Bamboo cabana

The building chronology of the PermaTree bamboo cabana in the amazonas region of Ecuador in South America. Harvesting, Transporting, Planning, Building …

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas

All photos in chronological order:

  1. Harvesting bamboo during good moon – means during the 6th and 8th day after full moon, between 12pm and 6am = lowest starch content!
  2. Transporting – After the cutting of the giant bamboo during night it was time to transport them from the river to the nearest road which was about only 400 meters by foot but took as good 2 days of work to get all of the 30 bamboos there.
  3. We had to pre-cut some of them which where longer than 30 meters for the better transport with the small truck and to have the right size for the cabana. The first transport went well until we arrived on the new build road of the finca and there after a few bumps all of the bamboos just fell down and we had to push them into the truck again to get them to the nearest location to the cabana. The truck looked funny from the side because the bamboo was 3 times longer the the actual size of the truck 🙂
  4. Cabana planning sessions with the white board – old school – yes. But indeed practical.
  5. Cabana structure is build with chontaduro palm which grow all over the finca and are heavily used in this region for building pillars because they are such a hard material and dont have any issues with the high humidity.
  6. On top of the chontadura palm come the giant bamboo trunks and some wood trunks to be able to nail the floor on it. (update: this was an error.)
  7. In the mean time the property road access is almost done. There have been setback because of the heavy rain during the last weeks but nerveless half of the road is good with rocks and the rest still a raw dirt road which cannot by access by car unless we have more than 3 days of sun.
  8. During the last weeks we also installed a water catchment system from higher in the river property and got the electric cables connected to the cabana from the grid. We did dig the solar option but with the current politics here in Ecuador everything which is imported costs min. 45% more than the normal price so the batteries which are needed for a solar installation cost more than the solar panels themselves… so sadly here solar makes currently absolutely no sense. Lets hope that this will change and the the solar technology will improve even further in near future.



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DIY Soap Making Natural From Scratch, Part 2

How to Make Lye out of Ashes



Before discussing how to make lye, it is important to note that lye is very dangerous and extreme caution should be used when making or handling lye – whether commercial or homemade. Lye should never come in contact with aluminum, as it will react with the metal. Lye can cause chemical burns if it comes into contact with skin, and blindness if it gets in your eyes.

There are numerous ways to make lye from wood ash. Some instructions suggest that you mix ash with hot water and let it set before filtering out the ash. Others will tell you to drill holes in the bottom of a barrel, cover with straw, and then fill with ash. Water is poured over the ash and lye is leached as the water filters through the barrel and is collected by a pan underneath the barrel. This works, but your lye is likely to be discolored by the straw. When lye reacts with lignin in the straw, the bonds are broken down and the fibers are left behind. After enough leaching, the remaining straw fibers work as an effective filter, but will no longer discolor the lye.

Regardless of the method used, the more times you run the lye solution through a bed of ashes, the stronger the lye will become. Instead of successive leaching, you can also boil the lye to strengthen it. The water will evaporate but the lye will not, so the solution will contain a higher percentage of lye.

One of the difficulties when making lye is determining proper strength. One traditional method of determining strength is to see if a chicken feather will start to dissolve when placed in the lye water. A more accurate measure is to float an egg (still in the shell) in the lye solution. If the lye is of proper strength, the egg will float but only a quarter sized circle of the egg will be raised out of the water. If it floats too high, the lye is too strong. If it doesn’t float high enough, then the lye is too weak. Discard the egg after testing; it is not safe to eat. Source

You need:

  • Ashes from wood (3/4 of your bucket)
  • Rain- or distilled water (fill your bucket up to the “top”)


