, enabling me to finish my 1,947 km and eighteen day bike ride around Ontario and contribute $745 to the Great Cycle Challenge for Sick Kids cancer research.

The best moments of this adventure were camping wild under pine trees beside a lake or river. The most insightful happened along the Collingwood / Thornbury section, dense vegetation framed the road, bright hot sunshine, dusty gravel shoulder, opulent development – it was a déjà vu moment – I felt just like I had cycling out of any South American city; perhaps it really is all about the journey, not the destination. My top speed was 58 km on the hills around Denbigh. The last two days were the longest and the most distance travelled, both twelve-hour days covering 278 km. The funniest moment was at the ferry terminal at Tobermory – ferry tickets were only sold over the phone or online. My phone was dead, I plugged it into an outlet on the outside wall of the office building, the man inside at the desk ignores my window tapping and waving, not so the ticket booth lady, she leaves the booth and yells at me to get out of the flowerbed. By lying on the pavement with arms outstretched amongst the weeds I can just operate the phone as it comes alive with 2% battery. I quickly dial, then it dies. The ferry lady, in maritime uniform, runs out of the booth again and shouts at me across the parking not to use their power. I gesticulate my dilemma to her in fluent Mr. Bean to no avail.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Update on Building a Yurt


Yurt Building Update

Yurts are easy and cheap to build. They can be owner-built for a few hundred dollars and provide four-season homes that are simple to construct in about six weeks. That said, they only work when the fundamental principles of architecture and construction are strictly followed.
Those principles are structurally safe, built to last for decades, livable without fossil fuels, always dry, warm in winter, cool in summer, won’t burn and doesn’t annoy the neighbours. Then there are the essential intrinsic requirements – sunshine, fresh air ventilation and a pleasing view.
The design only works when the site works. When choosing the site evaluate – slope, groundwater flow, surface water flow, water table level, soil composition, vehicular access, solar orientation, sunshine and wind.

The reason you should build or supervise the construction of your yurt is that details matter - or you listen to the whispers of intuition, so you don’t hear howls of remorse. There is a plethora of micro homes and yurt kits available in the marketplace. These are convenient and expensive consumer products. Consumerism is a polite word for profit and envy. Buyer beware. 
To date, I have built three yurts and with the third one I really think that I got everything right (full construction details are available in my ebook and on this blog). They are all in central Ontario where winter temperature can drop to – 20c. In a damp or cold climate full exposure to winter sunshine is essential.

The basic specifications remain the same. Twenty foot inside diameter (floor space 315 sq.ft.), door faces east, the south facing window is a full-size recycled patio door set on its side. The other four windows are equally spaced around the wall and all can be opened. The twelve-inch diameter center post is set upside down to maximize the surface area to support the roof beams. The roof has an eighteen-inch overhang, this is a simple way to protect the wall from the weather. The yurt must be built above the surrounding ground, this is further enhanced by setting the lattice wall poles on a stem wall made of 25 kg ‘poly’ animal feed bags filled with crushed stone and tamped rigid. This wall is two bags or ten inches high. A drainage channel is dug around the outside to direct surface runoff away from the building. The site is carefully chosen or modified to prevent ground and surface water becoming an issue. I used R20 six-inch fiberglass insulation, there are more expensive, but environmentally more friendly alternatives, like hemp. The waterproof membrane for the roof is an industrial quality 40 ft by 60 ft tarp. I cut it in half so that the roof has two layers and the remainder covered the walls. Because all four windows open, I am not concerned with having breathable walls. The inside wall is covered with used lumber tarps which are available free if you ask nicely. I will cover both the inside and outside with cow manure. A herd of cattle graze my land, in spring the area where they have been fed round hay bales is a sloppy mix of cow poo, mud and strands of hay. This mixture is free, comes ready made, spreads like peanut butter and sets as hard as tree bark. Within a few weeks of applying it is hard, a grey brown colour and has no smell. It is applied in two thin layers and the final one on the inside is whitewashed. To get more heat from the wood stove, I position the stove four feet laterally from where the pipe goes through the wall so that more heat radiates inside rather than into the great outdoors.

