Project Update: Turning Four Walls and a Roof into a Home

henry and paul

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

The Great Plains have seen a milder winter thus far, which has been beneficial for many reasons.  For our project, this means that we have been able to move forward on the interior of the Shields’ new Compressed Earth Block (CEB) home. In January, we were able to run all water and electrical lines throughout the home. We are now seeing the house become livable. Now that we do have electricity, we are able to heat the home, allowing us to plaster the interior block walls and completely seal up the house.

The sustainable CEB design provides a unique heat sink where the walls hold heat long after the heating source has stopped running. But heating a home with gas or electricity is not ideal on the reservation, as electric and propane costs can skyrocket in the winter. This is why we are very much hoping to fund a grid-tied Photovoltaic solar panel system to offset some of the homes electrical costs. Please see our microproject to contribute to this solar PV system!

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Over the past month, we have started hanging drywall on the interior walls and ceiling. Soon we can begin insulating the attic with “Rez Paper,” as our partner Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises likes to call it. This particular cellulose insulation is partially made from recycled newspaper from the reservation along with clean cellulose plant material.

As the home progresses this spring, we look forward to showing the people of Pine Ridge and beyond that Compressed Earth Block construction is not only functional but livable. We are putting the finishing touches on the Shields’ house but we need your help to truly give it that finished feel. The Shields family is anxiously waiting to move in so please consider contributing to this important project!

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Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

Gail and Jamie
Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by Catapult.org. The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.