Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Highway 2.0

Check out this great video produced by Yestermorrow instructor and board member Ben Falk and his team at Whole Systems Design in Moretown, VT.
Vacant land along Americas interstate highway system is renewed through the growing of quick-cycling biomass crops and the installation of wind turbines and solar photovoltaics. This represents an entirely new economy: Interstate Energy Farming. A redeveloped interstate corridor would be the backbone of an adaptive landscape reuse strategy on a national level.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yestermorrow Instructor Thea Alvin Featured in Vermont Magazine

Check out the great article and photos of stonemason Thea Alvin in the current issue of Vermont Magazine! Thea will be offering two Yestermorrow courses this summer as part of her busy schedule-- The Art of Stone, July 5-10th and Art in the English Garden, July 19-27 (a travel study trip to England building stone walls and arches).

Quite the world traveller, "..she was recently in Arizona, leading a seminar of executives in the intricate skill of building a stone arch (the lesson— out of hard work comes balance and harmony). She was recently in England,finishing a grotto at a country estate. She spent a month in China, where she built ten arches from bricks, tiles, slate and marble. She also has built stone sculpture in Canada, France and Italy; in fact, Thea wants to travel the world, leaving works of stone art behind."-- Vermont Magazine, March/April 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Economic Stimulus Bill Initiatives for Home Energy Efficiency

A quick update on new initiatives available through the 2009 Economic Recovery Bill recently signed by President Obama (thanks to Enterprise Community Partners for sharing this summary). "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides unprecedented funding for building energy retrofits...The bill extends the current law tax credit for improvements to energy-efficient existing homes through 2010. For 2009 and 2010, the bill will increase the amount of tax credit to thirty percent of the amount paid or incurred by the taxpayer for qualified energy efficiency improvements during the taxable year. The bill will also eliminate the property-by-property dollar caps on this tax credit and provide an aggregate $1,500 cap on all property qualifying for the credit." An additional $300 million is available through DOE for states to provide rebates to consumers who replace appliances with Energy Star models. For more information, visit

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A note from a former student and intern

"I quit my job and moved to the Yestermorrow School as an intern in the fall of 2006. Unsure of where I wanted to put my engineering degree to use, I started hitting things with a hammer and drawing without a straight edge. Somewhere in between studying the tools of the past and the technological possibilities of the future I began to find my way, and a vision of creativity and sustainability blossomed. I took a timber framing class for the fun of it, and soon found the missing link between engineering and artistic construction. Since leaving the Mad River Valley I have pursued timber framing education and employment and am more excited about my future then I have ever been. I have traveled throughout the country and worked side-by-side with some of the brightest minds in the field. This week I am working with a team to install the final rafters of a barn from the 1860’s that we have completely restored. My plan for the future is to start my own design/build timber frame company and to keep true to the principles that began to take root at the Yestermorrow School. I am confident that built world of tomorrow will be a better place thanks in-part to the instructors and students from this special school in the heart of the Green Mountains." –Brian Malone

Slideshow from Rigging, Rolling and Raising

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I found this in the snow behind the chalet (or "Dojo" as we've begun to call it since installing the chin-up bar) a few mornings ago.

Timberframing Part 2: Laying Out/Cutting a Tenon

In my last post, I wrote about using the square rule to make my timber a uniform dimension at the joint locations. This week, I'll show briefly how to lay out and cut one tenon on a specific post using the square rule. The tenon is made to fit into a mortise in the plate which will eventually support the rafters and roof of the shed, so these joints must be nearly perfect. A good square and sharp pencil are crucial to getting these joints to work well.

In this picture, you can see the reference face of my post designated by the dark triangle pointing to the reference edge. The reference faces are the most square to each other, so we'll base all of our measurements from those faces. The photo also shows how I laid out my pencil lines for the tenon. The tenon is 1.5 inches from the reference face and 1.5 inches in thickness. One leg of my framing square is 1.5 inches, so it makes things a lot easier.

There's more to layout than what's shown and you'll want to do all of that before cutting, but for simplicity, I'll move on. The first cut is with a carpenter's crosscut saw. It's pretty hard to do well and I have a lot to improve technique-wise.

Once the majority of the meat is cut away from both sides of the tenon, the tenon's "cheeks" are cleaned up and flattened with a chisel and rabbet plane.

After planing, I removed the parts of the tenon that will make it 4.5 inches across as well as the housing that will help the tenon slide right into it's mortise. A slight taper on the tenon's faces, chamfers on it's edges and ends, and a peg hole and it's all done.

I'll post some photos from our shed raising in the next and last edition of my timberframing overview - probably next week.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Living Big in a Small World

Yestermorrow instructor Moneca Kaiser was recently profiled in the Ottawa Citizen (2/7/09).

"When Moneca Kaiser talks about smart home storage ideas, she has the voice of authority. Hardly surprising. The owner of Moneca Kaiser Design Build ( lives in a 325-square foot apartment. What’s more, she works from her east-end home and is so efficient at keeping things tucked away that, last Sunday, she hosted a Chinese New Year’s party for 25 friends.

