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Archive for the Permaculture Category

Paul’s Wofati: the 2nd winter

On November 2, 2013 we first talked about Paul’s Wofati and its permaculture design and building standards. But who is Paul?

Paul Wheaton is a contemporary permaculture theorist, master gardener, software engineer, and disciple of natural agriculturist Sepp Holzer. Geoff Lawton has called Paul Wheaton “The Duke of Permaculture” for being known as the founder of websites forums, articles,videos and podcasts such as Permies.com which is believed to be the largest website devoted to permaculture. And that is where the Wofati was found.

So is this house a log cabin? Is it a turf shed? Is it a earth berm? And why all the trees scattered about? Just imagine living in something that looks like a log cabin from the inside, but:

  • it has more light
  • it doesn’t need heat or A/C
  • it is three times faster to build
  • it costs about five times less

In the fall of 1970, Mike Oehler lived in a run down shack and constantly struggled to stay warm. During the winter he spent an enormous amount of time crafting better designs and calculating heat efficiency. He also had a goal of keeping material costs low. That next spring he did just that and built a home in 1971 for just $50. The initial home was just 120 sq.ft.  (one of the only existing photos of that first build is shown below, taken with natural light)


Mike’s design – which heavily influences Paul Wheaton – eliminates many of the complexities of conventional, sticks ‘n bricks construction. Basically, Mike’s design is a pole structure with a green roof. A green roof is usally more expensive than a conventional roof, but, if you can follow one simple design principle, you can dramatically cut the costs of the whole structure! The one simple design principle is:

Every drop of rain must always have a complete downhill soil path. Encountering the edge of the roof is not okay.

Last we left the Wofati at Wheaton Laboratories it was being framed out using just natural logs.



Since then quite a bit of work has been done including bringing up dirt to the top of the house, cobbing up gaps in the logs, building out a kitchen and main living space, and adding the green roof.

Wofati Top

Wofati Cobbing

Wofati kitchen

At the current time the owners/builders of the home are living in it in Missoula, Montana and documenting interior (and some exterior) temps over the winter. They are living without a centralized heat source but rather a localized heater combined with the body heat of three adults and heat “storage” from the actual home. The dialogue around this method is intense and can be found over at permies.com.  The build will continue after winter and more photos will be added. Stay tuned for a third update as information becomes available.

Your Turn!

  • Have you experienced permaculture first hand?
  • Would you live in a berm-style home?



Paul’s Wofati

Some of you know I’m a little bit of a permaculture fanatic, so I like to interject some of these concepts where I can.  Today I wanted to share a neat project going on over at permies.com’s forum.  It’s called a Wofati house and essentially it is an wooden structure that uses post and beam techniques that is then mostly buried under dirt to provide thermal mass.  The big concept here is that the house is optimized for solar gain and uses a large thermal mass to keep things cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  The design was inspired by Mike Oehler’s design and is touted to be pretty inexpensive.

Photos by Kristie Wheaton from Permise.com











Permaculture Song Round-Up

Here are a few fun songs/raps on permaculture.  If you aren’t familiar with permaculture, it essentially is a school of thought on how to design your environment to mimic nature and create a sustainable habitat that will improve the land for future generations.  We take this school of thought and apply it to our houses, gardens, food, surroundings etc.   Permaculture has three ethics: Care for the earth, Care for the people, Take only your fair share.

Permaculture also has 12 principles:

1) Observe and Interact
2) Catch and Store Energy
3) Obtain a Yield
4) Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
5) Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
6) Produce No Waste
7) Design from Patterns to Details
8 ) Integrate Rather than Segregate
9) Use Small and Slow Solutions
10) Use and Value Diversity
11) Use Edges and Value the Marginal
12) Creatively Use and Respond to Change