Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fake or Real?

Christmas trees, that is.

I'm a fan of real tree. I love the smell of the tree. I grew up with real trees, and only had a fake one for a very short time period (they triggered nasty asthma in a certain ex of mine).

Some people love the convenience of fake trees. I will give that the pre-lit trees are neat, and they are getting much more realistic.

But my topic for the day is: which is more socially/environmentally responsible?

I've seen some people say its definitely an artificial tree, because it can be reused year after year. I, however, disagree.

Artificial trees:
* made with plastic (i.e. petroleum products)
* eventually will have to be disposed of, and will never break down
* likely made in China, with the carbon footprint that comes from shipping across the sea and to your store
* collect dust in the attic/basement over the years

Real trees:
* Likely grown fairly close by - at least in this country
* Christmas tree farming is fairly low-impact, often on land that can't grown anything else (at least the farms I am familiar with in the NC mountains)
* When a tree is cut down, another one is planted in its place
* Christmas tree farms are often small-scale farms
* Live tree sales are often fund raisers for local non-profit groups
* After Christmas, the trees can be mulched by your local municipality or left in a corner of your backyard to compost naturally and provide shelter for wildlife.
* The just smell so much better!

I realize my list is biased toward real. Anyone have other pros or cons for either side? You won't change my mind, but I would like to make my list more comprehensive.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Flooring Ranbles

The majority of our main living floor is hard wood. Good 40-year-old red oak. We sanded them down and refinished them this summer, and they look awesome (if I do say so myself!). We did, however, use standard sealers and finishes. This was due to our floor guy refusing to use "that green crap." This was an old friend of Wirenut's who refinishes floors down in Tennessee for a living. He said he has worked with the low-VOC finishes twice, and unfortunately, they aren't quite ready for prime time. This spawned a discussion with him about green living and green remodeling. To his credit, he willingly admitted it was a noble cause and something we should all be doing. Yet he said that, when they used the products before, the quality was just not up to his standards. (And I imagine Naturegrrl is reading this thinking "He has standards?!"). So hardwood refinished, we didn't do so good on green, but we get an A+ on frugal for getting a pro job for the cost of materials and a one-way Southwest ticket from Nashville to BWI.

Our bathroom is currently tiled. Sadly, we will be tearing that up for the remodel. Due to the restructuring (enlarging and then dividing), we have to remove it. The replacement tile was, however, purchased from Habit for Humanity. So, the money went to a good cause and we bought remnants. And there are no petroleum products in the tile, so no off-gassing and nasty stuff like that.

The basement - well, the basement is so far down on the list of things to think about that we haven't done much. We are, however, 75% sure we have good old asbestos tiles down there. So, we will need to encapsulate the tile. And since its a basement and needs encapsulation, we pretty much will need to use a sheet product or will have to skim coat is with something. But yeah, it will be awhile.

This brings us to the kitchen. Our kitchen floor is currently vinyl. I would say it is in good condition, but when we rotated the peninsula cabinet, we were left with a large patch of missing flooring. So, it will need to be redone. This has put me on a quest for real, honest to gosh darn, linoleum. This stuff is hard to find. Armstrong makes one, as does Fobo. Armstrong's website sends me to my local Lowe's. I should have known better. The conversation went like this:
Me: Hi, I am looking for real linoleum.
Lowe's Idiot (LI): Sure, do you want stick tiles, sheet, or what?
me: No no, those are vinyl. I want real linoleum.
LI: This is real linoleum.
me: No, its not.
LI: Well, everyone calls vinyl linoleum. But its the same stuff.
me: No. Linoleum is made with linseed oil and has a hemp backing, vinyl is made with petroleum products.
LI: We don't carry it.
me (at this point knowing I am wasting my time, but he is annoying me): Well, Armstong's website send me here. Armstong says you carry it.
LI: We don't carry it. And it has asbestos in it. Why would you want that?
me: That is so not true. They took asbestos out of flooring products before you were born! (said as though I was more than 10 years older than him - LOL).
LI: We aren't allowed to carry anything with asbestos. Its illegal.
me: Ok, fine. Whatever. I bet Armstrong will be happy to hear you are telling people such things.

