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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thirteen non-green things we do

I don't claim to be the most environmentally friendly person out there. My goal is to be more so, but I'm not there yet. So, I give you 13 habits I should change.

1. I drink my soda from cans. And I drink lots of soda. Granted, I recycle the cans, but I really should cut down on the soda consumption for many reasons. One of which is the energy spent to make it. Another is the implicit support of evil corporations (i.e. Monsanto) who poison us with things like aspartame.

2. I am having trouble convincing Wirenut to focus on organic farming. He hates aphids and ants. And he likes to poison them. I found white pesticide residue on some basil plants. BASIL!!

3. I'm not so good about taking my own bags when I shop. I justify this by saying we use the plastic shopping bags for other things, like cat poop. I will turn down bags for small purchases, and I try to rebag purchases to minimize plastic bag use. But I still use them.

4. I HATE cleaning paint rollers. Therefor, I buy the contractor pack of rollers, de-lint them before painting, and throw them away when I am done. I freeze the rollers between uses of the same color (it allows me to reuse the roller without cleaning). But when I am done with a color, in the trash it goes.

5. I love my air conditioning. I grew up in the hot, humid southeast. Some might say I should be acclimated to heat and humidity. Instead, I acclimated to sweet, wonderful, cool, dry conditioned air. I mitigate this with a programmable thermostat.

6. Wirenut loves lighting. All sorts of lighting. Lots of lighting. I guess it come with the electrician license. He also dislikes the quality of the light from CLFs. The other problem is I like dimmers. I want every light on a dimmer. Hallways - dimmer. Bathroom - dimmer. Kitchen - dimmer. Everything - dimmer. CLFs are generally not compatible with dimmers ("they" are working on it). So, we have lots of incandescents.

7. I have not yet switching to low/no VOC paint and stain. Partially because its difficult to find in our new area, and partially because of cost.

8. Wirenut drives a full-size pickup truck. Granted, its a late-model Japanese truck, and he does kind of need it, being in the trades and all, and its the 6-cylinder, non-4WD option. But still, not that great on the gas consumption.

9. We don't really recycle paper. I have no justification for this. We do compost some paper. And when I clean out the magazines, those go in the recycle bins. But everyday mixed paper goes in the trash.

10. Speaking of paper, we use too many paper towels.

11. We buy veggies from the supermarket (in general) rather than farmer's markets or organic stores.

12. Tivo and the cable box are on 24/7.

13. We buy stuff made in china (although, its very hard not to these days :( )

13 1/2. We fly too much. Somewhat due to my job. Somewhat due to living 800+ miles from lots of family. And somewhat due to the travel bug and the fact we have already have seen the entire east coast.

In short - I'm better on the big stuff then I am the little stuff. And the little stuff adds up. This was kind of eyeopening.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Saved from the landfill!

Although we closed on the house over a week ago, we had a two week overlap with the apartment we have been renting. The apartment complex has been remodeling with turnover. Today, they were doing the kitchen across the hall from us. We noticed them piling the old cabinets on the ground in front of our place. As some of you know, Wirenut has a thing for organization, and we had been talking about picking up some used cabinets from a salvage store to put in the garage/workshop. So, we asked the contractors and sure enough, they were just going to throw away the old cabinets and were more than happy to let us take them. Score! Free cabinets for our garage AND we saved them from the landfill!

In other news, we have been working our tails off. The strangest part, Wirenut has unfinished our basement. It had to be done, as it was VERY old paneling and 30 year old musty carpet. Here are some pictures so far!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The house is ours now

At the auction Thursday night and again during the walk-through on Friday, I was overwhelmed. I kept noticing all these things I missed before. I looked around and thought "so much work!" After closing, when we went back to what we can officially call "our house," it all seemed reasonable and quite doable. Funny how attitude can change with ownership.

