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Archive for the ‘Going Green’ Category

Coming Along Slowly

You probably can’t tell from this photo (yup, we’re still mobile blogging!) but we finally have some painted walls. Our friend’s brother, who is a professional painter, came in and banged out our cathedral ceilings, the high stairwell walls, and some other ceilings. It makes such a difference to have painted walls rather than just primed or, even worse, taped and mudded drywall. Saturday night after Sadie went to bed I painted most of the living room and half the dining area. So we are making progress, bit by bit!

I also painted the walk-in closet in our bedroom, and Nick installed closet rods so we were finally able to hang up some clothes. I still can’t find half my socks, buy at least my work clothes will be less wrinkled from now on.

Other than that, it’s catch as catch can. After a full day of work and toddler minding afterwards, I don’t have a ton of energy for projects. It really doesn’t help that it’s been dark for hours by the time I get a breather–but we will get this place in shape soon enough. Stay tuned!

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And we call it a woodie

And we call it a woodie

I’m sure there are lots of others way to earn street cred around here, but hauling 16-foot pieces of wood on a flatbed truck must get you some points. This is the happy photo, the morning after we made the hour-long trip from Turner, Maine back to Portland, on the back roads all the way. Nick saw an ad on Craigslist for something like 700 square feet of standard and better grade pine wood, and after a round of emails with the owner (Moose Creek Log Homes), we set out after work one day with a rented flatbed from Home Depot.

Love at first site.

Love at first site.

We were to meet with a warehouse employee at 6pm, after Moose Creek had closed. Of course, this being me and Nick, we took a few wrong turns and didn’t get there until 6:30, but luckily the guy was still waiting for us. What we weren’t expecting was for the flooring to be 16 feet long. We’d just assumed that it would be closer to 8 or 10 feet, and would fit snugly in the back of our flatbed. The reality was this:

A forklift was required to put the flooring on our truck.

A forklift was required to put the flooring on our truck.

It looks like a drug deal gone bad, but that’s just a photo of the forklift that was used to put the flooring on the back of our truck. It took about three tries before we got the wood to come to rest in the center on a pair of scrap 4x4s. And then, as the flooring swayed heavily over the back end of the truck, we realized we had nothing on us that we could use to tie down the lumber. The Moose Creek guy helpfully offered us two lengths of nylon strapping, which we jerry-rigged around the wood. At the last minute he also found a bit of rope, and a scarp of yellow caution tape that he stapled to the end of the wood. For visibility.

It was in that state that we lumbered out of the parking lot  and got onto Route 4 South back to Portland (but not before taking a wrong turn and driving around the front of the showroom and onto the front lawn; we misunderstood the guy’s directions to drive around the back of the warehouse). I kept watch on the wood while Nick drove white-knuckled down the dark back roads of Maine. The overhanging edges of the lumber dipped and bowed with every minor bump in the road, flapping up and down like a diving board as we drove.

Our plan was to get the truck back to the Home Depot by 10pm so we wouldn’t have to pay for a full 24 hour rental. Of course, we didn’t make it, so the next morning Nick woke up early to drive the truck over to the house and unload the flooring before work. As he was parking, he scraped and dented one of the carpenter’s trucks with the back edge of the wood.

When we started this renovation, we once admired some reclaimed pine flooring we’d seen for sale at $7/square foot. Three months later, we realized that this stuff, at 88 cents/sf, was more our speed. But between the white-knuckle drive, the extended flatbed rental, and the damage to the carpenter’s truck, I’m not sure it ended up being the bargain we were hoping for.

Then again, it looks good. Nick’s dad flew out for a power work weekend on Thursday, and by Sunday he and Nick had laid down flooring over 3/4 of the kitchen and dining room. But I can’t show you that photo until I write up a post on the drywall. That is an unveiling that deserve a post all its own.

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whatisboxOne of my favorite sites for learning more about green building is the aptly named Green Building Advisor. (In fact, I linked to them in this post about using old chalkboards as flooring in a bathroom.)

We're the Eco-friendly energy retrofit!

We're the Eco-friendly energy retrofit!

GBA has a feature called Jobblog, where they follow green building projects in real-time via the  blogs of the homeowners or builders. Well, on a whim, I shot off a quick email to the editors, and they’ve decided to add Two Cats to their site!  If you go to their Green Homes page and scroll about halfway down on the right, you’ll see our blog listed as “Eco-friendly energy retrofit in Portland, ME.” Right now the link just brings you back here, to Two Cats, but the editor said he’s also interested in writing us up when we finish the remodel. Stay tuned!

