Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

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.


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.

*          *          *          *          *

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

kirei board

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

With our patios on hold until the spring, it’s time to turn inward. As we close in on finishes for our interior remodel, I’d like to offer this for consideration: kirei board. Japanese for beautiful, clean, pure and truthful, kirei is a natural, engineered product made from reclaimed sorghum stalks.

Heat-pressed using a non-toxic, formaldehyde-free adhesive, kirei comes in panels like other sheet goods — it’s basically another kind of plywood. I think the first time I actually saw it in use and not in a magazine was at a Dwell on Design show in L.A. a few years ago. You’ve seen this cabinet, right?

dandelion graphic by Iannone Design |

Nice one, Iannone Design. Since then, they’ve released a number of other pieces crafted from kirie…

graphic armoire by Iannone Design |

mod coffee by Iannone Design |

There’s a lot going on in this board — a little goes a long way. But in the right applications, I think the pattern is rather stunning…

modular storage unit by Julia Palomaki |

vanity cabinets by jessica helgrson |

Strong and lightweight, it’s a great wood alternative for cabinetry, furniture, floors, ceilings and walls. You see it increasingly in retail spaces — I know I’ve seen it at Aveda.

Here it is at Denver Botanic Garden in the cafe. They used it for their recycling station…

kirei in the cafe at denver botanic garden

I just had to shoot a closeup of the crazy patterns going on in the doors…

kirei detail

Jennifer Siegal, a modernist prefab pioneer, uses kirei board in her prefabs as well as in her own house…

jennifer siegal’s house |

Here’s the whole Dwell slideshow of Siegal’s home in case you want to see more.

Kirei looks pretty crazy unfinished. It comes in 10 mm (about 3/8″), 20 mm (about 3/4″) and 30 mm (about 1-1/8″) panels. This sample we just got shows how it’s bonded to poplar to make it more stable…

kirei 10mm

Here’s a thicker sheet sample…

kirie 20mm

You can really see the sorghum stalks…

kirei unfinished

This would need a good sanding, obviously, but it sure is pretty…

kirei unfinished closeup

You can finish it with wax or a water-based polyurethane. Not so into DIY?  Heck, you can have kirei cabinetry built and shipped to you. So 21st century.

don’t curb it!

Monday, November 1st, 2010

leaf bags down the street

“Never again will we put our leaves out to the curb.” I swore it last year and I meant it. Adding fall leaves to the landfill is just plain wasteful. If your city composts them, great. But why give away free organic materials your garden needs? I’m composting my leaves from now on — to save money and for a more sustainable garden.

First of all, let me say that my urban garden has 11 oak trees and one spindly little dogwood. “Oak trees?!” you shriek in disbelief. “But the acid!” Oy. The idea that oak leaves will “burn” your plants or make your soil acidic is a myth. My leaves are going to compost over the next half a year or so and will break down into lovely dark brown organic matter that’s high in nutrients. Let’s move on, shall we?

Temperatures are dropping. So are my leaves. That means it’s time to rake…

time to rake!

And rake I do…

rake leaves into a pile

Only now every pile I make I then mow over using our new Fiskars Momentum reel mower. It works great to chop up the oak leaves into little bits, which will then make them break down much, much quicker. Obviously, whatever kind of mower you own will work just fine…

mow the pile

To get the leaves small enough, I run them over a few times, rake the pile together, then run them over again. I never even break a sweat…

mow over it several times, til leaves are chopped

The result: fall confetti!

should look something like this, or even smaller

I then pile it all, including grass clippings, into leaf bags — not destined for the curb. I have a spot at the top of our yard that’s unplanted but still needs to be cleared of weeds and undesirable overgrown shrubs. I’m talking about you, forsythia! So my leaf bits will become a brand-new compost pile in the next few weeks.

“Oh noes! Oak leaf bits on your lawn will kill the grass!” you say? No. Chopped up leaf bits will fall between the blades of grass and, if they don’t blow away during one of our Nor’easters, will break down and essentially compost where they fall…

leaf bits are great for the grass!

Don’t worry, I’ve researched the life out of this. It’s actually good for your grass!

My ultimate goal is not to have to buy compost or even mulch in the seasons ahead. I’ve already begun collecting leaves from my neighbors’s yards as well — I figure why not throw in some maple leaves, right? There’s no such thing as too much compost!

One tip: if you try this yourself, which I hope you will, don’t forget to jump in the pile first!

be sure to jump in the pile before you begin

More reading:

Composting Grass and Leaves Why is it better for your soil? Because “Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice the mineral content of manure.”

Composting Leaves How to whip up a no-sweat lasagna garden using fall leaves and have a new planting bed by next spring. Think of it as composting in place!

Fall Leaves Make a Great Natural Mulch Why buy mulch when it’s right there in your trees?

Lasagna Gardening More on the no-till, no-dig method of gardening.