In the first 48 hours, we have spent about $300 at Lowes/Home Depot and have successfully pulled up carpet in the living and dining rooms and hallway upstairs and most of the carpet in the basement. I'd say we have about 80% of the tack strips and staples out upstairs.

The basement is interesting. Its a small-ish rec-room and a decent sized bedroom. All done in 70s dark paneling. The carpet down there is so old the closet was built ON TOP OF the carpet. I was thinking about doing stained & polished concrete as the flooring down there; however, we had a rude surprise under the ancient carpet. 12x12 vinyl tiles circa 1968. My alarm bells are going off that its probably asbestos based tile. The good news is that it does not appear friable. But, I'm thinking taking it out and polishing the concrete would not be the most environmentally friendly process. I believe out best bet is encapsulation, just not sure how. I;m thinking 1x3 sleepers and then subflooring to allow for moisture ventilation. I'm not yet sure what to put on top of the subfloor.

And speaking of flooring, I want real, honest to gosh, linoleum for the kitchen. Its harder to find than one would think. Armstrong makes a real linoleum, but the one I have read most about is Marmoleum. Marmoleum is not available in this county, while the Armstrong website tells me I can get it from Home Depot. Wanna have some fun? Go ask the folks working in your local Depot flooring department for linoleum. Just try it. When they take you to vinyl, insist you want real linoleum. Explain that its a renewable material made from linseed oil. If your Depot is anything like the two I went to, they look at you like you grew a second head.

Friday, May 25, 2007

We're buying a house today

In about another 3 hours, we will own a house again. Then we get started with our massive plans.

We went by last night for the seller's auction, hoping to pick up some good, used yard stuff. We didn't get too much, but we did get to see the inside of the house for the first time in a month. Its a bit overwhelming seeing it now. And since it was on the market, the dog has peed on the carpet several times. Make us wonder how many pee spots had been steam cleaned out while it was on the market. This is a bit annoying since our master plan included reusing the carpet that is over the hardwoods. Now seeing it in this new light, we are thinking that might not be the best plan. We have cats and they won't be happy with other animal pee smells all over their carpet. This could lead them to try to mark it themselves (not that they have ever peed on carpet before). And its just gross. So yeah, now we have to add in new flooring for the basement into our budget.

Well anyway, the good news is we will own a house. And we will spend the long Memorial Day weekend ripping up carpet, seeding the dirt field that needs to be a lawn (must be grass due to septic), and formalizing the rest of our master plan.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Future topic list

The closing on our house was delayed a few weeks for installation of a new septic system. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Its good because we know we will have a new septic system designed to newer codes and taking advantage of knowledge learned over the past 40 years. Its bad because the previous system has been slowly failing over the past 5 or so years. A failing system is very bad for the environment. So it has likely been polluting for years, and this makes me sad. But the good news is that it was caught and will be fixed. And we won't be paying for it!

So in the mean time, I'll give you a list of topics I am researching:
1) Bat Houses
2) Rain Barrels
3) Wooden Hot Tubs
4) Composite decking matieral
5) Bay Wise Landscaping
6) Pet waste disposal

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Architectural Salvage in Baltimore

Today we spent the bulk of the day checking out a couple of architectural salvage stores in Baltimore.

First, we went to Second Chance Architectural Salvage. This place is GREAT! It was five warehouses of salvaged materials and antiques. Additionally, they funtion as an outlet from the semi-custom cabinetry company Yorktowne out of Red Lion, PA. You have to hunt and peck, but that is half the fun. After today's preliminary look, we will be going back to look for bathroom cabinetry, and possibly new doors for our ugly kitchen. They had hundreds of unstained cabinet doors (buy one get on free on Tuesdays). It will take several hours, but I think we can find enough to update our dated light oak cabinets with arches panels. I'm thinking a light cherry stain and painting the existing boxes and trim black.

