Saturday, May 26, 2007

Eek! I'm Famous(er)!

I was interviewed for a possible article on DIY home improvements a while back. As busy as I've been the last couple months, I declined to have pictures taken, and I just kind of forgot about it. But lo and behold, in today's SF Chronicle is the article: "So you want to be your own contractor".

I happily put in a plug for Habitat for Humanity, because they've taught me 95% of what I know, and gave me the confidence to do the work myself.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Oy Vey

In very exciting news, I worked on the house yesterday. In even more exciting news, I worked on it again today! Though neither was what you'd call a full work day, it felt awfully good to do some work on the house.

But I realized just how long it's been since I did any work on it. I made a list of stuff to do before demolishing the kitchen back in February, and I haven't done any of it yet, and I realized that I forgot some things on the list, too. The last real day of work on the house before yesterday was all the way back to March 12th, almost two months ago.

Oy vey.

But yesterday I cleaned out the dining room, which had become a storage area and staging area for the Mexico mission trip, Habitat / Thrivent Builds workdays, etc., tidied the basement, and weed-whacked the backyard. Today I cut a little of the old subfloor and a little of the new subfloor in the dining room so I could insulate the odd little gap between the ledger board and what passes as a rim joist and put new subflooring down.

I also installed the post that ties the HBB to the foundation. Lest the cantilever section of the loft cause the far end of the beam to lift up, the city engineer specified the HBB had to be tied to the foundation with a 4x4 post. Originally I was going to have to put a 16x16 footing under it, too, but I got him to sign off on a 12x12 instead since that already existed. I still have to drill into the foundation for a bolt for an earthquake holddown to connect it to the foundation, but it was a nice chunk of work to get it into place. I used a 4x6 instead of a 4x4 to account for the existing wall being a little off the foundation. It hadn't shifted -- they'd actually notched a 2x4 to hang over the outside to make things line up.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Lighter Shade of Green

Habitat for Humanity East Bay uses a lot of green building techniques and materials, proving that affordable housing can be built green, too. I've incorporated green things into our addition and remodel, and continue to learn more as I go along.

Some of it is absolutely, completely 100% free. Proper placement of windows and roof overhangs, for example, costs nothing. Put them mostly on the south side (in the northern hemisphere) and arrange them so you get direct sun in the winter and not in the summer, and you've got free solar heating that didn't cost you any more than putting the windows somewhere else. It's also green -- there's no question of where the materials came from, what went into making them, how long they'll last, etc., compared with putting the windows somewhere else (which windows you buy does bring up those questions, of course.)

But it's harder to figure out the 'greenness' of a lot of other stuff. Take flooring. There are a lot of green options these days: bamboo, stained concrete, natural linoleum, tile, cork and more. But they're not all equally green. Bamboo is a very renewable resource, as it grows to maturity in only 5 to 8 years. It's also very durable, as hard as red oak and lasts a long time, and it's beautiful. But the bamboo used in flooring is grown in China. Even ignoring socio-political questions of labor practices, it means the bamboo has to be shipped halfway around the world before it gets to your house... not the most efficient use of fuel. (Note: yep, I installed bamboo flooring in the bedroom in the addition. Based on what I know now, I'm not sure if I'd do it again unless there were a bamboo source closer to the U.S.) Cork flooring isn't nearly as durable, and comes from halfway around the world the other direction, from Portugal.

Or stained concrete. Concrete is somewhat recyclable, extremely durable, and it can be beautiful. With a high fly ash content, it's using what would otherwise be a waste product. It also makes for a wonderful heat sink for storing passive solar energy and releasing it at night. But it's not a very kid-friendly flooring surface. And concrete takes a lot of energy to produce and transport. Of course, you can't build a modern house that's up to building codes in many areas without some concrete, but it does bear thinking about just how much you use.

Or natural linoleum. Not to be confused with vinyl flooring (which took over in the 1950's, and was frequently infused with asbestos, and being made of PVC it outgasses nasty stuff), it's made from natural products. It can be dyed into a rainbow of colors and patterns. It's flexible and water resistant. But it only has a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years, which while better than vinyl at 10 to 20 years, is still a long ways short of hardwood flooring that can last 100 years.

That brings us around to tile. It's durable, beautiful, waterproof and doesn't necessarily use eco-unfriendly materials. It even works nicely with radiant heat and can supplement concrete for storing passive solar energy. But it's not particularly kid-friendly, and without radiant heat can feel cold in winter. And it's very heavy compared with bamboo, linoleum or wood, so if it gets shipped any distance, it's not a very efficient use of fuel, either.

So what's the right answer? I think "it depends". I'm still not sure what we'll put in the kitchen, but what I've learned since I started this project means I'm going to put a lot more thought into it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Eek! I'm Famous!

Well, OK, not really famous. But I am volunteer of the month at Habitat for Humanity East Bay. I guess I'm doing OK on my Thrivent Builds support, as we had a good turn out by Lutherans at the build-a-thon. Overall the 2007 build-a-thon was a big success. There were 420 volunteer days over 4 days (31 volunteer days by Lutherans) and it's raised over $95,000 (still counting).

My sister-in-law, my pastor and I worked at the building site again last Friday. It's a very different pace than during the build-a-thon -- pretty relaxed in comparison. I'll be volunteering at the building site on a regular basis again (for a number of years I went out every week), and working to encourage my fellow Lutherans to do the same.

Now I just need to get back to work on our house.