This conversation reads so much more calmly than I remember feeling. I've never felt like screaming at a Lowe's idiot before. Normally, I'm a fan of Lowe's idiots. I own Lowe's stock. I shop there a lot. I can usually sweet talk the guys into carrying drywall for me. But not this guy. I was about to punch him for being such an idiot!!!

I have been to a couple of other big box and small stores with my question "Do you have real linoleum?" Usually there is a little conversation back and forth before they realize I do not mean vinly. Big box people generally say no (although none with such passion as the above Lowe's idiot). The smaller stores generally say no.

A few weeks ago, we were shopping for a mattress, and there was a flooring store right next door. On a whim, I walked in and asked my standard question. Bernadette took one look at me and said "I think we have one sample in the back, and I can get more." I was in love! She has gone out of her way to get us a wheel of sample, even sending us a letter when I accidentally gave her the wrong phone number! So, I want to plug her and where she works: Standard Carpet and Floor. I just returned the samples. Unfortunately, due to the bathroom, its going to be 2008 before we redo the floors. But I will be going back to her because she has been so helpful! And, if you find this post by googling linoleum and Baltimore (I know at least one person did), then go to Standard Carpet! No, I get no kick-backs. But I like good service!

Friday, November 2, 2007


We just had our oil furnace cleaned and tuned up for the winter. We have only run it a few times, but those couple of time reminded me why I am so glad to not have a heat pump. mmmmmmm warm air. Fuel burning furnaces definitely make a house feel so much more cozy than a heat pump. Unfortunately, fuel burning furnaces tend to use non-renewable fuels, such a natural gas and heating oil.

The thing about heating oil is that is technically #2 fuel oil. And #2 fuel oil is really, really close to diesel fuel. In fact, the heating oil guy told use if we install a diesel generator, we can run a line from our (massive, 550 gallon) heating oil tank. Conversely, if we run out of heating oil, we can dump a couple of 5-gallon tanks of diesel from the gas station to tide us over til the delivery truck can get out. (this is what our heating person told us, if you found this from googling and try it, you do so at your own risk.)

Further extrapolation means that you can run a oil burning furnace on Biodiesel. Biodiesel is a side passion of mine. Not that I have done anything with it (other than make a bundle, then lose the rest on Earth Biofuels). But, for the past couple years I have talked about how I want to buy a diesel car and run it on veggie oil. One day... But I digress. The biodiesel folks have begun to blend biodiesel with heating oil to produce BioHeat home heating oil! (Wiki's bioheat link) This excites me beyond belief! Even better, there is a genuine biodiesel plant here in Maryland.

But alas, my attempts to find someone to deliver bio heating oil have been futile. Everyone I call is not carrying it yet. The company we are using right now says they are discussing it and plan to carry it at some point, but can give me no time frame. I am hoping that as one of the largest companies in the state, they will have the resources to get new storage tanks sooner than others. I will gladly replace my lines and pump to heat my home on waste veggie oil! Hopefully, I will find a source before I get fed up enough to make it myself. I'm too much of a girl to deal with stinky used oil from the local fry-everything joint.

Friday, October 26, 2007

We are failing

It is finally time for our bathroom remodel. Our current main bathroom if 5'x20'. Yes, you read that right. It is a bowling alley. We have decided it would be far more functional as two bathrooms, one 5x9' and one 5x11'. Why are we failing? We can't find fixtures that meet any of our needs.

We went to a high end showroom recommended by our plumbing company. Their bid for what we want - $10,000. Yeah. So not happening.

