Monday, October 27, 2008

The end of our posts....for now

The previous post has a few more photos of our completed project. I have also done a before/after photo montage. I hope what comes across is that you can use reclaimed, recycled or alternative materials and still look good....even great.  Going green doesn't mean sacrificing style.  In fact, since this is such an emerging market a lot of resources are being used to come up with some really cool looking stuff.  It's capitalism at its best...what will be the next IT material?  

We have officially been in our house for almost 2 months now.  Still loving it and glad we embarked upon our adventure.  It is amazing how much time I have now that it is over.  Some final notes.....

Our front yard landscaping will be totally xeriscape.  A local community college (not the one where we got our floors) is using our project as their case study in xeriscape.  Hopefully we'll get some great designs at the end of the semester and can implement them in the spring of 2009.  The website for Cuyamaca College Xeriscape Institute is

We will receive some free trees from a program that San Diego County has promoting shade on homes.  All we had to do is attend a class on how to correctly plant and maintain trees and in a few weeks, they will be delivered to our house---free!  The program has lost its funding for 2009, but keep checking the website because you never know.

We have had 2 bills from SDG&E (local utility) and we are quite pleased with the savings we've incurred.  We only pay for gas during the year and that ran us 9.00 the first month and 5.00 the second month.  Our electric bill is paid once a year, but so far, we are in the positive since it has been good sun months.  That will help us during the fall and winter.  He hope to get close to breaking even....we'll see!  It is great that we don't have to pay for gas heat though!  Glad we went electric with that.  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

For your viewing pleasure

Outdoor patio with decomposed granite underneath (porous so water can permeate the ground).  Weatherproofed my in-laws furniture and viola! instant patio.
Remember all that brick?  Here is its second life--raised beds for our garden (yet to be planted). We also had drip lines installed.
Side of house with raised beds and concrete "flagstone"---concrete pieces from our old driveway.
Our new house--can't even tell it is the same address.  Talk about curb appeal!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The light at the end of the tunnel

We are nearing completion of our remodel and it took exactly 9 months.  It truly feels like I am delivering a baby, but this baby was a lot more expensive. I am at the point of picking out the finishing touches like draperies and rugs.  I am trying hard to stick to natural fibers to avoid a lot of the off gases and formaldahyde.  However, you've got to be careful because a lot of the natural stuff has backing that is not so natural.   

I've decided on linen draperies, wool rugs, jute rugs and one sisal rug.  We have solid wood floors throughout so we need a lot of rugs.  I love the look of jute (and the price) but the downside is that you can't professionally clean them.  Wool has always been good to me and I continue to rely on it.  I am amazed at the amount of diversity in natural and or organic materials out there now.  It seems like it has grown even since I began my process over a year ago.   Should you end up buying a carpet that has a lot of toxicity, there is a product by AFM that coats the carpet and essentially encapsulates the carcinogens.

Almost forgot, we used Dunn Edwards line of eco paint and I am not that happy with the results.  However, Yolo Colorhouse was used in one of our rooms and it seems to be a much better paint and much more expensive :)  Hopefully these larger chains which have decided to go eco will actually improve their products before they market them in the future.   ha ha ha

Sunday, June 15, 2008

To legislate or not....that is the question

Bet you didn't think politics would come into play on a green remodel blog, but I can always make room for a great debate. This post focuses on government intervention and moving towards a more sustainable, renewable world. In my humble opinion, I say YES...government MUST be involved in efforts to improve our current environmental situation.  Change will not happen, at least the level of change that our world needs, unless government steps in and demands it.  

I've been thinking about this a lot.  Do you think that people would be wearing seat belts today if there weren't laws requiring us to? Well, the same is true of recycling, eliminating incandescent light bulbs, conserving water, reducing the VOC's in paint, using renewable energies...and the list goes on.  I think we can generally agree that all of us want a cleaner, less toxic earth.  But, no one wants it to impede upon their lifestyle.  Guess what folks, it has to impact your life because we don't live in isolation.  We are a community and communities need governing.  

My last rant of the blog (I think)---we have GOT to get some legislation passed (and of course the follow-up funding and enforcement) to move us in the right direction.  Why aren't solar, wind and other available sources of energy the norm???  Why aren't contractors and builders forced to recycle construction waste?  Why aren't there more "re-use" stores in our communities?  That is my piece during this election cycle.  

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's so green about your house?

We get this question all the time from friends and family and after having read our first post, I think it is time to take another look at what makes our remodel green. I feel it important to state for the record that we are not die hard tree huggers. We are simply doing what we can to make our house safe for our kids and use materials/practices that are safer for the earth.

