Posts Tagged ‘green’

espresso lawn

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Last October, I planted the lawn. Once it grew in, I sprayed it with fish goo and molasses. Now that spring is here, it’s time to  baby the grass again, especially since didn’t get much time to thrive before the cold arrived at the end of last season. My latest experiment…

coffee grounds for the lawn




















Coffee grounds.

coffee grounds on the lawn




















I pick up 5 lb. bags of used coffee grounds — sometimes still warm — from Seven Stars, my local coffee shop. Starbucks also has had a Grounds for Your Garden program since 1995. In season, check your local store for free grounds. (I wanted to try the coffee ground trick last fall but coffee shops were done putting them out for the season.) Check often, because gardeners snap them up quickly.

My neighbors may think I’m crazy when they see me sprinkling java on my lawn, but who cares? It turns out that coffee grounds provide slow-release nutrients to your lawn that green it up, encourage beneficial microbes and attract worms which loosen compacted soil (good for the roots). Bonus: coffee also deters slugs and snails. If you’re skeptical, you can read the research here and find out how to do it here. Poke around online and you can find scads of articles on the subject.

I’ll be scattering some soil and compost over the patchy spots in the grass as well, and then over-seeding. Will let you know how it all turns out. If you drive by and smell espresso, now you know why.

winter composting

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

We go through a lot of fruits and veggies in this house. But just because it’ll be 7 degrees tonite doesn’t mean I’m going to toss my scraps in the trash. I make compost all winter, in fact, using these three cans I picked up at Ikea last year…

my composting cans




















My food scraps don’t stay in the cans — they just get a good start at breaking down into compost indoors where it’s warm before they get added to the pile outside in the freezing cold. I got the idea from Fine Gardening last winter. Check it out if you compost. This method worked well for me last winter so I’m doing it again.

The basic idea is to create a compost lasagna: chopped up leaves on the bottom, a layer of scraps, a layer of sawdust and soil (I usually use leaves and soil), a layer of scraps, and so on. As one can fills up you move to the next. The third can is for storing your sawdust-soil mixture (or in my case, chopped leaves) so it’s handy. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll have a healthy pile of compost to work into your soil.

floored yet again: rubber cork

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

More than once, we’ve discussed flooring for our entryway. That’s this area here with the lovely particle board floor…

remod wants | entryway




















We’ve been round and round possibilities to go with the cork we’re using as our primary flooring. We’ve looked at terrazzo tile. We’ve looked at concrete tile. I thought we’d settled on this, but now David and I are revisiting the subject.

This is why we’re noncommittal: Initially we hoped the cork would work everywhere, including the entryway. It’s durable. It doesn’t mind when water’s tracked in. But when it comes to stairs…

remod wants | entry stairs




















… the nosing on the risers would have to be wood or metal. Not the worst thing, I suppose, but that’s when we decided to consider tile. A tile riser with a tile nose is a more cohesive look. Of course, it would be noisier than cork. And colder. Which is why now we’re also considering this: rubber cork.

capri re-tire




















After much web surfing and multiple calls to flooring dealers, a Capri Rubber Cork rep called and pointed me toward Rustigian Rugs in Providence. David and I dropped in to see samples.

We like that Capri’s Re-Tire Medley collection combines recycled tire waste, post-industrial rubber waste, virgin rubber and post-industrial cork waste. Slip-resistant, sound absorbing and it contributes to LEED points. Nice!

The Peppercorn sample plays well with our cork sample…

capri re-tire peppercorn




















Kinda looks like terrazzo, doesn’t it?

Still undecided. Like cork, rubber requires separate nosing — although steel or aluminum would look pretty sweet with the steel cable railing we’re planning. It runs about $11 a sq ft and a minimum order is 200 sq ft. (Or we could just use the cork everywhere after all?)

