Going Brown

While the rich go green, the rest of us can jump on this bandwagon

I’m looking for people who live in low-cost to no-cost housing, by choice, to feature in my next book, titled Shacking Up. When I asked blog readers to send me leads, I was disappointed with their responses.

I did not mean fancy, sterile eco-housing like this:

[singlepic id=40 w=300 h=220 float=]Why not? you ask. It’s green, smallish and built with all the latest sustainable building materials. It probably even has a dual-flush toilet or two. So what’s wrong with that?

You’re right, there is nothing wrong with that—as an example of the mainstream’s definition of eco-friendly housing. And yes, it’s probably even LEED certified.

I understand the thinking out there in the “green community.” There are benefits to using all these new building materials. Even though they cost a fortune, they are mostly sustainable.

So go ahead, install a $olar voltaic system to help reduce your carbon footprint. Use all the new technologies available to reduce your damage to the environment and our dependence on fossil fuels. I will applaud you.

By all means, go green. If you’ve got the money and want to live cooped up in a sterile box, go for it. Living in an expensive non-toxic box may be better than living in a cheaper toxic one. I’ll give you that.

Many companies have made it possible to go green and remain pristine. You no longer have to sacrifice luxury to relieve your guilty conscience.

But these companies and all this newfangled stuff they’re selling isn’t what I mean when I talk about low-cost and no-cost housing.

The word green has always stood for money. These days, if you want to make money, just tap into the green market. If you can label it green or natural, people will buy it—at almost any price.

But nobody seems to want to look at the environmental cost of going green. What environmental price are we willing to pay for the manufacture and disposal of those energy-saving solar panels and those big power inverters? How come nobody talks about that? And what about the manufacture and disposal of all those batteries, which are a huge biohazard?

And the hybrid revolution? Have we all forgotten that in the ’80s and early ’90s, we had more than a few cars getting over 40 miles per gallon and some over 50—all without hybrid electric power plants using all those batteries that we are going to have to dispose of. (The Honda Civic even had an EPA rating of over 50 m.p.g.—and it got it.)

I could go on and on. But why? Is there a better way?

Yes, there is a better way. Go brown!

Come on, fellow greenies. It’s time we changed our colors. You don’t have to spend a lot of green to go brown, and going brown is about as green as you can get.

What is going BROWN?

It’s a hand-built house made of thick earthen or stone walls that never need paint. Why use those new, expensive, NO VOC paints when you don’t have to use any!

It’s south facing windows with the right amount of overhang to let in the sun in the winter and keep it out in the summer.

[singlepic id=47 w=300 h=220 float=]It’s a rocket stove or box stove for cooking and heating. Click here for more information.

It’s an outdoor shower in the garden—the plants will love it.

It’s a composting toilet—not the plastic ones you buy that hook up to electricity, but the hole in the plank with the straw or sawdust in the bucket nearby so you can turn your poo into fertilizer. Click here to learn more.

Brown housing is earthen floors, handmade windows, doors and … well, you get the idea.

I just can’t call these things green anymore. No one knows what I mean when I use that word. So I’m going to start calling them brown. Maybe it will catch on, and those of us who love this kind of thing will start referring to it that way.

Brown leads wanted

Now, back to what I have been asking for. I want some examples of brown! Brown houses, brown people—people who have chosen to go brown because they believe in brown living and brown being.

I want the real stuff, like this:

[singlepic id=48 w=320 h=240 float=]

Tony Wrench’s Low-impact roundhouse. Now there’s a solar voltaic system I can get behind. They will never have to re-paint this house.

[singlepic id=44 w=320 h=240 float=]

Looks like he may be pumping water from a hand pump? And look at those beautiful, natural, uncut timbers.

[singlepic id=39 w=320 h=240 float=]

There is no food in the world that will taste better than that which is cooked over an outdoor flame.

[singlepic id=42 w=320 h=240 float=]

Here is a living room that will accommodate a get-together of any size. Click here to read more about this fabulous house and lifestyle.

The low-impact roundhouse is a great example of going brown. I need to know about more houses like this one. If you run across any Web sites, have pictures of your own or, better yet, you are living the brown lifestyle, I want to hear from you. E-mail me at cheapasscurmudgeon@gmail.com.

Spread the word—go brown!

Michael Van Hall has been making magic out of dirt and whatever happens to be lying around since 1998. He is the author of The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon’s Guide to Dirt.

Save pageEmail pagePrint page


  1. Great article. Michael is really serious about going brown instead of JUST green. A person always gets more satisfaction from creating something themselves rather than store bought.

  2. There it goes Michael.
    I was born in a brown house by a river and grew up with brown all around me. I love it!
    You are so right about the big fuss to go green. What’s going green really means? A new marketing scheme.
    That is why I love Cascabel. Cooking out doors in a fire pit, contemplating nature and breathing the mixture of combined odors as nature plays with its temperature. I dream of a life like that again.

  3. The Green movement has been abused and used as an excuse for people to feel good. “Oh we’ve got a solar panel” or we use organic compost” from that expensive little gardening store of course! Most of the trendy ecoists would poo-poo the idea of using their own waste as compost.

    We live in two RV’s in a rural area and we engage in and see ‘repurposing’ in action every day. Poor people in rural areas know how to do this stuff. A friend came round the other day and saw an old toilet on the land we live on and suggested we use it as a planter. Great idea!

    I’m intending to reprint your article on our blog with full credit – hope you are fine with this[have just twittered it] and put a link to you on our resource site under ‘shelter’ – do you have a site. The site is http://www.alternativeresearchconsortium.org and where can we get your book?

    We appreciate your words and sentiment. Thank you so much
    Sunny and Pierre Soleil GA

Comments are closed.