What makes our remodel green:
  1. Reuse existing materials from old house into new as much as possible--things like windows, red oak flooring, existing bathroom, concrete pieces as pavers
  2. Recycle existing materials for reuse with someone else--cabinets, hollow core doors, appliances, sliding door, windows, water heater, fill dirt, landscape plants, red oak flooring, garage doors
  3. Recycle of various other materials diverting approx. 2 tons from the landfill--drywall, clean wood, metal, cardboard, fill dirt
  4. Use of salvaged or reclaimed materials--all interior doors and hardware, maple floors, red oak floors, bricks
  5. Use alternative materials that are less damaging to the environment and us--denim insulation, rigid insulation, bamboo veneer cabinetry with low VOC finish, recycled paper countertops (Paperstone), low VOC/no VOC paints (Dunn Edwards and YOLO Colorhouse), MDF trims, energy efficient windows produced in CA
  6. Energy efficient appliances (I find this ridiculous to add as green because almost all new appliances are energy efficient due to federal regulations--thank God)
  7. Fluorescent lighting where possible, LED lighting on exterior, halogen everywhere else
  8. Solar panels--2.2 kW photo voltaic system
  9. Tankless water heater
  10. 2 heat pumps to enable us to "zone" our heating needs (upstairs versus downstairs)
  11. Xeriscape landscaping with drip irrigation
  12. Mulch and wood chips made from materials recycled at the dump
  13. Organic vegetable and herb garden beds and compost

I'll have to add to this post as I remember more things but that's all for now, or as they say in Hawaiian "pau for now".

Hoops anyone?

If you remember, we had the issue of not having enough red oak flooring for the house. I seriously checked out craigslist daily to try and find some, but timing is everything in the salvaging world. So, our floor guy was able to find a gym floor in a school that was being demo'ed or remodeled or whatever. Their loss is our gain. We now will have beautiful maple flooring in our entry level. It was just delivered today to acclimate (all wood needs to sit at least a week inside the area where it will be laid). It was cool to see the free throw lines and sweat marks. Our floors have quite a story to tell I am sure!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

With the best intentions

Here is my rant of the day.  I spent a LOT of time tracking down materials for us to use in our remodel--anything from wood flooring to door knobs.  Well after all that hard work, it turns out the bricks I got off craigslist weren't able to be used on our front porch because they weren't veneers.  I've got hope that we will be able to use them in our landscaping, but who knows.  

The existing red oak floors that we had on the entry level of our split home were pulled up and TOSSED to the curb by the floor guys because they were the wrong height and deemed "unusable".  The salvaged red oak flooring that I did manage to pick up is only going to cover about 6oo square feet, not 1000 sq.ft.  Light fixtures, towel racks and other various things from the old house that we were going to re-use in the remodel were tossed in the dump pile because construction folks are not used to people salvaging things.  There mindset is everything goes.  I am waiting for our old toilet (only 5 years old, actually) to be tossed, but somehow it has remained in the center of our master bedroom.  

Bottom line:  If you plan to keep anything, get is as far away from the construction site as possible.  If you plan to bring salvaged or reclaimed materials into your build, know that they may not end up working.  Them's the breaks.  Promise the next post will be a little more uplifting :) 

Friday, June 6, 2008

You never post anymore

Okay, so I admit our regular updates have turned into quarterly updates. The last post was done by Eric because even he was getting tired of waiting for something new. Who knew that the closer you get to the finish line, the more uphill the race. I have been so busy with decisions, decisions, decisions for the house that I just haven't carved out the time to post. And you know how it goes... if you miss class for three months, do you really want to go back? Well, here I am but I am not sure where to say 1,000 words. Enjoy! PS-Formatting is not my speciality!
Old bathroom tile will live on! Love the mint green.

The front porch and roof take shape.
Notice all the brick piled up--go Craigslist.
Side porch

Inside the house in the hallway. We are keeping all existing wood floors as much as possible. Some was damaged due to heavy rains and no roof---go figure.

Beginning foundation for the new roof and porch in front and side of house. It was just before Christmas and our neighborhood puts out luminarias for the holiday. We had signs up for free fill dirt and got rid of a bit of our mountains of dirt that way.

Denim jean scraps getting a new life as insulation that we put in EVERYWHERE. We are under the flight pattern in San Diego so this is seriously going to make our lives calmer.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


We haven't posted in awhile. Construction decisions are coming fast and furious. We have been keeping notes and will share a few of them in the coming weeks. Here is what we learned about recycling drywall waste.

Upon completion of interior drywall, there was a mountain of drywall scraps. Though not as desirable as copper, drywall along with much of construction and demolition waste can be recycled. A quick review of our local Miramar landfill website reveals a link listing what can be recycled in SD and more importantly where it can be recycled.

You are paid for some recycling and you pay for others; however, this cost is often less than if you had it taken to the landfill. The added bonus is, of course, the benefit of not adding to the landfill and a downright feel good attitude.