It also requires an acrylic or urethane finish coat available from Capri. I optimistically assume the sealer would encase that heady scent of eau du tire factory. One can only hope.

chewie likes it, too

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Thrilled with the rug I bought on a whim via West Elm’s deal of the day last week…

chewie and rug




















Perfect for Bix’s room and it only took two years to find it! 100% wool. No latex backing to outgas. For almost half price. Sometimes it pays to be spontaneous. It belongs with our crazy color scheme…

bunk beds and magnetic board




















It’ll be a while before the cork floor goes down, so I just rolled it over the hideous carpeting. You didn’t think I’d wait, did you?

fish goo and molasses

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

What do you suppose that smells like, fish goo and molasses? It doesn’t smell great, I can assure you of that. However, your lawn and your soil love it. So today, I opened up this container (*engage gag reflex*)…

fish goo container




















Initially I was going to mix up my own compost tea to give the baby lawn a much-needed end-of-season feeding. Don’t worry, URI horticulturists tell me it’s okay to feed the lawn until around Thanksgiving. (Do you think I do anything without researching it to death first?)

But in the interest of getting it done at the last minute, I hunted down this Aggrand Natural Based Fertilizer. Already made. Cost just $8.95 for a 32 oz bottle (covers 5000 sq ft). 100% natural! Between the koi pond and the kid, I’m not about to add chemicals.


fish goo in a cup












The best news: the recipe is almost exactly what I’d use to make my own compost tea. So what’s in it? Hydrolized fish solubles (menhaden salt water fish, to be exact), kelp, bloodmeal, sulfate of potash — oh, and molasses to help create a literal microbe orgy in your soil. Apparently this will lead to better soil structure, which leads to deeper, denser roots and healthier grass.

There’s nothing much to it. Measure it out. Add water. Spray…

fish goo in the sprayer




















And then, good gawd, smell the stank. It’s the stank of green.


Handy bookmarks:

– Harvard’s landscaping is now organic, yours can be, too. Build your own tea brewer to feed your lawn at home.

– And create your own compost tea for your lawn or trees.

– Need a visual? How about a video.

Yes, I’ve posted these before. These links still rock.


getting into hot water

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Nope, no problems here. This is all about our new, high-tech, energy-saving hybrid water heater. Talk it up, David!


Some months back I told you about our house scientist and how we consulted with him on creating a greener, more energy-efficient home with this remodel. His recommendations resulted better insulation. But we’re also upgrading all of our equipment — starting with the water heater.

That meant out with the old and inefficient…

the old, inefficient water heater goes bye bye




















And in with the new space-age unit we like to call HAL…

the new hybrid water heater arrives




















Even in its crate, you can tell this Energy-Star rated, State Industries Premier Hybrid Electric water heater is the future. It can use as little as 30% of the electricity of a regular unit…

the hybrid water heater in crate




















You can think of it as a traditional electric water heater with the addition of a heat pump on top. Or you can think of it as an electronic wizard of hot water, with multiple modes of operation…

electronic display on the hybrid water heater




















Energy-saver mode: runs the heat pump to pull heat (and, bonus: moisture) out of the air and put it into the water inside the tank. Hybrid mode: uses the heat pump and the smaller upper electric coil to heat the water, still saving some electricity but giving a faster recovery time — handy if everyone needs hot water at once for some reason. All-coil mode: shuts out the heat pump and just uses the two heat coils like a traditional water heater. I guess it would come in handy if we had a house full of guests for a week. Vacation mode: go to the beach without running full-bore.

It has a 60 gallon tank — 10 gallons larger than we’d need with a traditional electric heater. Why? Because in energy-saver mode the recovery time (the time it needs to reheat the water in the tank) is slower.

hybrid water heater energy guide sticker




















Hard to say at this point how much (if any) electricity we’re saving with the new water heater. However, I have noticed that it only runs once or twice per day for about an hour at a time. Its secondary function as a dehumidifier is working great though — it pulls the humidity down 2-3 percentage points every time it runs! That’ll be great when July rolls around.

It needs 750 cubic feet of 50+ deg F air to draw heat from, but the pantry/utility closet we have it in is much smaller than that…

water heater in place




















Don’t worry, we figured that out. See that opening inside the wall on the left there? That’s for a duct that will allow the heat pump to draw in warm air  from the larger main space. In fact, Joe just hand-crafted said duct from sheet-metal, mass loaded soundproofing vinyl and foam. And yes, pixie dust…

joe and his duct




















That man is awesome. And now we pop it into place. Like buttah…

duct slides into place




















The intake grille will be up at the top, offset from the unit’s intake. The foam and vinyl were added to cut the amount of noise getting out (the unit is noisy as the heat pump is basically an air conditioner).