For Kaiser, a committed environmentalist, good storage starts with minimizing possessions. That said, she does have stuff. Office supplies, for example. To keep her home looking mostly like a home, she stores business items in a repurposed chest of drawers, using dividers to separate pens and pencils from sticky notes. Other supplies, including paper and envelopes, are easy to find in see-through plastic bins stacked on closet shelves. Paper clips sit in a magnetized cup on the side of her work table. “If you have limited space,” she says, “you have to be very thoughtful about what you need to have, not what you want to have, at your fingertips.” Files and other items sit in wicker chests that she bought at Pier 1. Like many other items in Kaiser’s apartment, the chests do double duty as end tables or night tables when needed. While she did once own a standard bed with all sorts of things stashed below in pull-out storage containers, Kaiser now uses a futon on the floor, complemented by a Persian rug with plenty of cushions. “I love that Asian feeling. It makes everything feel so much bigger.” She also found an inexpensive pine wardrobe at IKEA with sliding, glass-panelled doors. She can put her futon up against the wardrobe and still have easy access to the contents."

To read the full article, visit:

From Brooklyn to Blogosphere...

Check out this fantastic blog post about Yestermorrow on casaCARA, a great blogger from Brooklyn who writes about finding and renovating old houses:
Hey, old-house renovators from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley: wouldn’t it be great if there was, like, a school you could go to for anywhere from 2 to 12 days to get some hands-on, experiential learning in building design and construction?

And what if it was located in central Vermont’s
Mad River Valley, and wasn’t too expensive, and the food was good?

There is such a place: it’s called
Yestermorrow Design/Build School, and since 1980, it’s been offering courses in all aspects of the building arts and trades to students, homeowners, architects, and builders on its 38-acre campus. The instructors are all pros in their fields, and the teacher-to-student ratio is high.

Read the whole post at

Monday, February 09, 2009


Last week, we interns trekked down the road a piece to Carol Thompson's house: a fantastically high-tech, site-specific, super-efficient creation of Robert Riversong. Her house is a model of elegant design that smartly stacks functions and utilizes innovative technologies, materials and building methods to slash both energy and cost inputs. It was truly impressive to visit her home and both see and feel how so many of the ecological design principles Yestermorrow teaches and preaches can be manifested in a wonderfully comfortable and low-cost structure. Here are some of the special features of Carol's home:
* Frost protected, insulated slab foundation is “greener” than a full foundation
* Radiant heat floors in upstairs and downstairs zones
* Solar orientation – large windows on south allow sun in to heat thermal mass of concrete floor/slab in winter; overhangs provide shade in summer
* Airlets in each room and bathroom fans with timers for full-house ventilation
* Larsen truss framing system with rough sawn local hemlock
* Upstairs space is independent of downstairs (gasket on door, separate heat, ventilation)
* No plastic vapor barrier – used special primer on all inside walls for vapor barrier
* No window trim on outside or inside of house cuts costs but looks great
* Structural "novelty" siding thicker means sheathing underneath not needed
* Continuous insulation envelope – blown cellulose insulation is also treated with borate for fire retardation and critter-proofing
* Tile work acts as a heat shield for wood stove, tub surround, shower walls, window sills
* Chimney blocks dry stacked with mortar on outside
* Cost of house was approximately $100 per square foot!!

This weekend, I hosted my sister, Anna, at Yestermorrow. She came up to ski and stayed with me on campus for a few days. Much as I was inspired by Carol Thompson's home, my sister oohed and ahhed her way around the Yestermorrow campus. She wanted her picture taken in the treehouse, she exclaimed that the wooden pegs and cob bench in the timberframe cabin were "really cool," and she was duly impressed by the lack of any offensive odor issuing from the [very full] humanure toilet in my living quarters in the chalet. When she left, she commented on how refreshingly different everything and everyone was here compared to "back home" in suburban Philadelphia. If only we can get more urban and suburbanites thinking about how their built environment and communities can better relate to and work within the balance of nature...

Which brings me to the owl I encountered today. I was walking at dusk, when I saw a large, fluffy, gray bird wing across a field and alight on an electric wire. When I recognized the bird as an owl, and I felt overwhelmed with good fortune and awe. "You're beautiful!," I exclaimed aloud to the bird. In response, the creature cocked its head and peered at me with its piercing eyes. Beauty, grace and elegance collided in the timeless gaze of this animal, which seemed to say both, "I know," and "What are you doing here?" My answer: I am yet striving to learn how to achieve the natural harmony and balance that you, owl, so perfectly embody.


In the morning, instead of shooting straight over to the main building, I often take what I like to call "the scenic route" to breakfast. This entails a walk up an old logging road behind the intern chalet, across the top of the hill near the old Bundy Center for the Arts and back down next to a stream and the wickedest sledding hill on campus. I pop out of the woods somewhere around the solar shower and the composting privy. Since we've had some warmer temperatures this past weekend, the woods are beginning to look very spring-like. The air seems heavier but my vision is clearer, especially when the sun is out.