We sorted ours from the rubbish pile, loaded it into a truck, and delivered it to the collection site (EDCO in Lemon Grove). 1 ton of drywall was diverted from the landfill for $46.
The SD city website offers more ideas into jobsite recycling at their website. This link offers construction waste recycling ideas for all stages of a construction project.

If we were to do this again, more time would be spent planning for construction waste recycling as well as educating our numerous sub contractors. The good news……I have heard but not verified that come July 2008, the City of San Diego will require all construction sites to sort construction debris. How they will plan to implement and enforce this remains to be seen. As our contractor stated today, “Until they force us, we won’t change.”

Saturday, March 22, 2008

To the Dump

Some of you may find it odd that Eric and I once had a date at the dump, but it was then that I knew he was the one.  Seriously, for those of you that haven't been to your local landfill, it is quite the adventure.  If you are not one to recycle or believe that as a society we are creating more trash than we know what to do with, you MUST go.  There is a huge gaping hole in the ground that trucks literally back up into and dump out their garbage. Then it is flattened by heavy machinery, watered down and presto!.....out of sight, out of mind.  
About half way into our green building process, Eric and I realized that no one (subs, contractor, etc.) was going to sort and recycle our construction debris.  If we wanted it to happen, we had to do it ourselves.  It took several days to sort the pile of trash in our front yard into metal, cardboard/paper, glass, and clean wood.  The rest went into the dumpster and will eventually end up in land fill.   I would estimate we brought down our trash weight by 1/3 to 1/2 of what it would have been...a huge savings in dump costs as well as better for the environment.  

The bulk of our recyclables was clean wood which is put through a huge machine and made into wood chips for landscaping.  It took several attempts at the recycling center to learn the process. On my first trip, they said I had painted wood (not good).  On my second trip, they wanted to call haz mat because I had some pressure treated wood (also not good).  On my subsequent trips I was given the okay.  

Clean wood, as defined by San Diego, is not painted or treated (varnished or pressure treated) but it can have nails.  I have to admit, I like going to the dump, as do our kids.  There is something therapeutic about throwing large pieces of wood onto a huge pile and watching them shatter.  It is even cooler to know that we will be back in a few months to retrieve that same wood in the form of wood chips.  The cycle of life......

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lessons Learned

We just finished month 5 of the remodel process and this last month has brought a lot of joys as well as a lot of thorns.  Let's start with the good stuff.  I was able to locate all of our brick needs (about 2,300 of them) through Craigslist.  

Our first score was from a woman who was re-doing the hard scape of her 1960's home here in San Diego.  She was ditching her brick and putting in concrete.  So there I was at 6 am ready to load a whole lotta old brick (which almost matches our current chimney perfectly!) into our truck.  The contractor at that site did most of the work for us AND since he lived near us, agreed to drive a load to our place in his 1 ton truck.  See, not only is going green good for the earth, it promotes community!  He was as happy to see all the brick go to a new home as I was to receive it.

Our second score was getting brick veneer for all of our columns.  It was brand new, but a guy had a ton of overage so he agreed to sell it for about half its value.  Turns out he is installing a  drip irrigation system and doing a native landscape....I may come back to ask him some questions when we enter our landscape phase.  

Now for the bad news.....we've got mold and a lot of it.  Eric and I had a sit down with our contractor about what was within his control to manage and what wasn't (remember our roof has been off for 5 months now).  As it turns out, we are tearing down all of our existing plaster walls due to water damage/mold.  It totally sucks, but we all agree that it is better to deal with it now than downstream.  It is setting us back a few weeks, but in the end it is the right thing to do.  Note to future remodelers:  Never, I repeat never, take off a roof without securing the existing home beneath it.  And try not to remodel during the rainiest season ever!!!!!  The mold is making our "green" remodel take on a whole new meaning.

More bad news......we have had a series of thefts.  It seems par for the course in this area, but it still stinks.  They have taken (as in cut out) plumbing copper pipes, windows, and electrical copper wiring.  We've had a put in a claim to our insurance company and notify the police.  There isn't much you can do unless you catch them in the act.    In case you weren't aware, addicts have been recycling copper for decades.  The only problem is it wasn't theirs to begin with.  My brother has offered up his son and a bb gun to protect the property...thanks Tom.  

That is about all the negative I want to write about because it gets depressing.  Eric and I continue to enjoy this whole process and try to keep our eyes on the prize.  Don't sweat the small stuff, right???  Next post will highlight our trip to the dump.  I'm serious.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's Hot, It's Cold

This is a view of the front of the house. We have added a front porch and some very craftsman-like posts. Notice the lack of roof.....and think about all the rain that has DUMPED on San Diego the last few months. Total Murphy's Law. Although the plaster walls in the existing house have taken a lot of water, we are hoping we don't have to replace with drywall. I guess this is one of the downsides of not tearing down everything and rebuilding.