Want more info on this hybrid water heater? You’ll find it here.


rockin’ the double-denim ceiling

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

This week, David Bettridge will catch us up on the downstairs progress. Drumroll, please…


When we moved in to this house, we noticed right away that sound travelled pretty well between the upstairs and downstairs. One of our goals is to fix that during the downstairs renovation. If you remember your physics, you know that sound travels as vibration. Usually we think of it as traveling through air but it can also be transmitted through other materials.

Working with Acoustical Supplies in Providence, we came up with a three-pronged attack on noise:

1. Insulation to absorb air-borne sound
2. Sealing to keep airborne sound from leaking through
3. Mass (weight) and mechanical separation to slow sound vibrating through the structure

UltraTouch Demin Insulation batts have the same R-19 insulating rating as fiberglass but have a higher STC (sound transmission control) rating…

ultratouch denim insulation




















Being made of 80% post-consumer cotton, they also have several planet-friendly benefits — they don’t cause itching like fiberglass insulation, they don’t outgas formaldehyde or any other nasties and they qualify for LEED points. Plus it’s denim. How sexy American is that?

ultratouch insulation double denim ohyeahbaby




















Once cut to the proper size the batts are pressed into place and fluffed so they aren’t too tight or too loose. Special wires are sprung into place to hold the batts so they don’t slip out of place…

ultratouch insulation in place




















UltraTouch is slightly heavier than fiberglass. But the main difference between the two is the prodigious amount of dust generated when handling the cotton and the difficulty in cutting it. Fiberglass is easy to cut with a utility knife, even while installed in a stud or rafter bay. The UltraTouch requires fairly careful measuring because it doesn’t compress nearly as much as fiberglass. Actually, this is a good thing because over-compressed insulation doesn’t work as well.

Bonded Logic, UltraTouch’s manufacturer, recommends several specialty tools for cutting it, but I didn’t plan ahead so was left trying their recommendation of a reversed fine-toothed blade in a circular saw. My grandfather’s old worm-drive trim saw fitted with a backwards plexiglass cutting blade works perfectly…

ultratouch and granddad’s circular saw




















As the ceiling installation progresses, I’ll show two more methods we’ll use to control sound. In the meantime, my wife wants to know if this double-denim ceiling makes her butt look big?

what’s in your walls?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

So back to the downstairs, which is now in motion. David will tell you what he’s up to…


One of the aims of these renovations is to cut our energy use, ideally by 60% or better. How will we achieve that lofty goal? By making the house air-tight and by adding insulation. Lots of insulation.

We ordered 3” of EPS (fancy name for styrofoam) made right here in Rhode Island by Branch River Plastics. Not only did it not have to ship from China, they make their foam in any size you like and they put boric acid in it to keep insects out  — which is handy seeing as we discovered there used to be termites in the walls. It weighs 2 pounds per cubic foot, so it’s denser than the shipping foam you’re used to. It is made with air instead of HCFCs so it’s better for the environment and holds its R-value over time unlike most other rigid foam insulation that slowly loses its effectiveness.

PL-300 adhesive holds it in place without dissolving it, don’t use anything that isn’t labelled specifically for foam…

foam glue



















We had them cut pieces to fit between the floor joists…

rim joist foam

I wrapped it around the short walls on either end of the main space…

short wall before

short wall during

The wood-framed walls on top of the foundation receive two layers of un-faced fiberglass, here’s the first…

short wall after



















When it’s done, the bathroom should be warm and cozy…

bath wall foam



















I ran beads of the foam glue between the pieces to make them one big layer…

foam glue 2



















Special tape seals the deal…

foam tape



















I’ll be adding 3/4” furring strips screwed to the concrete. They’ll give us something to attach the sheetrock to, create a bit of air space to allow moisture to get out and give the electrician a place to run his wires. All that coming soon!


worth the wait

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

space in waiting

I mentioned the other day that not much sawdust has been made downstairs while we’ve been awaiting input from an expert. David now explains why the short delay is going to pay off…


Although our house is a simple shape on the exterior, the construction details make modifying it on the interior rather difficult. We’ve needed planning help along the way from architects, structural engineers, plumbers, electricians and now an energy expert.