The recent rain has turned our snowshoe trails into rock hard roads and our old boot prints into potholes, so I was taking it kind of slowly today. Halfway through my descent, I detected movement below me. At first, I thought it was another intern poking around the trails, but it was a whitetail deer foraging the places where the snow has worn away to brown and green again. Upon watching her for a moment, I noticed more deer. There were actually five in a line working their way across the slope below me. They hadn't seen me yet, so I was able to observe their activities unnoticed. Once I continued down, they saw me and bounded off to the south, their white tails bobbing up and down like flags behind them. I stopped to watch them go, and the crunch of our fading footfalls gave way to the soft burbling of springs converging just down the trail.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Timberframing Intro : Part 1

I am so excited about what I learned in my timberframing course that I thought I'd offer a newbie's overview of timberframing for anyone out there who has ever seen a beautiful frame and wondered a little bit about how it's done. I had no idea before I took this amazing class. Even raw beginners can be making tight-fitting (usually too tight) joints in a short amount of time.

Timberframing is basically the joining of timbers (cut logs) to form a framework for the creation of a structure like a house, shed or barn. I like to think of it as furniture quality joinery for the purposes of making a beautiful, hearty and safe building.

There are two basic methods of working through laying out and performing the joinery in a timber frame building: scribe rule and square rule. Jack Sobon's works are great resources for learning more about these techniques. Scribing means that timbers are mated by placing them near each other and marking the timbers to follow the natural contours of the each. This means that each timber will only fit well in one particular place in the building and all members must be marked so that the puzzle can be put together properly at raising time.

We used the "square rule" technique for laying out the joinery for the 8' x 10' garden shed we were building for one of my classmates. The square rule operates on the premise that inside each raw timber is a smaller perfect timber to which we'll mark and cut the joints. This is advantageous because it makes some of the members interchangeable (to a degree). For example, our posts were all approximately 7" x 7" hemlock timbers and we square ruled them down to use the perfect 6.5" x 6.5" timber within wherever there was a joint. To illustrate it further, you can see in the picture how I reduced the top edge of the post I was working on to 6.5" in order to mate with the adjoining timber.

To use the square rule on a timber, you must first make a thorough inspection of the sides to try to determine which two adjacent sides are closest to being square with each other. Your sawyer should be able to cut the logs well enough for this to be possible on at least two sides. We used framing squares for this as well as for nearly all of our layout tasks. Once you've determined the two squared sides, make black triangles on those sides pointing to their common corner along the timber. These sides of the timber are your reference edges from which all joinery will based.

Our joinery was specifically designed to take advantage of the framing square as it uses many 1.5" and 2" dimensions which match the widths of the two legs of the framing square (as well as the 1.5" and 2" chisels we used). As a side note: If you're using a newer framing square, make sure your legs actually match this dimension instead of taking it for granted. One of my classmates had a brand new square that was slightly bigger than these standard dimensions.

Next time, I'll talk about crucial dimensions and laying out some joints.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency Improvements

Have you been planning energy efficiency upgrades on your home for the coming year? You should know that on October 3, 2008, President Bush signed into law the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.” This bill extended tax credits for energy efficient home improvements (windows, doors, roofs, insulation, HVAC, and non-solar water heaters). Tax credits for these residential products, which had expired at the end of 2007, will now be available for improvements made during 2009. However, improvements made during 2008 are not eligible for a tax credit. The bill also extended tax credits for solar energy systems and fuel cells to 2016. New tax credits were established for small wind energy systems and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Tax credits for builders of new energy efficient homes and tax deductions for owners and designers of energy efficient commercial buildings were also extended. For more details on specific upgrades which are eligible for tax credits, see

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How has Yestermorrow impacted YOU?

We’re looking for stories and testimonials from students, instructors, staff and interns on how the Yestermorrow experience has changed your life—examples of projects you’ve gone on to design or build, career transformations you’ve undergone, or changes you’ve made in your personal life as a result of your time here.

We hope to profile members of the Yestermorrow community in our upcoming newsletters and on our website. If you can offer a testimonial, please email Kate Stephenson ( and if possible, include pictures of you and/or your project(s).


Thinking about the Yester-garden...

It's barely February and already plans are hatching for Yestermorrow's garden this season. Our new kitchen/garden intern, Stephanie Pierce, has hit the ground running, making plans, seed lists, and more. There's even talk about getting laying chickens and building a mobile coop! We're thrilled to be making progress towards our goal of growing more food on campus.
We are looking for a few tools and materials to help round out our garden program-- if you have something extra that you'd be willing to donate, please drop me an email ( or drop it by the school.

On our "wish list" for the garden:
Handheld snips/pruners (2)
Soil thermometer
More coldframes
Hula/Stirrup hoe
Hori Hori Garden Knife
Vermiculture supplies (worms!)
Twine tape and twine
Soil Test Kits
Potting soil
Germinating Mix
Misc Seed Trays and Transplant pots
Black plastic
Concrete reinforcing mesh
Watering can
Garden gloves
Aerator for compost tea

We're also looking for donations of seeds, starts, transplants, etc. Do you have any perennial herbs, berries, flowers or vegetables that need dividing (asparagus, rhubarb, chives, mint, thyme, raspberries)?