Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Blues

It is mid-December and we are now 2 months into the project. I am amazed at how much I am learning and have realized how much I've screwed up, from the green build viewpoint. At this moment in time, there is a dumpster in our front yard filled with green waste, an old dishwaher and garbage disposal, wood, and whatever else was on the job site. I am so embarassed I can't bring myself to take a picture of it for the blog. That dumpster is going straight to the landfill. It wasn't sorted and won't be recycled and I feel horrible. If I could only have some time and a huge truck to take the stuff to a recycle facility myself, I would. Or would I?

I think this is the guilt that fills most of us, but not enough for us to actually do anything about. So, instead I blog and hope that others after me will be more pro-active. In my defense, I also advocate for the city to streamline its policies so that it makes doing the right thing convenient. Currently in San Diego, you have to call and make an appointment for a Sat. visit to bring in your atypical trash (like dishwashers, old monitors, metal, If you've got old copper, however, that is EASY to get rid of because it is worth money. Sometimes it is even stolen from your site (don't ask!). Eric took our old cooper piping to a private recycle facility and made $84.00. But, even the private sector makes recycling difficult. They would not take anything else we had even though there website said they would. There, have I justified myself enough?? I feel less guilty already. ;-)

A teaser for my next I bet you never thought that could be more than a few lines. Just wait............

Monday, November 26, 2007

More doors and windows

So, there is a salvage store in downtown San Diego called Architectural Salvage. We are so fired up because we found the most perfect front door there for a a fraction of the cost of a new solid oak door. And this one has beveled glass! It is perfect for our Craftsman redo.

Almost forgot to talk about our window selection. I researched this a lot. Most companies produce low e/ dual paned windows and that is what makes them "green". We found a smaller company called Sierra Pacific that make windows on par with Marvin (for a lot less!) AND the bonus is they own their own forests so they control the ENTIRE process of producing a window. They claim to follow ethical practices in reforesting, etc. etc. The windows aren't FSC certified, however, Sierra Pacific is monitored by their own industry through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. This is the only window company I have found that does anything close to sustainable practices. Check them out.

If you have any questions about my posts, please add a comment. For example, it just occured to me that most may not know what FSC means. Well, it is a true 3rd party that assesses companies (who produce wood products) for their standards and practices in regard to sustainability, treatment of indiginous peoples, community relations, etc. etc. So, if this is important to you, make sure that the flooring you buy is FSC approved. More information is available at

Friday, November 9, 2007

The art of bartering and other finishes

Remember the friend who dug up our palm tree? Well, they just gave us 5 solid wood interior doors that had been sitting in their backyard for a year. We are now going to be able to frame out our door jambs to fit them perfectly. This is a small part of the process of sustainable living--reusing what is already there. Of course, I love it because it is free! And now, onto the other finishes we have selected for our remodel project.

Finish selection for us occured from the start of our design process with the architect and continues today. Our contractor is helping us a lot now and it can be quite overwhelming. When you are going green, it takes more time to find exactly what you need. It can also mean compromising what you need to what is available. For example, we are desparately looking for used brick for our front porch. I know that there are tons of families in my community that have piles of bricks in their yard that they don't know what to do with. Somehow I need to connect up with them. I am using Craigslist as my primary source, but am also talking to people putting the word out that we are in need of brick. The brick we end up with may not look exactly like our existing brick I really care? If I do, then I may need to purcahse some from a supplier. The same is true for our existing red oak floors. Somewhere in San Diego is a pile of used red oak looking for a home. I just have to track it down and that takes time. So I start looking NOW in the hopes of securing it before I need it.

Here is a list of some of the materials we will be using in our house. I am including the website if I have it.
  • Bamboo flooring for new floors

It is a renewable source. Be careful that the bamboo you buy is matured enough and from the moso species. This is what I have been told, at least. We are getting ours from Calibamboo because not only are they local for us, but they have the best prices on quality bamboo.

  • Kenmore appliances
I think that pretty much all appliances these days are energy star efficient. We are lucky enough to have a Sears Outlet in town with returned or slightly scratched appliances so the prices are quite reasonable. Don't forget to check if your state or city has rebates offered! It could save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Paperstone countertops

There are a few manufacturers of recycled paper countertops (like Richlite), but we ended up with this one. From what I understand, they take recycled paper and mix it with resins to make an extremely durable and solid surface. We may also end up doing our master bathroom vanity with this since concrete is TOO expensive.

  • Ultratouch insulation

This is such a cool innovation. It uses scraps from denim jean production to make the insulation. It has great R values and no VOC's. The only drawback is the cost---about 1/2 more than regular fiberglass insulation.

