A Renewed Start in 2018

IMG_5051Looking back at 2017, my goals for reducing my family’s carbon footprint didn’t go exactly as planned. We did make some meaningful changes and adjustments to how we live our daily lives, but not every change stuck. We started the year off strong, but lost steam and motivation as the year went on (isn’t that the way most resolutions and New Year goals go?). Life got busy, my baby turned into a toddler, we went on a long summer vacation, I broke my wrist, blah blah blah… Continue reading

Happy New Year!

Like all good resolutions, I’m going to admit I’ve outgrown mine from 2017. No need to laugh and jump and shout, “I told you so!” just yet. I’m not retiring my resolutions. But rather, the act of embarking upon them has brought me farther than any other resolution has ever carried me before. They need a tune up, because I know how to get more milage out of them. Continue reading

LED: Making the Switch

Wow, I just crunched the numbers. I just reduced my reduced my wattage consumption by 77%.

The bulk of our blog has focused on using less, reusing, zero-waste, reclaimed, etc. etc. One of my favorite catch phrases comes from the gorgeous Elsie Green House and Home reclaimed home goods store in Concord, CA, states,

Not making something new is the greenest thing of all.

During my home remodel, this catchphrase was often an inspiration. Not making something new made the case for my rustic reclaimed wood floors, funky 1960’s vintage light fixture, and delightful antique cabinet bin pulls. But when is it time to break up with the old and embrace the new? In terms of lighting, if I replace a working lightbulb, isn’t that wasteful? Shouldn’t I just replace an incandescent bulb with an LED as they go out?  Continue reading

New Old Floors with Perfect Blemishes

Months ago, Lily and I went on a delightful and kid-less adventure to a nearby salvage yard. They reclaim wood and metal from tear downs and sell and remake old items into something new again. Visiting the yard, like an antique shop or flea market, excites like a buried treasure hunt and serves as invigorating exercise for the imagination.

The show room highlighted floors from such products as wind-fallen maple and used walls from grain elevators. I plunked my credit card down on 1218 square feet of reclaimed Douglas fir shiplap, pocked with nail holes, with an ambiguous delivery plan. It felt rebellious and invigorating to have a green spin on replacing my water-damaged flooring.

I had only seen the product on the showroom floor, and while luxuriously wandering through the yard after taking care of the business of paying for the floors, I saw the pile of what I had purchased. I’m not going to lie, my heart sank: Apparently I had just purchased something barely acceptable for the fireplace? IMG_0110

The guy who unloaded it into my living room to acclimate thought so too. My otherwise delightful contractor quickly decided the same and stated, “I’m not installing that crap.”

While I could understand why he might feel that way, I wanted someone who understood the vision. Not wanting to convince a skeptic, I hired a craftsman who has been finishing and installing these floors for some time. He understood the beauty only time could impart to the wood, the patina that you can’t just create in a day, and the stories the nail holes could display. He said something that really struck me and had me thinking: when and why did floors need to become cabinet-quality and blemish-free? Homes used to be dirt floors or maybe simple wood. You walk on them, spill on them, live on them. Think of what they must endure! Then why do we freak out when they get inevitable scratches in them?IMG_0629

The first time I saw them in my house, they weren’t nailed down and the floor person wanted me to give him feedback. It was a jolt to adjust from our old light bamboo flooring. Did I marry a brunette when I only had a thing for blondes? I wandered from room to room and looked at every board. Some I thought were too rustic and would be turned over to the lighter side. Most weren’t and many of them were so unique, individually stunning, and intriguing. I began to feel like I was perusing a gallery, considering a piece of art with each slat. I would look at a board and think it was my favorite and then find another board that boasted even better blemishes and marks and then that one would become my favorite. A blemish, it turns out, is a floorboards’ best feature.IMG_0631.JPG

I love my new old floors. They are rustic, unique, and practical. They fit my taste and lifestyle. If I get a nick in them, it will only add to the charm. My favorite part, however, is that they were given new life and diverted from the dump. After all, not buying new is often the greenest thing of all!IMG_0625

 

Wool Insulation: How to Knit your House a Sweater

We are remodeling our house. What started from a pinprick leak in the ice maker tube to our freezer morphed into a kitchen remodel, and now a major overhaul to the infrastructure of our home. Not only are we talking new floors that warped from the leak, but we are replacing our incandescent lighting with LED fixtures and bulbs, replacing our original crumbling galvanized plumbing, and upgrading the hot mess our electrical panel turned out to be behind some fancy garage sheetrock. Its been a challenge, but I also know that our home will be much safer once its all said and done.