Warehouse 3 was Wirenut's favorite, as it had mostly new materials, factory seconds, and slightly damaged new stuff. I preferred to wander through the historic materials in warehouses 1 and 2, plus all the furniture in 4 & 5. We have discovered that we are polar opposites when it comes to the value of antiques. Oh, and if you are in the market for a set of old theater chandeliers and have a spare $20,000, this is the place to go!

After Second Chance, we headed over to The Loading Dock. This store was much smaller and was mostly not-so-great stuff. Wirenut commented, "if I pulled this crap out of a house I was working on, it would go straight to the dumpster." This lead to a discussion of saving stuff from landfills, but, frankly, he was right. Beat up pressboard/melamine cabinets and rotten lumber made up the bulk of their inventory. The tile wasn't too bad (and much better priced than Second Chance), but overall we decided it wasn't worth the drive and the membership fees.

We also stopped off in Little Italy for some lunch at Della Notte. In my question to find the best gnocchi, I rate theirs at a 5. Kind of disappointing since it was expensive and highly rated. Donald Trump even ate there! My favorite gnocchi is still at a tiny place by the side of I95 in Lorton called Gennaros. If you are ever driving on I95 in Northern Virginia, I highly recommend getting off at exit 163, turning right (both north and southbound exits), and look for the little restraunt in the Comfort Inn parking lot and across Silverbrook Rd from the gas station.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day

I just calculated my eco footprint. It came up as 20 acres, but I only have 4.6 acres. Ug! The biggest problem is lack of public transportation and my love of a good hunk of beef. Not that I used public transport in DC. My "living in DC" footprint was 22 acres. My overall commute has gone down, but I am traveling more.

More on septics - specifically ours

During our home inspection, the septic system backed up, indicating some problems. We asked to have it pumped, repaired, or replaced. Last Friday, we went out to meet with the seller, the seller's agent, and the septic man. We got a detailed "Septic 101" lecture from a man who married his wife in a port-a-potty. He found some roots in the main pipe leading from the tank to the drainfield. The guy with the bob cat was going to dig up and replace the pipe out to the drainfield.

On Saturday, we got the call saying the drainfield had problems, too, but not to worry about it. We have not further details, other than there is a problem with the drainfield, they will be remedied, and closing will be delayed. As of now, we do not know when we will close, but we hope to hear more tommorow.

We see some bright points to this
(1) they let us know immediatly
(2) they volunteered to fix it
(3) it looks like we will be getting a brand new septic system out of the deal. So we should be good for another 40 years.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

13 Things About Septic Systems

The house has a private sewage treatment system - a fancy name for a septic system. Although I have lived several houses with septic systems, I have never be the property owner. Wirenut, on the other hand, has never lived with one at all. So we have been doing a lot of research on them. Here is what have learned:

1) The lifespan on a concrete tank is about 50 years (ours is 23).

2) For two people who conserve water, it could go 20 years between pumpings. It is, however, better to pump at least every 5 years.

3) Septic systems contribute to groundwater, which can be useful during times of drought.

4) Trees and shrubs should not be planted in the drain field, as their roots can cause the drain field to clog and fail.

5) Nitrates are the biggest pollution concern with a properly operating septic system. According to the Chesapeake Bay Journal, "In Maryland, the Office of Planning has calculated that — on average — 65 percent of the nitrogen that leaves a septic drainfield reaches the groundwater, and that 75 percent of the nitrogen reaching the groundwater ultimately reaches surface water." Nitrogen pollution is a big concern in The Bay, and since we are within the watershed area, this is a concern for us.

6) There are newer septic systems that can reduce nitrogen levels, but they are generally only installed in new systems. It will cost a lot to retrofit an older system, so its generally acceptable to wait until it fails and then upgrade to the newer systems.

7) Phosphorus is also a byproduct of septic systems and a concern to water quality, but since it tends to bind to the soil, its not a large concern.

8) Bacteria and virus can also flow from the septic system into the ground. After years of use, a "bio-mat" forms and removes these pollutants. Our septic system is almost 40 years old. I think we have a bio-mat.