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I’ve been dying to try the sample pot of the OSMO polyx oil I bought at F.W. Horch, and tonight I got the chance. (Seems like I get a lot more done when Nick is home!) This is the floor finish we want to use throughout the house–it’s a very low-VOC wax/oil finish that dries to a satin matte sheen. It’s as durable as polyurethane, but actually easier to fix if need be, since you can just rub more of the oil in on worn down places (unlike polyurethane, which requires you to re-sand, etc.).

I should also add that today we scored some ash flooring for Sadie’s room, $150 for the lot. So I took a piece of it, gave it a light sanding, and rubbed in the OSMO oil using a paper towel. We think it looks pretty good. osmo

The best part is that you can barely smell it at all. (It does contain some solvents, otherwise it wouldn’t stay liquid.) We’ll post another pic after we rub in the second coat.

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On Friday morning before Labor Day, the insulator came to blow in sucrose-based spray foam insulation in our kitchen and dining room floors. Spray foam is apparently the next big thing in insulation. It creates a much tighter seal than fiberglass batts ever could, by starting out as a liquid then expanding to fill in every nook and cranny of your old, drafty house.

Proponents of spray foam say it will seal up your house’s envelope so tight you can expect to see up to a 50% reduction in your heating expenditure. (I hesitate to simply say “heating bills,” because I like to think green building is as much about conserving resources as it is about saving money.) It has an R value of some pretty high number, like R-21, I think. Detractors say you have to be careful when calling spray foam insulation green, because it is a petroleum-based product. But because our house is so old, it has smaller than average stud bays, which means the contractor would have had to build out the framing on the house by up to 2 inches, all over the house, to make standard blown-in cellulose insulation have the proper R-value. So you I suppose one could argue that by using the spray foam, we’re saving trees by saving on the lumber we’d need to do all that extra framing.

Anyway, spraying this stuff is a pretty big job. The insulator parked a truck outside our house, ran a thick hose through the front door, and suited up in a pretty serious-looking spacesuit. The fumes, I have to say, did not smell pretty.

Spray foam insulation truck

Spray foam insulation truck

Ben, our contractor, told us that according to the insulator, 99.9% of the petroleum product off-gasses within the first 24 hours, so indoor air quality is relatively unaffected. The petroleum base of the insulation is mixed with either soy or sucrose, in varying percentages, which means some formulations are more “green” than others.

To be honest, we don’t know how much sucrose and how much petroleum is currently insulating our floors. We do know that in previous years the winter air in the crawlspace underneath the kitchen must have made winter mornings pretty darn cold.

Spray-in foam insulation

Spray-in foam insulation

The subfloors in the kitchen and dining room should be down soon, and will cover up all that pretty green foam. Once the carpenters finish the interior framing, the insulator will come back to fill up the stud bays in the walls.

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Nick and I both love this kitchen. Simple, pretty, warm and inviting. Kind of how we want our whole house to be.
mag3(Image scanned from an old issue of the dear, departed Domino magazine.)

And I had never even heard of reusing old chalkboards as flooring. green-bath-h159ki2alt_1035.case study previewThese Seattle homeowners found old schoolhouse chalkboards at a salvage yard and pieced them together to make their bathroom floor. Brilliant. Read more about it at Green Building Advisor.

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In reading Nick’s Day 60 post, it struck me that this isn’t really the 60th day of our renovation, but really just the second week. But that’s okay. As Nick said, seeing that toxic purple glue on the PVC pipe was like a glimmer of hope.

But about that PVC pipe. PVC is an extremely toxic substance, both to manufacture and to just, well, be around. (That “plasticky” smell of vinyl shower curtains–that’s the smell of PVC, plastic that’s softened up with phthalates, a chemical suspected of disrupting the endocrine system, which can lead to health problems, especially in children.) The only alternative I know of is copper tubing. It’s a lot more expensive, but I think it would be a lot healthier.

This article on Builders Websource gives a great overview of copper pipes vs. PVC tubing. The basic summary is that copper pipes won’t harbor bacteria, they don’t contain any chemicals (and lead is no longer part of the copper alloy), and they are a time-tested choice. Drawbacks are they can be noisier than plastic when water rushes through at high velocities, they don’t do well with acidic water, and they aren’t insulated, leading to thermal loss.

PVC, like most plastic things, is easier to work with, lightweight, durable, and cheaper. The major drawback, as I said before, is that it’s just not that good for human health or the environment due to how it’s manufactured.

My green dream would be to have copper pipes running throughout the house. I suspect the reality will be a microcosm of our times: cheaper, faster, easier, plastic.

UPDATE: According to BuildingGreen, in some ways copper isn’t any more environmentally friendly than PVC, due to the intensive nature of its extraction from the earth and accompanying manufacturing practices. Let’s hope our new pipes our polypropylene. I’ll let you know what the plumber lays down…

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