On a personal note, I do get a certain about of criticism from friends who say, “You can’t tell people that they can build their own home in six weeks for $500, other people are just not like you.” Well, maybe I am too enthusiastic at times, however, with a little help from your friends you might be surprised just what you can achieve. To help you saddle your dreams, I am happy to respond to questions and comments either by email, hughmorshead@gmail.com or through Facebook.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Summary of yurt construction

The yurt is 20ft in diameter and has a surface area of 315 sq. ft. The center is 8ft high and 6ft 6" at the wall. The frame is made of eastern white cedar. A stem wall of two layers of hard-packed animal feed bags filled with crushed stone keeps the timber off the ground. This enables construction on rocky and uneven ground without need of excavation equipment. The 18" overhang protects the walls. Fresh cow manure makes the very best plaster; it's free, comes ready made, spreads like peanut butter and sets as hard as tree bark. The center post is either a tree trunk with a fork or simply set upside down. There are five windows, the main one is a south-facing patio door set sideways, the other four are evenly set around the wall and all open outwards so that there is plenty of ventilation and daylight. I did a cement and lime stucco on the inside of my first yurt, now I will plaster both the inside and outside with cow manure, on the inside it will be sanded down and white-washed. The lattice wall is filled with insulation and this is covered with at least two layers of used timber tarps ( free and generally slightly ripped). Chicken wire covers the taps and this anchors the cow manure. One layer of cow manure works, however, when time permits, a second layer will be added. The roof has three layers, the first is an old tarp, next is 6mil. polythene vapor barrier, then a heavy duty agricultural tarp (500 sq, ft.). Cedar poles wired together hold down the tarps and keep the four inches of compost in place. The roof is the seeded with grass seed.

Photos of my yurts.

Here are photos of the three yurts that I have built or are under construction. Detailed instructions and comments will be added later.

Yurt No.1 with cow manure exterior plaster
interior of Yurt 1.
South facing window
Center post and raised bed.
Door.
Woodshed and summer kitchen.
Straightening window frame post with Spanish windlass ( twisting a loop of chain with iron bar).
Upside down center post.
 Detail of post and roof beams.
Second  hobbit home.
 Yurt No.2
 Center post

How to Build Ultra Low Cost Homes and the Art of Living Free

My book on off-the-grid living was published as an ebook in June and is available on Amazon. I''m going to add another chapter titled - Okay, now the reality. This will give the bare bones truth of what it is like living off the grid, along with the mental and physical requirements needed to make it work. It will also include updates on building a yurt. I'm now building my third one. This info will also be published on this blog.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

How to Build DIY Ultra Low-Cost Homes




I am writing a book about sustainable living. It will be published as an ebook on Amazon in May, 2019. Here is a list of the contents and the Introduction.

How to Build Ultra Low-Cost Homes
and the Art of Living Free

Hugh Morshead

Contents

1.      Introduction to building.
2.      Building an Earthbag Hobbit House.
3.      Building a Yurt.
4.      Water Wisdom.
5.      Composting Toilets.
6.      Sauna
7.      Worm composting.
8.      Intensive Veggie and Herb Growing.
9.      Energy – The Currency of Life.
10.  Foraging to Freedom
11.  Living Free.