9) Never use commercial additives in the septic system. Despite what they say, they are bad for the organisms that live in the tank.

10) Garbage disposals are not good for septic systems. If you use one, you should pump the tank more often. In our county, garbage disposals are against code when you have a septic system. Wirenut is very uphappy about this point. It will force us to compost more.

10) Septic systems are happier when your sump pump and laundry water is not pumped into them. Too much water coming in at once can flood the tank, causing the sludge to run down the pips into the drain field. This is bad. These should go into a drywell. But, there are phosphorus concers from that too. This demands more research by me.

11) The tank is pretty gross. My father fell into one once. I hope that never happens to me. I hope Wirenut never falls in either.

12) Its not good to have a "laundry day" when you have a septic system (assuming the washer empties into it). This can flood your tank, which is a bad thing. So we will have to spread out our laundry. We will also have a front-load washer. Since these use a lot less water than top-load washers, this will reduce the water loads.

13) A septic system is a temporary solution, albeit a 50+ year long one, to a permanent problem. Someday, it will need to be replaced.

Summary: Having a septic system is not a bad thing in general. It requires more homeowner maintainence than a public system, but it also makes the homeowner more aware of their impact. The environmental impacts of a septic system are really not that bad. Yes, you are releasing nitrogen into the groundwater, but this can be controled in new systems. You are replenishing groundwater, which is a good thing. And public sewer systems dump waste water into our rivers and streams at a single point. Like anything, there are tradeoffs. But after doing this research, I believe the septic is not the horrible environmental polluter I feared, and with a little water convervation and awareness, it no worse than public sewer. It puts us in control of our waste water pollution, rather than our impact being clouded by whatever other crap our fellow citizens flush down their drains.

sources: Wikipedia, Chesapeake Bay Journal, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Michigan State University Deparment of Agricultual Engineering, Thomas Miller with the MD Cooperative Extension Office.

Our remodeling rules

We like to work on the house for several reasons: its a hobby we can enjoy together, it makes our house something we really love, and, ideally, it is an investment that will see financial returns. We also want our remodeling hobby to fit in with our beliefs, which lean toward environmentally conscious, socially responsible, and frugal. With that in mind, we set the following "rules" we will try to follow with the house. Like all rules, they will probably be broken from time to time. But, I am hoping that by setting them ahead of time, we will me more likely to follow them.

Our 7 Remodeling Rules (and their origin)
1) Look at salvage and used stores for supplies (frugal and green).
2) New supplies are most acceptable when purchased as overstock (frugal), scratch-n-dent (frugal), or when purchased from a non-profit who received the supplies as a donation (socially conscious).
3) Choose energy-star appliances (green).
4) Use renewable resources when possible (green).
5) Choose the eco-friendly alternative when the cost difference is less than a 10% premium (green).
6) Use native landscaping (green).
7) Garden organically (green).

note: I am using the term "green" to label things that I feel fit with general environmentally conscious ideas such as reduce, reuse, recycle, minimize pollution, renewable resources, etc. I do not claim my verion fits perfectly with the eco movement, and there are some ways where I know it specifically doesn't. For example, we love real stone.

About the house

The house we are about to buy is a 1968 split foyer home that sits on about 3/4 acre. There are 4 bedrooms and 2 baths (3/1 upstairs, 1/1 downstairs), and it also has a one car gargae, a fairly large kitchen, hardwood floors (some covered by carpet), and a small deck.

Water is supplied by a well.
Sewage is a private system (i.e. septic system).
Heating is force air furnace fueled by heating oil.
Air condition is central a/c through the force air system.
Hot water is also heating oil fueled.

The house is located approximatly 3 miles from the main entrance to where Ruby works; unfortunatly, there are another 4 miles from the gate to her office. 7 miles, however, is a vast improvement over the 31 mile one-way commute she had a mere 4 months ago.

About our individual skills

As could likely be expected, our skills do follow general gender stereotypes.