  1. Make wood ashes. Your wood should be burned in a very hot fire to make very white ashes so the wood has to burned hot and complete. You can burn dried palm branches, dried out banana peels, cocoa pods, kapok tree wood, oak wood and other wood trees – no pine. Hardwood trees will result in better quality lye than if you use ash from soft woods or conifers.
  2. When the fire is out and cold, gather only the finest of ash. Avoid any wood chips.
  3. Place 3/4 of ashes in a bucket or barrel. Do not use metal. Use wood, glass, or plastic containers.
  4. Slowly, fill up the rest of your bucket with (boiled) rain water or a ”soft water” (distilled), because it does not have metallic or acidic chemicals in it which will interfere with the soap making chemistry. Do not add the water too fast, don’t allow the ashes swim/float around.
  5. Let this sit over night or even longer.
  6. Continue with separating the ash from the brown lye water, by using mesh to strain it very finely.
  7. Do the egg (fresh) test, if it sinks you have a weak lye water which means you need more ash to raise its strength. Do this by continuing the steps above by using more ash. Add the lye water to the new mix and again let it set over night. If the egg or a potato floats, then your lye water is ready. Be sure the egg doesn’t rise too high (less than half submerged) as this is an indication that the lye is to strong. Add soft water until the egg doesn’t float that high.

Source 1, Source 2

Alternate Instructions for Making Lye from “Rogueturtle”

  1. Fill your lye-making barrel or drum with ashes to within 10cm of the top.
  2. Boil 1/2 bucket of soft water (5 liters) and pour over the ashes.
  3. Slowly add more cold soft water until liquid drips out of the barrel.
  4. Close the tap or block the drain hole.
  5. Add more ashes to the barrel, adding water as needed to fill it up. Don’t let the ashes “swim” in the water.

A nice shown video about making lye. With the difference that ash and water are heated up together.

Preparing fats from animals
Cut away the fat without any of the meat still attached. 100% pure fat! This cleaning of fats is called rendering. Fat obtained from cattle is called tallow while fat obtained from pigs is called lard. Then, place the fat in a cast iron frying pan or a big pot.

Cook it on really low heat! Don’t burn the fat and also don’t overcook it so it becomes rancid. Let it fully render until it turns to liquid. Stir it from time to time. This may take about to 3-4 hours. When it’s done, there are these hard pieces left which are called crackles. They are quite hard so you can tell all the soft parts have now become liquid. Strain the liquid through a cheese cloth for purifying it and it is best to do so directly in to a glass container. If the fat cools down, it will get hard again but it can be melted up if needed. You can store the fat in glass containers for quite a few years in a dark and fresh room. You can also use the fat as a candle, with a wick in the middle. Source 1, Source 2

For more details of rendering and melting fat, watch this video.

Making Soap – Final

Too much lye will cause the soap to burn the skin! The lye mixture is added to heated fat. You can also use a lye calculator if you use different fats and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Source

How to video from “Mike Reed Outdoors”
4 gallons (15L) wood ashes (in a 5 gallon (19L) bucket)
2 gallons (7.6L) of hot water
1 pound (500g) of lard
3.04 oz (90ml) lye
6.67 oz (200ml) water

Saponification Calculator

To find the right measurement, depending on which fats or oils you use, the value of Potassium or Sodium has to be valued. SAP for Saponification and the value in milligrams of Potassium or Sodium means X ml Potassium or Sodium required to saponify 1g of fat. Source

For example with Coconut Oil
1g Coconut Oil needs 6 mg Sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
1g Coconut Oil needs 8 mg Potassium hydroxide (KOH)
You can find a whole list (US measurement) here
Or use an online calculator

Please let me know if you have experience with making soap out of lye and which measurements worked for your soap!

Building our own house in the tropics

UPDATE 2018: In the meantime we have build a few bamboo structures in our farm here in Ecuador.

Check it our tiny bamboo house (3×6 meters in size).

tiny bamboo house at PermaTree in EcuadorTiny bamboo house with hexagonal windows

And here some impressions of the PermaTree Bamboo HQ

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas


Building our own house in the tropics (status 2016)

It’s time for us to start thinking about how we want to build our own house in the tropics. We did some extensive research during the last 2 years – but knowing where we are going to stay makes it a step easier.  Of course we are not going to build a house like in Europe or the US. This would make very little to no sense at all.

Different environment very different climate conditions as well as social habits.

We really liked the entire philosophy of the Earth Ships (passive solar house that is made of both natural and recycled materials – here a good read about pro and cons) and Earthbag/Superadobe constructions. But now living in the tropics this make little sense observing the climate and existing houses here. So we will keep the creative inspiration but build something fully adapted to the climate and topography of the land. We also really liked the idea of “less is more” aka the Book from Dee Williams called The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir.


