The Swannanoa Journal: Sustainable Living with Zev Friedman

In this edition of Warren Wilson College’s “Swannanoa Journal,”, Melody Miller talks about Asheville-based permaculturist Zev Friedman. (In partnership with WWC’s Environmental Leadership Center, Xpress presents The Swannanoa Journal, short audio essays on regional environmental sustainability issues, written and recorded by WWC students.)

You are standing in front of a house with a 15-foot panel of windows facing a pond; the walls are terra-cotta colored; river stones create a path to the front door, and the roof is thatched with sturdy miscanthus grass. Step through the tulip poplar door and you are greeted by a green glass bottle mosaic filtering in turquoise hued light around a large solar chimney. You step a little closer and swear you can smell fruits and vegetables coming from it. Above you, blond wood beams support the clay painted ceiling where hanging ivy tumbles from the beams.

Green building has become increasingly popular as the desire to become sustainable expands into homes, offices and a variety of other building establishments. To remain truly committed to a sustainable lifestyle, it is important to look at what resources are available to each bio-region.

Zev Friedman, a permaculturist in the Asheville area, consults with home builders about utilizing all the resources on their land to their best advantage. Friedman says, “If I were king of the universe I’d like to see green building have more locally sourced materials, as opposed to highly manufactured.” This can save builders tens of thousands of dollars, he says. An example: if there is a pond on the land, the house can be built closer to it so that the solar rays can be reflected off the pond and towards the house. This helps with temperature regulation and keeps the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Certain types of roof lines can also be formed so that it is easy to cast rain in a cistern.

Roofs can be made of metal, wood shingles, or even thatched with miscanthus grass, an invasive plant species with an array of uses. Forget the thought that walls are made only of sheetrock, as they can be made from round poles which are much stronger than milled cross-cut timber. Slip chip is another great method for walls in which wood chips are mixed with watery mud and packed between boards. Traditionally hay is used, but in our Western North Carolina bioregion, wood is far more sustainable because we have so much of it and very little wheat, oats and rye for hay. Tulip poplar and oak are the most common trees in the Southeast and therefore the best to utilize for slip chipping. Tulip poplar is unique in that it has more air space in the wood, creating better insulation.

A great feature that can be added to a house is a solar chimney, which improves the natural ventilation of buildings. They are often painted black to collect more heat, and cold air is pulled out from under the ground through tubes which pass into the warm chimney. A fun tip is to place drying racks inside the chimney to dry fruits and vegetables. One last tip Friedman offers is to not berm your house into a hill. This is the worst way to seal out moisture.

Natural building produces beautiful living and work spaces. There are a myriad of directions to go using local materials in home building that take advantage of the bounty Western North Carolina has to offer. For more information on natural building visit

Click here for more from the Fall Semester 2011 Swannanoa Journal.


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