Ruby - The designer. Watches far too much HGTV and house shows. Specifically, a fan of Flip This House (especially episodes with Richard Davis and Trademark Properties, soon to be on The Real Deal), Property Ladder, Designed to Sell, and Curb Appeal. Loves to find new projects and ideas. Not so good on the follow-through. ADD tends to let her get 80-90% through a project, then lose interest. Specific skills include painting (walls & decorations), crafting, sewing, and drywall.

Wirenut - The worker. Trained as an electrician, with prior work in flooring. Skilled with a hammer, saw (as long as its powered), and a fish tape. Makes sure every room has the best lighting and a dimmer. Not a fan of finish carpentry. Is very tolerating of Ruby's endless ideas and her lack of follow-through. Slightly less tolerating of her Tivo-ing every possible home improvement show. Prefers Tivo-ing Mad Money, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Daily Show, and The Simpsons. Specific skills include electrical work, landscaping and gardening, general manual labor, and cooking.

Bugsy and Gandy - The cats. Fans of mice, both real and toy. Trained as hunters. Specific skills include rodent extermination, sleeping, and leaving fur everywhere.

About our skills in general

Our first home was a small townhouse built in 1985. When we moved in, it had all the charm and charecter of a developer built spec home of 1985. The original dusty rose and sage green country duck themed border was the highlight of the bisque colored kitchen. Over the course of the 4 years we lived there, we did a lot of updating including:
* Updating the full bath
* Adding a half bath in a closet
* Putting down laminate floors
* Repainting all the walls
* Expanding the brick patio
* Adding a water feature to the back "yard"
* Remodeling the kitchen
* Replacing a sliding glass door

Over course of these projects, we learned quite a bit as many of these projects were not as simple as they appeared. For example, our upstairs bathroom had a back outlet toilet, the wonders of which I hope I never, ever, ever encounter again. Since the unit had been a rental for 10+ year, said toilet was not maintained. Now normally, toilets require little maintainence, but a back outlet toilet, especially when used on a non-solid floor (i.e. a second story over wooden subflooring) requires some attention to ensure the wax seal is not compromised. And if it is compromised, gravity is not kind. So after owning the house less than one week, we were replacing subflooring. Joy.

Other valuable lessons of home ownership include:
* How to recognize a load bearing wall that, according to basic rules of construction, should NOT have been loadbearing.
* How to gain 3/4" of room along a wall so that the cabinets and the dishwasher fit.
* Why the sink drain must be higher than the exit end of the p-trap.
* The joys of finish carpentry
* Hot peppers and green peppers cross pollinate
* 20 year old Bradford Pears land fairly softly when they fall into your house (we can thank my neighbor's tree and Hurrican Isabel for this lesson)

I'd say the biggest lesson from the townhome projects was that we learned when to do it ourselves and when to call in pros. Even with his training as an electrician, there are a few things Wirenut and I agree is better left to a pro.

About us

Wirenut and I have been married for 18 months, but we have known each other for 16 years now. We dated in high school in the deep south, went our seperate ways, then reconnected in 2001 when we were both living near Washington, D.C. Wirenut has been a restraunt manager, floor service technicial, and is now an electrician. When we lived near D.C., he worked in the residential market. I am an Industrial Engineer by training, with a strong focus on occupational and consumer safety along with human factors psychology. I've been a software developer, engineering psychologist, and am currently working for DOD as an industrial engineer. We are the proud parents of two spoiled kitties.

The combination of my occupational safety background and his labor background means we discuss safety a lot. Mostly the scene goes like this:
Ruby: Don't forget your safety glasses.
Wirenut: I'm fine.
Ruby: But something could fly up into your eyes.
Wirenut rolls his eyes
Ruby runs to the shed to find safety glasses and hands them to Wirenut.
Wirenut laughs and may put them on.

The scene doesn't play out nearly as well (from my perspective) when it comes to ladders, hard hats, safety shoes, and table saws.