  • HardiePlank siding and facia

You've probably seen this stuff all around and didn't know it was green. It is fiber cement siding and we are actually (if we can afford it) going to use the Color Plus version which has a baked on color. That way we reduce the need for painting now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, etc.

  • Solar panels

We still haven't made a decision on which company we are going to use, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we only need 8-10 panels max. to go "off the grid". That will only cost us from $9-11 K (depending on who we go with) after rebates. We have tried really hard to reduce our comsuption of electricity and I guess it is paying off. The panels I am leaning towards are Sunpower because they pack a little more per panel and they look......HOT!

  • Fiberon composite decking

We are using this for our front and side deck. We may also use it for our rails and posts in place of wood. This particular decking seems to be the most durable because they use recycled milk jugs instead of recycled plastic bags like the other major brands. This is what I was told at a home show by one of their reps, however, I couldn't find that information anywhere. I also think their Tropic series decking looks the best. It is actually cheaper than the other major brands.

This list isn't exhaustive, but it is what we have decided on so far. We still need to research tankless water heaters and heat pumps. Check back later for more information as it comes!

Thursday, November 8, 2007


For all of you who are going to do a build or remodel, the first step is finding an architect. I actually found ours through the AIA website which has a search engine where you can specify certain criteria. I was amazed that in the city the size of San Diego there were only a handful.....well, less than a handful of architects that did residential work that were LEED certified. Because this is a new field, I also found that there weren't a lot of seasoned professionals who had the experience as well as the knowledge of green materials. We were lucky and hired one that worked out well. Which is important because it has been my experience that architects are the experts on green materials and not contractors.....probably because contractors are admittedly slower to change with the times.

I decided that the best way for us to move forward (and quickly) was to educate myself about green materials. And so I did. And I am. This is an on-going process. The best way for me to learn about all the different products out there was to see them up close. I found out that several cities have what I would call "Green Depots" where they are mini-showrooms with sustainable goods from roofing options down to bed linens and everything in between. Staff at these places are always helpful and passionate about what they do. They have samples to take, price information, referrals and lots of advice. Of course, there isn't one in my city...that would be too easy. Thank God for the Internet. I do most of my research via my laptop and have found this site to be one of the best as far as materials go.

I have been to a few showrooms--Living Green in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and Originate in Tucson. If you have one near you I urge you to go and visit. You will be surprised at how much stuff is out there as well as how much you like it!

One of my rants, though, is that because eco products are so new, there is not a lot of information on how well the products do over time. For example, we are going with a recycled paper countertop surface called Paperstone, but will this surface look good in 10 years? No one I have talked to has had it installed for that long...a few years at best. I guess when you want to be a pioneer, you take a certain risk. Well, so be it. Paperstone it is. Check it out!

I'll have more on the materials we have chosen for our project on a later post. I wanted to move into the idea of deconstruction (reversing the order of the building process in order to maintain the integrity of the pieces) versus demolition (get it out by any means necessary). Unfortunately for us, we ended up with more of a demolition route rather than a deconstruction route, but I have learned a lot along the way.

Apparently there are deconstruction companies out there that will recycle or salvage EVERYTHING that you are getting rid of--metals, wood, windows, hardware...everything. My brother just did this in Arizona and I know that the tax savings almost makes the cost of it a near wash. So, look into it.

The best I could do was salvage some items that we were not using and find them new homes. I did this for our old water heater, refrigerator, cabinetry, washer/dryer, stovetop, several windows, fixtures, built in mixer (very retro), stove, and our palm tree. A friend dug that up and it is now sitting very pretty in front of their house. Another great source for donating materials is Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They are located all around the US. You can also shop there! (Some of them do deconstruction as well.) Craigslist was another valuable asset as I was trying to get rid of items. People will take just about anything and reuse it. Here is another link to look into for the reuse of some of your debris.

Think about reusing some of the things in your existing house in your new design. We are going to reuse flooring, garage doors, cement pieces from the driveway (for pavers), and older windows (we'll put those in the garage). We also decided to try and keep our footprint relatively the same and not create a McMansion that we really didn't need. I didn't even want build a new garage, but I lost that battle with my husband :) And that is part of the process too. Obviously not all of our choices are green. We just aren't ready for that yet.

Some may argue that our green remodel is more of a "sea foam" color--a little light around the edges. My argument back is that we are doing what works for us and we will continue to challenge ourselves. Bottom line to me is that anything you can do to help save the planet is better than nothing. In this phase, you just have to be creative as you are gearing up for the start of construction. All your existing stuff has to go somewhere....let's try to keep it out of our landfill.