Introduction
We have driven ‘Old Blue’, our planet, into the ditch by driving backwards into the future on a road we’ve already trashed. Mother Nature wrote the rules of the road and we can only hope she will give us a tow. In the meantime, here’s a guide book for those who feel stranded, it’s also the story of how I turned off the highway onto a forgotten byway and created my own hobbit land.
Ten years ago, I moved into a one-room cabin in the woods, I thought that I would be living a life of voluntary simplicity with one boot in the 19th century and the other in the 21st - after my first summer the bank called. The manager met me at the door and asked if she could sit in on the meeting. Across the desk I faced two sets of arched eyebrows, their concern was my sudden wealth. I told the bank ladies that Charles Dickens wrote the book of finance, his stories are about keeping your head above water in hard times. I paraphrased the money lender in David Copperfield - disposable income or happiness equals income minus expenses. I went on to say that neo-liberalism had turned the necessities of life into commodities. Not for me though… I get free electricity from the sun, free heat from my woodlot, free water from nature and free food from my garden. The bank ladies smiled and so did I, by wiggly my toe in Thoreau’s Walden Pond I had jumped up an income level. Now, for the first time in my life I had the affluence of time and money. I left the bank as chagrined and mystified as I had entered and began picking away at the threads and tangles of off-the-grid living. How come other people can’t unleashed their inner Bilbo Baggins? I came up with four insights.
1.      Going green is a money mission from a banker’s viewpoint. My life energy would no longer be sacrificed on the hamster wheel of work and debt. 

2.      Clarity of thinking. Every aspect of this lifestyle must be thought out and acted upon. You think, plan and do. Mainstream life is digitalized and automated – including thinking patterns. In contrast, to make this work I used my emotional intelligence for critical and creative thinking. I became innovative.

3.      Location. It was easy for me to make this transition because I could harvest the discarded treasures from the crawlspaces and slip steams of the consumer society.
4.      Turn Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on its ear. Like a winning jockey, you bust free from the pack and hit the front. Forget about meeting basic needs, that’s easy, instead connect with the mystic or spirit world. I don’t mean disappearing down the rabbit hole of esoteric practices, but rather, roadster the contours of life with nature in the passenger seat. When travelling in the wilds under your own steam you feel a slight spiritual undertow that sweeps you closer to nature and further from mainstream society. The veil between myself and other dimensions and its denizens was a heavy broadloom until I met my Gandalf while cycling through Ireland. It was a winter’s day in an empty Youth Hostel on a wild shore. He was in his sixties, had a massive head of shaggy hair and beard, his face was as furrowed as a ploughed field. He was walking across Europe.  He told me to go to St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenes and walk the Camino de Santiago. Adventure is bred in my bones and bicycling the emptiness of Patagonia, Iceland and Newfoundland along with sauntering the Camino pushed my reset button. The physical and spiritual world have always been one for indigenous people and if you can tap into that you discover something wonderful that you didn’t know you’d lost. Desolation, uncertainty and change dominate our world; building resilience and optimism into our lives gives us buoyancy and fills our sails on this Homeric adventure.

If my DNA could be unraveled like an old wool sweater the three dominant threads would be -   swinging a hammer, snapping the synapses with a good book and roaming forgotten byways. Having the affluence of time means you put your feet up, sit back and ponder the big questions. How much is enough? What do we need? What do we want? What are our responsibilities to each other and the planet?

It’s about co-sufficiency, rather than mere self-sufficiency. As soon as you bale out of the rat race; you jump right back in with your skills and enthusiasm to help create a strong and vibrant community - we all need someone we can lean on, as the old song goes. I wriggled my way into the local community with my vermicomposting business. A farmer’s market had just opened, and they were looking for vendors. Spending Saturday mornings selling bags of worm poo and partially composted manure full of worms might not excite entrepreneurs, for me, it was dirt into dollars. My neighbour grazes his cattle on my rough pasture. Red Wriggler worms give manure the Midas touch turning it into ‘black gold’ compost. At the market I would plunge my hand into a bag of compost and brandishing squirming worms tell tales of sustainability. 

Whether folks want to admit it or not we face an inevitable collision between two mutually exclusive ways of doing things. Our economy depends upon infinite growth, our lives depend upon the finite and sustainable systems that govern the planet. Once you know something it’s hard to unknow it. We need to adapt now so that we are not so far of the mark that it becomes impossible to adjust later. Living ahead of the pack calls for confidence and being at ease in challenging the norms so that we can share often simple solutions to problems when they arise.