What a whole manner of sins sheetrock can cover up. My hidden shoddy wiring and fancy taping of illegal wires would be enough to give Smokey the Bear hemorrhoids. We uncovered what was luckily a ghost town of rodent condos. And whatever sort of crazy toxic insulation that had been sprayed on most of the walls along the back side of my house had “failed,” according to my contractor. They found insulation the texture of sand that had settled to the bottom half to one third of my wall space, where it was even used at all! Not only was it not insulating my house from temperature changes and energy waste, chunks floated around my exterior that my kids quickly thought was sooooo much fun to play with since it crumbled into a fine powder that was oh-so-enthralling. Gross! Why would I want my home lined with something I know is toxic, not healthy, and not at all something okay for my kids to be playing with?

My contractor was already pleased as punch with me because I had his guys remove all of the recycling from the waste bin. I’m sure he braced himself when it came time to ask me what kind of insulation I wanted to use. He was wise to know I wouldn’t stand for any of that pink cotton candy fiberglass crap.

I had heard of cotton insulation, with 80% recycled denim, and its actually pretty readily available and reasonably priced, quite comparable to fiberglass in fact. In fact if you aren’t about sheering sheep or are on a tight budget, denim is a great eco-friendly option! But when I sat down to do a little research of insulation types, and it was like love at first sight when I discovered there was such a thing as wool insulation!

I love wool. Its amazing stuff. I’ve talked about it on Lovelaughandmakelemonade before. I love wool socks, I knit my kids wool pants, and plugged wool underwear. It turns out to be a great insulation for your home as well.

Here’s a quick list to tell you why:

  1. Its renewable: sheep grow more wool after every shearing
  2. It takes 90% less energy to produce than traditional insulation
  3. Its biodegradable: compost it when you are done with it
  4. It lasts a long time, for the life of your building
  5. Its naturally fire resistant
  6. Its naturally rodent resistant
  7. Its naturally mold and fungus resistant, even if it does get wet
  8. It maintains its insulation properties even if it does get wet
  9. It absorbs formaldehyde, improving air quality
  10. Its safe to handle and install and requires no special protective equipment
  11. It expands in your walls rather than settling, increasing the overall seal an efficiency of your insulation
  12. Great acoustic properties

So I brought home a few ewes and got out my husband’s hair clippers and went work insulating my kitchen. Hehe. I didn’t. But that would work too!

Rest assured it comes in batts or as loose “blow in” insulation. I first tried to purchase wool locally, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find anyone locally who carried it. I let everyone know when I called and visited that I was looking for wool insulation, “No not ‘wall’ insulation– well, its for your walls– but WOOL insulation. As in Bahhhh, like the sheep!” – so they could remember that there are customers out there looking for this stuff and will hopefully carry it soon.IMG_0096

It shipped from Oregon from a small company who was terrible about taking my order, answering my questions or returning my calls. Alas, I had it shipped and I ordered it from a green building supply company eco-buildingproducts.com, from a guy named Greg who took the time to answer all of my questions. One of my questions was, “Why are these guys so bad about returning a call or replying to an email and answering my questions?” The sales person’s satisfying reply was that he had experienced that with them before, but that they are actually a small company of a few folks who actually go out and tend to the sheep themselves, leaving the marketing and questions to people like him. Best excuse ever!

I found I could get a slightly higher R-value for less money by using the loose insulation, although it did take longer to install. It came stuffed tightly in a cardboard box with fabric to staple into place and hold the loose insulation. Guess what? It didn’t come wrapped in plastic either! Jazz hands! It was more expensive, but not prohibitive. As Lily pointed out, healthcare is expensive too! IMG_0104IMG_0106IMG_0107

While I noticed the dramatic acoustic benefits immediately, I’m curiously awaiting the colder season to really see how this stuff performs. Honestly though, it has little to go to improve upon what junk was posing as insulation in my walls. I relished the opportunity to learn something completely new while making my home safer, less toxic, and more energy efficient.

 

Thoughts on Sustainable Design

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Today I had a long long long meeting at the design center with a little time for sourcing afterwards. I popped into one of my favorite showrooms Holland & Sherry and stumbled upon these gorgeous green chairs. Thinking they would be perfect for client I asked for the details only to be pleasantly surprised to find they were vintage and upholstered with the company’s line of responsible wool fabrics. I swooned, took a bunch of pics, and then went on my way. As I walked from showroom to showroom I really got lost in the idea of sustainable and responsible design. What does it truly mean? Why does it seem so sterile? Is it really unattainable? There seems almost to be a negative view of “green design”. They (meaning the companies pushing it) seem to push a very modern, simple, aesthetic that can read somewhat granola-esque. The problem is that this aesthetic is not for everyone, in fact it includes very few people. Most people want a warm inviting home and that definition looks very different to everyone. From ornate to minimalist sustainable design should reach us all and there is no reason it can’t.  Continue reading