I wanted to focus on HVAC systems and green building. There are certainly a lot of options out there, but I only have researched a few of them. Radiant floor heating is supposed to be the most efficient and best for the environment, but unfortunately for us it was not really an option. We have a lot of existing flooring that we aren't re-doing and the cost to put in radiant heat is not within our budget. The option we went with is to use two electric heat pumps. They are meant for moderate climates (hello, San Diego), are Energy Star approved for their efficiency and as a bonus for us....they are electric. Since we are putting up solar panels to generate our electricity....viola! Check out this link for some suggestions on heating and cooling.

Okay, just a few more points and this exciting topic will be over. Zoning is a great way to make things efficient. We chose to get two heat pumps instead of one so that we could "zone" our heating needs. We have a split level house and the thought of heating the entire house when we only need a portion of it heated made no sense to me. After SEVERAL discussions with our HVAC contractor, we opted for two heat pumps. One provides heat to the bedrooms and upstairs and the other to the living space and downstairs. The other viable option for us was to get individual heat pumps for each room. It would have cost a bit more but honestly, vanity kicked in. I just couldn't accept the aesthetics of room heaters. I applaud those of you out there that have taken things a step further than we have.

My second point is the importance of which model you choose once you decide on the type (i.e heat pump, furnace, etc.). Each brand name sells various models and not all are created equal from a green standpoint. It is essential to look at the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) for the heating component and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for the AC component. The higher the number the more efficient it is. Go as high as you can afford as it will mean savings in the long run.

Third, look at the refrigerant that the unit uses. R-22 has been used for decades and is being replaced with R-410a as the latter is not an ozone depleting source. Check to make sure the model you choose is compliant with new regulations that will take effect in the next few years.

And last, most HVAC contractors are not hip to the green movement. This is based on interaction with our HVAC guy whom I assume is pretty typical. It was cool to see him get the fact that efficiency was important to us (as was not having R-22 in our home surrondings). You may have to be persistant and have more discussions than you ever thought possible, but it is worth it in the end. Good luck!

Monday, January 14, 2008

One person's trash is another person's treasure

Hot damn! We just found about 1,000 sq. ft. of red oak flooring from a friend (yeah, the same friends that gave us their old doors) who pulled it out of an older home locally and never used it on their own house. They had all the best intentions to do so, but it didn't work out. They have been storing it in a neighbor's garage and by happenstance learned that we were in need of some salvaged wood flooring. It was a perfect fit with our existing floors so all we need to do is refinish everything together!
I am so amazed when stuff like this happens. There is a demand.....there is a supply. The hardest part is getting the two parts together. So, I have decided that I am going to put up a sign at our remodel site that gives this url in the hopes that I can find more things we need for the house as well as build up excitement about green rebuilding. Next post will likely be about HVAC stuff. Yahoo!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lights, camera, action!

If you haven't switched over your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), now is the time. For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, one year ago neither did I--but Eric was hot to get the old ones out of our house. Slowly but surely he started doing it covertly and I never even noticed the difference. I had always thought that anything fluorescent = bluish glow = ugly. I am now realizing that not all CFL's are the same. Some are better than others.

The New York Times just ran an article that tested a few of the more popular brands. n:vision by Home Depot, TCP Spring Light/Soft White and MaxLite SpiraMax fared better than most. Still, not all of our lighting is CFL because let's face it, old school light bulbs (called incandescent) put off the best looking light. What I encourage you to do is try out some CFL's here and there and see what you think. You'd be surprised. The cool thing is that they use 70% less energy and last 6 to 10 times longer than old school bulbs....WOW! Of particular note is that there is mercury in CFL's so they shouldn't be put in regular trash. Hmm, not so green afterall, right?Here is a link to where you can "safely" recycle CFL's.

Back to our remodel-- we have the typical 1950's house where everything was done by task lighting so the only ceiling light we have in the whole house is the chandelier. Since we have vaulted ceilings in our main living area, we have decided to use cable system lights to run along our beams. They use halogen lights which is considered a form of incandescent light. Luckily, halogens are more efficient and last longer than the traditional incandescent light bulb. Listed in order are different types of lights available in order of efficiency.
Light-emitting diodes (LED)
What I am taking away from my research is that not all lighting is equal. Try to get the most efficient lighting you can, but understand halogens are probably going to be part of the equation in order to get the type of lighting you need for various areas (kitchen, reading etc.). We are using CFL's in floor lamps, pendants, table lamps and the exterior of the house (along with motion sensors), but are using halogens in our ceiling. I haven't talked about LED's at all because it is hard to find LED lighting for anything other than under kitchen counters or outside lights. If you do find it, it is extremely expensive. Hopefully in the next decade we will have some major breakthroughs in LED lighting.