In a nutshell:

Focus rather on a functional structure instead of  beautiful structure, because it turns out that a functional object with time becomes beautiful too. It needs to be elevated. The part where we live and the part where we sleep needs to be ventilated enough. Combination of the structure with smart sustainable energy solutions.


House Focus:

  • Big multiuse Porch / roof overhang  – a covered shelter projecting in front/around the house. To stop both too much sun and too much water hitting the front face
  • Rooftop terrace (on the top of the roof)
  • Abundance of natural light inside of the house – big windows
  • Natural ventilation in very room of the house – with mosquito nets
  • House min. 2 meters elevated above the ground to allow for a better floor ventilation and less wall and floor humidity
  • Rain water harvesting via roof saved in ground water tank or near Fish pond with Bamboo and floating vegetables.
  • Composting Toilet outside of the house but connected with roof (don’t want to get wet)
  • Multifunction Rocket Mass Heater Stove combined with Oven, BBQ, Boiler and Clothing / Food Dehydrator – hybrid system: wood / gas / electric (solar powered)
  • Shower near the Rocket Mass Heater Stove for hot water. Graywater going to the banana circle system.
  • 2 well isolated water tanks on roof one for hot water (black) one for cold water (white)
  • Solar Thermal Pipe Coil Water Heater – on roof to heat with daily sunlight and save it in the black water tank.
  • Open practical Kitchen and living room / hammocks in one space with big windows for lots of natural light
  • Dry natural ventilated store room – “root cellar” near kitchen – place to preserve fruits and vegetables
  • Near the house the Gray water treatment with banana circle system
  • Roof Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panels to harvest solar energy in batteries for daily use.
  • Use natural river water flow for hydro energy or “watermill”-rotation energy for washing machine and electric energy. Micro Hydro (small turbine) / rover “water vortex” for power generation
  • Floor: Terracota “baked earth” floor tiles and wood floor in the 2 bedrooms


Local natural construction materials

One major consideration in sustainable development is using local materials. Biggest issue here is that all the natural constructions material almost don’t get dried at all… normaly. Most likely we will have to also consider a few non sustainable materials such as plastic which is used for plant nurseries.

  • Recycling: Glas Bottles, Wood, Aluminum Bottles, etc.
  • Palma de pejibaye, “Chonta dura” o Bactris gasipaes (extrem hard material)
  • Bamboo / “Guadua”
  • Timber wood
  • Adobe earth walls / floor
  • Palm leafs / roof / walls
  • etc.


Smart sustainable

We are thinking of a house designed with space and energy-efficiency in mind. Focusing on practical use more than luxury. Using intelligent adapted multi-use natural shapes instead of the usual square house with roof. Geometric volumes neatly fitted together on varying levels. Creating areas of shade and sun that will naturally warm and cool the house throughout the day. Focus on minimizing the environmental impact of the house before, during and after construction. We are just visitors passing by so our footprint should not destroy anything… best case its a better place after we leave.


Bamboo was first found and used in China more than 5000 years ago. This is why the woody plant conjures up images of pandas eating shoots and leaves in the Orient. Even though its many uses are only just becoming widely known, the bamboo plant as an alternative material began long before “going green” became a trend.

Existing visual inspiration

We believe its always important to see what has been done and do goo research also to get visual inspiration. Some examples are more elaborate some more minimal some more luxurious some more simple.


sustainable bamboo architecture

sustainable-architecture-inspiration sustainable-architecture-inspiration

Regenerative Farm / Finca Aveterra - Byrd Family, Mindo, Ecuadorsustainable-architecture-inspiration Natural Building Lots Of Light

Sustainable-architecture-tropics1 Sustainable-architecture-tropics2 Sustainable-architecture-tropics3

sustainable-architecture-inspiration sustainable-architecture-inspiration sustainable-architecture-inspirationsustainable-architecture-inspiration  sustainable-architecture-inspiration  sustainable-architecture-inspirationsustainable-architecture-inspiration sustainable-architecture-inspiration sustainable-architecture-inspiration

Compost Toilet Jungle Colombia

Compost Toilet Jungle Colombia


bamboo cabana in EjeCafetera colombia Simple bamboo cabanas in OlmedoManabi Ecuador Typical architecture in the countryside ecuador bamboo