We spent a good portion of today wandering the warehouses at Second Chance architectural salvage. We thought for sure we would be able to find a good chunk of our materials there. First off, they are the outlet for Yorktown Cabinetry. We were so hoping to find ourselves two nice, overstocked vanities. Unfortunately, we struck out. Dismally. Then we went looking around at other stuff. In short, there was nothing there that met our needs (either color, style or price). For example, sure, they had a pallet of brand new Toto toilets for $250. But, I can get a perfectly good toilet for $100 at Lowes. So do we pay over twice as much for a surplus product that supports a good cause, or make our wallets happy when a Kholer toilet from Lowes?

Vanities are another issue. I really wish Ikea had quality bathroom cabinetry. Their kitchen cabinets are great, but their bathroom, not so much. At least with Ikea, they use sustainable harvesting methods for most products. Bah!

So, I think we went end up buying most of our bathroom stuff online or from an annoying big box, simply because our budget is not allowing high end stuff, and the salvage place isn't meeting out needs. At least the floor tile came from a Habitat for Humanity surplus auction. I guess I can feel good about that.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A post for women only

If you are a man, stop reading. Now. I mean it. NOW! If you keep reading, you will regret it. If you are a women, but squeamish about that monthly visitor, you should probably stop reading, too.

Since moving into a house with a (brand new!) septic system, I have become acutely aware of the waste created by my monthly female cycle. See, when you have a septic system, it is VERY bad to flush your tampons. They don't decompose, instead, they just float in the tank until it is pumped. And that assumes they don't sneak through the baffles and clog up your drain field. So, I bought myself a nice little trash can with a tight fitting lid. I kept it next to the toilet. I lined it with a plastic grocery bag, and, for one week a month, used it to dispose of my female grossness. Suffice to say, this solution was not the best. It was gross, very gross. It would smell if it wasn't empties regularly (and then just transferring the smell to the garage trash can). But mostly, seeing this made me realize just how wasteful it can be to be a female. I had thought I was doing the best I could when I switched to O.B. without the applicator. But, I decided it wasn't enough.

Enter the menstrual cup. I must admit, I had heard about these maybe 10+ years ago, but I always second guessed myself because it seemed, well, gross. The first time I heard about cups, I believe it was the one called The Keeper. It was expensive, and I wasn't sure I would like it. I tried Instead when they first came out, but I found them uncomfortable, and it seemed even more wasteful than tampons. But now, with the gross trash can issue mentioned above, it seemed like it was time to finally get up the nerve and try a cup again. Enter The Diva Cup. I picked it mostly because it seemed to be the cheapest one I could find.

I am now 3 days into my first month using it, and I am finally in love. There were some growing pains getting use to it, but I found the information at LiveJournals's menstrual cup support group invaluable! Most importantly, I learned that most everyone has some issues at first, and that the instructions that came with the Diva were not the only method of insertion. Since trying some of the other folds, I can now get it in and out quickly and easily (the first day, this was NOT the case). Its still a bit messy, but not terrible. And far less bad than a bag of 3 day old tampons.

I figure after 4 months of not buying tampons and pads, the Diva will have paid for itself financially, plus I will no longer be disposing of 20+ tampons per month.

Now... about my love of toilet paper...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Attic insulator

Our attic stairs don't quite fit properly into the ceiling, creating massive drafts. So Wirenut built a very cool insulator to fit over the top. Its hinged to flip up easily, and wrapped in R12 batting insulation. The inside is lined with R4 foam insulation. I found things like this online for $50 to $150. This one was built for under $20. The basic plans we used can be found here.

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, September 24, 2007


I'm not a great blogger. Especially lately. We haven't done too much keeping with the theme of this blog, nor have I bothered to blog on the topics I planned. But, I will give you some pictures of stuff we have done, and I promise there is at least one energy efficient project coming up!


And this is the area we have designated for our garden. Its going to be huge. And ideally, we will have rain barrels to provide supplemental watering in the heat of the summer. However, if it is as dry as it was this summer, rain barrels won't even help. We have a hearing to go to next week to determine if we will be getting public water. Keep your fingers crossed for us. The public water here is terribly chlorinated, very acidic, and tastes horrible. If they bring public water here, we will be forced to hook up. We are really hoping they do not force us to abandon the well, even if we can just use it for gardening.