So Paul Eldrenkamp, our ‘house scientist’, came by Monday morning and we got down to the nitty gritty of what goes on top of what, how do we keep energy where we want it and how do we keep water out of where we don’t. Paul is the owner of Byggmeister, a Newton, MA-based firm that specializes in designing and building sustainable, environmentally responsible homes.

Paul is what you’d call wicked smaht in our neck of the woods. He’s one of only 14 passive house consultants in the country — and the only one in New England. He brings 28 years of experience to our project, so we were lucky to find him and convince him to help us.

Paul has come up with a plan to heat and cool our house comfortably but economically — even integrating the wood stove we want. He’s figured out how to insulate the house to a reasonably high level, seal the house against air leaks and maintain healthy air quality.

As in many endeavours, doing a 95% job on insulation can result in only a 30% increase in effectiveness. A couple of loose or missing pieces of the puzzle can negate some or all of the benefits achieved elsewhere. This is also true of air-sealing a house. The details that we came up with on Monday and Paul’s continuing support will get us where we’d like to end up.

Yesterday I ordered the insulating foam board that will be the first step in putting the downstairs back together. I’ll post the details as I go.


recycling our old carpet

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

I’ve mentioned more than once how icky our ancient carpet is. But since David pulled up the carpet downstairs today, perhaps I should clarify. I’m not talking about the weave or the shade…

carpet removal

Unless it’s made of an untreated natural fiber, carpet is a cushy layer of toxic chemicals right under your feet — and every time you walk on it, you release them into the air. Have you ever thought about how creepy that is?

david rolls up the old carpet

The most common carpet fibers are woven from petrochemical compounds. They’re full of bleaches, dyes, stain fighters, flame retardants, antimicrobial agents and horrific carcinogenic things you don’t want to know about but should. The backing usually contains latex and PVC. Very, very bad. There are nasty industrial adhesives involved. They’re in your air. You breathe them. You swallow them. And so does your child if you have one like I do.

I won’t go into it here but honestly, you should read more:

  • The Body Toxic by Nena Baker, investigative journalist. Highly recommended. Will scare the bejeezus out of you, but you should get an idea of the chemicals in your everyday household items, including carpeting.
  • Is Your Carpet Toxic? “Older carpets are so toxic that your chances of being exposed to hazardous chemicals are 10-50 times higher in a carpeted room than outdoors.”
  • The Toxic Dangers of Carpeting “In America, we love wall-to-wall carpeting — in fact, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute more than two-thirds of American floors have them — despite the fact that they contain toxic byproducts that are released into our homes and even inhaled and absorbed into our bodies.”
  • Chemicals in New Carpet “Longterm effects of VOCs can include damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Concentrations of VOCs found indoors, such as in new carpeting, can be as much as 10 times higher than those found outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”
  • Toxic Carpet: Dangerous Toxins that Live in Your Carpeting “Numerous studies have shown that there are over 200 chemicals in the mixtures of gases which are released by new carpets.”

carpet rolls bound for the recycler

My goal from the moment I stepped into this house has been to go as green as possible, starting with removing our chemical-laden carpet. But it’s the kind of thing you shouldn’t in good conscience just throw away. According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort, 5 billion lbs of carpeting ends up in the landfill every year. Do the right thing, people — keep this toxic disaster out of your local dump.

With a little research, I was able to locate a carpet recycling center within 40 minutes of our house — Conigliaro Industries. They recycle just about everything (they even took our electronics). Carpet can be broken down into components used to make roofing tiles, furniture, soundproofing and more. Did you know that? I didn’t.

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Before I go, I must say this: please never tear up carpet without wearing a really, really good dust mask. And vacuum like mad before you take a breath without it.

all that’s left