How to Make Oak Leaf Compost Surprise! Oak leaves make excellent compost.

A Guide for Composting at Home Lots of great composting info here. Leaf composting is near the end of the article.

Making and Using Leaf Mold An alternative to composting your leaves — make leaf mold. It’s ridiculously easy. Bag it. Forget it. It turns to gardening gold in 6 months to a year! A good option if you don’t have room for a compost pile.

hardening our hardscape

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

So we haven’t talked hardscape in a while. Let’s. Remember how I like to dream big? No? Maybe this will refresh your memory…

d-crain corten steps |

d-crain corten steps |

Not so long ago, I confessed an unrequited love for Corten steel in the garden, like those steps backfilled with gravel. Gawgeous. Minimal. Streamlined. Perfect in a modern landscape. [Shot from above and many more examples on D-Crain’s site. And Andrea Cochran’s site. And Lutsko Associates’ site.]

With visions of steel in my head, I did a little research and learned that Corten lasts a long time in a Mediterranean climate — like in sunny California. Less so in New England with its damp, cold winters. The patina from the corrosion is what makes it appealing. But the rust can bleed onto other surfaces, including our brand-new concrete retaining walls. And burying the steel in the ground speeds up corrosion. So is there a way to make steel last longer, considering the investment?

The answer is hot dip galvanized steel. Hot dip? what the heck is that, you say? The steel is “… immersed in a kettle or vat of molten zinc, resulting in a metallurgically bonded alloy coating that protects the steel from corrosion.”

Zinc. Hmm. The American Galvanizers Association claims it’s sustainable — the zinc itself is 100% recyclable and the hot dip process protects steel for 50 years. 50 years! That’s a long time! That pretty much convinced me hot dip galvanized over Corten. So this is where we’ll be using it:

For steel planter boxes in the veggie garden area at the top of the retaining wall that runs along our front driveway…

veggie garden area

The layout (click to biggify)…

raised beds layout and dimensions

For risers on the steps up to the veggie garden that currently look like this…

concrete stair disaster

Ugh. The concrete crew just could not get them right. We talked about repouring them ourselves. But then we decided the raised beds would be made of steel and it just seemed easier to make the risers out of the same material and backfill with gravel. So that’s the plan…

dimensions for steel risers for the veggie garden stairs

Which is perfect, because out back we want a full set of steel stairs at the end of the other retaining wall. Remember when I drew that?…

layout for stairs next to wall out back

Now imagine the chalklines in steel and backfilled with gravel. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

So the drawings went over to Rhode Island Welding a few weeks ago. They constructed the boxes and the stairs and then sent them off to a galvanizer in Massachusetts.

Expect to see the result — soon!

field trip to henrybuilt soho

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Another droolfest in New York City: this time, a visit to HenryBuilt. Stopping by their Soho showroom gave us a chance to imagine custom modern cabinetry in our own space. *sigh*

The quartersawn walnut, solid bamboo, veneer rift-cut oak and quartersawn teak cabinets are all handcrafted in Seattle using primarily FSC-certified woods for sustainability. Lots of lovely details, like minimal stainless steel pulls perfectly mortised into the wood. Here they’ve worked in a Corian countertop but we also saw stainless steel…

henrybuilt kitchen cabinet

Love the subtle shades of the laminate. And there are plenty of options to choose from, as you can see…

wood and laminate samples

Drawers and cabinets can be outfitted as you see fit…

drawer detail

They can even work in a fridge and freezer drawers, ovens, yadayada…

fridge cabinet

I’m particularly enamored with the warmth of the walnut, given that our floor, ceiling and walls will be very light…

walnut kitchen

A very helpful chap talked us through the HenryBuilt process, which is basically that they’ll work with you and your architect (if you have one) to make sure everything suits your plans and footprint, and take advantage of the space you have. Because our tiny kitchen space is essentially in our living space, it’s important that all the cabinetry tie together seamlessly and be multifunctional — this is the kind of thing they take into account.

It was nice to see their Viola Park line represented. It’s a bit more affordable than the HenryBuilt pieces as these are “off the shelf” components you configure yourself as opposed to having them customized. Laminate below but they offer wood options as well…

viola park

The Paperstone countertop just begs to be touched. Very tactile…

sink and counter

They’ve extended their line into other areas of the home now. This teak wardrobe features leather pulls and lots of little storage nooks…

wardrobe cabinet

The craftsmanship is pretty impeccable…

detail on hooks

The interior was fitted with industrial felt pockets and shoe shelves. Who wouldn’t love that?

interior cabinet

Also drooled over an oak entry piece with storage below…

entry bench

… and storage cabinets up above. I love how they cut in openings below the doors instead of on the doors to keep the look super minimal…

door cutouts

To die for. Our friends Laura and Ben commissioned a HenryBuilt kitchen just a few years ago — so jealous. Maybe Laura will let me drop by and see how it’s holding up. Laura? Whaddya say?